WWE names Torrie Wilson to Hall of Fame

WWE named Torrie Wilson (aka "Samantha") to its 2019 Hall of Fame class. Courtesy WWE

When Torrie Wilson decided to walk away from wrestling in 2008, it was because of a back injury. There was no goodbye, no one last match.

Her WWE journey had felt incomplete ever since.

That changed when the WWE called her last week, a little more than 10 years after her retirement. "You are a 2019 WWE Hall of Famer," she heard on the phone. It took her a couple of minutes to process the information. She was convinced they were just calling to invite her to a WrestleMania event.

"This feels like a sweet closure," Wilson, 43, told espnW. "Since I retired, so many people have asked me, 'Do you feel bad you've never won a title?' And I have always said no, because I felt like I got the value -- even though it would have been nice [to win a title]. But being inducted into the Hall of Fame feels like a championship belt to me, because it really makes me feel appreciated."

Wilson will join The Honky Tonk Man and D-Generation X -- a group of wrestlers including Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Chyna -- as the members of the 2019 Hall of Fame class. They'll be inducted on April 6 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Wilson gained fame when she won the Miss Galaxy pageant in 1998. She was then a part of the World Championship Wrestling (now defunct) and WWE, where she went on to establish a successful career with storylines on WrestleMania and Smackdown. One memorable plot involved her father, Al Wilson, starting a relationship with her WWE opponent Dawn Marie.

"My dad is still plotting his return, let's be real," Torrie Wilson said. "He loved it!" Last year, Wilson was a surprise entrant into the first all-women's Royal Rumble.

Wilson was a natural at her role in the WWE. She walked into the ring looking confident and self-assured. But she said it wasn't always easy. She grew up in a small town of 6,000 people in Idaho, and when she started her career in wrestling, she'd only been in Los Angeles for six months. She was shy and intimidated at the outset, and there was a steep learning curve to become a confident woman in the ring.

"It's kind of crazy, I would almost want to throw up a lot of times when I walked out -- I wasn't sure of myself just yet," Wilson said. "And there is nothing like pushing yourself in front of millions of people to figure it out, right?"

She remembers walking out to a packed auditorium in Australia and thinking, "Holy crap, this is a lot of people." Her mom would watch her on TV and say to her, "Wow, where is my [shy] daughter! This is not my daughter."

Women's wrestling has come a long way since her time in the ring in the early 2000s. The WWE has signed wrestlers from India and the United Arab Emirates and established a grassroots-level program, NXT, to train young wrestlers and help them build career paths. She is proud to be a part of the evolution and to see current women wrestlers "kicking ass," she said.

"It's actually mind-boggling to me when I watch their matches," Wilson said. "I remember watching Becky Lynch and then asking her after, 'How are you going on? How are you doing matches after matches? Aren't you hurting?' And she is just tough as a nail."

The induction ceremony is more than a month away, but Wilson is already making notes for her speech. She wants to talk about how far she's come as a wrestler and a person. She wants to thank the fans. She wants to be real and vulnerable. That is hard, but it's necessary, she said.

Wilson's name will go down as one of the best in WWE. So what's next? She has launched a fitness company to help women find their confidence and their inner superhero.

"I want to stress to people -- we fall so hard. I have fallen so, so hard so many times, and wasn't sure if I could get back up," she said. "And the truth of the matter is, every time I fell, my life got even better when I crawled out of it."