WWE: Kiwi Dakota Kai feeling validated as history-making moment awaits

Kiwi wrestler Dakota Kai can make history this week as she chases her first WWE championship.

Not since Tony Garea in 1981 has a New Zealander held a major World Wrestling Entertainment title, when the Aucklander reigned supreme as then WWF tag team champion, alongside Rick Martel. 

Kai [Cheree Crowley] and her tag team partner Raquel Gonzalez will challenge the WWE women's tag team champions - former UFC star Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax - the cousin of Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson.

Kai and Gonzalez's victory in the inaugural women's Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic last month earned them a shot at the champs this week on NXT.

Speaking to Newshub, Kai says the success of the last few weeks has validated her character's change in direction from a babyface (good guy) to a mean girl-type heel (bad guy).

"The Dusty Cup final happened almost a year to the day that Raquel was paired with me," Kai tells Newshub.

"And throughout that year we have had each other's backs and she has been there for me. She was a big part of the storyline when I went after Io [Shirai - NXT women's champion], we did War Games together and then I was there for her when she had the big match with Rhea Ripley.

"But this was the first time we went for something together and I think the result has solidified us as a team. 

"We are super stoked with how it all turned out."

And for the 32-year-old, Friday's shot at history could prove the culmination of an 18-month run, where she has developed into one of the most dynamic performers on WWE's NXT brand.

NXT boss Paul 'Triple H' Levesque is a big fan of Kai's, telling Newshub last year that he believes she has come of age as a sports entertainer, and he believes the sky's the limit for the pride of New Zealand pro wrestling.

Those comments came moments after Kai's show-stealing match with NXT champion Shirai at Takeover XXX, in Florida last August.

"Days like that - the time before is spent focusing," Kai tells Newshub.

"I'm the sort of person who gets really nervous before a big match - I guess that's what happens when you throw an introvert into an extraverted sport [laughs]. 

"It wasn't until after the match was done and we were both safe and okay and then stepping backstage to a round of applause and amazing support from everyone  - it validated a lot of the things I have been trying to do as a heel character. 

"Being a heel wasn't easy for me - it wasn't first nature to me, but stepping back and hearing the comments of Hunter [Levesque] and Shawn [Michaels - WWE Hall of Famer] and then what they said to me directly, it confirmed to me that this is the right direction for my character and I'm on the right trajectory." 

Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez
Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez Photo credit: WWE
WWE: Kiwi Dakota Kai feeling validated as history-making moment awaits
Photo credit: WWE

Kai's real-life sister, Nyrene Crowley, is a promising mixed martial artist fighting out of Auckland's City Kickboxing gym - home to UFC champion Israel Adesanya.

Crowley moved back to Auckland last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic after training in Bali for three years.

And Kai says her sister is already levelling up, training with some of the best combat sports athletes on the planet in Adesanya, Dan Hooker, Junior Fa and Brad Riddell.

"When she moved back to New Zealand from Bali I knew this would be the right move for her.

"She has been killing it in training and she has a fight lined up soon so that's big for her. She also did an MMA seminar last week that had 15 girls attend

"She is all about giving back to the sport and I love that about her. "She puts everything into being a professional fighter, but she also dedicates herself to teaching others. She worked with troubled kids before she found MMA, so she has the nurturing side as well. 

"Everything she is doing now is awesome and I am so proud of her and I miss her."

And with Auckland plunged into another lockdown, the two are likely to spend time chatting together over Skype, but Kai is keen to remind Kiwis of how well they have done in limiting the effects of COVID-19 on communities.

The Florida-based NXT star has seen the other side of the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I know that lockdowns are really difficult for all the small businesses and families, but trust me - I have seen the other side of this - I have seen how bad it can get when the pandemic wins. 

"Certainly it's a little easier for New Zealand to close off to the outside world than some other countries, but sitting at home over Christmas and New Year's and seeing all my friends on Instagram at parties and festivals - call me jealous.

"It was so foreign to me, but I was also super happy that Kiwis were able to have fun."

NXT airs at 1pm Saturday’s on SKY 5.