Aleah James: 'I got signed by WWE in lockdown'

image copyrightWWE

When Aleah James was young, she would wait by the TV to watch one of the few women's wrestling matches being shown.

She dreamed of being one of the women in the ring.

"I always drew designs of the gear I would want to wear, and make little slideshows of what my entrance would be like", Aleah told Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"But I didn't even think it was possible being from England."

Since then, the 23-year-old's fought 30 matches. And now she's been signed by WWE.

From Essex to the US

"It's so cool to know that there might be little girls watching me on TV and thinking: 'Oh my god, I want to do that. I want to be like her'.

"Especially because of where I live, it's not always portrayed in such a positive light."

Aleah grew up in Romford, Essex. She lived with her Irish dad, Caribbean mum and her sisters.

"Whenever our area's in the news, it's always for bad reasons. It's nice to be part of the change, to make it positive," she says.

It was her sisters who got Aleah interested in wrestling.

"I used to wait for my favourite wrestlers to come on, and it would be all of the women: Mickie James, Melina...

"There wasn't actually many women's matches at that time, and I'd get annoyed when they did come on but it was only, like, two minutes long."

After she saw an advert online, she "begged and begged" her dad to take her to a live match. She eventually got to see one at a Butlin's holiday park.

"It was cool to see it in person and have a real feel of what it would be like if I did end up doing that.

"But I just thought that I was a kid and I was dreaming too big."

'I couldn't stay away'

Inspired by the performers she had seen live, Aleah joined a wrestling school. But her first session was a shock.

"I don't know why I thought it was going to be easy. I didn't know you needed to be strong. Everything hurt, I found everything very hard.

After training for a while, her day job started to get in the way, and she wasn't making the progress she thought she would.

"I just thought, 'OK. I'll just work in the opticians, I'll sell glasses and forget about wrestling'."

But after a while, Aleah found she "couldn't stay away" from the sport.

She signed back up, aged 21, and threw herself back into training.

image copyrightAleah James

Aleah trained hard, and had done around 30 professional matches. She was "just getting into [her] stride" when the first lockdown was announced.

Although it wasn't ideal circumstances to launch a career in wrestling, she carried on training where she could.

"I would tell myself I can't watch Netflix until I've done this workout, I just made sure I didn't lose any motivation."

It was in the middle of a "sweaty" workout in her bedroom that Aleah got an email out of the blue from WWE.

She was excited, assuming they were inviting her to an upcoming trial. But the company had seen her previous matches online, and content she had posted throughout lockdown, and offered her a contract upfront.

"I didn't even say anything. They asked: 'Is that something that you're interested in?' and I was like, 'Yeah! Yes!'

"It didn't even feel real, I was so confused."

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Aleah says social media was "really powerful" in helping her career, and meant that people in other countries were able to see her work and help her get noticed by huge organisations in the wrestling industry.

Aleah is now signed to WWE's NXT UK, the British branch of the company which airs matches on BT Sport, and she's already fought for them and established herself as part of the women's roster.

Once coronavirus restrictions lift, she's "excited to see what life is like" for her.

"I'm definitely nervous.

"Even before lockdown. I had barely had any experience. I was still getting used to that.

"Once it goes back to crowds and audiences, it's going to feel like day one all over again."

image copyrightWWE

Although she's "so happy" to be training and performing in the UK, Aleah does eventually want to get to the US.

"I feel like that's everyone's main goal. But I'm such a baby in this industry at the moment, I just want to put in all the hard work and learn and get as much experience as I can so that when I do get there, I'm ready."

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