Wrestler Nyla Rose is not the girl next door … unless your neighbor is a quick-witted, former sitcom star turned in-your-face, kick-ass, biracial, bisexual, ground-breaking, rule-breaking, transgender female wrestler.
You’d be smart to clear the aisle and keep your comments to yourself as she heads to the wrestling ring. There have been transgender wrestlers in professional wrestling before, but not in a national major league company like All Elite Wrestling and never one to win the women’s world championship title like Rose did in 2020.
All Elite Wrestling will broadcast its weekly “AEW Dynamite” show from Fertitta Center on the UH campus on the night of Wednesday, May 18. Among the stars scheduled to appear are: AEW champion Hangman Page, Jeff Hardy, Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Dr. Britt Baker DMD, Samoa Joe, Chris Jericho, and William Regal. CM Punk will be on commentary during Hangman Page’s match. Tickets starting at $29 are available here.
We caught up with the rock star Nyla Rose over the phone last week.
CultureMap: Were you a wrestling fan as a kid? Who were your favorite wrestlers?
Nyla Rose: Absolutely! Mostly I watched on TV with my grandmother. I started to go to live shows when I was 12 or 13. I was rooting for everybody, I was just happy to be there. Specifically my favorite wrestlers were the Texas Tornado, Undertaker and Shawn Michaels and, of course, Bret Hart.
CM: Not Ric Flair?
NR: Sorry, I wasn’t a Ric Flair fan. As I got older I came to appreciate him but as a kid I wanted to see him get his head punched in.
CM: Did you dream about becoming a wrestler when you went to the live shows?
NR: Oh, 100 percent! I never thought it was possible, though. It was more of a fantasy. I didn’t know how you go about doing that. I put it on the same level as watching the Simpsons. Man, I would like to go to Springfield and hang out with the Simpsons.
I didn’t know that you could go to wrestling school and become a pro wrestler. It was as far-fetched as being in a cartoon with Tom and Jerry.
CM: Your nickname is the “Native Beast.” They say that wrestlers typically take their natural personalities and crank them up 1,000 percent. What appeals to you about playing the lowdown heel role instead of a goody-goody babyface?
NR: I really don’t know. I just out there and do what I do. Maybe I have a natural mean streak. If we pull back the curtain, you get away with a little bit more as the bad guy. To me, it’s just more fun. I don’t know if it’s true with everybody about turning up your personality but it’s definitely the case with me. We all have different facets of ourselves.
Being able to tap into our experiences make for the best character. My character is a bit of a bully. While I might not be a bully in my personal life, those are experiences I had in my life. I tap into those and turn them on their head.
CM: Where did you grow up? Tell me about your parents.
NR: I grew up in Washington D.C. for about half of my younger years. Then we moved out to the suburbs in Alexandria, Virginia. I’m still out that way. My mother is Black and Native American. My father is white and Native American. I identify as a Black Native woman.
CM: You wrestled for several years on independent circuits before joining AEW in 2019. Then you won the AEW women’s title from Riho in 2020. That was fast. Tell me about it.
NR: It happened super quickly. I absolutely did not see that coming. I was given a unique and very blessed opportunity to have the match, but I did not think for one second that someone like me would be fortunate enough to hold the title, especially so early on with the company.
To be given the reins and for the company to have faith in me to be the champion was a completely surreal and amazing thing to happen. Hopefully I can do it again.
CM: Have you ever wrestled in Texas? This is a legacy wrestling state and the fans don’t hold back. You better bring your A game.
NR: I love wrestling in Texas! I’ve been there on the independent scene, also with All Elite Wrestling.
It’s an amazing place with fantastic people, despite what some of my tweets may say (laughs). Texas crowds bring lots and lots of energy and it’s always a good time.
CM: How old were you when you realized that transitioning to female was something you needed to do?
NR: That’s a tough question to answer. I didn’t know that (transitioning) was even a thing. How do you go about doing that? I knew who I really was as young as 2 or 3 years old. When I did learn what transition was, that it was medically possible, something attainable, I probably was about 12 or 13.
I didn’t think it was possible for me, though, so I resigned myself to living the life I had to live. When I was 26 or 27 it really weighed on me and I knew a change had to happen.
CM: You realized who you were as a child but waited until you were in your late 20s, so you lived many years …
CM: How difficult were those years?
NR: It was incredibly difficult, absolutely insufferable. To everybody who knew me back then I have to apologize because I was not a very good person. I didn’t like who I was and I was miserable and I may have taken that out on other people. It wasn’t until I found my truth that I found happiness and peace.
CM: Professional wrestling is a tough business with tough people. Under the best circumstances, wrestlers don’t roll out the welcome wagon to new performers. How has the business treated you?
NR: Fans like to voice their opinion. You overhear things on your way to the ring. As far as other wrestlers, I almost wish it had been more direct. There was a lot of talking behind my back. Somebody might be two-faced, telling me one thing but then you hear from somebody else how things really are.
Or, you overheard something. That was a little heartbreaking for me. But it also was very freeing in a sense that it let me carve out my own path. This is who I am. I know what I’m going to do and I do it.
CM: Do you see yourself as a role model for people who are in a similar situation that you faced when you were younger?
NR: I don’t see myself as a role model but I do understand that I am one. I understand what I mean for so many people because when I was growing up there was nobody like me on TV. If there was, it was treated like a joke. I get it, I understand.
Here you have me, who’s proud of her indigenous heritage, who’s proud of her blackness, who’s unapologetic of being trans, who’s proud of being bisexual and who lives freely and openly and puts it in your face and doesn’t back down. I know there are people who see me and think they can live like that, too.
CM: You compete even-up against women. It’s a hot button issue in high school and collegiate sports. Should transgender female athletes be allowed to compete against cisgender (born female) women?
NR: I think if they are meeting the requirements set forth by the hosting group or athletic commission or the Olympic committee, whatever, then they absolutely should be allowed to compete.