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By Mike Johnson on 2021-07-20 10:26:00

WWE NXT returns for a live broadcast tonight on the USA Network, headlined by NXT Women's Champion Raquel Gonzalez colliding with a challenger with a ton of momentum behind them in Xia Li.  Yesterday, Gonzalez sat down with to reflect on her ascension as the top female performer for WWE's black and gold brand, the future, tonight's bout and much more.

Mike Johnson: We have a lot of things to talk about in the world of World Wrestling Entertainment coming out of Money in the Bank, but perhaps the most important that we'll talk about is that tomorrow WWE NXT returns to the USA Network, a huge card on that broadcast, but the most important match may be the NXT Women's Championship, as Raquel Gonzalez, who we have the opportunity to sit down with today, will be facing Xia Li. Gorilla Monsoon used to speak about the immovable force and the unstoppable object, and I feel like that is what we were talking about with these two very unique personalities.  Raquel, first of all, thanks for sitting down and talking to us. The last time we spoke, it was right before Halloween Havoc, which was only eight or nine months ago, but it feels like five years, so a lot has changed in your career. Before we talk about the Xia match, how are you and what's it like wrapping your head around being the definitive personality in the WWE NXT Women's Division?

Raquel Gonzalez: It's so funny that you say it like that, because that's exactly how it's still feels. I still feel like I am wrapping my head around everything that's happened so quickly in such a short time. I think I had my debut maybe a year and a half ago when I teamed up with Dakota. Even in that moment too I couldn't even imagine what leaps my career and I was going to take in this industry and in my career. And so it's just been so mind blowing and I've tried my best to kind of take some steps back and really look back and enjoy everything that's been happening and be so grateful for all the opportunities that I've gotten, because it really has been something that I've always dreamed about.  Now it's real and it's just amazing to feel it and to see it and to be living in it. I'm still wrapping my head around it. It's really, really cool even talking to family and friends about it sometimes. I'm very excited. I'm always super happy to talk to anyone about what's been going on in this year and a half.

Mike Johnson: That constant narrative when you end up in the position of trust that you're in right now is the pressure that gets put on you as a person, as a performer. Is there that moment where you get to take that deep breath and enjoy the fruits of your labor? Or is it just we have to worry about the grind and we have to worry about what the next goal is?

Raquel Gonzalez: I constantly do try to worry about what my next goal is. What's the next objective that's going on in my career right now, and always of course, putting in work when it comes to taking care of my body and eating and rehab and all of that stuff. I do put a lot of time and effort into making sure that those things are being done. But I do say that I do have those moments where I can kind of sit down and relax in those moments, or actually when I'm with the people who are most to me, like my family, when I'm able to sit at a table with my grandmother and my dad and my sister, and just really look at them and look at where I'm at and enjoy what's been happening, and have that moment of like... Because they're my biggest support system. They've done everything for me. They supported me throughout my basketball career, my college career, and now here as well. It's just a cool moment for us to have as a family to really appreciate everything that we've been given.

Mike Johnson: Last time, we spoke about the importance of representation and you having the blessing to represent the Latin culture in professional wrestling and in WWE. What's it like knowing that in your current position, and even the trajectory that you've had over the last half a year, you get to be someone that generations of children who are currently watching or will watch in the future get to point to and say, "I want to do what Raquel's done. I want to be in the position where Raquel is," and just find, even if they don't go into WWE or sports as their chosen field, that you will end up being someone that they can point to as someone that they looked up to or were inspired by when they tell the story of their life?

Raquel Gonzalez: Again, it's mind blowing. It's so hard to put into words how that feels. It's still something that I'm trying to wrap my head around that I'm in that position because even myself as a young girl I looked up to, of course, as many young Hispanic girls do, Selena. She was this iconic Mexican-American Texas girl that was trying to push her way into a man's world, into a man's industry, and she did it and she made the most of it. She became this iconic, beautiful human being with an amazing soul and just is remembered for the amazing person that she was.  She's actually is what I think you're referring to me as for these younger generations, as someone that they look up to and they see, because even though I didn't want to be a singer, I knew I didn't have the voice for that, I knew I wanted to do something, and whether it was to play basketball for the WNBA or in the fourth grade, like I said, I wanted to be a wrestler for the WWE. It's something that I know, it's a message that I love, and it's the message that no matter where you come from, no matter what your background is, no matter what obstacles you think are holding you down, you can never, never say no, and you can never just give up. There's always going to be a way, and you just have to keep working to find that way, to find that opportunity, to get your chance to be seen and to be heard and to work for what you really want.

