Dakota Kai is set to team with Raquel González this week on NXT, but before that happens we had a conversation with the Captain about a variety of topics.
Back in November, the 31-year-old perennial NXT babyface surprised the wrestling world by turning on her good friend Tegan Nox to launch a heel turn. The happy-go-lucky character fans had grown to love quickly faded away as she was replaced by a more heartless version of the character aimed at finding some sort of revenge on her former friend.
Kai’s character later aligned with Raquel González and the duo have continued to grow as a team by the day while remaining embroiled in a rivalry with Nox.
That continues Wednesday night on NXT when Dakota and Raquel face-off against Tegan and Shotzi Blackheart, who recently got involved in the storyline on TV.
Now, just one day prior to another chapter in the Tegan Nox/Dakota Kai story being written, the wrestler chats with us about her recent heel turn and pairing with Raquel.
Read the full interview below for details on when she learned the turn would be happening, getting advice from Shawn Michaels on emulating the vibe of HBK/Diesel with her new partner, what it was like to participate in the Royal Rumble, the challenge of adjusting her character and more.
Pro Wrestling Sheet: This week you and Raquel Gonzalez are teaming up to take on Tegan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart. How do you feel about the pairing of you and Raquel so far now that you’ve been teaming for a few months?
Dakota Kai: Honestly, I’ve known Raquel for a long time. She was actually signed before I was. We get along so well. That aside, she has been waiting a long time for this opportunity and a lot of us backstage felt the same way because she’s so good. She’s got such a good attitude about everything.
It was a long time coming for her, so I love it. I love being able to play off of her. She’s such a strong girl too, so being able to have her in my corner helps so much. In ring and outside, because she is such a good person. So myself and a lot of us are super stoked that she’s finally getting her break basically.
PWS: One thing I’ve noticed about her since teaming with you, because like you said she’s been in NXT for a little bit, is her newfound confidence. You can see she is so much more confident than she had ever been in past appearances and it really shines on screen.
DK: It’s crazy! She is outgoing, but she’s quite soft-spoken behind the screen and things like that. So being able to see her transform into this amazing, confident person, it’s like – I don’t want to be weird – but it’s like I’m sending my child off to school and I’m like a proud mom!
She has really come into her own and it’s only gonna go up from here for her. The more opportunity she gets, she just meets them every time and she exceeds everyone’s expectations.
I’m so happy for her.
PWS: You mentioned that a lot of people behind the scenes were hoping she would get some kind of opportunity, was teaming with her something you pushed for or was it something brought to you?
DK: It was brought to me by Triple H himself.
He really wanted to utilize Raquel in a way that would highlight everything that she has to offer. As soon as that was a thing that was told to me leading up to Tegan and my TakeOver match in Portland, when they told me that she would be getting involved at the end, I was – obviously it’s a surprise, cause everything that they tell you is like, ‘What?! Really?! Crazy!” – but as soon as I knew it was her, and I knew that we get along so well and she’s so talented, I was like, “This is great.”
This gives me also as a performer another level to play with. Ya know? So, it’s cool. I was so happy.
PWS: Because of the size comparison, you guys get compared to Shawn Michaels and Diesel.
DK: That’s the number one!
PWS: Well Shawn Michaels is there at the Performance Center, has he talked to you guys about it at all?!?
DK: Yeah! So he gave us ideas for our entrance and things like that. Everything I do to make Raquel look like this monster. And he gave us – kinda playing on him and Diesel when they used to tag and their entrance that they did – he kinda played on that by telling us to mimic some of the same. So … that’s cool!
That was definitely something where I was like, “Are you crazy?! We’re literally Diesel and HBK. This is so cool.”
PWS: A lot of time when people try to mimic that same vibe, they’re not being told by Shawn Michaels to do it. Usually they’re just doing it because they watched and thought it was cool.
DK: Seriously! And it still blows my mind that he is a coach and has this input. This is crazy to me. It still is even after being here for almost three years that I get to work with people I looked up to. It’s all insane.
PWS: I couldn’t imagine that. Especially someone like you who is a lifelong wrestling fan. Sometimes some people that come in aren’t necessarily lifelong wrestling fans, but for those of you who are it has to be nuts.
DK: Do you know how many times that’s happened? Where people who come in, who don’t necessarily come in from a wrestling background or watch it, work with people like this. I’m like, “Do you know who that is?! Do you realize who just helped you right now?! I don’t think you understand the level of what’s going on here.” It blows my mind. It blows my mind!
PWS: Was it crazy for you to participate in the Royal Rumble this year because of that?
DK: Oh, man. One-hundred percent. When we get told we’re going to be involved in anything like that, we usually get told at the last minute. You know, they want to keep everything on the down low. So, when it happened, I think it was after World’s Collide we went to rehearse that night. It was crazy.
Watching the Royal Rumble when I was growing up it was one of my favorite pay-per-views. So, being involved in it myself, it was insane. I really had to take a moment, especially during the entrance and the little moment before then, to really absorb everything in the atmosphere and the feelings.
It was overwhelming and I really didn’t want to let that moment just go by so quickly. Even though it did because when you’re out there it’s so crazy with all the fans. So I really did my best to try and take in everything before it was gone.
PWS: That’s not easy to do when you’re in that moment!
DK: And I was told the same thing before I was involved with the WrestleMania battle royal. I was told to take it in and get a moment to look around the stands and really realize where you are. Because it’s so easy for it to go by like that and then you’re like “oh my gosh, it’s over. I didn’t get a moment to just look around and really absorb it.”
