Why are they using Dakota's Babyface Pic for?Dakota Kai is set to face off against another member of the team she turned against at NXT TakeOver: WarGames.
WWE has announced Rhea Ripley vs. Kai for this Wednesday's episode of NXT. It's the second match confirmed for the show, with Damian Priest vs. Killian Dain also set.
After initially being left off the team, Kai replaced Mia Yim on Team Ripley when Yim was attacked backstage in a pre-show angle at TakeOver. Kai then attacked Tegan Nox and walked out instead of entering the WarGames match.
Ripley and Candice LeRae went on to defeat Team Baszler (Shayna Baszler, Io Shirai, Bianca Belair & Kay Lee Ray) in WarGames.
On last week's NXT, Kai faced LeRae and got disqualified for using Nox's knee brace. Ripley then came down to save LeRae from being attacked by Kai after the match.
Ripley also confronted Baszler in a segment last week and set her sights on Baszler's NXT Women's Championship.
Dakota Kai sat on the shelf for nine long months, furiously rehabbing her knee and waiting anxiously for her return to NXT. But it turned out the black-and-gold brand wasn't quite ready for her.
When she was rejected and denied a place on Rhea Ripley's WarGames team in November, something in her snapped.
Her partner, Tegan Knox, bore the brunt of the resulting explosion. But Mia Yim was also a victim, and she will be seeking her revenge on NXT (Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET, USA Network).
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden had a chance to talk to Kai about big changes, both for the entire NXT locker room and for her wrestling persona, heading into a huge national televised match.
Jonathan Snowden: You're the first NXT performer I've talked to since the move to the USA Network. I'm curious about how life has changed at the Performance Center now that you guys are doing two hours of weekly national TV. Is there a different energy there?
Dakota Kai: I think I can speak for everyone here—a lot of us at NXT and at the Performance Center have been dreaming about this for a long time. And, I know that us going to TV on the USA Network was something that was in the works for a while. I want to say over a year they've been talking about it and then they finally pulled the trigger on it.
There's a lot of responsibility on our shoulders, especially those of us who are on TV every Wednesday, to make sure we show everyone what we already know and what the NXT Universe faithful have already seen over the last few years that NXT has been a thing.
There's a lot of excitement.The energy has been very, very exciting. It makes a lot of the new trainees at the Performance Center want to step up their game because there are a lot of opportunities for everyone to show what they are capable of. It's been crazy.
JS: I bet. It's been crazy to watch. It's such a huge change. For a long time, the goal was to move up to the main roster. After a successful Takeover they'd call somebody up to Raw or SmackDown and there would be this backstage footage, everyone would hug, there would be tears, you'd get your photo taken with Triple H...
Dakota Kai: All of that (laughs).
JS: Now what's the goal? As we move into 2020, what are you guys aiming for? What's the goal for NXT Superstars right now? Does the idea of the main roster still exist?
Dakota Kai: I don't think we really look to Raw and SmackDown as moving up to the main roster anymore. We are the main roster now. The only difference before was that Raw and SmackDown were on television and we were on the WWE Network. Now that we are also on that same level, the main goal of everyone at NXT is to just keep bringing it and to really elevate everyone within the brand itself.
We are the third brand, and a lot of us are so very loyal to NXT. We want to stay and just help elevate it to that level. I mean, us being on the USA Network is the first step but we have so much work to do in terms of continuing to bring your eyes to NXT and show everyone watching that we are on the same level as Raw and SmackDown.
They're doing their thing too, but I think here at NXT, we offer something edgy. We offer the kind of wrestling that I think a lot of people crave.
JS: When I was growing up there was no one modeling the kind of hard-hitting, action-packed women's wrestling you guys do. Frankly, WWE's women, especially in NXT, are setting a new standard.
With that in mind, which performers do you look to for inspiration? Are there glimpses of excellence from the past you look back to? Who motivated you and who are the people who set the standard you're trying to meet?
Dakota Kai: When I started watching wrestling, Trish Stratus, Lita and Molly Holly were very much in the forefront. Women's wrestling in general has evolved a lot to where it is today. But, at the time, those women were bringing it. They were amazing for that time.
The women I was watching as I moved forward in my career were the Four Horsewomen, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Bayley. A lot of the women here in NXT have an independent wrestling background. We very much keep the athleticism and the performance in ring as the main focus. They sort of started that here at NXT. They were the trailblazers.
I just want the women's division at NXT to be the best. That's our focus every week, just to bring the best wrestling for all of us. And I think we're doing pretty well. Everyone's really pleased with how it's going.
JS: When you were dealing with the ACL injury this year and had nine months to sit and think about it, was there a part of you that realized, "Hey, nice girls aren't going to make it here. I've got to do something to make a splash because all these other women are so good."
I have to imagine there are also elements of reality to the WarGames story. There are a limited number of spots on each WarGames team just like there are only a handful of spots in NXT generally. And there are a lot of talented women you are fighting for those positions. Did all of that make it easy to deal with what your character did because that is kind of your life?
Dakota Kai: Oh, 100 percent. When my injury happened, I was kind of on the verge of getting bigger opportunities. But the injury halted all of that.
When it happened, there was a lot of time spent thinking about what I had done in NXT, which is still good. But at the same time, I don't think that I really got to show everyone who Dakota Kai really was. So, there was a lot of time dwelling on that, and I made a promise to myself and to everyone. I tweeted about it too: When I came back, I would hit the ground running.
I also made a promise to myself that I would show everyone what they hadn't seen yet. The start of my NXT career up until I got injured was OK. But it wasn't really what I wanted to show people. I'm going to start taking my opportunities and showing everyone what I'm capable of.
JS: What you are capable of turns out to be some pretty rough stuff. That was a brutal assault on your former partner, Tegan Nox. As a performer, how do you get yourself into the head space where you're going to put that kind of beating on somebody? How do you get yourself into that mood?
Dakota Kai: I think part of it is just knowing the amount of responsibility that's on me, so I do spend a lot of time before matches by myself. I don't do a lot before my matches except just get in the zone and be on my own. I'm not really that exciting. I just want to tell an amazing story.
JS: Bringing the knee brace out with you to the ring was a nice touch. What inspired that? It represents a lot, I imagine both to Tegan and yourself. That's making a statement of some sort.
Dakota Kai: Yes, for sure. We had both gone through the same injury, the same journey. So, taking her knee brace off at WarGames and keeping it on me sort of like a token, I think that that says a lot in itself. I don't really have to talk about the knee brace. I think that just showing it and showing everyone including Tegan that I have her knee brace on me adds to the statement I made. I see it as a warning.
JS: You're fighting Mia Yim on the next NXT. I could tell last week that she's out for blood. It's serious business. Obviously, you mean serious business, too.
When I think about NXT women, a lot of times I think of very technical matches. They're very well performed but don't feel like they are motivated by dislike or hatred. This one feels different. Do you think this is more than your standard wrestling match?
Dakota Kai: I think what I did to Mia at WarGames made a statement. That fuels her fire. She obviously wants to have a fight.
This is going to be a fight. This isn't going to be a "wrestling match." It'll be a fight. It will be her coming for revenge. Coming for my neck. But I am going to show her it wasn't a one-off thing that happened. This is a new Dakota Kai. Everyone better tune in because it's going to be crazy.
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