Mike Johnson: Obviously, we're here to talk about the match with Xia Li tomorrow night. There's a lot of very interesting personalities involved in this. Thoughts on the match, your reaction when you found out that this was going to be taking place, and what will the audience will see unfolding before them?

Raquel Gonzalez: I definitely know the NXT audience is excited for this match because they've been waiting for it for so long. I mean, the last time Xia Li came out, called me out, said, "I want you," she didn't show up. So I had to beat up her little sidekick, Boa. It is interesting now though, because like you said, a lot has changed. She has definitely come out and into her own a little bit more. You can definitely see it in her striking abilities and everything that she's doing in the ring, that she is powerful. She does have a threat, but it doesn't turn me from anything that I've been doing. I don't think I need to change anything. I think I'm going to do what I always do and that's come out, expect the unexpected and kick ass.  I definitely think that this is a match that we've all been waiting for, for a long time. I know I've been waiting to get my hands on her. So it's something that I'm looking forward to. I will say I was surprised because when we were looking at, and I saw some of the Instagram posts that NXT was posting up about who should be my next opponent, I did not see Xia Li coming in first in line. I definitely saw her a little bit further along. So this is good, and it's keeping me on my toes and I'm excited for what tomorrow's going to bring.

Mike Johnson: Obviously, with fans returning to Raw and SmackDown in arenas and Money in the Bank last night, there's always that talk of talent shifting to different brands. There's been some NXT talents who've gone to work television tapings of late. Obviously you still have a lot to accomplish in NXT, but in the time period between our last conversation and now you had the chance to work with Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax When they came to NXT. When you look at Raw and SmackDown, are there talents that you look at and you go, "Man, I can't wait to get there one day"? Who are the dream opponents? Obviously, Xia Li for NXT fans, that's very much a dream match this week. But when you look at Raw and SmackDown and the potential future for Raquel Gonzalez beyond NXT, who are the talents that you look at and go, "I can't wait" and you get just the creative juices flowing, thinking about that opportunity?

Raquel Gonzalez: I'm so excited for an opportunity to step back in the ring with Nia Jax, a hundred percent, and to do it one-on-one. When we had that little pace, that little opportunity in NXT of her and I getting our hands on each other, it was very explosive and magical and it made me want more. So I'd definitely say Nia Jax is one of them, she's up there. One person that I always mention as well is of course Natalya. I would love to step into the ring with Nattie. She's so knowledgeable and she's experienced in and the way she moves, I know she would bring out the best in me. Watching her match with Rhea Ripley, I believe it was last week, I was just so excited for Rhea but at the same time, I was a little bit jealous because I was like, yeah, I want to be there too right now.  So I would definitely say those two at the moment. And of course I would love to get in the ring with Bianca Belair. We were both at NXT at the same time. We came up a lot at the same time, but we didn't have the opportunity to work with each other very often on Coconut shows or on NXT TV. So that's definitely one that I'm looking forward to and hoping that I get the opportunity to step in the ring with her real soon.

Mike Johnson: You bring up something interesting. You said that you and Bianca both came up through the Performance Center at the same time. When we look at different promotions and territories that existed at different time periods, there's sort of that bond and fraternity of the talents who came through those areas and had wars with each other or shared locker rooms at the same time. When you think about all the talents who have come through the Performance Center and been in different classes and trained and toured together, how much of a bond is there between yourself and Bianca or yourself and others? Even if you didn't have a chance to wrestle each other in front of a live audience, you still spend a lot of time with each other in terms of training and bettering yourselves and ascending to the next level so that you could perform at the best level possible. How strong is that bond amongst the fraternity that is the Performance Center?

