Five years ago in Miami, current SmackDown women's champion Naomi made her WrestleMania debut as a Funkadactyl, appearing as a dancer in a short comedy segment prior to the main event. In 2017, Naomi returned to her home state of Florida and captured the SmackDown Women's Championship in front of a sold-out football stadium, just a few weeks after a scary knee injury threatened to rob her of the biggest moment of her career.
Naomi spoke to Fox Sports about her homecoming in Orlando at WrestleMania 33 and what she has in store for her ever-changing entrance.
You can watch Naomi on SmackDown every Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on USA Network.
Fox Sports: It’s been a pretty crazy 2017 for you. At the beginning of the year, there was an extended period where you weren’t on SmackDown at all, leading a lot of fans to ask ‘where’s Naomi.’ What were you going through at that time?
Naomi: “It’s definitely hard being taken from you dream, especially when you’re trying to accomplish something. I went through two injuries. There was one right before a tour, I tore a tendon in my ankle, and then I went on tour and it made it worse, so I came off of that. I came back again and then I got injured again and had even more time off, so I just had a lot of time to sit at home and think and come up with another plan. So when I do come back, this is what I’m going to do and this is where I want to be. And I just put all my energy and time and everything into that, and thankfully everything went as planned and worked out for me.”
Fox Sports: You became SmackDown Women’s Champion, but an injury forced you to give up the title very close to WrestleMania. At that point, did you think you had lost your chance to perform at WrestleMania 33?
Naomi: “For sure, because at that time I honestly was trying everything in my power not to let anybody know happened. But realistically there was no way I could compete and perform. I didn’t know how bad it was. I had an MCL sprain, which I got on the finish. So I was just blown away, I was like ‘there’s no way this is happening, why does stuff like this always happen to me?’
I had to just rehab and take care of myself. I’m very blessed and fortunate to even have come back, and for the injury not to be as bad to where I needed surgery and be out longer.”
Fox Sports: How close was it to WrestleMania that you got to the point where you felt ready to compete? Was it a close call?
Naomi: “Yes, it was literally the week before. And even then it was still a possibility, ‘I don’t know if you want to risk it or give it more time.’ I fought and fought and fought and begged. Just had to really get them to trust me.
‘Trust me, I know my body. I can go, I can do this.’ And it was literally a week before. I for sure thought I wasn’t going to make it.”
Fox Sports: Your entrance is one of the best in WWE, and you change your ring gear for every show. Where do you get the inspiration for all your different gear, and how hands-on are you in creating it?
Naomi: “It’s all me. I have a very creative mind and I’m always looking for new stuff and new things. I’m really into EDM music and the culture of that, I just love all that stuff. Changing the entrance and just doing something different every time, I think it keeps it fresh for everyone. I like people wondering ‘what is she going to wear tonight? What’s she going to have on, what’s she going to do?’ I think it just keeps it new and something different. every time that I come out, and I don’t want it to get old.
What I have been learning… I’ve been trying to learn how to shuffle dance. It looks easy, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. That’s what I’m working on next, I want to come out with a cool shuffle dance routine.”
Fox Sports: How far do you plan ahead with your gear?
Naomi: “Honestly, it’s really hard to get gear. There so few seamstresses and so much talent, so we’re always all needing gear at the same time. Every week I have something new. I probably have like 10 new looks of gear, it’s just a matter of finding someone who has time to make it. Just whenever I can get it, that’s how that works. Sometimes I’ll find cool stuff online that I can turn into gear or make work for me.”
Fox Sports: As the SmackDown Women’s Champion, perhaps you felt a little safer during the recent superstar shakeup - but were you worried about being moved and split up from Jimmy Uso?
Naomi: “Absolutely, we were so scared that we would get split. We went through this before with the WWE Draft. [Total Divas] was filming it and you got to see how I truly felt about it. I was really scared, because if we were to get split up, we would only see each other maybe a day and a half out of the week? And go from seeing each other every day and working with each other… that would have been tough. So going through that again with the shakeup, I was like ‘oh no not this again.’ But we made it through again together, I’m thankful for that.”
Fox Sports: How has the dynamic in the locker room changed with the new additions from Raw?
Naomi: “We still have a great dynamic. We have an amazing roster of female performers and entertainers who all want the same goal - and that’s just to build the division and make it the best that it has ever been. As far as that, we are all on the same page.
Our original locker room from the brand split, we were all bonded together because we wanted SmackDown to be better than Raw. We wanted to out-do the Raw division, and I’m sure they felt the same way. So we all bonded on that aspect, you know, we went out there week after week and just put it all out there. And I think that definitely showed in the ring with out performances. We had a very close group… we all just worked together to make sure we had great stories, and really, really all wanted the best for each other.
So now with the shakeup we have some new girls in the locker room. It’s still very new, but so far it’s so good and we’re all excited to work with each other and continue to do the same things.”
Fox Sports: One thing SmackDown has over Raw is that Talking Smack airs every week after the show. Is that something everyone is trying to get on?
Naomi: "Absolutely. It’s such an amazing platform to have more time to express yourself, to show your personality and to tell your story. So it’s definitely a plus. We all love Talking Smack. Renee is amazing. Bryan, Shane… it’s definitely something we all strive to be on and enjoy doing."
Fox Sports: Charlotte was one of the biggest arrivals from Raw in the shakeup. What sets her apart in the ring?
Naomi: “Charlotte is a phenomenal performer. She’s a phenomenal athlete. She has definitely been the most successful female on our roster, and everything she’s accomplished is everything that I’m trying to get to, and I’m trying to do.
Charlotte definitely is one hell of a challenge and a great competitor, and I think mer being against her is only going to bring out the best in me… I’m going to reach my fullest potential being in there, because she is one of the best.”