Eva Marie Shoots on WWE Raw Return, Her Critics, Facing Bayley, NXT Run and More
Love her or loathe her, Eva Marie has succeeded in getting the WWE Universe talking about her since resurfacing on Raw in June.
Upon debuting for the company in the summer of 2013, the former Total Divas star was among the most polarizing performers on the roster. She made strides in the ring and honed her skills on the mic but left before she could capture championship gold.
Eva announced her departure from the company in August 2017 and went on to pursue other passions, most notably in the acting and fitness realms. Despite everything she's accomplished outside of the squared circle, it was always more a matter of when and not if she would be back. And now that she is, she hasn't wasted any time in making waves in WWE's women's division.
Within weeks of returning, she has became a focal point of the program alongside her protege, Piper Niven, who has since been rechristened as Doudrop. The two have teased tension, but if they can remain a cohesive unit, it may not be long before they are wearing the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship belts around their waists.
Ahead of Monday's edition of Raw, Eva sat down with Bleacher Report to discuss her WWE comeback, being away for several years, her relationship with the fans, bringing the "Eva-lution" to Monday nights, who she's most excited to do battle with and more.
Check out the complete audio of the interview on the next slide, and read on for the highlights.
Why Her Return to WWE Was Inevitable
Before returning to the Raw roster, Eva Marie's previous WWE appearance came on the Aug. 9, 2016, edition of SmackDown. She was about to make her anticipated re-debut for SmackDown against Becky Lynch when a "wardrobe malfunction" prevented the match from happening.
She later decided to take time off from wrestling and focus on other endeavors, but during her time away from the business, she always knew she would be back eventually.
"I absolutely love WWE," she said. "They've been such a great support for me, even the five years I've been away. I have so much love, respect and admiration for Vince [McMahon], Stephanie [McMahon] and [Triple H] because they gave me my shot. They gave me a go and started my career. They've also been super supportive of everything I've done on the outside of WWE, and I knew it wasn't a matter of if. It was just a matter of when Eva Marie was going to come back into the company, and I'm glad that it's now."
Although Eva didn't wrestle in the four years she was gone from WWE, she kept herself active with various physical projects. She feels her original run in WWE was instrumental in preparing her for every experience she had outside of the company because nothing else could compare.
"I'm so fortunate that I started my career in WWE because I truly believe that if you can handle being in WWE, it sets you up for everything else," she said. "Doing everything else, like TV and film, is like a walk in the park because in WWE, I'm on Raw or, at the time, SmackDown, and you're live. It's a live show. If you don't know what you're doing, good luck."
Being Away from WWE and Preparing for Her Return
WWE's Women's Evolution was getting started in earnest around the time Eva Marie had her last televised singles match in the summer of 2016. She was there for the reintroduction of the WWE Women's Championship at WrestleMania 32 but left before getting a chance to compete for it.
Women's wrestling has changed dramatically in the past five years—largely for the better—with the women getting more opportunities than ever before. That includes headlining WrestleMania and having various gimmick matches that would have been unfathomable years ago.
"This is why I'm back with the Eva-lution because it kind of started right when I had left," Eva said about her return. "I think that's what's pretty incredible. Since I've been gone, you've had women main-eventing and doing things that weren't done prior. That's what it's all about: creating those storylines and showcasing what the women can do, and that's what I'm excited about.”
She pointed out how virtually every female member of the Raw roster was featured in some form or fashion on the June 28 episode before taking credit for it in character. She added that while she wasn't there for the Women's Evolution as it was just heating up, she kept up with the product during her absence.
"Obviously, throughout the five years, you're keeping tabs because it's just a part of you," Eva said. "Once you're in the company, once you've experienced it, once you've tasted it, it's forever a part of you. ... There was never a moment in time where I wasn't paying attention to exactly what was going on in the company."
As for how she prepared for her comeback, she regularly visited WWE's Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, and worked with the many iconic coaches there to learn her way around the ropes again.
"When I was coming back, I frequently went back to Orlando to the Performance Center, and I love Coach Smiley. Norman is the man," she said. "I was going back to Orlando to work out and train and get ready for my return. I'm always pretty consistent in my training so that way I can handle the cardio when I get back inside the ring.
"You constantly have to stay ready, and that's the nature of the beast, especially if you want to do something and shoot for your journey. Work each day toward it, whatever that may be, even if that's getting a workout in or eating healthy."
If She Was Supposed to Return Sooner and Using Social Media to Her Benefit
Plans are constantly changing in WWE, and with Mike Johnson of PWInsider being the first to break the news in October that she re-signed with the company, it should come as no surprise that her return was delayed on multiple occasions.
It was a solid half-year stretch of Eva being under a deal with WWE but not being brought back to TV until vignettes starting airing for her in early May. She revealed that she almost resurfaced on Raw prior to WrestleMania at one point.
"There's always so many things where creatively, story-wise, there were so many thing where I was going to come back before 'Mania, and then I wasn't," she said. "Timing is everything, and just making sure it made sense. That's kind of where it was at where I thought I was returning a lot sooner, and then it didn't make sense. WrestleMania wasn't the right moment, and right after wasn't, either. It was just looking for that right little slot to insert the storyline and create it and start it."
