Alexa Bliss brings ‘Raw’ gold to Little Caesars Arena

The WWE Superstar and ‘Raw’ Women’s Champion has been on a lifelong track to the pro wrestling world

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

World Wrestling Entertainment Raw Women’s Champion Alexa Bliss has suffered massive neck trauma and a half-dozen broken noses — all before even stepping inside of a pro wrestling ring.

WWE super star Alexa Bliss

“People don’t understand how dangerous All-Star Cheer is!” says Bliss, who racked up a laundry list of injuries during her competitive cheerleading days. One such mishap left her in a neck brace during her high school homecoming; she was still voted her school’s homecoming queen, but she had to accept her tiara while wearing a large cervical collar, which she nonetheless blinged out for the occasion.

Now she’s wearing a different kind of bling, in the form of a WWE Championship belt. When WWE brings its flagship “Monday Night Raw” program to Little Caesars Arena on Monday, Bliss will be on hand — all five-foot-one of her — as the “Raw” brand’s Women’s Champ.

Alexa Bliss gestures in the ring during the WWE show at Zenith Arena on may 09, 2017 in Lille, France.

Bliss’ in-ring character is pouty, spoiled and narcissistic, traits that Bliss says couldn’t be further from her real life personality. Still, “my mother tells me the evil glares have been happening my whole life,” she says, “but I don’t believe her.”

Bliss, real name Alexis Kaufman, was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. An only child, her mother involved her in sports from 4 years old, from gymnastics to cheerleading and later to bodybuilding.

“I was constantly working out in the gym,” says Bliss, on the phone earlier this week from her current home in Orlando. “They had me with trainers since I was 14 years old. My parents always told me that you’re never going to get anything if you don’t work for it, and what’s worth having doesn’t come easy.”

Alexa Bliss, right, and Bayley battle in the ring during the WWE show at Zenith Arena on may 09, 2017 in Lille, France.

She cheered through high school and during college at the University of Akron; cheer comps would sometimes bring her to Detroit. She planned to go into the medical field — her mother, Angela, is a nurse — but after college, “I didn’t want to adult yet,” she says. And that’s when she heard WWE was holding open tryouts.

Growing up, watching wrestling was a family ritual; Monday nights were Joseppi’s Pizza and “Raw.” During the late ’90s “Attitude Era,” however, the content wasn’t exactly age appropriate for young Lexi.

“I wasn’t really allowed to watch, because I started telling my mom to ‘suck it,’ ” says Bliss, 26. “But I’d watch it at my grandmother’s house anyway.”

She would fake-wrestle with her cousin in her blow-up pool, sans water, pretending they were WWE Superstars the Hardy Boyz and Lita. Her pro wrestling fanfare dipped during high school and college, but she knew the tryouts were her calling.

Wrestler Bayley introduces Alexa Bliss to the turnbuckle during the WWE show at Zenith Arena on may 09, 2017 in Lille, France.

She signed with WWE in 2013 and made her debut in the company’s developmental league, NXT. She spent three years there, moving to WWE’s “Smackdown” program in 2016 (where she had two championship runs) and graduated to “Raw” a year later.

Bliss is a fan favorite, even though her character is a “heel,” wrestle-speak for villain.

“Before I was portraying the character Alexa Bliss, I was very shy, very uncomfortable with playing a bad guy or showing any emotion, really,” she says. “Now when I’m in the ring or doing a speaking segment, I get so wrapped up in the character that I don’t even notice I’m doing it. It’s a natural feeling for me.”

One of her NXT trainers, William Regal, taught Bliss to borrow character moments from real life observations.

“He would sit and watch people in airports and out in public and he would study their mannerisms, and he’d say if they bothered him, chances are they’d bother other people,” she says.

This paid off when she was in a store and saw a child laying on the ground throwing a full-blown temper tantrum.

“I saw how other people were looking at this child, screaming his head off, kicking and screaming in the store, and the poor mother was just mortified and trying to get her son to stop. I was like, ‘that’s gold. I’m using that.’ ”

Alexa Bliss mugs for the crowd during the WWE show at Zenith Arena on May 09, 2017 in Lille, France.

She’s been throwing temper tantrums in the ring since, and it’s been gold for her character.

She compares the separation between in-ring Bliss and the real-life Kaufman to a scene from “My Week With Marilyn,” the 2011 drama that starred Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.

“Marilyn is very shy and quiet and unsure of herself, but there’s a scene where she’s walking down the stairs and she turns to (Eddie Redmayne’s character) and says, ‘do you want to see me be her?’ And then she switches into Marilyn mode. I was like oh my gosh, that’s exactly how I feel. ‘Do you want to see me be her.’ If you could put it into words, that would be it,” she says.

With several championship reigns already under her belt, Bliss says her goal in the WWE is to have a women’s match headline WrestleMania, the biggest show on WWE’s annual calendar. And while her athletic background helped carve her path to WWE, Bliss says performing in front of WWE crowds is the pinnacle of her competitive life.

“Even with the cheerleading background, gymnastics, bodybuilding, doing bootcamps all the time, nothing can prepare you for what your body goes through in the ring,” she says. “It’s one of the toughest things you’ll ever do, but also one of the most rewarding.”

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Monday Night Raw

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Alexa Bliss: Quick hits

Ohio State fan? “Of course, born and raised, can’t help it. I actually dated a Michigan fan at one point in high school, and my mom made sure that ended right away.”

Skyline Chili: Yay or nay? “Yes! Oh my gosh. It’s so good. I love the crackers, I love the chili, and I love the cheese. There’s something about the cheese, it’s like extra-stringy, and extra amazing. So good.”

Any side effects to all those broken noses? “Recently there was this video package that aired and a lot of the comments on Twitter were about my nostrils. Like, ‘Why are here nostrils so uneven?’ It’s because I’ve had my nose broken so many times! I had to have my nose cauterized multiple, multiple times because it would bleed all the time. If it got touched, it would just bleed all over. That’s just something that happens when you’ve had so many broken noses.”

What was it like wearing a neck brace in high school? “I would walk down the halls at school and teachers, of all people, would tap me on the shoulder and make me turn all the way around, just to think it was funny. When I got crowned homecoming queen, in the neckbrace, they were so afraid to put the tiara on my head that they just kind of sat it there, and it fell off. And I had to awkwardly bend down, pick it up, and put it on my head. It was so embarrassing.”