The world of wrestling is no stranger to alleged toxic work environments. Many wrestlers over the years have come forward with stories about the not-so-appealing events that go on beyond the ring. For former WWE Diva Melina Perez, it was something that led her to step away from the industry
After years of constantly questioning her self-worth, Melina decided to take a hiatus from wrestling which not only made her a happier person, but helped her discover who she was outside of the ring.
“It was one of those things where I told myself that I didn’t want to ever come back,” Melina laughed in an interview with SLAM! Wrestling. The 42-year-old took a three-year break from wrestling because she wanted to distance herself from the difficult work environment that she found herself in. “As beautiful as it can be, it can also be very negative. You can go through a depression and I just wanted to free myself from that.”
Melina signed a contract with the WWE in 2004, and reported to its training facility at the time, Ohio Valley Wrestling. It has all been history from there. She is a three-time WWE Women’s Champion and a two-time Diva’s Champion. After claiming her second WWE Divas Championship, she became the first woman in WWE history to become a multiple-time champion with both the Women’s and Divas titles.
In every generation, she explained that there’s always one person who has to go through something, a scapegoat in a sort of way. Unfortunately for her, she became the fall guy — or gal — far too often. “I think it was part of how people saw me. I was always a quiet person. Because I was a non-confrontational person at that time, I became the person to blame.” She clarified that it doesn’t make someone a bad person to criticize others. Sometimes, being on the road a lot gets to you. “Always being away from home, always working, and wondering whether or not you’re going to get that TV time. It’s emotionally difficult.”
Melina didn’t always take it too well. She couldn’t understand why someone would think she was such a pushover. To her, kindness was kindness. She said that stress makes people do very weird things. “I always thought, if I was stressed out, a good workout could help with that. That wasn’t the case with everyone though.”
Although this wasn’t a fun element of the job, she did learn some valuable lessons from that experience, and it made her become fascinated with psychology. “I learned about different personality types through wrestling, how they react to stress and how they cope with it,” she continued, “not everyone copes with it the same way as I did or they just didn’t know how to.”
The California-native said that she does forgive everyone at this point, and is not holding any grudges. What she does want to clear up, however, is that people aren’t necessarily who you see on TV. “A lot of people thought I was my character. I wanted to go to work, but there was hostility because of TV time, and then I would go talk to fans and they would hate me because of rumors going around.”
Plus, she didn’t feel like she was doing right by her family because she was never around. “Latin families are always together. I was traveling a lot so I felt like a bad daughter and sister. All that together, I just sat and asked myself, ‘Where am I doing good in the world?’” With her lingering injuries, that also meant TV time. “That spot on television is supposedly a value to who you are and what you’re worth.”
Luckily for her, that mindset has changed. “It took me a while to realize that you can be so valuable in this world.”
There was someone who did see her value during that time, however. Bret “The Hitman” Hart said that Melina was one of the best wrestlers in the world because of the number of moves she had in the arsenal and how she was able to execute them. Most would only dream to hear that about themselves from someone like Hart. Melina, on the other hand, thought it may have put a target on her back. “Being that new at the time and being a heel, people really picked that comment apart.”
Looking back now, she is thrilled that The Hitman saw what she was capable of doing in the squared circle. “Throughout the years, some of the greatest wrestlers, including [Hart] made those kinds of comments and it really meant a lot to me. I really love this art as a manager and as a wrestler.” She added that all she wanted to do was make him proud. “It breaks my heart because I feel like I couldn’t fulfill those opportunities and live up to the things he said about me but I’m so grateful that he saw that potential.”
Now that she is back in the ring wrestling with the NWA, what’s next for Melina? When asked about whether or not she would consider the role as a coach, she did not take the idea off the table. “I always tell people that if they ask for my advice, I will pick everything apart. It’s not because I’m trying to hurt you, I’m just trying to make you better.”
She herself has learned that she is her own worst critic, but being that way has helped her improve her matches. “It’s all about the details. Sure, you have the moves, but slight changes can make a match that much more powerful.”
Melina Perez is hoping to show this generation of grapplers that they should strive to be the best wrestler that they can be. “You’re always going to look back at your career and instead of wondering what if, you’re going to know you did everything you could. If I become a trainer, that’s what I want to leave behind.”
TOP PHOTO: Melina in the NWA in early 2021. Twitter photo