A couple of weeks ago, we were lucky enough to take part in a media event held by 2K Games at the WWE Performance Center to try out the latest WWE game, WWE 2K19, before its release. We learned about Big Head mode, we marked out for the House of Horrors making an appearance, we played around with create-a-show to make everything look like Jet Set Radio, the works.
Talent was also made available for interviews, so the second that began we gravitated toward my personal favorite NXT Superstar, ‘The Queen of Spades’ Shayna Baszler, and managed to talk to her for almost 15 minutes without being kneed in the mouth and having our arms bent around backwards. We got to talk to Baszler about her experience growing up with wrestling and video games — spoiler alert, she’s into Final Fantasy — as well as the future of the Four Horsewomen of MMA as they become the Actual Four Horsewomen of WWE. If you’d like to hear the audio of the interview it’s one of two bits in last week’s With Spandex podcast, and can be heard there.
If not, check out our interview with one of NXT’s best talents, and our vote for the Baddest Woman in WWE.
With Spandex: So, first impressions of seeing yourself in a video game.
Shayna Baszler: I was just talking about how wild it is. Like anyone I would buy the old games and create myself and try to … I was one of the meticulous ones that spent three hours going through each move set from each position and picking the one [I wanted].
Is your actual WWE NXT moveset close to how your moveset was in the video games? As a kid did you give yourself a bunch of Swanton bombs and stuff?
Yeah. Yeah. Obviously I spent a lot more time developing my in ring style here at the [WWE Performance Center]. So even since the game, this new game, came out, I think I would probably be different than that. But it’s pretty wild to just be a selectable character. And to think my nieces can select me and play as me, that’s weird to think of.
It’s gonna be even weirder when you’re Raw Women’s Champion and they can play you when you’re on the cover of the game.
That’s gonna be even weirder, signing when I’m on the cover of the game.
Were you much of a gamer as a kid? You don’t seem like the kind of person that would be a huge gamer. We talked to Kurt Angle and we were like, “Hey it doesn’t look like you’ve ever played a video game in your life ’cause you’re Kurt Angle.”
No, I have my own Twitch stream.
I was a big gamer.
What were your favorites?
Growing up Final Fantasy VII is probably my favorite all time game but I was a fighting game, Tekken fan and Virtual Fighter for a second. And then Tekken got better. And the way that the new 2K game this year is set up is more like those traditional fighting games, less like a … it’s obviously a wrestling game but the way the-
Not as much as a simulation-
Yeah, the way that the towers are set up and the way you can swap your powers in the skill trees and that kind of thing is cool. I’m really intrigued, so.
You’re basically a Mortal Kombat character.
Yeah, totally. Or Injustice. ‘Cause they’re gonna have the daily tower, the weekly tower like Injustice has set up. It’s pretty cool.
I wouldn’t have to ask for you to be a Mortal Kombat character because I saw you wrestle Violet Payne on NXT TV last [week]. That was pretty brutal.
Yeah. I got some things to take care of and whatnot. So sending messages. Sometimes the victim is just a bystander but a victim all the same, so.
You’re the pro wrestling representative of the Four Horsewomen. You were the first one to really get into it. You’re former AIW Women’s Champion. You’re former NXT Women’s Champion. Should be NXT Women’s Champion right now. But I wanted to ask you, I know the other Horsewomen are training right now, Jessamyn [Duke] and Marina [Shafir]. How are they doing, and what’s your opinion of them as pro wrestlers so far?
If you wanna use myself and Ronda [Rousey] as an example, they’re way ahead of the curve. And I think especially Jessamyn, who also trained under Josh Barnett like myself. And Marina of course dabbled a little bit with Josh in that aspect. We’re not just MMA fighters coming over. Even our lineage in MMA comes from a catch wrestling, pro wrestling background. So it’s not surprising that being … the sports are pretty similar, just a different rule set. It’s a pretty easy transition. I think they’re way ahead of the curve, and we’re all gonna be turning some heads here real soon.
Now everyone seems to expect you to end up on Raw or Smackdown pretty soon. Is that a thing that you’re looking forward to, or do you think NXT is a place you wanna stay for a little bit longer? What’s you’re opinion because I know, especially heading into Survivor Series, all the rumors are the Four Horsewomen verses the not actually Four Horsewomen. They weren’t even a team ever.
They’re not a team.
I don’t know way they get counted as a team.
They’re not in a stable. We’re not just four random guys. This is my whole argument about the thing. People are like, “Yeah but Charlotte is Ric Flair’s daughter.” But they weren’t just four guys that made history which the fake Four Horsewomen did. They’re four girls that made history. That’s great, but that’s not what the Four Horsemen did. They were a team. They were a stable. And we’re a team. You don’t see us needing counseling to stay friends and bickering and feuding over … You know what I mean?
I’m not sure why they needed counseling at all. Pro wrestlers have been fighting each other for years. I’m not sure why they got sent to counselor.
Yeah, we’re the team. We’re a team. We’ve always been a team. We’ve always had each other’s backs. That’s the way it is. And as far as where I wanna go, I just … wherever I can send the message and the bodies are lined up, that’s where I’ll be right now. And wherever it is I’m gunning for top of where that is. And right now I got my eyes set on getting that title back again.
