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SARAYA, THE FORMER PAIGE, DEBUTS FOR AEW

By Mike Johnson on 2022-09-21 21:28:00

Saraya-Jade Bevis, fka Paige in WWE, 30 years old, officially debuted for AEW during tonight's Dynamite Grand Slam on TBS.

A second generation star from Norwich, England who broke into the business at just 13 years of age, Paige's signing to WWE developmental was instrumental years ago and helped lead to the current incarnation of the WWE women's division.  She was one of the first breakout stars of the WWE NXT brand as it evolved from just being a WWE developmental territory.  NXT's Women's division, unlike the WWE main roster at the time, specifically focused on the athletic in-ring abilities of the female talents and built stories, title matches and rivalries no different than NXT's male counterparts. 

As more and more talents migrated from NXT to arrive on WWE's main roster, the women's division there also evolved, becoming far more performance-based as the division became a more popular and important piece of WWE's product, Paige was not only a major part of moving the division forward, she was the first true sign at the time that the tides were changing.

Paige, as the the first NXT Women's champion, was moved to the main roster the day after Wrestlemania 30 in New Orleans, shockingly defeating AJ Lee to become the WWE Divas champion in a surprise debut.   In doing so, Paige became the first and only woman to hold the belts simultaneously.  With her Divas championship win, Paige, at 21 years of age, was also the youngest woman to hold the Divas belt.  She would hold the Divas championship twice and with her unique look and style, quickly became an immediately popular star.

Of course, as all injuries do, Saraya suffered one at the worst possible time, injuring her neck and being forced to undergo surgery to repair it in October 2016.

2016 into 2017 was an explosive year for Knight that saw her undergo neck surgery, be hit with a pair of WWE Wellness Policy suspensions, undergo the embarrassment of personal and explicit videos being leaked and of course, her public and tumultuous relationship at the time with Alberto el Patron    

By the latter part of 2017, however, Knight was cleared medically and was finally back in the ring, spending time at the WWE Performance Center in order to prepare for a television return.  She was brought back with great fanfare during a Raw segment last year, helping to introduce NXT talents Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville to the main roster as part of the Absolution faction.  The strategy behind putting the group together may have been to devise a way to limit Paige's ring time due to her previous neck issues, while also getting her back on TV in a prominent role.    Almost immediately, the trio was clicking, feuding with Sasha Banks, Bayley and Mickie James.  Paige was right back where she should have been, but then, yet another injury happened.

During a six woman tag team bout on 12/28/17 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island, Paige had her back to Sasha Banks, who was behind her against the turnbuckles.  Banks used the ropes to pull herself up and kicked both legs into Paige's back.  Paige, obviously not ready for the bump, went down.  She tried to get up but could not get her legs under her.  She finally did get up and turned to grab Banks, but immediately fell down again and rolled over to her back, where she remained.  The referee checked on her and called for the bell.   She was examined by WWE medical personnel and a stretcher was brought to ringside to transport her back to the locker room.  After several minutes, Paige finally walked out under her own power.  It was the final time she competed, to date, in a wrestling ring.

Initially, It was believed that Paige had suffered a stinger, leading to her losing feeling in her extremities.  Given her previous neck surgery, WWE pulled her from the ring and set up further testing as a precautionary measure.  Unfortunately, the results of those tests led to a decision to medically disqualify Paige from competing in WWE rings and she never performed as a professional wrestler again for WWE.

At the time, at just 25 years of age, with a WWE Studios film about her family on the way and a slot in the first-ever Women's Royal Rumble just weeks from happening, Knight had been retired by the company.  The irony of the situation, a number of sources pointed out at the time, was that looking at Paige at the time, no one would think there was anything physically wrong, making that decision even more unthinkable.   

When PWInsider.com broke the news of her being done as a physical competitor for the company, it became a major story, picked up by CNN, FOX News and a  number of other outlets, but neither Paige nor WWE issued a public comment.  Instead, Saraya announced her retirement following Wrestlemania 34 in New Orleans, months later.

Saraya, as Paige, remained under contract and even signed a new multi-year deal with the company in 2019, one that was later restructured to expire this year.  At one point, she was tasked with managing the Kabuki Warriors, Asuka and Kairi Sane before they turned heel on her.  She was then signed by FOX as a host and contributor to the now-defunct FS1 WWE Backstage series, which shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic when FOX began cutting back on production for that network.  There had been various pitches for how she might return to WWE on camera over the last several years, but none ever worked out and the decision was made under the old Vince McMahon regime to finally release her contractually.

Beyond the influence of her NXT run and call up to the main roster, Saraya's WWE legacy may indeed be "Fighting With My Family", which was easily the best WWE Studios film release ever.  The film, based on a British documentary of the same title made about Paige's family, The Knights and their lives wrestling and promoting the World Association of Wrestling (WAW) promotion in Great Britain over many years became a passion project for The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, who appeared in the film as himself and had his company, Seven Bucks Productions, produce alongside WWE Studios.   The film's lead character Raya was played by Florence Pugh with the film following a fictionalized version of her path to World Wrestling Entertainment, right down to a recreation of the night Paige debuted on Raw and captured the Divas championship from AJ Lee in what was a huge surprise at the time.

As noted, Saraya departed WWE this past summer.  In her farewell announcement, she all but teased her return to the ring.  PWInsider.com had previously reported WWE was the determining factor as to whether she would perform in the ring again, as it was their decision to disqualify her medically from performing, not Paige's.  At the time she announced her WWE exit, she all but confirmed a return to the ring, somewhere, down the line in her farewell message, noting that she would have to forgo the Paige name, as that was a WWE creation, using her given name, Saraya, instead.

Saraya returning to the ring in All Elite Wrestling would not make her the first medically disqualified WWE talent to return to the ring, in or out of the company.  AEW's Sting and Bryan Danielson were both at one point medically disqualified from competing by WWE.  Sting returned to the ring in AEW.  Danielson returned in a WWE ring before migrating to AEW a year ago.  Obviously Edge has also returned to the ring in WWE and like Saraya, was medically disqualified for neck issues.

In 2017, Saraya launched her own fashion line and in recent years, has been a major money-maker for Twitch.  Saraya had ignored WWE's third-party edict that led to talents ending their Twitch streams several years back, instead continuing to remain active on that platform, earning excellent money beyond her WWE deal at the time.

Now, with her AEW debut, a new chapter in Saraya's life and professional wrestling career begins, ironically just miles away from where her WWE in-ring career ended.

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