How CJ Perry Went From Dancing at Bat Mitzvahs To The WWE
If you glance at a photo of WWE Divas – now known as “superstars,” you’ll notice that every single one of them is hot af. What you might not notice upon first glance is that every single one of them could kick your ass.
And no, not “fake” kick your ass. Like, really kick your ass.
“I’ve broken my wrist wrestling,” explains CJ Perry, better known as Lana, her character on WWE. “I have a rod and three screws in my wrist…This is a contact sport and people don’t realize that.”
CJ joined the WWE after a worldwide diva search that narrowed it down to just five girls, and while the criteria surely had to do with aesthetics, it also involved a month-long physical training session for wrestling moves.
Now, she’s traveling the world with her husband, who she met through wrestling. In fact, the episode of “Total Divas” that aired on Wednesday showed their wedding.
We talked to CJ about the women’s revolution in the WWE, her previous gigs dancing at Bat Mitzvahs, and what it’s like working with her husband on camera 24/7.
So what inspired you to get into WWE in the first place?
Since I was three years old, I’ve always dreamt of being an entertainer and telling stories. WWE is all storytelling, so when I got the opportunity to try out for WWE in 2012 for the diva search, I was ecstatic because WWE is the merge of everything. We perform in front of 16,000-17,000 people and you get the gratification of performing in front of a live audience, but at the same time it’s storytelling and it’s scripted TV. So it’s the perfect merge of live performance, dancing, then also acting like on any TV show. So that’s the exciting part of it. There’s nothing in the world like WWE. We’re entertainers, athletes, actors. It’s really cool to be able to do this.
What was the tryout like?
It was a six month process. I was living in LA at the time, auditioning like so many other actors, dancers, and performers are in LA. It went from just getting call[ed] back to then doing these different acting things, then we had to show our talent. Then we had to cut promos and then they cut 12 of us girls and put us through a month-long intensive–basically us learning basic wrestling moves–from there, they signed five of us. Eva Marie was one of the girls and I was one of the girls and Jojo, who announces us for WWE Raw. It is us three remaining from the original five.
Wow, that’s so intense.
Yeah, it’s really crazy. I remember when I was learning how to take bumps or hitting the ropes, we would be just completely bruised. People don’t understand how physical it is and how demanding it is on the body. It’s just like any contact sport. It’s really intense.
That’s crazy. So, currently you don’t get in the ring though, right?
I do wrestle, but currently on TV I am managing my husband. We just got married in August, so you can actually see our wedding this Wednesday on “Total Divas.” But I do wrestle and I go down to NXT to wrestle, which is our development program, and when the time is right you will see me wrestle on Monday Night Raw.
Awesome. So what’s it like playing manager to your real life husband on TV?
Um, it’s great. We met in NXT, the development program for WWE in Orlando and so our characters have kind of been built together. Of course, there are challenges being around each other 24/7 and you see that in “Total Divas” when we take you behind the scenes and open the curtain a little bit, showing how our relationship is and it isn’t always a skip in the park. But with any relationship you have to work through things and I think that working together makes you compromise and respect each other. It really makes you learn how to respect one another and listen to one another and I think that’s the foundation to having a good relationship.
But we still have our fun too. [laughs]
Yeah of course, and I guess it’s kind of nice you guys travel together because you’re both…
Oh my God, It would be crazy. We travel 300 days of the year at least. So we actually have 300 shows a year. We’re so fortunate and I’m very grateful that I actually get to travel with the man I love doing what I love. Living my dream.
Yeah, definitely. I mean I feel like otherwise it would be so hard to date when you’re traveling that much.
So what’s the toughest part about being on a reality show. I mean, having your wedding on a reality show?
I think the hardest part is that you just have to live this vulnerable life and you’re opening yourself up to the world judging you versus when I walk out on Monday Night Raw I am a character. I am currently right now the Russian villain [on the show]. So it’s kind of like, oh I don’t care if people don’t like me. I don’t care if people don’t like that character because it’s a character, you know?
When I’m opening up my life as CJ on “Total Divas,” I’m letting people into my life where you can actually judge me and maybe not like me. Being vulnerable, there’s always that challenge because at the end of the day as human beings we do want to be accepted. As much as I speak out on social media to [tell] my followers to not be defined by society, but to define society, it doesn’t matter what people think about you, stand up and speak out; regardless at the end of the day we want to be accepted.
