Naomi has gone from the dance floor to the wrestling ring as a WWE diva who can bust a move or bust some heads.
Now the Funkadactyl finds her and partner Cameron with chances to prove they are more than back-up dancers for Brodus Clay and Sweet T. They are putting their athletic abilities to the test against some of the top female grapplers in WWE.
It’s an exciting time for Naomi, whose journey into WWE began four years ago. The former NBA Orlando Magic dancer heard the company was seeking potential divas. She decided she was going to do more than just attend the WWE event when it visited her town.
“I made it my business to meet [then executive vice president of talent relations] Johnny Ace [Laurinaitis] and try to get a tryout,” Naomi said. “I figured if I just get my foot in the door, I’d be good. I got a tryout, and I’m still here.”
She traded her dancing shoes for wrestling boots and began training at WWE’s developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling, based in Tampa. Her background helped her make the transition.
“Fortunately for me I had Norman Smiley as my trainer,” Naomi said. “He taught me a whole lot from day one, all the basics. I worked with Dr. Tom [Prichard] and Dusty Rhodes on promos. For me, I was just very fortunate to learn from all of them. The girls I started with, AJ [Lee], Aksana, Kaitlyn, Tamina, a lot of us were in developmental together. We got along very well, and we all helped each other. For me, it was tough, but I just had such great support. It was kind of like a family there, so for me it was a great experience.”
Her and other divas in training got their first real shot on the WWE main roster in the third season of NXT, a reality competition with the winner securing a contract. With Kelly Kelly as her pro, Naomi gave her all in each of the challenges thrown her way, no matter how absurd they may have seemed for a wrestling show. It was trial-by-fire.
“We make jokes about that because we would be so nervous and afraid,” Naomi said. “A lot of that stuff was on the spot. We look back on it now, and we’re like, ‘I can’t believe I said that or did that or looked like that.’ I think from that point we all came a long way, but that is the way we were at the time.”
Among the competitions was the Talk-the-Talk Challenge, which Naomi will never forget.
“They would just give us a random word, and we would have to cut a promo on the stop,” she said. “This has haunted me since NXT, but whatever the word was [It was ‘toupee’], I just blanked out…I lost that challenge.”
Following the show, Naomi continued to hone her skills until the call she had been waiting for came. The dancing diva joined Cameron to become part of the elaborate debut of Brodus Clay. The Funkadactyls had arrived.
“For us it just kind of happened. We didn’t plan it or prepare for it,” Naomi said. “Opportunity came up, and we just went with it. I left dance to come to wrestle and worked hard at becoming a good wrestler that at first I was like, ‘I want to wrestle.’ But I’m so fortunate because it got me to where I am. It’s just been a great experience working with Brodus and Cameron.”
And now Sweet T.
“…Tensai [Sweet T] has rhythm and catches on very fast,” she added. “It takes a load off me because with me having the dance background sometimes I come with a lot of [the dance routines] with Cameron giving suggestions or ideas. A lot of it is on me because I used to dance, so with Tensai there, he helps out a lot with ideas.
“…It has been fun, and now I’m getting to wrestle more. I feel like I’m just winning all the way around.”
In the handful of times Naomi has been in action on Raw or other WWE shows she has impressed. She attributes her progress to those who have helped her along the way, as she strives to be the best.
“If it’s something I want to do, I don’t care how many times I get hurt,” Naomi said. “I won’t stop until I learn it.”
The up-and-comer has been able to stand out by infusing her dance moves into her offense.
“I wish I could take all the credit for it, but Norman has helped me with a lot of my moves,” Naomi said. “Some I’ve thought of myself, but I can’t take all the credit.”
Naomi is building a fan base with her performance. Praise has come not only from the WWE Universe but her co-workers. World champion Dolph Ziggler tweeted that she had the hottest move set in the business.
“That was cool,” Naomi said. “That’s always humbling for me. Those are our peers and all those guys who are so amazing. Whenever you get a compliment from them, for me, it’s always a big deal because those are the people I look up to, who I study and want to be like.”
Naomi is proud to be a part of a new era of emerging divas in WWE.
“It’s great,” Naomi said. “I love to see new faces, new talent and new girls. I think we have a good crew and a good group of girls, all strong and wanting to accomplish the same goals. It’s great to see everybody grow because that is what keeps the business growing…I know one day I’m going to look back on this and say, ‘Wow, I was here. I did that.’”
As for goals, the dedicated competitor has set her sights on gold in the next year and predictions for WrestleMania XXX.
“Hopefully, I will be defending the diva’s title,” Naomi said.
• Naomi on E!
Funadactyl Naomi will be a central figure during a new reality series on the E! television channel.
The show will highlight the professional and personal lives of WWE’s leading ladies.
Set to debut this summer, “Total Divas” will feature an unprecedentedly in-depth look at what it means to be a WWE Diva. With complete access to the backstage workings of WWE, the show examines the preparation and fallout from matches, the romantic entanglements of a WWE locker room and the efforts of prospective new divas to break through into the ranks.
The show will focus on the lives of Naomi along with Natalya, The Bella Twins and Funkadactyl Cameron. The show will follow the lives of these women as they travel around the country -- living, loving, competing.
Viewers will also be introduced to Eva Marie and Jo-Jo Offerman, two prospective new divas who have yet to earn their stripes.
• Naomi on YouTube
YouTube video interview via The Miami Herald with WWE diva Naomi before a WWE NXT show at the Miami-Dade County Fair.
Part 1 with Naomi
Part 2 with Naomi
• Naomi on Twitter
Follow Naomi on Twitter @NaomiWWE.
• WWE in Florida in June
WWE returns to Florida in June with four house shows (no TV) throughout the state.
WWE will be at the BB&T Center, formerly Bank Atlantic Center, in (South Florida) Sunrise on Friday, June 7.
Bell time is 7:30 p.m. for this house show (no TV) with John Cena, Ryback, Sheamus, Mark Henry, Daniel Bryan, The Miz, Brodus Clay, Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins) and more.
Talent subject to change.
Tickets, starting at $20, are on sale via TicketMaster online www.ticketmaster.com, outlets or by phone 800-745-3000, or you can go to the box office of the BB&T Center, home to the Florida Panthers hockey team.
WWE invades the Lakeland Center in Central Florida at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 8.
John Cena, Ryback, Sheamus, Mark Henry, Daniel Bryan and more. Talent subject to change.
Tickets go on sale Saturday, May 4 via TicketMaster.
WWE visits the Leon County Civic Center in Tallahassee at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22.
See John Cena, Kane, Ryback, Mark Henry, Sheamus, Daniel Bryan and more. Talent subject to change.
Tickets, starting at $15, go on sale 10 a.m. Friday, May 10 via TicketMaster and at the civic center box office.
There is a TickeMaster Internet presale beginning 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 7.
WWE will be busy on Saturday, June 22 with another show at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach.
Bell time is 7:30 p.m. featuring Dolph Ziggler, Alberto Del Rio, Randy Orton, Big Show, The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins), Big E Langston, AJ Lee and more. Talent subject to change.
Tickets, starting at $15, go on sale 10 a.m. Friday, May 10 via TicketMaster.
There is a TicketMaster Internet presale beginning 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 7.
Ticket purchasing note
To avoid some service fees, you can purchase tickets directly at the arena, but check with the arena to see when it plans to sell tickets.
Sometimes the arena onsale differs from TicketMaster’s onsale.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN, http://twitter.com/#!/smFISHMAN, where I post links and information. Opinions expressed reflect no other entity. I can also be found tweeting incessantly during wrestling shows weekly.