It’s been almost a year since Carmella lost the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship at SummerSlam 2018, but while she hasn’t really been back in the title scene since, she’s kept busy and never been far from our TVs. A partnership with R-Truth led her to a Mixed Match Challenge win at TLC, and then into the ongoing WWE 24/7 Championship storyline, which has been one of the most entertaining angles (and certainly the funniest) in WWE this year. She also won the Women’s Battle Royal at WrestleMania 35, and has given us the Dance Breaks we needed to break up a year that has sometimes felt like a slog. With Spandex got to sit down with Carmella, aka Leah Van Dale, to talk about working with R-Truth, her unique fashion sense, and what’s to come both inside and outside of the ring.
With Spandex: Let me run a theory by you. I think that you and R-Truth are the ultimate winners of the Mixed Match Challenge. Not just because you won the second tournament, but because you’re the only team that forged an ongoing partnership that has given you both so much, even long after the Mixed Match Challenge ended.
Carmella: Totally! It was so cool!
So often when women and men team up in WWE, it feels like the woman is being held back, but you’ve consistently been elevated by working with male partners. Is that something you’ve been careful about?
I think it’s so funny because it’s not something that was ever planned. It’s not something that I anticipated. Like in NXT I was a manager, and then I came up and I was with Ellsworth for a while. That I did intentionally, that was my idea. But I never anticipated being partnered with R-Truth. I just like to make the most out of every opportunity that I get. So that’s sort of what I attribute it to.
Obviously you and Truth are really close, but now that multiple women have held the WWE 24/7 Championship, do you regret never going for it when you had so many chances?
Yeah, I think everyone was anticipating me turning on Truth and pinning him for the title. And of course it would be cool to have the title, but I would never betray him like that. And I think that’s what everyone is kind of waiting around for. They think I’m going to pull a fast one on him, but I would never do that.
It seems like your friendship with R-Truth means more to you than that title would anyway.
Absolutely! Absolutely, and like if you had asked me around this time last year if I would do that, then yeah totally! But I feel like Carmella’s really turned over a new leaf in the last year and made a lot of changes, so I would never, at this point, do something like that to my friend.
Your character has become so likable, and beloved by fans no matter where you are on the card. Do you think Carmella is a babyface for the long haul now, or can you imagine going back to being a bad guy?
Gosh, I honestly I have no idea. I never had a true babyface turn. It’s not like it was something that was done on purpose. I had just lost the title — it was actually right around this time last year at SummerSlam — and Truth kept saying he was going to try to pin me. And then it just… I didn’t really change! I just sort of… Somehow people started liking me! And I lost a little bit of my attitude. I still like to think that Carmella has a pretty big attitude. And I keep that part, obviously, because that’s like my favorite thing about Carmella. But who knows? I don’t know what the future holds. I’m not going to say that one day I wouldn’t enjoy turning into a bad guy again, but as of right now I’m totally embracing this. I love being with Truth! It’s so much fun. I feel like I get to do things that most of the women in our division don’t get to do! I get to have fun. Not that the other women don’t have fun, I don’t mean it like that. But I get to be silly, and show a different side of my character, outside of the ring. And that’s what I’m really just having so much fun with.
I want to pivot a bit and talk about your personal style. I think you have the best look, the best in-ring fashion sense if you will, of anybody in WWE. Can you talk about what defines the Carmella look, and what you prioritize in that regard?
I love that you said that! And I completely agree, I think I have one of the best looks, as far as fashion and gear and all of that. Because I try to make it relatable. It’s me! I love fashion, I love clothes, I love changing up my style all the time. And I get to do that with Carmella, and I feel like it’s something that I get to bring into the wrestling world: Having style, and relating it to pop culture, and the mainstream. What’s in and what’s now. I like to do that in our show, and I think it’s important, because it brings a different audience. Maybe not a different audience, but as far as… I don’t want to wear wrestling boots in the ring. That’s just not me. I feel like I want to be myself, and portray that on TV as well.
A big shift in your style was when you switched from the crop tops and long tights that you’d been wearing since NXT, to the bodysuits you’ve been wearing the last couple of years. What brought about that change?
The first time I debuted that look was at SummerSlam in 2017. It was supposed to be a one-off. I just wanted to do something different. We were in Brooklyn. It was Beyonce inspired, because she had this Brooklyn jersey that was made into a bodysuit, and I thought that was really cool. So I wanted to do that, and everyone loved it! So I just kept it. It was just supposed to be a one-off thing, and then… now that’s my look!
Probably my favorite variation of the bodysuit look is the Lisa Frank-style rainbow gear that you wear sometimes.
Oh yeah, thank you! That was for Evolution that I did that.
Was that your idea, to bring in the Lisa Frank influence?
Yeah. I mean, all my gear is my idea. We never get told… I mean, some people get told a certain way to look or dress, but I feel very lucky, in that I just have free reign on everything. So I just try to get inspired by things, whether it’s something inspired by pop culture, like I had this Cardi B inspired gear last year for Backlash. It’s kind of whatever I’m feeling in the moment, and what’s inspiring me at the time. And that was the Lisa Frank gear for Evolution. I wanted something super-80s. I was inspired by GLOW, and all these women that were coming back for Evolution, so I just thought it would be a good way to tie everything in together.
You’re obviously making a lot of your own decisions and doing what you want to do. For example, I know you have a wine coming out soon. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
So it’s called Capo Cagna, which means “boss… bee-yotch” — I’m not going to swear — but yeah, I’m really excited about it! It’s been, gosh, over a year now in the process of figuring out how to do everything. I didn’t know anything about the wine industry other than the fact that I like wine. So I’ve been learning a lot, and it’s really so exciting. We should be launching online soon, and hopefully we’re looking at 2020 to be able to be in stores, and be everywhere! Taking over! So I’m really excited.
Since we’re running out of time, I just want to finish by asking, what are your immediate goals, both in and out of WWE? What are you aiming for in the immediate future?
You know, I want to be successful with this wine business, and in WWE I just want to be the best, obviously. Everyone aspires to be champion, and I’m just having so much fun, and that’s what I want to continue to do. Just be happy and live life, and find some sort of balance between this crazy WWE career and then a family, and a home life, and the wine. I’m just trying to find a way to figure all that out, and make a good balance for everything.