Even though I did it, it still doesn’t feel real to me. My friends and family were like, “You were just in a Royal Rumble, what the hell?!” I’m like, “Oh my god, I was! That was a thing that happened. I didn’t sleep. That wasn’t a dream. Crazy.”
PWS: It must be a little reassuring for you in this time period right now to have your friends and family be in New Zealand, where widespread outbreak of the coronavirus has been avoided and total elimination of COVID-19 there is a possibility.
DK: Oh, one-hundred percent. Our Prime Minister Jacinda [Ardern] really took action so quick on any of that before it had a chance to spike or the numbers to get too high. So it does give me peace of mind knowing my family and friends are safe back home. They’re more worried about me.
But I have a sense of pride when I see news articles saying New Zealand really hasn’t just flattened the curve, they’ve squashed it.
PWS: I read today that the Prime Minister shut everything down when there was like one hundred cases of it in total and now there’s only five people getting it per day there at the moment. Props to her.
DK: And with that it is a lot easier because we’re such a small country, and we really are so removed from the world. We’re next to Australia, but even then we’re such a little country by ourselves at the bottom of the world. So I really do think that had a lot to play in that being as successful as it was.
PWS: Yeah, the article I read said it’s easy for New Zealand to practice to social distancing from the rest of the world because it’s so far from everything.
DK: We really social distance as a country. ::laughing::
PWS: I talked to Johnny Gargano this month and he was telling me how after being a babyface for practically his entire run in NXT he’s really enjoying being able to explore a different side of his character as of late. Have you felt the same way regarding your character the past few months?
DK: One-hundred percent. When it all started for me at WarGames, it was crazy and a little bit intimidating to me just because it’s so natural for me to play a babyface. It’s an easy role, but this was such a challenge. And with the addition of Raquel coming along a few months later, that added a whole new level to what I wanted to play with. So it’s been really, really fun and a lot of the coaches and producers have been giving me a lot of good feedback to sort of use to take my character to the next level.
It’s been such a creative outlet for me. Before it was fine, but I really needed something to sort of take me to the next level and give me more to play with. It’s still scary to me, but it’s a lot of fun.
PWS: Was turning heel or adding more edge to your character something that you pushed for at all? Or was it similar to Raquel in that they brought it to you and said this was what they wanted to do?
DK: A little bit of both. Because I saw it coming back when they sort of sat us all down and told us how WarGames was going to go. It was still a “oh, this is really happening. This is actually …” You know what I mean? They hinted at it and they really did want a lot of the things I was doing, and Tegan as well, leading up to that to feed into this narrative. But even when they told us that WarGames was going to go down the way it did, it was still very like, “OH, oh okay. You guys really do want me to do this. Okay. Cool!” So I did my best to give them what they wanted.
And for me personally it’s so refreshing. It’s just a change of pace.
It’s such a good challenge for me. I love it.
PWS: Lastly, I know you’re a big gamer. What are you playing to pass the time while staying at home these days?
DK: I’m usually a game hopper. So I will play a whole bunch of things and sort of go back and forth. But at the moment I’m playing Final Fantasy’s remake. It is SO good. And then Animal Crossing on the side.
PWS: So, I’ve seen everyone talking about this Animal Crossing game. Is it kinda like the Sims but with animals on their own island?
DK: Like a really simplified version of Sims.
I never played any of the previous ones before, so I didn’t really understand the hype and a lot of people were going on about how Animal Crossing was being released early. And I’m like “What’s with this game? It’s like a child’s game.” You know? With the animation, it’s like cute, but I’m like “… okay?”
So I downloaded it and initially when you start it’s fine. It’s cool. Just have to make money and make my island that I live on habitable for other animals that want to come live on it. But the more you get into it, the more it turns into like, “Oh, I have to sell this to make this. And then I have to bargain with this guy. And then upgrade my hat.” it’s a-whole-nother game once you get going.
PWS: So it’s almost like a more intimate Tamagotchi to a certain degree? I remember being a kid and having to wake up in the middle of the night to feed my pet or whatever.
DK: Yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s less like looking after a baby though and more like developing the island that you live on. But Tamagotchi, that’s a throwback!
PWS: I saw you post the four games that defined you on Twitter, but I noticed in your honorable mentions you gave credit to two games that not enough people give love to – Cool Boarders and Road Rash.
DK: Yes! Oh my gosh. So, a lot of the games I played … Playstation, the first one, was the first console I ever owned. I wasn’t allowed to play those games because I grew up in a pretty strict home, my family was Catholic, so we didn’t get introduced to video games until I was like, “No, I want to play video games.” You know what I mean?
A lot of the games we played were just demo versions, and Road Rash was amazing. I didn’t know there was a newer version of that, that I think came out last year.
PWS: I’ve been meaning to play it and I haven’t yet which makes me feel bad because I used to love that game. One time my brother threw a remote control in my face for gloating about beating him in it.
DK: My brother was the same. He would get so mad if I ever beat him at anything. Granted, he was a bigger gamer than me, because that was his Playstation. I just kinda claimed it when I could. But he hated it. “Ohhhh, I can’t get beat by a girl!” Well, it happened.
Dakota Kai and Raquel González face-off against Tegan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart Wednesday night on USA Network at 8pm ET.
The show will also feature the continuation of the NXT Cruiserweight title tournament with Jack Gallagher vs. El Hijo del Fantasma, Kushida vs. Tony Nese and Drake Maverick vs. Jake Atlas.
Plus, Finn Balor and Velveteen Dream are set to do battle.
*INTERVIEW SLIGHTLY EDITED FOR LENGTH AND CLARITY*