Not only is the WWE landscape drastically different than it was when Eva started out in 2013, but social media has grown immensely as well. For as much negativity as she receives online, she's learned to use every outlet to her benefit in an attempt to develop her character when it isn't always possible to do so on Raw.
"I think it's one of those things where the [negativity] is more so because I'm also putting in way more out there on social media as far as my character as well," she said. "I'm adding fuel to the fire because that's what it's about. Obviously, the fans are on Twitter and online more so than in 2013 because, like you said, it was starting out a little even though they were there, but now it's grown so much.
"It's fun because I get to add to the show which then makes more people want to tune into the show to see what happens. I think it is a cool kind of way to continue the dialogue, continue the Eva-Lution, continue to have people tuning in and follow me and see what I'm going to do because you never know.”
She admitted to dressing like a superstar in her everyday life just so she can continue to play the part even when the cameras aren't rolling. Eva aims to bring the WWE Universe into what she's doing any chance she gets and leave them that much more invested in her character than they were before.
Her ThunderDome Experience and Her View on Criticism from Fans
Eva Marie was always known to receive raucous reactions from fans one way or the other whenever she made an entrance during her first stint with WWE. Although that's impossible in the empty ThunderDome, she's only a few weeks away from experiencing that feeling again once the company gets back on the road.
She's been anxiously awaiting live crowds' return and can't wait to be showered with boos for the first time in five years.
"I'm so happy I was able to experience the ThunderDome just because I feel WWE has done a fantastic job in the sense of creating such a cool environment with the trons and fans being able to see themselves on screen watching at home and stuff like that," she said. "Me getting to experience it as an entertainer is also awesome because on July 16 is when we kick off our mini tour in Texas from SmackDown to Money in the Bank to Monday Night Raw.
"To have the WWE Universe back in those seats is going to be wild because it's the best show in the world. You can't feed off of trons. You feed off the energy of the crowd, the boos and the cheers. That's what makes being a WWE Superstar the best feeling in the world. It's the fans."
As for the criticism she constantly receives from fans online and even in the buildings, she uses it to her advantage. That wasn't the case when she started with WWE in 2013, but she explained that the toxicity doesn't bother her as much anymore and that it merely reminds her that she's excelling in her role as a heel.
Additionally, she thrives off turning that negativity from fans into fuel.
"Obviously, first coming into the company so brand-new you're trying to take everything in stride," she said. "At the same time, I was brand-new to social media, brand-new to WWE, brand-new to Total Divas. You're taking certain things and trying to learn as you go. Now that I've learned so much, especially outside of the company, I take everything in stride. Any type of criticism, to me, is like, 'Good, I'm doing my job.' No matter what, you have to think no one is going to be happy. You're not going to appease every single person. If you're taking certain things to heart, then you shouldn't be in entertainment."
Her NXT Run, Potential Opponents and Why She Wants to Become Champion
One element of Eva Marie's original run with WWE that doesn't get talked about nearly enough is the time she spent in NXT.
Her short-lived stint there was designed to give her the in-ring experience she needed. She didn't turn into an exceptional mat-based wrestler by any means, but she did gain confidence and comfort inside the squared circle that she didn't have previously.
Her best bout during that period came against Bayley, who was then the NXT Women's champion. They headlined the November 25, 2015, edition of NXT, and Eva came close to beating her for the belt on a few occasions.
The former Ms. All Red Everything had plenty of praise for Bayley and looks forward to rekindling their rivalry sooner rather than later regardless of what show it's on.
"Bayley is one of my favorite people to work with thus far," she said. "Obviously, I haven't been able to experience a storyline and such with other girls, but for that moment in time and that story, just because Bayley is so giving, I learned so much from doing that storyline with her from a wrestling standpoint and creatively and stuff like that. Everything she's doing right now, I love. Yes, I'm the face of Monday Night Raw, but I have no problem going over there and being on her little Ding Dong show. I want to have a few words with her too."
Ultimately, Eva wants to be champion, something she wasn't able to accomplish during her first run with the company. She also has her sights set on the entire women's division and anticipates going one-on-one with every one of them.
"The goal is that Eva-Lution is here, so I definitely want to be WWE champ," she said. "I want to have that title around that waist, and especially now that we have women's tag team titles. I'll take those too. I'll hand one to Doudrop, no problem. I want to stir up the entire division from Raw to SmackDown. There's time to stir it up, cause some commotion, and I think I'm already doing that.
"The girls are fantastic. To be able to jump into a storyline with Bayley again? Shoot, or, you know what, Becky Lynch too. I was in a storyline with her before I left as well from SmackDown, so to start another storyline with her would be fantastic as well. The entire division is stacked. I'd be more than thrilled to jump into a storyline with anybody. Rhea's awesome. Bianca Belair's a savage. I'm excited."
Catch Eva Marie every Monday night on WWE Raw on USA Network at 8/7c.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.