For the first time in my life as a casual wrestling fan, I tuned into Monday Night RAW specifically to watch a Divas match. I say specifically because I obviously never complained about watching Trish Stratus, Stacy Keibler or Torrie Wilson battle it out back in the day, but this time I was doing it as a brand new superfan of the WWE’s Divas Champion Eve Torres.
Before I had the chance to spend some time talking with her last week, I admittedly didn’t know much about the woman who has held the Divas title more times than any of her peers in the four years since it was created (she’s also tied with four other WWE women’s champions for 4th on the all-time women’s champions list). I knew that Eve was a dancer for the Los Angeles Clippers back when they were still the laughing stock of the NBA and I knew that she had recently won the NBC reality series Stars Earn Stripes.
But after talking to her, I can say with confidence that she’s going to be a star well beyond her days in the WWE, as her combination of talent, confidence and compassion have developed her into the rare breed of entertainer that welcomes challenges and the chance to bust her ass for success. Eve gave me some insight on what it’s like to jump blindly into the WWE, how she kicked Superman’s ass, why she should be the star of the WWE’s next action movie, and how learning Jiu-Jitsu has made her one of the most influential women in the country.
With Leather: One of your very first gigs was as a dancer for the Los Angeles Clippers. What was it like being a part of the more entertaining team during their games?
Eve Torres: It was a little disheartening at times. But it was actually a really fun experience for me, because the funny thing is that I had never even been to an NBA game until I walked out there for my first game as a dancer. Basically, I had courtside seats because all I knew was being on the court and in the action. It was a lot of fun.
With Leather: Since Doug Christie was on that team, were the dancers ever instructed to steer clear of him, lest they feel the wrath of his overprotective wife?
Eve Torres: We were given instructions to steer clear of all of the players, because that’s standard practice for any dancers with an NBA team, so no interaction.
With Leather: What pushed you to make the leap to the WWE in 2007? Was it the potential for fame or did you already have the fighting spirit by that point?
Eve Torres: I felt like the WWE had all of the elements that I was really passionate about combined into one, because I was always very competitive. I was a gymnast growing up and I was interested in martial arts, so I had that competitive spirit for sure, but I also loved to perform, I love to entertain and I love to travel. To be honest, the thing that I really loved about the WWE is the work that it does with the community, whether through Make-a-Wish or visiting the troops overseas. I felt that these are elements of myself that I really love, so I felt that the Diva Search was a thing that would be right up my alley. I still didn’t know quite what I was getting myself into, but five years later I know that it was meant to be.
With Leather: When you were declared the winner of the 2007 WWE Diva Search, did you have any idea in your mind that you’d eventually win 3 WWE Diva titles?
Eve Torres: When I approached it, I did say in my head, “I don’t want to be just a WWE Diva, I want to be a Diva champion.” I’m not doing this just to do it, I’m doing it to be the best at it. That’s kind of the way I approach everything. I had no idea how far I would come and what I would learn, but at the time, in my head, I definitely told myself that I would be the women’s champion here and I will be at the top.
With Leather: Why did the WWE discontinue the Diva Search after you won? Was it because they knew they struck gold with you?
Eve Torres: Actually, there are a lot of rumors that they’re going to do another Diva Search, and I’m hoping that there is one. The WWE has found incredible female talent through the Diva Search, even it’s the women who are kind of casual fans and just aren’t sure if they can commit all the way or the women who are intimidated about the approach and the FCW. Hopefully we do another one because it would be great to see more women coming into the division.
With Leather: With Kelly Kelly gone and Beth Phoenix soon departing the WWE, how do you see the landscape of the Divas changing? Can we expect to see more of the remaining Divas or is there some young talent that will be coming in?
Eve Torres: It’s hard to say, because we never really know what they’re thinking. As much as people think we really know what’s going on, we really don’t. On Mondays at 4 PM, half the time I have no idea what’s going on. Right now, we have a great group of girls – hungry girls – who all want to contribute to the Diva division. That’s what I really care about. Obviously, I’m delighted that I’m part of an interesting storyline, but whatever I can do to help this division and get it back on top is just something that I – and all of the other girls – am willing to do, whether that means helping new talent that comes up or re-polishing the talent that already exists on the roster.
With Leather: Let’s say that I’m completely clueless – I’m not, but let’s say I am – how would you describe Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? How did you get into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? What drew you to that specific style of fighting?
