Sonya Deville believes even more MMA fighters will crossover to WWE in the future: ‘It’s kind of a natural transition’


Before she was a WWE superstar, Sonya Deville was an aspiring MMA fighter known as “The Jersey Devil” Daria Berenato.

Her passion was most definitely fighting, but she also loved acting and performing, which led her to host a podcast dedicated to UFC coverage. Eventually, she earned an opportunity for a try out for the WWE reality series Tough Enough, and seven years later, the now 28-year-old couldn’t imagine her life going any differently.

“It’s funny, when I first made the transition [to WWE], I was having severe withdrawal syndrome [from fighting],” Deville told MMA Fighting. “I felt like I was going mad. It’s because I’ve dedicated six years to fighting. Fighting was my passion. MMA was kind of like my first love. Yes, MMA was a great sport in its beginning, but it’s not as popular now.

” I love what I do and it feels like my dream job. … It’s kinda like I am in my dream job now. But I love MMA. My heart’s there. I spent my youth years training martial arts. So I definitely miss it sometimes.”

While pro fighters becoming professional wrestling isn’t exactly a new phenomenon, the number of athletes making the move has increased exponentially in recent years. At the top of that list is ex-UFC champion Ronda Rousey, who left behind her fighting career to ink a WWE deal. On Saturday, she headlines her second WrestleMania event. Brock Lesnar, a former champion of the UFC, will also be featured on that same card. Other MMA veterans include Bobby Lashley (Strikeforce) and UFC veterans Shayna Bazler and Matt Riddle.

According to Deville, she only expects those numbers to multiply in the coming years, especially when high-profile prospects like Gable Steveson choose WWE over a potential UFC career.

“I don’t think that transition will die out any time soon, and I think you’re right saying that it will continue to grow and be more so,” Deville said. “There’s so many different things that can draw you to this world. It could be the performance aspect. This could be due to the physicality of what we do, but also the huge platform and fame that comes along with being a WWE star.

” I think we are so influential, both digitally and socially. We have a name people feel proud to be associated with, especially now. So I think people just want to be part of the fun. We have fun what we do here. This is a different sport than many others. We work together and we have a lot of fun.”

Deville argues fighters can be made for a career as a pro wrestler, but MMA requires much more than skills in the cage. Conor McGregor is a perfect example. He was the UFC’s first simultaneous dual-division champion. His magnetic personality also allowed him to reach a large audience.

” I think the legitimacy, the intensity and passion of a fighter translate so well into the things we do here at sports entertainment and WWE,” Deville stated. You bring your fight skills. You come with the footwork and the agility and so all that’s a given. We do two things in WWE: we fight, and then we tell stories with passion and intensity. If you’re in the world of MMA, more likely than not you already have those characteristics and those traits inside you.

” I feel it’s a natural cross-over, in many ways. For me, I like doing both. I like performing and fighting so it was a no brainer. You get larger than life personalities in both MMA and professional wrestling. They have a lot of dualities and commonalities so I just feel like it’s kind of a natural transition.”

While not every fight can have McGregor’s exuberant personality, there’s no denying that the ability of an athlete to sell themselves outside the cage is a huge asset in combat sports. It’s the exact same way in WWE, where Deville has seen those over-the-top athletes flourish over the years. This trend is only growing thanks to social media’s explosion and thirst for more content.

” Part of being a MMA fighter is having a persona, and representing yourself appropriately,” Deville stated. It doesn’t matter if it is intentional or organic, but it can help sell tickets and put somebutts in the seats.

“I think that absolutely you have to have a personality and a persona for both. Ronda, Conor and others in MMA are two of the most prominent examples. Not only were they great at selling tickets and entertaining, but also inside the cage. That translates great to sports entertainment.”

In her personal career, Deville has blossomed from just being a performer to a more recent role where she’s taken a role as an on-air personality while also getting in the ring as well. She sees the move as the next stage of evolution for her character, which also helps to separate her from other ex-fighters now on the WWE roster.

” When I first came to [to WWE],, I was the MMA fighter,” Deville stated. “I was the first female MMA fighter to come to WWE, that was the thing around me. ‘She’s a fighter, her strikes are great, her submissions are great,’ so they never thought to give me a bunch of mic time. That wasn’t my role. My role was to go out and kick butt and kind of be the muscle in Absolution and then in Fire & Desire. That was kind of what I was known for, and I love that time period of my career, but being an actor and being someone who was always a performer, I craved the mic and I wanted to show everybody that I could do both. You guys might think I’m just an ass kicker, but I have chops on the mic, too.

“Once I got that opportunity, and I was able to show the fans I had more depth to my character than just being the MMA fighter, especially when we had people like Shayna Baszler and Ronda coming over. They needed to see that I was more than that .”