WrestleMania 28 in Miami Gardens changed Savelina Fanene’s life.
That’s where she sat ringside with Ata Maivia Johnson at Sun Life Stadium in 2012 to watch John Cena battle Ata’s son in the historic main event of the annual extravaganza before 78,000 exuberant fans.
“Watching The Rock versus John Cena, I remember turning to my aunt [Ata] and saying, ‘I have to do this,’ and she said, ‘You think you can do this?,’ and I answered, ‘I know I can do this.’ It was a feeling that overcame me that I need to do this. It is something I was meant to do.”
In her blood, Nia hails from a wrestling family with her aunt, uncles, cousins involved in the business for many years.
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“We talked about it, and I was going to attend Uncle Afa [the Wild Samoan’s] wrestling school [in Minneola, Florida],” Nia said. “[The Rock] got word of what I was doing, and he heard about the [WWE] Performance Center opening up [in Orlando], and he thought maybe I should tryout there and see if it was exactly what I wanted to do. After the tryout, they said, ‘We’d like to have you come on board.’”
So Nia received a little help getting her foot in the WWE door, but once she walked through, it was all up to her, and she worked extremely hard to progress, elevating herself to the NXT roster where she continues that same work ethic.
“Everything is incredibly, physically challenging,” Nia, 31, said. “Most challenging, mainly for me, learning how to bump, learning to trust your body and trust somebody else with your body, when we’re learning how to do bodyslams and suplexes and figuring out how to kick somebody right while making sure to protect each other. In the beginning, for me, a forward roll was pretty challenging.”
At about 6-foot-1, 270 pounds, her prior experience was boxing out not rolling around. Her background is basketball. Born in Hawaii, her family moved to San Diego where she later starred in hoops at Carlsbad High School. She eventually earned a scholarship to Palomar College in nearby San Marcos, Calif.
“I actually had a few scholarship offers out of high school, but I chose to go into modeling,” said Nia, who was a lovely plus-size model. “When I came back to go back to school on my time off from modeling, I went to Palomar.”
Sherry Titus, who coached women’s basketball at Palomar, said via email: “Lina was an outstanding student, amazing athlete and a fantastic person. She has tremendous athletic attributes, and it sounds like they continue to serve her well.
“She has a fun sense of humor, Blessed with great genetics and is fiercely competitive. There were moments when I had to rely on her to get the basketball and score…no matter what.”
Titus added: “To say Lina is physically talented is an understatement; she possesses discipline, dedication, and it appears her amazing drive is still with her as she takes on this challenge. She was well respected as a student athlete while here at Palomar College, and it was a pleasure having her on our team.”
Nia chose modeling over college basketball, but she still earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“When I was a young girl playing basketball, WNBA was a dream,” she noted, “but when I got to college, it wasn’t as big of a dream anymore with modeling now in the picture.”
Modeling wasn’t something Nia pursued as a youth nor a career ever thought she could pursue.
“I was actually coming out of basketball practice in high school, and there was an Air Bands [lip sync] show there,” Nia said. “One of the judges was a modeling agent, and he walked up to me and said, ‘Have you ever thought about getting into plus-size modeling?’ I had never heard of that before, and I kind of laughed in his face, thinking he was kidding with me.”
Nia, who is Samoan on her father’s side, told her dad, Joseph, and he did the research.
“It was legit,” she said. “From there I got signed on with Wilhelmina in New York City. Once I graduated high school, I moved to New York and started modeling.”
Nia proves plus-size models are beautiful, too.
“Not everybody is made to be a size 0 or a size 4, and I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being a size 0 or a size 4,” Nia said. “Being my [plus] size is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life. I’ve always been the big girl. I’ve always had curves, and I never could relate to any of the girls like the Victoria Secret models.
“Once I realized, when I became a plus-size model, that there were more women like me, my confidence immediately shot through the roof. When I was able to walk out there and show younger girls, who are like me when I was their age -- who didn’t see girls who are curvier being put in a beautiful light -- it just made me think that I have to be able to show these girls that they are just as beautiful as the girls who are size 0.”
Nia is already an inspiration, and now she is also inspiring bigger girls to attempt pro wrestling/sports entertainment as well.
Speaking of models, Nia is currently teaming in NXT with a former fitness model, the gorgeous Eva Marie, and they are collectively known as the Power Alliance.
“It’s amazing working with Eva,” Nia said. “That chick is my girl. I love Eva. She’s so much fun, and she’s so down to earth. She’s extremely hard working and driven. We have a lot of fun together.”
Except when it comes to sports teams. Eva Marie is a huge San Francisco Giants fan.
