WWE Superstar CJ 'Lana' Perry opens up about her pro-wrestling career and preparing for 'Money in the Bank' match
Singing, dancing, modeling...CJ 'Lana' Perry has done it all. And somehow, she transitioned seamlessly to a career as a valet and a wrestler in WWE.
Singing, dancing, modeling...Lana has done it all. And somehow, she transitioned seamlessly from a career as a valet to a wrestler in World Wrestling Entertainment. She came in as the valet for her then-boyfriend and now husband, Rusev, playing the part of the evil Russian villainess to perfection. And then, she took the next step. From a manager, she became a wrestler, competing in the supremely skilled WWE Women's Division.
Meaww had a chance to catch up with Lana and ask her a few questions. Here are excerpts from our conversation with the WWE superstar.
Q: What is it like being finally able to perform as a WWE superstar after being behind the scenes for so long?
It's a huge opportunity to be able to become an in-ring competitor at WWE. And I am loving every moment of it. I love managing my husband Rusev, and I love managing in general, but to be an in-ring competitor myself, it's an incredible feeling.
I actually made by in-ring debut with the ladder match last year, so this year's match was even more special for me. And as for my in-ring career so far, I am extremely thankful to all the women performers that we have on the team, such as Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Natalya Neidhart for making my first-year fun and challenging throughout.
Q: Was it a difficult transition from managing your husband Rusev to being an in-ring competitor yourself?
A lot of people say that we as WWE superstars have a huge fan base since the WWE world is so passionate and amazing. However, they are very opinionated, and they still criticize a lot for my wrestling and my in-ring performance, and that sometimes can be really brutal and really harsh. But you have to do what you love, and I love competing in the ring.
I love managing my husband, and I would love to do that again. But I also love competing in the ring. And yes, I might not be the best in-ring performer, but it's not just about being the strongest or the fastest...its about persevering. And I think that is my story, and I want to encourage little kids and I want to encourage men and women to passionately pursue their dreams. Even if the world tells you 'You shouldn't do it', (if) you love something passionately, go for it.
Q: Is there a lot of juggling involved when it comes to managing your WWE career along with your movie projects, as and when they come?
Right now, my sole focus is training and improving in wrestling, and being the best in-ring performer and athlete that I could be in WWE. But there also have been projects, like other versions of movies, like executives and lead producer. So I do work on independent projects like that sometimes too.
And it is sometimes hard since I work on all these other projects on my off days when I juggle all of these different jobs. But I love doing all of it because what matters to me is that for the rest of my life, I can tell these stories.
Q: There must be a lot of pressure to be constantly fit, given the athletic nature of your job. What is your usual fitness regime like?
Of course, there's a lot of pressure to be strong and fit and look good at all times. But WWE is so great that all shapes and sizes of women are accepted. They want people to be themselves, and that is really really great...to be working in that sort of an environment.
But for wrestling, to be an in-ring competitor, you have to be strong. I come from a dancing background, so I work really hard to put extra muscle on me. I make sure that I have enough proteins and carbohydrates because a lot of times I would go over to the leaner side, something that I'd like to put on more muscle for, especially to be an in-ring competitor.
Q: Was dancing something that came naturally to you or was it that you were passionate enough about it to pursue it with full strength?
I definitely am passionate about dancing and there are a lot of things in WWE and wrestling which reflects my dance journey and my ballet work. I was a professional dancer and singer, and I started my professional dancing when I was nine years old.
I learned ballet after putting in a lot of hard work because there was a time I would struggle with doing splits. So I pushed myself that way and did my homework so that I could perfect the moves with time.
And that is one thing about me, I might not be the best in-ring competitor, the fastest or the quickest, but hard work helps me go through at the end of the day.
Q: Sunday's 'Money in the Bank' challenge was definitely exciting. What were your thoughts on the line-up?
It was an absolutely incredible line-up. I mean, in my match alone, the women... I was so nervous because of the women in the match, such incredible talent. I mean we had got Sasha Banks, Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch and Naomi. These women are some of the best in-ring competition out there. I was the newest person as the in-ring competitor there, but I was excited to see everyone there, and I was preparing for that for so long.
Q: How did you prepare yourself for the 'Money in the Bank' match? Anything special which your fans might not have known?
I had been going to the gym a lot, doing a lot of lifting and drank a ton of protein shakes, trying to grow out some more muscle. Also, I had been training on a lot of different things, which people might have noticed on 'Total Divas' as I was preparing myself for the match.
Natalya, moreover, had been helping me a lot with my training for the match. I have such a lovely relationship with her, it's like she's an older sister that guides me whenever I need help. She was helping me teach some stuff about the ladder match. She was the one to teach me how to handle the ladder because it's so heavy (laughs)!
