Welcome back to How I Made It, Metro.co.uk’s career journey series.
This week we’re talking to Kay Lee Ray, a 29-year-old WWE wrestler living in Orlando, US.
Her true home is in Johnstone, Scotland, and she started her wrestling journey in Scotland and England before jetting off as her career progressed.
For 649 days she held a women’s championship title – which is the longest women’s reign in all of WWE for the last few decades.
After losing that title, America called and now she works for NTX, a branch of WWE.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I’m incredibly proud of where I am.
‘I was really lucky a few years ago I got to compete in WWE’s first ever women’s war games match, which is two rings set up together surrounded by a steel cage, working in two teams.’
There’s no doubt she lives and breathes wrestling. Let’s find out how she made it.
Hey Kay Lee, how did you get into wrestling?
My story is a bit different to most other wrestlers you’ll speak to. I didn’t watch wrestling, it wasn’t something I tuned into every week. It was actually something my husband, Stevie Xavier, got me into back when we were 15.
When I started watching wrestling, I started training too. So it all came at once for me.
If you think wrestling is not for you – give it a try, because I would love to go back and watch all those years of wrestling that I missed. I just thought I wouldn’t like it, but now it consumes my life and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
I’ve worked really hard to get the life I have, but I’ve worked hard in a job that I love so that makes it all worth it.
Was your husband also training to be a wrestler at the time?
Yeah, he’d watched it since he was kid so I appreciated that he took something he loved and showed me it.
He’s the same age so we learnt the ropes as we progressed at the same time.
Before him, did you see wrestling as more of a male activity that was less for you?
I didn’t see it as something for me. I never gave it the chance, and that’s why I encourage people to try it now.
What did the journey involve to get to where you are now?
Training so much you miss family birthdays, holidays and commitments you’ve made because you always just have to keep going and trying to make that name for yourself so you can get an opportunity with one of the bigger companies.
I was lucky I got my first big gig with WWE’s NXT UK. Before that I trained loads and travelled the world for matches. I went across Europe and to Japan and America, then about two and a half years ago that I became employed by WWE.
I was independent before that so you’re reaching out to people, people are reaching out to you, you’re negotiating your prices to work. It’s mainly all on you.
I worked for Shimmer Women Athletes in America at one point too, after going to Japan for a month. They let me be who I wanted to be and build the character play.
Before you landed your big contract, did you have to do other work outside of wrestling to support yourself financially?
Yes, I was a care worker for a long time working with disabled young adults and then later elderly people. As soon as I started, I realised there are so many different stories you could hear from people.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, sometimes Mondays, I’d get most of my wrestling matches done and try to fill my time with bookings, then with the rest of the week I’d do the care work.
Sometimes I’d come straight off a night shift and go into a car to a wrestling show.
My husband and I also set up a company at one point, mainly putting on shows in Glasgow.
A typical day in the working life of Kay Lee Ray
On Tuesday nights, Kay Lee has her fights. Here is a typical Monday in America, where she currently resides.
9am: Get to the gym for an hour.
11am-1pm: Do ring training with other female wrestlers. It can involve practicing moves that need more work and doing cardio.
1pm: Stop for lunch and have a break.
3pm: Get ready for the fight tomorrow, making sure everything is prepared, packed and ready.
Kay Lee will have a short gym workout on Tuesday morning, then be gearing herself up for the match.
Is there anything you don’t love about your job?
I love travelling and seeing new places but I hate how much time is spent actually travelling – sitting in a car or on a plane.
I actually feel it does a lot of damage to sportspeople in general. When you come off a plane your body does not feel great.
And then you have to get yourself ready to perform after sitting in a tight space for hours.
How do you feel about being a woman in this industry? Do you think you have to work harder than male colleagues?
I do, yeah… It’s a hard one. Women at one point only had one match on a wrestling show and it was almost a novelty act.
I think the women back then had to work extremely hard to be taken seriously. But I think you have to work hard in general to make it.
There are a lot more women in this industry now and it’s amazing to see that. I’m good at what I do and I deserve everything I get.
Do you ever find that as a female wrestler, a certain crowd, shall we say, will sexualise what you’re doing?
It can be frustrating and I’m not going to say it’s never happened, but I do think now if the crowd hears things like that they can turn very quickly on that person and so it happens less.
It’s not wanted at a wrestling show. I’ve seen people be kicked out of venues because of it.
From a safety perspective, how do you work while performing in semi-scripted matches? There’s still opportunity to improvise and for something to go wrong.
This is a big thing for me. A lot of people like to tarnish wrestling, but there is risk and a lot of trust with your fellow wrestlers.
I think people would be surprised sometimes by how little is actually scripted. If you try and plan something and the crowd doesn’t like it, you have to think on the spot.
I’m lucky I’ve avoided major injuries, which can be a big set back and really can consume you if you’ve been forced to take time off.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love the escapism people can get from it. You can sit down and watch a match and get lost in it and forget everything that’s going on in your life.
I still find myself – even though I know how it works – watching a match and losing it a bit because something exciting happens.
I love creating that entertainment, especially now at a time that has been so bad for some people.
What is the secret to getting to where you are today?
Shy kids don’t get sweets. That’s something one of my best friends told me – she has helped me so much in my life and that saying has got us through a lot.
Go and ask for it. What’s the worst that can happen? Someone says ‘no’. Cool. At least you tried.
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