“I’m definitely not a Giants’ fan,” Nia noted. “I’m a San Diego girl all the way. I love me my Padres, and I love me my Chargers. Eva is also a Raiders’ fan, and we also clash on that. The Chargers and the Raiders have a huge rivalry, and we can not get along on that picture.”
Though they have their gridiron differences, Nia respects Eva. She also respects her coaches and trainers at the state-of-the-art WWE Performance Center in Orlando, where she is learning and honing her skills.
“It’s surreal because we get such amazing attention from some really talented people at the Performance Center,” Nia said. “When I first got there, it was nostalgic [because of her wrestling lineage], and I was like, ‘I can’t believe that I’m actually getting coached by ‘the’ Sara Del Rey and Matt Bloom and the guest coaches. Coach [William] Regal comes in and just blows us away every time. It’s amazing to be there.”
Titus said: “I am very excited for her and hope she excels. I really have no doubt that she has the athletic ability. I don’t know much about wrestling, but if she puts her heart and soul into it, watch out wrestling world.”
Nia’s family also feels she can succeed in the squared circle. Her emotions took over when discussing her parents, especially her mother, Renate.
“I did well in school. I had a 3.5 [GPA] or above,” Nia said. “My mom always made sure...That was the first thing she always instilled in us that when we came home from school, before anything else, we had to make sure our homework was done.
“My mom came from another country [Germany]. She still has her German accent. English wasn’t her first language. So she wasn’t always able to help us with our homework, but she always made sure academics were first.”
Nia said something in German when asked if she spoke the language, but I don’t speak the language, so I can’t tell you what she said. She noted in English she can speak a little German.
An athletic family, Nia’s younger brother, Ben, played middle linebacker for Palomar College. Their brother, Patrick, played offensive guard for Fresno State University.
Nia loves her family, and she is very respectful of them and her aunt Ata.
“Nobody realizes how much she’s put into this business,” Nia said. “She’s lived, eat, breathed this business for decades. She has so much incredible knowledge. It’s insane. I don’t think anybody really realizes it because she never got in the ring to wrestle, but she used to valet her father [High Chief] Peter Maivia. She’s been to every single match that Rocky [Johnson] had and then Dwayne [The Rock] had.
“I’ll have her watch a match with me, and I will sit there, and I will listen to all her critiques, and everything she says is spot on. She’s amazing.”
- Aunty Ata
Email interview with Ata Maivia Johnson
JV: How is Nia Jax (Savelina Fanene) related to you?
AMJ: Lina’s paternal grandfather is my dad’s uncle. In other words, Lina’s paternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother are brother and sister. So Lina is my niece on my father’s side. Lina’s mother is German, and her father is Samoan.
JV: What can you say about her as a wrestler and as a person?
AMJ: As a wrestler, Lina is a hard worker and she’s driven. We’re really proud of how fast she is learning her craft. As a person, she’s strong, charming and determined. Years ago, after attending her first wrestling show, I said to her, “Do you think this is something you could do?” Like we were talking about serving ice cream - Ha. She kinda smirked and said, “Yeah, I can do it,” and the rest is history.
JV: What was it like watching her wrestle at the NXT show in Miami during the summer?
AMJ: When I first saw her in the ring, my first thought was, “Geez, she’s a beast,” and my second thought was, “Wow, she’s a natural in the wrestling ring.”
- Going back to Miami
Nia Jax will bring that natural talent to Miami-Dade County (where it all started for her) as NXT invades the Fieldhouse at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami on Thursday, March 17 in Coral Gables.
Will Aunty Ata be there?
“You know she will,” Nia said with a smile. “She always has her ringside seat.”
NXT will continue its South Florida swing the next night (Friday, March 18) at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
“Those crowds are always so lively,” Nia said. “I can’t wait. I’m so excited to walk out there and see what they have for us.”
- NXT in Miami
WWE NXT will be returning to the Fieldhouse at the BankUnited Center at the University of Miami on Thursday, March 17 in Coral Gables.
Enzo Amore, Colin Cassady, Carmella, Bayley and more.
Tickets are on sale.
- NXT in West Palm Beach
WWE NXT will travel to West Palm Beach on Friday, March 18 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
Tickets are on sale.
- NXT on WWE Network
WWE NXT is 8 p.m. Wednesdays on WWE Network.
- NXT TakeOver: Dallas
NXT TakeOver: Dallas is Friday, April 1 live on WWE Network from the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas during WWE WrestleMania 32 Weekend.
- NXT abroad
To see NXT in a city near you, check
- Pro Wrestling On The Web
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