After weeks of build-up, WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon will be wrestling alongside her husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, against the newly-signed Ronda Rousey and WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle.
When she steps into the ring on April 8 in New Orleans, it will mark the first time in her career that she has competed in a match at WrestleMania.
McMahon spoke to Yahoo Sports about her preparation for the highly anticipated contest, the ongoing “Women’s Evolution” in the WWE, and how she juggles her role as an on-screen villain with being one of the company’s most powerful executives.
Yahoo Sports: Let’s go back two years, when at WrestleMania 32 a new Women’s Championship was unveiled and the Divas were officially named Superstars. Since then there have been countless “firsts” for the women in WWE. What has that been like to watch and help shepherd? Have you been at all surprised at how fast things have gone and how the crowd has embraced it?
Stephanie McMahon: I think one of the reasons the Women’s Evolution has been so successful is because its origin is with our fans, who demanded it quite frankly. There was the hashtag “Give Divas a Chance” that trended worldwide for three days in reaction to a 30-second match that happened on “Monday Night Raw,” which unfortunately was more the norm than not, and our fans had had enough. They said they wanted more character development, better storylines, more athleticism, and their voices were so loud that our chairman and CEO Vince McMahon responded, saying “We hear you, keep watching.”
Then, in that moment at WrestleMania 32, we had WWE Hall of Famer Lita go out on our biggest stage possible and announce in front of over 101,000 people the rebranding of the Divas division to the Women’s division, unveiling that new championship title and announcing that the women would be called “Superstars,” the same as the men and since that time we’ve had a number of firsts.
There was a match that took place in the Middle East this past December, between Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss. For the first time ever in WWE, women competed for the Women’s Championship in Abu Dhabi. A chant broke out there that went “This is hope.” Sasha Banks spoke of seeing tears in the eyes of little girls in the front row and that I think sums up what this movement is all about.
You have spoken before about how WrestleMania for you means “family.” Your brother Shane, his kids have gotten to see him perform in the ring at WrestleMania, now your daughters get to see you do it for the first time. What is that moment going to be like for you and your family?
I don’t know because I haven’t actually done it yet, but the anticipation is pretty exciting and there is a lot of adrenaline.
My kids have sacrificed alongside with me for all of the training I’ve had to do to prepare. I haven’t been home as often, not that I’m home all the time anyway, but I’ve had to be training so much for this match and they have been so supportive of me. Really, they are just worried, they don’t want me to get hurt. They’ve met Ronda, they’ve played around with Ronda in the ring, they’ve wrestled her actually. That being said, that day I think they are going to be worried that something is going to happen to their mom.
Kids are fiercely protective of their parents, in particular their moms, and I know that they are going to be happy when its over. I think they are going to be on the edge of their seat, I’m proud that they are going to see me in there. I hope that they’ll be proud of me and I show them that if you work hard you can achieve anything, I hope I always demonstrate a strong work ethic, I hope that they see how much it means to me because I am also in there with dad. I’m in there with my husband Triple H, who is one of the greatest of all-time, against Ronda Rousey and Kurt Angle, two Olympic medalists. This is a huge moment in time for me personally. I just want them to be proud of me, that’s the best way to sum it all up.
You mention the anticipation. Are there any nerves? Can you maybe expand upon what it’s going to be like experiencing this with your husband alongside you?
Right before WrestleMania 32, when I did the big entrance for Triple H, they actually created a throne for me and I had to stand up and gave this huge speech about how everybody needs to “bow down” and really set the stage. That was probably my biggest WrestleMania performance before this one, and there was a lot of dialogue to memorize, a lot of nerves and a lot of pressure. It was Triple H’s 20th anniversary of appearing at WrestleMania and he was the champion going into the main event in what may have been the last time getting to do that [at WrestleMania]. This was the event my father created, in front of the biggest audience we had ever had, breaking the record of WrestleMania III at the Silverdome and my entire family was there.