That’s why I call my fans and followers my Lana squad because my whole life I’ve been judged and my whole life I’ve been misunderstood and it’s like, ‘ok, I’m just going to start my own squad, I’m going to start my own clique and everyone is invited and accepted, come as you are.’
Yeah, definitely, I totally get what you’re saying. Even if you tell yourself not to think about what other people think, you naturally do. It’s just human nature. Do you find that it’s kind of an interesting to be acting as the Russian villain with what is going on with politics right now, with Putin and Trump?
I think the Russians have always been America’s biggest competition. Even China might be thrown in there, but Russia is always the go-to villain. If you look at any movie. Go back to Rocky 4 or any of the Rocky’s or other movies, it’s always the Russians as the bad guy. It’s just because they’re powerhouses, I think, and also just because of the athleticism, the Olympics. It’s always been that competition and that rivalry.
And you know, politics set aside, competition is good. That’s why America is one of the greatest in the world and that’s why Russia always was great. China’s great because there’s that competition. Competition is healthy, competition is good because it pushes us to be the best that we can be. As long as we have these powerhouses in the world, we have this competition. If it’s either the Olympics, or politics, or whatever it is. There’s going to be that spot. I set my entertainment completely aside from what goes on in the world of politics.
So what’s a common misconception people make about the WWE superstars?
I think a lot people say it’s fake and it is not fake. We just have predetermined endings.
I’ve broken my wrist wrestling. I have a rod and three screws in my rib cage and my husband has two plates in his neck and has torn his ACL. This is a contact sport and people don’t realize that. People just think, ‘oh it’s fake,’ because we have predetermined endings. But no, we go out there and we’re literally fighting each other. We’re wrestling. It’s a contact sport, but we just have predetermined endings just like TV show would have. After watching “Games of Thrones” or “Scandal” or “Orange is the New Black,” there are endings that are written in there and that’s the same with WWE. We have written endings to matches and it’s scripted themes and promos. So it’s not fake. It’s just predetermined. There’s a big difference.
Totally, that makes sense. Before your WWE experience, did you ever have a really shitty job that you didn’t like?
[Laughing] Oh my God, which job? I worked so many jobs. I feel like I had 13 different ones. Um, you know I look at everything as part of the journey and I always would try to look at either me dancing at Bar Mitzvahs or working Miller Lite or working conventions for $15 an hour or $10 an hour or whatever, is all a part of the journey of getting to where I wanted to get. That’s the way I took it.
I was like, “I get to do what I love for a living, even if it is just dancing at a Bar Mitzvah. At least I get to do what I love. At least I’m dancing and helping put on a show and helping put on a party in front of these 200 people for like, $200 bucks a night. At least I don’t have to work an 8 to 5 job and I’m still putting smiles on people’s faces.” And that’s what I wanted to do since I was three years old. So if I’m putting smiles on people’s faces for entertainment, I consider myself a very blessed human being.
Cool, that’s a good way to look at it. So there’s been a women’s revolution going on in the WWE for the past year. As someone in the WWE, what changes have you seen being made and what do you think sparked these changes?
Well, this has been a fight for years. We see the change now, but this has been for years of women pushing this and fighting for longer matches and fighting to be bigger characters in WWE. Now we are so lucky to be reaping the benefits of women who have been fighting this for the last 25-30 years. I’ve noticed a huge difference since I debuted in 2014.
That first year, matches were a lot of times a minute and half long, two minutes long, three minutes long and I’ve seen such a huge change in WWE since 2015 on of women just getting more time in matches or getting more time in the matches or more time on the microphone and just getting more opportunity.
As we’re given opportunity, we continue doing well. So we continue proving we deserve this opportunity and so we’re giving more. It’s just a great time to be alive and I’m very thankful and excited for women as a whole in society because this is just reflecting what is happening across the board in the world, which is very exciting. Like the Women’s March that just happened a couple days ago. Fighting for opportunity.
Follow CJ on Instagram @thelanawwe. And keep a watch for when CJ launches her Youtube channel that will feature her makeup, fashion, and workout tips.