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First and foremost, Brianna Danielson is a mother.
Unlike most, however, she is also a WWE superstar, a job that is not only physically grueling in nature, but also brings with it a demanding travel schedule. Despite those factors, when she was approached to make a return to the world of professional wrestling, there wasn’t any hesitation – Brie Bella was ready to make a return to the ring.
“I’ve been sitting back as a fan of WWE watching these women do incredible things, making history, breaking barriers and I sat at home wanting to be a part of it,” Bella told Yahoo Sports. “When this opportunity came up, I just said yes without thinking.”
Bella, who alongside her sister Nikki form the Bella Twins team, initially stepped away from WWE after WrestleMania 32 in 2016. At the time, Bella decided to put her family first – she is married to WWE star Daniel Bryan (real name: Bryan Danielson) – leaving right as the company’s “Women’s Evolution” was about to kick into high gear.
“I had already made that decision with my husband to try and start a family and Bryan was going through a really tough time with his dream being taken away,” Bella said. “At that point, timing in my life with Bryan was perfect. Unfortunately, that night, it wasn’t for my career.”
Shortly after her final match, the Danielsons announced they were expecting their first child and, in May 2017, Birdie Joe Danielson was born.
Despite being off of WWE programming, Bella was still starring in two E! reality television series, “Total Bellas” and “Total Divas,” and there was something the cameras didn’t catch as the former Divas champion took on the challenges of motherhood.
“I felt this during the first few months of my motherhood,” Bella said. “You lose who you are, you lose your identity, because when your baby comes you give, give, give and no one gives back and you just wonder ‘Who am I?’ ‘What am I?’ ‘How do I live life now?’ It’s all for this baby. I hope moms see that you can balance career and motherhood. Just because you are a mom doesn’t mean whoever you were before is gone, you can bring it back.”
Brie Bella’s in-ring comeback
While her husband, Bryan, had been a fixture on WWE programming – first as the general manager of “Smackdown Live” and more recently working in the ring – Bella hadn’t wrestled in nearly two years.
It wasn’t until January, as part of the first-ever women’s “Royal Rumble,” that she was able to try and go from being Brianna Danielson, the mom, back to being Brie Bella, the superstar.
On the surface, the transition seemed smooth, but underneath it all, there were lingering doubts.
“It was hard for me at the Rumble just vanity-wise,” Bella said. “It sounds silly, but I was wondering if people were going to say ‘Woah, Brie looks weird.’ ” I still have baby weight to lose and I didn’t know if it would disappoint the fans that I wasn’t the Brie from before I had my baby.”
In the match, Bella entered as the 28th superstar and lasted just under 12 minutes in the ring before being eliminated by her sister, Nikki. That alone was enough to plant the seeds of a comeback.
“[Afterward,] I felt more empowered than ever and so I hope that moms see that with me as someone who is very honest with her body and how difficult it is,” Bella said. “I hope I am inspiring moms to get up and be a bad ass, because we are.”
As the year went on, and Bryan returned to the ring, reviving an eight-year-long feud with The Miz, WWE approached Bella to return to a role that would require performing in the ring on a more regular basis and injected her — and Miz’s wife, Maryse — into one of the hottest storylines of the year.
“As a wife, sitting back and seeing this story build with Miz, it’s really fun,” Bella said. “When they called me and asked me to be a part of it, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, I would love to.’ I feel like this has layers and I feel that Miz and Bryan have something so powerful there that Maryse and I can add a little more oomph to it.”
The now infamous suicide dive
Despite her eagerness, there were some unforeseen hurdles for Danielson as she reprised the Brie Bella character, both physically and emotionally.
“I will admit that it has been a little more overwhelming than what I had thought,” Bella said. “I think it has been harder for me than it has been for Birdie. Leaving her, I didn’t realize how attached I was, so I have been struggling with that. I think I have cried myself to sleep more during this comeback because I miss her so much.”
In addition to being away from her daughter, Bella has had to adjust to performing in the ring again.
“No matter how hard you work out outside of the ring, I have a personal trainer, I do so much conditioning, I could probably go run a marathon and kill it, but in-ring endurance you only get by having matches and that’s the one thing that really woke me up,” Bella said. “I was so blown up at the end of the match trying to catch my breath.”
One of those wake-up calls came during a match on “Monday Night Raw” as she teamed up with her sister Nikki against the Riott Squad’s Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan earlier this month. In a moment that was immediately dissected by the internet wrestling community, Bella appeared to miss a key spot in the match – a hiccup she owns and says she has learned from.
“With any type of physical body change, it changes so much,” Bella said. “Even last week on ‘Raw’ when I did the suicide dive and it was less momentum than I should have had, I forgot that I’m 10 pounds heavier than what I was. Gravity doesn’t lie. That was a little different for me.
“I don’t mind if I fail or if I succeed. No matter what, I want to look back with no regrets. If I fail, last week for example, I went to sleep at night and I was kind of bummed out, but I learned something about myself. I learned where my body is at, where I am at.”
The history of #GiveDivasAChance
Bella’s comeback will continue on Sunday, as she teams with her husband in a mixed tag-team match against The Miz and Maryse at WWE’s “Hell in a Cell” event, and with the all-women’s pay-per-view event “Evolution” taking place next month, the timing couldn’t be much better.
“Evolution” is ultimately the culmination of years of work both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes to push female stars to gain equal opportunities in WWE. Bella, who has been with the company for more than a decade, played an integral role in launching the movement more than three years ago.
“The night that #GiveDivasAChance happened, I was lucky enough to be in the back with Nikki, Paige, and Emma and we looked at each other when our time got cut and said, ‘Let’s just do a finish. They don’t want a match, we won’t give it,’” Bella said.
“We had [under] two minutes, so we went out there, did a finisher and that was it to make a statement. We didn’t know it was going to trend the way it did. We kind of thought we were going to get asked to pack our bags and get out of the building, but it was the four of us who decided to put everything on the line and just say ‘eff it.’ ”
While the advancement of female superstars since that night in 2015 has been part of the motive behind Bella’s return, getting another opportunity to inspire – beyond her various television appearances and business ventures with Birdiebee clothing and Belle Radici wine – plays an equal, if not bigger, role.
“We have more women than ever out there cheering us on,” Bella said. “I hope that the little sacrifices that I make in my life, being away from my daughter, my husband and I not seeing each other as much, I hope it does inspire young girls to realize they can be whatever they want in this life.”
Although Bella did not put a specific timetable on her return, she did hint that she once again will face the decision to put motherhood and her family first.
“I hope to be around for a little bit,” Bella said. “The Danielsons do want baby No. 2 so that’s something that is on the horizon. If I can come back for a couple of months or more that’s heaven for me.”
For now though, Brie Mode is fully engaged.
“Hell in a Cell” will stream live on the WWE Network this Sunday at 7pm ET