Right before I went out, John Cena and The Rock’s music was playing and all of a sudden, I forgot everything I was supposed to say. I felt like I was going to implode and explode at the same time, it was this crazy, crazy feeling of nerves. Then, this quote went through my head, it’s Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do something that scares you every day,” and suddenly, I started to think about the position I was in and how few people would ever have the opportunity to do what I was about to do. If I didn’t go out there and own it I thought about how much I would regret it for the rest of my life, so that’s what I did, I went out there and I owned that moment. I took it all in and I enjoyed every minute of it.
That’s exactly what I am going to try to do at WrestleMania 34. I am going to try and own that moment, do everything I possibly can to feed off of the energy and give everybody the match they deserve.
You’re in a unique situation. For the most part, the character you play on television is a bad guy, but you’re also this trailblazing businesswoman and icon. Is it tough balancing that? Do you think it’s cool that you get to play both roles on and off?
I don’t know that I would give myself all of those accolades but thank you. I am chief brand officer for WWE, I am an executive in our company, out there trying to do everything I can to position our brand to continue to grow around the world.
Then also being a television performer, where yes, I am hopefully the opposite of who I am in real life, maybe there’s a little bit of me in there. It’s so much fun to play the villain, personally, I love it. I get to play the stereotype that people have always cast me as, both when I was growing up and to this day. So, I just play into everyone’s stereotypes, which for me is kind of cathartic and it’s just really fun. I also love to have fun with our audience, the going back and forth, and I know that they like to have fun with me.
On top of all of that, I’m a mom of three girls, a wife, a sister, a daughter and everything else. We all wear multiple hats and my mom taught me a long time ago that the pendulum will never be equal, 50-50, it always swings, and you’re always at some different end of the spectrum. You just have to prioritize and make sure that in every moment you’re giving everything you possibly can.
When I’m home with my kids, I put my phone down. I don’t want to sit down at the dinner table and be on my phone they whole time, because then I’m not engaging with [my family]. Trust me, I could do that, there’s plenty of work to be done, but that’s not what I’m going to do. I’m going to give as much as I possibly can of myself in every single moment.
Getting back to your opponent at WrestleMania 34. When did it become a reality for the company that you guys might actually get to sign Ronda Rousey and bring her into WWE? Was it difficult considering the media climate nowadays and how one meeting could cause speculation to run rampant?
You’d have to talk to Triple H about that to know a little more because he’s the one who did it, but it’s been a relationship for a long time. Ronda’s a huge fan of our business and always has been since she was a little kid. It probably really started around WrestleMania 31 where she and The Rock had that spot in the ring with us and she put me in the armbar for the first time and I did slap the hell out of The Rock, just for the record.
That was probably the first inkling that we had that Ronda might actually be interested in coming to the WWE and that’s when the conversations loosely sort of started. It was over a few years that we’ve been having conversations with Ronda but in terms of when it became real, and when we were actually move the needle, I really think you should interview Paul.
Last Monday night, Ronda called you “personal trainer tough.” I’ve seen those midnight workouts you post on Instagram, they’d be tough for anyone. Is Ronda in for something she might not be expecting at WrestleMania?
Absolutely, and to answer you in character: I’d say Ronda is in way over her head. She’s definitely one of the world’s greatest athletes but it takes a lot more than that to make it in the WWE. She has never competed in a match, ever, in a WWE ring and the pressure will be on her on our biggest stage, WrestleMania. Those are nerves I can take advantage of and couple that with the fact that she doesn’t know the rules – we write the rules – hers are very different in MMA. I have been studying, I know how to exploit [the rules] I am going to crack Ronda Rousey, I am going to break her down spiritually, mentally and then I’m going to beat her right in the middle of the ring.
In a recent interview you called yourself the Joker to Ronda’s Batman. If I were to put it into wrestling terms, do you think she could be the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to your Mr. McMahon?
I wouldn’t draw parallels only because I feel Ronda brings something totally unique. I think that it would be awesome if our story became as big as Austin and McMahon. I think she has the ability certainly to make that happen. Is Ronda, going to be Stone Cold Steve Austin? No, Ronda is going to be Ronda Rousey. She is going to write her own story.
Can you give us any kind of hint as to what yours and Triple H’s entrance is going to be?
That, my friend, I cannot give away.