Raquel Gonzalez: It's very strong. It's something that's very, I would say sacred almost to us because even when fans pulled up the picture of the one time that Rhea, myself and Bianca were on the same tag team together on a Coconut Loop, I think out of state... I'm not even sure where. It might've been in like Ohio or something, because it was so long ago. When they pulled that up, it brings back memories, and even some of the videos and pictures from the combines that we competed in each other with against. We were the top three for the bench press. We were always the top three. It was always Rhea, Bianca and myself. Kind of looking back on those moments in those pictures, because time really does fly and sometimes you forget the little things that happened, but looking back on that and seeing it now, it's like, wow, we helped each other grow and we didn't know we were doing it.

We were helping push each other in the best way possible in the most competitive and most sportsmanlike way possible, and we didn't even know it. But it's something that we can look back on and absolutely say that that happened and that it is a beautiful moment, and it is a beautiful memory that we will forever share together. Getting to hold our titles up together in the NXT ring was like letting all of that come back full circle and realizing that we are a team, we are NXT. We are amazing, because we have amazing people to work with.

Mike Johnson: You had the opportunity to become one half of the first female tag team to ever win the Dusty Tag Classic earlier this year, teaming with Dakota Kai, who obviously is very important to you. What did that moment mean to you knowing that forever when the time capsule of that tournament is talked about, you will always be at the forefront of that discussion because everyone else who wins that tournament comes after you and Dakota?

Raquel Gonzalez: It was actually in that moment that both Dakota and I... It doesn't even matter how long our reign was. Even for myself is I was like, wow, we are really making history and it's one of those little girl moments where you're like, I just want to be in the WWE and I want to be someone who is remembered and my name is going to go in the history books. Now that solidified that moment for me, where it's like, I will forever be a trivia question, I will forever be in the history books, and my name will be mentioned, and it's beautiful. It really is. It's just amazing to think that something like that could happen to a small town girl from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Mike Johnson: We talked a little bit about Dakota a second ago. How do you think you and she have changed over the last nine months and what do you think is the secret sauce that makes that team works so well on camera?

Raquel Gonzalez: I think we've gotten a lot closer. Every single time that we have the opportunity to work together and to think of new things and be creative, it really brings us closer together. Especially with everything that's constantly changing NXT, people going and people coming back and stuff like that, it really brings us closer into loving these moments and loving these memories and knowing that we get to make history with each other. But I think we've both grown in so much in confidence in ourselves as well. In a team also, of course, right now we're trying to get back to our title matches so that we could get my girl some gold and put a little bling around her waist. I mean, the goals are there. We are on the same page about what we want, and what we want are the NXT women's tag titles. I think it's just something that like we've become sisters in a way.

Mike Johnson: When you talk about dream matches, one talent that I look upon, who's probably having one of the best years of her career is Kay Lee Ray over in NXT UK. Thoughts on her and that potential dream match of Raquel Gonzalez against Kay Lee Ray one day down the line?

Raquel Gonzalez: Oh yeah, definitely. When she was in the first WarGames match, I was like man, I want to be in there!   Like, oh, I want to be in that, I want to do that too. She was an amazing champion at NXT UK. She is an amazing female wrestler. I would love the opportunity to get in the ring with her. She's gritty and she's just brutal. It's something that I really enjoy watching about her and her mic skills as well. Every time she is talking about someone, it's just you have to stop and listen and you want to watch her, and I would love to create some magic with her.

Mike Johnson: So we're in the midst of WWE returning to your home, the Lone Star State, as we record this. Obviously NXT has not had the opportunity to go back on the road yet. How excited are you for the moment where that call comes, and they say, "Well, we're starting the Coconut Loops again," or "We're going back on tour," and you get to go wrestle in some of the Texas markets and you get to start to travel all over the country and even the world again? How excited are you knowing that moment is... we're probably on the precipice of that moment, literally any moment?

