New Zealand's Dakota Kai 'overwhelmed' by WWE contract

Only a handful of New Zealand's professional wrestling exports have cracked the big time of the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment), and our latest sports entertainer is fizzing at representing her country on a global scale.

Competing in the Mae Young Classic, which is currently being streamed on the WWE Network, Dakota Kai is hoping to cement her future with a strong showing in the 32-women tournament.

Kai is the first New Zealand female athlete to crack the world of WWE, following in the footsteps of Tony Garea and the Bushwackers, Luke and Butch.

The 29-year-old said she is pinching herself after more than 10 years of hard grind on wrestling's independent scene.

"It's very overwhelming," Kai told Newshub.

"Being from a country that is so small in the grand scheme of things, there is a lot of pride that comes with representing New Zealand in the Mae Young Classic - on the biggest stage in professional wrestling.

"I'm super excited for everyone to see this."

Dakota Kai, WWE
Photo credit: WWE

WWE's version of Netflix has more than 2 million subscribers worldwide - a massive platform for Kai to show-off her talents, but she faces tough competition across the board, including former UFC fighter Shayna Bazler.

Bazler is a training partner of MMA superstar Ronda Rousey, who was in attendance for Kai's first round win over India's Kavita Devi.

The New Zealander said having someone like Rousey being involved is so exciting, and she will bring even more interest into the tournament, as rumours circulate the former UFC champion is considering a career jump into wrestling.

"It is just crazy. Knowing what she has done in the MMA world it is just insane," Kai said.

"She was doing what she was doing in the UFC and got a lot of eyes on that product - she is just so talented.

"Having her as part of the tournament will benefit all of us."

The Pakuranga native is currently based on Florida, where she trains at the WWE Performance Centre and performs at local shows for NXT, WWE's developmental brand.

Kai was left wide-eyed by the facilities at the Performance Centre, which gives WWE's development talent all the tools required to succeed in the world of wrestling.

"Walking in for the first time was the most mind-blowing experience of my life.You hear about how amazing it is, from the seven practice rings to the fully equipped gym - it's insane," she said.

"I've been here for two and half months and even today, walking in there, it's really overwhelming.

"The coaches are people who I have looked up to for a very long time. One of them is [WWE Hall of Fame inductee] Shawn Michaels - being able to learn off a guy like him just blows my mind.

"I have to control myself sometimes so I don't go crazy - it is absolutely the best thing in the world."

It's certainly a far cry from her first events as a wrestler, performing in front of a few hundred people at an Auckland YMCA back home in front of family and friends.

Kai said breaking the news of her WWE contract to her parents, who have supported her career path from day one, was a hugely emotional moment.

"Mum was at work when I rang her - she ran into the closet to get away from some of her employees and she just started bawling her eyes out," she said.

"My family know how much I have worked to get to this point - the last 10 years I have been travelling all over the world trying to make a name for myself to get to where I am."

That journey is one Kai hopes many more of New Zealand's talented young wrestlers take in the near future.

Kai is confident her performances in the next month can bring more eyes on the New Zealand wrestling scene as she looks to pave the way for those that follow.

"I would highly recommend travelling abroad - that helped me. The more experience you can get from anywhere in the world it can only benefit you," she said.

"The wrestling world is so much harder and tougher than people realise. But if you are really passionate about it and want to make a career of it then stick with it, train, do everything you can to make a name for yourself."

The Kiwi will face Australia's Rhea Ripley in the final 16. The stream of that bout will be available to view on the WWE Network come September 5.