In a business with so much history, with so much diversity, it’s hard these days to find a true first in professional wrestling. Dubai-based Shadia Bseiso has just become one. This week, she became the first Arab woman from the Middle East to sign with the biggest and most prestigious company in the industry—WWE.
It wasn’t something that she ever thought possible. In fact, when she first tried out for WWE, it wasn’t to become a Superstar—it was for a broadcasting role.
“January last year, I was casting to be a presenter on WWE’s first Arabic show. As I was doing the casting I just found myself talking about how much I loved training Jiu Jitsu and how I enjoy competing in tournaments, and after my first casting I received an email from WWE inviting me to the athlete tryouts. It was surreal—I wasn’t sure if I could even take part,” Bseiso tells me.
She might not have seen it at first, but others did. When I attended the Dubai tryouts this spring, I spoke with William Regal, a legendary wrestler himself and now WWE’s de facto head scout. I asked him how he evaluates talent at a tryout such as this—where 40 athletes all do the same drills.
For him, it wasn’t just about athletic ability. He told me one thing he always did was just look around the room, and see who naturally draws your eye—that’s the person with the charisma needed to become a professional wrestler.
In the two days I spent observing the tryouts, everyone I talked to in the company and out kept bringing up the same person, a Jordanian woman with a background in both broadcasting and combat sports. The person that drew everyone’s eye was Shadia Bseiso.
It wasn’t just the people in the room that saw something special in Bseiso. After the tryouts, Shadia was invited to visit WWE’s Performance Center, a state-of-the-art facility that has become the talent’s home base, where prospects train to become Superstars, and established stars hone their skills or pass on their knowledge to the next generation.
While she was there, not even signed with the company yet, a fan outside rushed up to her, knowing exactly who she was.
“Here I am from the Middle East, no one is supposed to know me in Orlando,” Bseiso tells me. “But right outside the Performance Center, someone was like, ‘You’re from the Dubai tryout! You’re Shadia! Can I take a picture?’”
“And there it is on Instagram! I was like, ‘I can’t believe this.’ One person recognized me between 40 athletes in the Dubai tryout and remembered that in Orlando at an NXT taping. You always hear about how much the WWE universe know it inside and out. They always keep their ear out to what’s happening. But I actually got to experience that,” she said.
If things are moving quickly for Bseiso now, that is nothing that she isn’t used to.
“I got a late start in sport. I started training Jiu Jitsu in 2013, but for me it’s all or nothing. If I’m training, I’m training twice a day, I want to compete, and I want to do well in the sport. Three months after I started as a white belt, I won my first competition in Dubai. I got the bronze medal. That competition I will never forget.”
Her success continued, and every tournament in the UAE ended with her on the podium. She went on to compete in the world championships in Los Angeles twice, as well as in New York.
“That gave me the confidence to do the WWE tryout, and CrossFit gave me the athleticism to get through four days training back-to-back three times a day, conditioning and in-ring work. It was an incredible experience.”
The tryout and its aftermath have changed more than her workout schedule.
“Once this opportunity started to become real and things were coming together, I started watching WWE in a different light. You’re paying more attention to the moves, the music, the entrance, everything. The details!
“I’m like ‘this is so cool!’ I can’t believe this is considered prep because I’m having so much fun watching it. Immediately you start to think about, ok, what am I going to do in the ring? What’s my music? What’s my character? It’s going to be so much fun just digging into that,” Bseiso says.
Representing Arab women
As excited as she is personally to embark on this new journey away from the world of Brazillian Jiu Jitsu and into the squared circle, the magnitude of what her signing means for women across the region is not lost on Bseiso.
“I’m honestly honored to be the first Arab woman from the Middle East to be signed by WWE. It’s an honor and a privilege, but at the same time, it’s a big responsibility. I feel like there will be a lot of expectations and I’m going to do my absolute best to train really hard, get as good as possible, so I can one day be in a WWE ring, represent the Middle East, and make them proud.”
Women’s pro wrestling as a whole has had a remarkable surge in the last half-decade. Both in WWE and out, there has never been a more exciting time for women in the sport.
Capturing that zeitgeist, WWE launched the Mae Young Classic this summer, a women-only tournament that showcased talent from across the globe. Bseiso was invited to witness the tournament first-hand.
“It was an incredible experience. I got to see the live taping up to the semi-finals and it was so cool to see female matches back to back. You don’t get to see that often. Female wrestlers who are a part of the company, some up and coming talent, and even some female wrestlers who are not a part of the company—it was great to see them come together and get some recognition. I got to be backstage, I got to meet the athletes. I was like, ‘this is amazing. This is where I want to be.’”
Set to move to Orlando and begin her training in January, Bseiso knows one thing for sure—that she will continue to proudly represent the women of the Middle East on a global stage.
“I want to be myself, and I grew up in the Middle East, I’m from Jordan, so that’s definitely going to be part of my character and my story. I feel like that’s one of the things that I can add.”
“I want to have the entrance music have elements of Arabic music—that’s our culture. I would absolutely love to represent.
“Maybe some Fairouz? Or Nancy Ajram?” I say.
“Maybe a super remix by CFO$. Yeah, why not!”
Bseiso hopes to inspire young women in the Middle East to achieve their own dreams.
“Just go for it. Whatever goals you set, if you set crazy goals, whether you want to be the next WWE superstar or if you want to get on TV, or whatever it is you want to do, set a crazy goal, and go after it.”