Eve Torres: My brother trained Jiu-Jitsu in high school and I didn’t know much about it at the time, except that he would put me in these crazy holds. I should have beat him up when I had the chance. He was a really little guy. Now he’s 6-foot-2, but at the time he was a really little guy and he was a late bloomer. My dad put him in Jiu-Jitsu and it really helped him with his self-confidence.
When I started on the road with the WWE – again, we’re traveling a lot – there are times that we can’t always travel together. We try to, but sometimes we are by ourselves. I had a frightening incident when I was by myself, still new to this world, driving somewhere between Connecticut and New York, and I stopped at a gas station and basically had a pretty scary run-in with three men that were being very aggressive. They followed me out and I just ran to my car, turned it on and got out of there. I had to regain my composure and it was an eye-opening experience for me, like I had to do something about this because I didn’t like that feeling.
Coincidentally, one of my best friends was training at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy, and she was actually dating Ryron Gracie. She invited me to the academy, I had my first practice and I never looked back. What I love about it and what the average person doesn’t know about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that it was created for smaller persons to defend themselves against larger persons. Every technique embodies the philosophy of leverage – it’s technique, timing and energy efficiency. That is really what you need to defeat someone much larger than you if you can’t rely on your athleticism or strength. You don’t want to have a boxing match with someone who is stronger than you are.
It’s really just the most effective martial art and I think that was proven in the early UFCs with Royce Gracie and all of the giants that he fought. But for the average person who doesn’t know about Jiu-Jitsu and doesn’t train, you can be very effective, and that is why I’m so passionate about sharing it with women, because it’s THE martial art for women. It teaches them how to be comfortable in the worst case scenario, whether it’s being pinned on the ground by someone much heavier than you or especially if it’s a man between your legs. It’s how you can use that position to control them and submit them even if it came to it. But mostly it’s about neutralizing a situation and making yourself safe.
With Leather: So it’s safe to say that your personal experience is what led to the establishment of the Gracie Women Empowered self-defense program?
Eve Torres: Yes, it is. And I actually just started the regular Jiu-Jitsu program, and the Gracies had developed this women’s empowerment program that they’d been teaching for about 15 years. But they didn’t have a regular class that was available every single week. I started really pushing for that to happen and the Gracie Academy made it happen. Since January, we’ve had the classes and I was a part of the Women Empowered DVD, and now we’re going to push it to schools throughout the nation.
It’s very simple and it’s down to the most important 15 techniques that any woman needs to know to be safe. This program has evolved over the past 15 years based on the influence of women who are survivors and the feedback they have given. Whether rear attacks, grabbing your hair, weapon attacks, being pinned to the ground, a man between your legs – all of these worst case scenarios are what we address with the program.
With Leather: Other WWE Superstars like Brock Lesnar and Dave Batista have tried their hands at MMA. Do you see yourself being the first Diva to possibly venture into other genres of fighting?
Eve Torres: Honestly, I never say never, but I really don’t. I enjoy the sport aspect of it and I love learning and growing, training with other guys and testing myself. I love those parts of it. For me, it’s really about the self defense aspect of it, and that’s the empowering part. To take it all the way to MMA, I doubt I’ll go that far with it, because my passion for it is sharing with women that you don’t have to be an MMA fighter to defend yourself. You can actually be a physically average person and know how to defend yourself. That’s the image that I want to portray.
With Leather: You were the first ever champion of Stars Earn Stripes. What was that show experience like? How often have you bragged that you defeated Superman (Dean Cain)?
Eve Torres: I have to start using that way more. It was a life-changing experience for me, because I didn’t really know how difficult it was going to be going into it. I kind of assumed that they were going to put us through the ringer, but some of the missions were both extremely mentally and physically challenging. I’ve always been a strong supporter of our military and I’m proud to say that I’ve been overseas to entertain the troops and go on tours with Vince McMahon, but the respect I gained just on a personal level went through the roof, because I got to spend time with these guys and hear their stories.
You think that these special ops guys are like machines and all of a sudden you realize that they’re also people. They’re out there performing these special missions that take a mindset that none of us can even fathom, yet they’re still people with families. That was pretty eye-opening for me. I really enjoyed it and I found a new hobby in shooting, because apparently I’m a very good shot. I still go to the range and enjoy that, because it’s like a nice little stress release for me. I was obviously happy to be a part of it and donate $150,000 to the USO. That was awesome for me, I’m glad I did it.