The World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has long considered India as one of its biggest markets. Yes, the Stone Colds, John Cenas, Litas, Torri Wilsons and many more have been popular names in India. But relatability, a key factor, only came to the fore in 2007 when India's Dalip Singh Rana, better known by his ring name The Great Khali, stepped foot inside the WWE ring and pummelled the legendary Undertaker. He later went on to become the World Heavyweight Champion. Following Khali's footsteps was Jinder Mahal, another Indian origin wrestler, who was crowned the WWE champion.
However, in a path-breaking achievement in 2017, Kavita Devi created history as she became the first Indian woman to sign a WWE contract. Since then, she has become a recognised face on the NXT roster.
She is on the right track now, but has endured many hardships en route to WWE. Kavita wanted to bag an Olympic medal in weightlifting. Notably, she even clinched a gold at the 2015 Asian World Championship. But family problems and looking after her child prompted her to quit the sport.
"In weightlifting, I have played nationals and internationals. I even got a gold medal in Asian World Championship. I did reach the level that I wanted to. But it didn't work out for me due to family problems. I had to attend to my kid's needs at that time. The timing wasn't correct. So, my entire focus shifted to my home," she told Firstpost in an exclusive interaction.
However, she always wanted to make name for herself in sports. Thus, in 2016, she got enrolled at Continental Wrestling Entertainment (CWE), Khali's institute of professional wrestling in Haryana, where her life changed for the better.
"I had dreams to fulfil. And when I realised how my family supported me through my weightlifting journey, I couldn't sit still. I felt that staying at home, I wasn't doing justice to myself and my family. I used to watch WWE, which was quite popular just like the Olympics. I felt that a platform such as this can also provide me the name and fame I deserve. Then, in 2016, I enrolled at CWE, with the hope of making it to WWE someday."
Kavita's hopes soon turned into reality. After one year of training at CWE, she flew to Dubai and got selected during a WWE tryout.
"Actually, a team from WWE had come to CWE in 2017. They checked our fitness levels and were impressed with some of us. So, they invited us (me and seven other men) to Dubai for a WWE tryout. I cleared all the tests and got selected."
The 34-year-old relishes every bit of her life at the moment but feels that her WWE NXT stint wouldn't have gathered steam without the support of Khali.
"I think Khali Sir has played the biggest role in my life till date. I consider him as my guru. Before coming to CWE, I didn't know a thing about professional wrestling. I will never forget him. Had he not given me a platform like CWE, I wouldn't have made it this far."
Kavita looks to stay connected to Indian culture and her in-ring attire, salwar suit, is proof of that. She is of the view that women can be culturally grounded and successful at the same time.
"Through my outfit, I want to indicate that I belong to India. In the west too, their costume is according to their culture. But the way one dresses shouldn't be considered as a barrier. I don't want India's aspiring female wrestlers to think they would have to compromise on their Indian values to be here. So, I want to set an example in that regard."
As someone who hails from Haryana, a state that has historically had one of the country's lowest sex ratios, she admits facing problems at the start of her career but feels the situation is much better now.
"At the time when I started with weightlifting, I did face problems with regards to the societal perceptions. I don't think people would have looked down upon me had I been a man and pursued a career in sports.
"But Geeta and Babita (the Phogat sisters), me, or other female athletes from Haryana have set a good example and that has brought about a major change in people's perceptions," she added.
Kavita was slated to feature in the Superstar Spectacle, WWE's first of its kind event for Indian market that will be aired on the Republic Day, but revealed that she might not be able to participate due to some personal reasons.
The two-hour special event will be headlined by WWE wrestlers Rey Mysterio, Charlotte Flair, AJ Styles, Bayley and The New Day. However, participation of Indian talent " Jinder Mahal, Bollywood Boyz, Indus Sher, Giant Zanjeer, Dilsher Shanky, Jeet Rama and Guru Raaj " is what adds a unique touch to this event.
"This is a huge event, especially for us Indians. We are expecting a lot of love and support from Indian fans. But due to some personal reasons, I might not be able to participate. India's aspiring WWE wrestlers will get to rub shoulders with some of the best in the industry. That is what makes this event special."
Among the current crop of WWE divas, she admires Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. Her all-time favourite is Ronda Rousey, the former UFC women's bantamweight champion and former Raw women's champion, who isn't actively associated with WWE at the moment.
Kavita can be termed as a work in progress as she is yet to feature on Raw and Smackdown, two of WWE's biggest brands. However, having carved a niche for herself in NXT, India's trailblazer is sure that she'll soon share the ring with her favourite wrestlers.
WWE Superstar Spectacle will premiere exclusively on Sony Ten 1, Sony Ten 3 and Sony MAX on India's Republic Day, Tuesday, January 26 at 8 pm IST, with commentary available in both English and Hindi