Like we have an 8 foot, 10 foot as well as a 12-foot ladder that we need to climb just to get that briefcase. And there are times we fall from there, which is insane! And the ladders are so heavy, that I had been learning from Natalya how to pick it up, move it around. I had also made a trip to San Diego ahead of the match so as to train with Daniel Bryan to prepare for the ladder match.
Q: If you had to pick and choose a dream competitor for yourself, who would you pick and why?
One person? That's so hard! I consider myself really lucky to have competed with some of the girls, and I really look up to them. But I guess I would love to be in the ring with Becky Lynch. She's so incredible, and one of our best in-ring performers. No one brings as much sass as her to the program, and she's very witty and funny, so I would just love to battle it out with her in the ring as we do it on the microphone!
If I had to pick a second person though, I would pick Natalya.
Q: You and Rusev have been a couple for quite some time now. Tell us a little more about your relationship with him?
Rusev and I have a very yin-yang relationship. He is definitely the yin to my yang and we're definitely the opposite of each other, so that makes our relationship really exciting. He's one of the funniest people I have met in my life, and he makes me laugh, which is really amazing. Also, I make him laugh, which is also really funny because most of the time, people laugh at me. I am not really witty with my humor, but I do funny things which make people laugh, but Rusev thinks I am really funny.
It's always nice to have someone who likes your jokes, and it's fun because we are always laughing and having fun together. We laugh, we sing together. We even sing Backstreet Boys together, and we are really smitten by the new track (Don't Go Breaking My Heart) which has come out recently. We keep listening to it non-stop, and it's one of our most favorite songs currently.
Rusev moreover has helped me so much with so many things, like wrestling. He encourages me when I am down, and in turn, I encourage him. And it's just so wonderful because we really help each other whenever we're discouraged about certain things, we help each other up. And I think that's what our partnership is about, and our marriage works because we're best friends.
Q: Where did you guys first meet? What was your impression of each other?
We met at NXT in Orlando, and our first date happened around 70 people, and it was so bad that I don't even count that as our first date. But he (Rusev), the next day, met me at the training school, and I was like, "You guys need training?" because you know, he's a big guy. And he's like, "What makes you think that?", and I say, "Well, you're like a 300-pound man!"
And when I heard his accent, I asked him if he was from Russia, and he replied that he was in fact from Bulgaria, and we became instant friends because we're both from Eastern Europe. And the next day, when I had my promo class, they (WWE creative directors) told me that I would be paired with Rusanoff. So I shot the promo with him, and that's where our journey started.
Q: How do you deal with the highs and lows of a normal life given the career path that you're on and the immensely public life you sometimes have to lead?
Well, I feel that first of all, everyone needs to understand that we are human. When you're in a reality show and you have to be you, sometimes things can look ugly and people will judge you, they might understand it or not understand certain things, but that's what we signed up for. And I just hope that in my journey of life, with my failures and success I can encourage other people to keep going.
It's not about how many times you make a mistake or fall flat on the ground, but what you do in that situation, that's what is going to define your life. And so, I think that owning up to your mistakes, apologizing and taking responsibility when you're wrong is an important part of your life's journey. Rusev and I have chosen to share that with everyone, and we hope to encourage other people on our way.
Q: If there was something that you could have done differently in your personal and/or professional career, what would it be and why?
I wouldn't really change anything, because of all the things in my life...my journey has brought me to this moment, and it has in a way defined me. I am the person who I am today because of the good things that have happened and the bad things that have happened; the mistakes that I have made in my life have defined me and made me the person that I am as much as the good things which I have gone through in life. Maybe a lot of other good things would have happened if I had learned from my mistakes. And I am very grateful that I was able to take lessons from my mistakes in my life and learn something valuable.
The one thing that I want people to know and keep in mind is that the lows of life define a person as much as the highs do. But they need to learn from their mistakes and keep on pushing forward and then they are gonna become everything that they want to be. That's how one can become the greatest version of themselves.
My favorite quote, which I also tend to use as my life's motto, actually came to me in a fortune cookie once. It said, "Live life forward so that you understand it backward."
Q: You've been a part of some big movie franchises in the past, including Pitch Perfect and Scooby Doo. What's next on the cards for you with regards to your singing and acting?
Well, there's season 8 of 'Total Divas' coming up, so you'll have to stay tuned to that. You can keep a check on my Twitter or Instagram account for the premiere date and all other details.
Moreover, one of my films, 'Other Versions of You' which premiered at this year’s Nashville Film Festival, is on its way to distribution, so that's another thing to look forward to. It's an independent movie, which is this amazing romantic comedy, and I am really excited for my fans to be able to see different versions of me through this.
I'm also working on other things as well, like my own comic book, which is slated to come out sometime in the future. I am a huge fan of comics, although my husband isn't as passionate as me about comic books. He is the kind of person who would rather go and watch a DC or Marvel movie in the theatres than read the comic book.