From SHIMMER To NXT To The Top Of The World:



The fan-made signs began showing up in WWE arenas in early-spring. Before long, they were impossible to miss.

“We Want Paige.”

The second-generation British grappler with the alabaster skin and ebony tresses had developed into a fan favorite in NXT, WWE’s developmental system. A masterful mat wrestler with natural charisma and a ring presence cultivated over more than decade of training (starting when she was only about 11 years old), Paige has established herself as “The Anti-Diva.” In a world largely populated with former swimsuit models and tanned blonde goddesses, Paige stood apart from the pack.

Since June 2013, Paige had reigned as NXT Women’s champion, turning back challenges from Natalya, Bayley, and Emma, among others. NXT viewers—including those who had just begun following NXT after the launch of the WWE Network in February—yearned to see how the 21-year-old might fare in WWE.

On the night after WrestleMania, Paige made her impact in a huge way.

Paige made her debut appearance on Monday Night Raw with the intention of congratulating AJ Lee for winning the Vickie Guerrero Invitational match. Lee took offense to Paige intruding on her moment and virtually forced her into an impromptu title match. Just 1:22 later, WWE had a new Divas champion.

It could be argued that her initial win over Lee was a fluke. After all, Lee regained the title in a mere 1:04 in the rematch. But Paige proved that her first win over Lee was no accident at SummerSlam, where she expertly countered Lee’s Black Widow stretch and cleanly pinned the champion with her Ram-Paige DDT.

In recognition of her sterling 308-day reign as NXT champion (a title she never lost but was forced to vacate), her two WWE Divas title reigns (lasting a combined 119 days), and her record of clean wins over high-level competition, the editors of Pro Wrestling Illustrated have named Paige number-one in this year’s “Female 50.” Paige just edged out her biggest rival, Lee, who was hurt by a number of non-title losses and a 10-week sabbatical from the ring.

“That’s pretty insane,” Paige said when notified that she had ranked above Lee. “She’s always one step ahead of me. She’s been in WWE longer and everything. It’s incredible that I can finally top her at something.”

 Paige said that being ranked number one in the “Female 50” is an accomplishment she doesn’t take for granted.

 “It was a huge leap from last year. To go from 12 to number-one, that’s pretty incredible,” she said. “I’m not going to lie—everyone loves this list and everyone looks at it to see where they are. I look at it every year, and I’m always disappointed with where I’m ranked. But I’m not disappointed this year.”

Even though Paige is a young woman, her road to the top has been a long one. The daughter of wrestlers “Rowdy” Ricky Knight and Saraya (who ranked 14th on this year’s list), Paige practically grew up inside of a wrestling ring. She was practicing drills and rolls in grade school, and wrestled her first match at the age of 13. She wrestled throughout her native England and completed several European tours under the name Britani Knight, and debuted on SHIMMER in April 2011. She even feuded with her mom, beating Saraya in an intense no-disqualification match in late-2011.

It didn’t take long for WWE scouts to take notice. She was a prospect who had it all—natural beauty, charisma and charm, and a veteran’s ring awareness and technical proficiency. She also inherited her mum’s toughness and ability to brawl when necessary. She signed a WWE developmental contract in late-2011. In June 2013, she won an eight-woman tournament to become the first NXT Women’s champion, collecting wins over Tamina Snuka, Alicia Fox, and Emma.

After more than two years toiling in the farm leagues, she got her call up to the main roster. Now, she has even loftier goals on her mind.

“There’s so much left to do,” she said. “I’ve only been on the road (on the main roster) for about six months. I want to be on every pay-per-view. I want to have my WrestleMania moment. And, one day, I want to make it into the WWE Hall of Fame.”

Not only did Paige successfully defend her title against a wide variety of challengers, but her arrival in WWE kickstarted one of the most competitive women’s rivalries since the  heyday of Trish Stratus, Lita, and Victoria. Paige helped generate more interest in the Divas division.

Paige said she expects plenty of excitement in the Divas division in the coming year, and that she will have her work cut out for her if she wants to achieve the same level of success in 2015 as she did in 2014.

 “I feel like the Divas are ready to take over,” she said. “You have these incredible athletes in developmental, like Charlotte and Bayley and Sasha Banks, and then you have the girls on the main roster like AJ and Natalya—everyone is stepping up their game. The competition is fierce.”

 But this year, at least, they all line up behind Paige.




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