I guess that question that everybody’s gonna ask you at some point is, you and Ronda, one on one, who wins? You right? See, my journalistic point of view is you’ve got a killer instinct that Rhonda has not shown yet necessarily in a pro wrestling match outside of being personally offended by Stephanie McMahon. But Stephanie McMahon is not as tough as a Kairi Sane.
I think I’m a little more likely to use whatever means necessary to get the win. So I don’t know. It’s not something to worry about ’cause we’re the team.
No betrayals happening on the Four Horsewomen side.
That’s our loyalty. We’re the real team. We’re the real team. That’s stuff happens with that other, that other stable.
So as a kid, what was your pro wrestling experience? Who were your favorites? What did you love to watch? What about pro wrestling made you a pro wrestling fan?
Like any kid up to a certain age I really believed in pro wrestling. And it was actually the match between Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior, the two titles. And I think when that match happened and Ultimate Warrior was going out and they were doing the, “I love you. I love you.” Doing that thing. I think is when this light bulb turned on that there is more to this than two guys just fighting. There’s another layer going on.
So then I started watching it with that shift in my mindset. And then when I started doing MMA … I come from an amateur wrestling background. I never put the two, professional wrestling and amateur wrestling together. That connection I never made. So when I started training with Josh Burnett in catch wrestling is when I started getting into the Japanese side of catch wrestling and how that directly correlates to pretty much the rise, not counting the US for some reason. Everywhere else in the world, the rise of MMA … I mean it has a shared history with pro wrestling. So when I started realizing that, then I started watching … it sounds silly to some people that aren’t aware but I started watching pro wrestling for my MMA. What stuff I can do because-
I mean the first example I can think of is Satoru Sayama, Tiger Mask. He left pro wrestling to be a fighter.
Yeah, absolutely. And I have a direct lineage to Sayama who was a shooto fighter, and Eric Paulson trained under Sayama as a shooto fighter, and so Eric Paulson is one of Josh Barnett’s coaches.
So I have a lineage to this. Yeah, and when I started realizing all of this and I got to train with Billy Robinson … and this was all for shoot fighting. It’s full circle. And for people that maybe don’t know in a nutshell, you weren’t allowed in those days under that branch of pro wrestling lineage to do a pro wrestling match until you proved yourself in an MMA free rules match. That was amateur wrestling. That’s why it’s called amateur wrestling and this is called professional wrestling. So until you proved yourself there you weren’t allowed to do pro wrestling. So in the lineage of my martial arts, professional wrestling is the full culmination of my training.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool.
Any dream opponents that you wish you could step into the ring with? My first complaint when I saw you announced for the video games is that I can’t use you to beat up Zack Ryder.
I guess a lot of my dream opponents would have been some Japanese wrestlers that maybe people wouldn’t be familiar with. I would have really loved-
You and Akira Hokuto? You and Kandori would also be really great. And you’ve got Meiko Satomura showing up here now.
I would have loved Akira Hokuto. And that would have been a match that, man I don’t know if everyone could see that sort of match but it would have been awesome. Kandori, me and Yoshida. Yeah, Satomura would be awesome and she’s also a Billy Robinson student so I think we’d show a technical side that … I just think-
Basically Billy Robinson should just train everyone, because they’re the best ones.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I just think technical wrestling is a lost art especially amongst the women’s side of professional wrestling here in the States. So I like being that representative and any time I can get in the ring with someone that can keep up with that, with me, I love it.
I wrote pretty extensively after NXT Takeover that I though you and Kairi Sane was the best women’s match in the history of NXT.
Except for the end.
Except for the end. The entire time that that match was being built, to the point that I’m in the stands yelling at other fans going, “She’s gonna go to the well one too many times and she’s gonna drop that elbow and she’s gonna end up in the clutch.” And they she ended up in the clutch and I stood up and turned around as was like, “She got her.” And then here I three count and I turned back around and I’m like, “What happened?” That was heartbreaking.
I couldn’t get my legs wrapped around her.
How did that feel being a part of that match and the reactions to it?
It was a difficult spot we were in. So I’m back on the monitors getting warmed up and watching Ricochet Adam Cole before us. Awesome, sweet. [A moonsault into a] superkick, cool. Awesome. But I think with what’s going on between me and Kairi, we were … nothing was forced in that match as far as, “Okay I have to feel this right now.” Everything was genuine. It was just natural. It felt natural. When that happens it translates to the crowd. The crowd can tell when you’re faking the funk. And neither of us were. And that was as legit as you get.
So Evolution’s coming up. We know the NXT women’s champion is gonna be on Evolution. In the strange event that you’re not NXT Women’s Champion by the time Evolution comes around, there have been some matches announced; Alexa Bliss and Trish Stratus, Lita and Mickie James. Any WWE women’s legends who you would like to step into the ring with?
Legends? Anything I’m gonna do, I’m gonna get my shot at that title as soon as I can. [Ed. Note: Sure enough, Baszler’s rematch against Kairi Sane was announced for Evolution the following week.] So if it happens there that would be great. But-
Drag Bull Nakano back into the ring!
Oh, how awesome would that be?
Aja Kong’s still rocking around.
Yeah, that’s true, that’s true. I saw her actually wrestle a match last year. So any of those. Yeah. And even if we’re talking WWE Universe maybe even a … Jazz or even, Beth Phoenix would be really cool. There’s a lot of stuff if we’re taking legends. I just like bending limbs the way they’re not supposed to. So whoever’s got limbs for me to go on. That’s pretty much everyone right?
The body’s a submission waiting to happen.