She has become one of the company’s most prominent stars, yet Jax, a former plus size model of Samoan origin, admits that some might find it hard to accept that she’s an athlete.
“This is who I am, I am never going to be a size zero,” Jax, who is 182cm tall and weighs 123kg, told Al Jazeera.
“Just because I’m a bigger girl, they might think I cannot do anything, but no. I can perform just as good as anybody else. I have no problem breaking stereotypes. And proving people wrong, it’s actually quite fun,” the 34-year-old added.
Jax decided to become a wrestler after seeing her cousin, WWE’s most famous product, The Rock compete live.
He helped her get a try out, which led to a contract with WWE, and her stock rose quickly following her debut in 2015.
Professional wrestling is of course staged entertainment, and winning a championship is WWE’s way of rewarding excellent performances.
“When I first started training in WWE, I noticed I was different from everybody. I thought it was going to be a disadvantage. I was thinking I would need to lose 50 pounds (about 22kg). I thought I needed to blend in. But my coach was a huge proponent of me embracing my size, and making me work with it.”
Jax’s victory over Bliss, a close friend of hers outside the ring, followed a storyline about bullying. Bliss spent the build up to the fight body shaming Jax live on television, reducing her to tears.
“I’ve been bullied because of the way I’ve looked growing up. So when this storyline came up we were both like, we have to make this as real as possible.”
Jax added: “When we had to cut segments, there were things that Alexa said she didn’t want to say, and I was like you have to say this. I was like if you cannot say this, then I cannot provide my true feelings and the people will not resonate with our story”.
That era was described as misogynistic and sexist by critics and it was a period in which the company’s coverage of women, included raunchy content, female stars fighting in lingerie, battling it out in mud baths, and even competing in bikini contests.
Nia Jax has the biggest physical presence of any female wrestler on the WWE roster [Courtesy:WWE]
Since then WWE has pivoted to become a more family friendly product. Women now headline shows and compete in matches previously reserved for men. Nia herself was part of the first ever women’s Royal Rumble in January. It’s part of what WWE call their “women’s evolution“.
Nonetheless, WWE still continues to draw criticism for its portrayals.
This is who I am, I am never going to be a size zero
“What could go a long way is if WWE actually acknowledged that it was their treatment of women in their company in the first place that created a narrative where a ‘revolution had to be had’,” she said.
She added that: “We get a lot of revisionist history, and constant first time ever matches and moments being announced for the women, in an attempt to quickly build a backstory where WWE can say, ‘look how progressive we’re being with our women‘.
“The attitude era wasn’t that long ago.”
WWE’s women’s only show has also courted controversy. The company received criticism that it only launched the show to counter fan backlash for staging pay-per-view events in Saudi Arabia – in which Jax and her fellow female performers were prohibited to perform at all.
Jax rejects such ideas.
Jax accepts that there will always be critics, but she says she doing her best in her own way to impact people positively.
One of those things is her promotion of body positivity. Last year for instance she posted a selfie of herself in a bathing suit, admitting it was something she was nervous about, and urging young people to be confident in themselves and how they look. It went viral getting 50,000 likes in just four days.
Her efforts have been recognised beyond wrestling and she recently won the #seeHER Now Award from the Association of National Advertisers in the US.
The award was given as a recognition of obstacles and challenges that Jax overcame, and for her positive impact on other women. She is also up alongside the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Serena Williams at the People’s Choice Awards as a finalist for the Game Changer of the Year.
“Nia Jax is a special talent and an even more special person. She is a game-changer, breaking conventions and rejecting stereotypes, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or body type, that have typically applied to women in the public eye,” McMahon said.
“She takes on this role with pride and determination, and her achievements are recognised by every little girl watching a show live or at home who is inspired to say: I want to do that, I want to be like Nia Jax.
Follow Sohail Malik on Twitter: @SohailAJE