Raquel Gonzalez: I cannot wait. I cannot wait to jump on a plane and to know that I have my gear and my title with me, and that I am going into the beautiful state of Texas, or even out of the state of Florida, even the Coconut Loop here in Florida, if we're going to Tampa or to Saint Augustine. As long as I am wrestling in front of the NXT universe again, which we have been at, and they are amazing, I have to say. Everyone who has been coming to NXT on Tuesdays has been absolutely on fire, and I could not ask for better moments. But it's just going to be so different when we get to get on the road again and that feeling of jumping on a bus and driving to the arena and getting ready and putting your boots on and making sure your knee pads are on good. Just so much excitement, I can't wait. I'm just dying of anxiety right now because I just want to go on the road.

Mike Johnson:   Something else that's going to have to pop up in the next year, I would think, is your first action figure. I'm sure you've been scanned at some point for this. How excited are you knowing that there's probably a Raquel Gonzalez action figure that little kids are going to be able to hold in their hands and use to create and recreate their own WWE adventures in the near future?

Raquel Gonzalez: It's one of those things too. Like I said, it's hard to wrap my head around it. I saw a picture of me for a video game for the WWE phone game. And I was like, oh, that looks just like me. Oh, my gosh, this is a real render for a video game. I think once I see the action figure and once it's in my hands, then it's going to be another one of those moments where I'm like, oh my gosh, I'm a toy. People can go to the store and buy me. It's another dream come true. It really will be. It would be something that's just been on my mind for so long and I've been working for it for so long, and for it to happen, it's just going to be very surreal.

Mike Johnson: At this point in time, you are the definitive WWE NXT female performer. You're going be facing Xia Li tomorrow. You're in the mix of everything involved in the Women's Division. When you think about where you were a year ago, could you have ever envisioned the success would have come this quickly? Then if we fast-forward a year, how do you top it? How do you want to top it, if you had your choice?

Raquel Gonzalez: Looking back on it from everything that's been happening in this year and the position I've been put in, it's like I said, because sometimes time flies by so quickly and you don't have the opportunity to really appreciate the moment for what it is when it's happening. It's very eye-opening to know that people are confiding in me and trusting me in this position to do something that I've always wanted to do. Because I've been fighting for it for so long and now I'm getting the opportunity to actually represent myself and my family and Mi Raza. It's really, really cool to know that I'm looked up to as that person that they can trust and they can confide into for this position. I think in a year from now, I know it's going to be like, how do you top to this, right?

So much has been going on. I've had so many memorable matches  and I have my title and I've made history. I think how I would want to top it is I really, really want to be a part of WrestleMania. I have yet to have the opportunity to be involved in any WrestleMania at all. I think it would be one of those that... It would be a dream come true to walk out on the stage and in my home state of Texas, nonetheless, and be a part of something that is the greatest show of the year, our Super Bowl, WrestleMania in Dallas, Texas. That's how I would want to top it.
Mike Johnson: Well, let's leave this hanging in the air. The NXT Women's Championship has been defended at WrestleMania, but never in front of a live audience. How about that?

Raquel Gonzalez: That's very true!  Let's put it in the atmosphere.

Mike Johnson: All right, Dallas, let's make that happen. I want to thank you for sitting down and talking to us. It's always a pleasure. It's always a great conversation. Last question, and before I ask it, I remind everybody that they can follow Raquel @RaquelWWE on Twitter, why should fans make sure they're watching NXT this week and why should they make sure that they're switching over to Syfy the next two weeks, when the Olympics kind of elbows NXT off USA for a couple of weeks?

Raquel Gonzalez: I would say you guys are going to be very, very shocked at what is coming up and what would be coming out of the woodwork. There's a lot of changes happening right now, so you definitely don't want to miss. Because who knows with all the shifts that have been happening with talents, who knows who's going to make their debut, who knows who's going to try and call me out? Because I'm going to just say right now, you guys should watch tomorrow, but I'm keeping my title. I am retaining. Xia Li may be a changed person, unafraid, but I will make sure that I remind her the one person she needs to be scared of and that is Raquel Gonzalez.

WWE NXT airs tonight on the USA Network at 8 PM EST before shifting to SyFy for the next two weeks due to Olympic Games coverage.

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