Fate and timing: New Zealand's Dakota Kai opens up about her release and return to WWE
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It’s been a whirlwind year for New Zealand WWE superstar Dakota Kai.
A mainstay in WWE developmental company NXT, the 34-year-old had been working her way up the ranks for quite a few years.
Competing at Wrestlemania 34, becoming the inaugural NXT Women’s Tag Team champion alongside Raquel Gonzalez, and competing on many NXT Takeovers, she was ticking off accomplishments and making a name for herself at the same time.
It all seemed like it was just the beginning for Kai.
However, in April this year, she was surprisingly released from the company alongside a mass of other competitors.
It came as somewhat as a shock for fans considering she was still involved in major angles and matches in the company, but for Kai, it signalled some much-needed time away.
Kai told SPORTbible Australia: “It was a little bit of a shock, but at the same time it wasn’t.
“For me, at the point, I was in at the time I was ok with it, I really did come to peace with it quite quickly.”
Unlike a lot of released wrestlers, Kai didn’t immediately take independent bookings and instead took some time away from the wrestling industry after honing her craft for more than a decade.
She added: “I was really trying to reset myself.
“A lot of people forget that I’ve been wrestling since 2007. So me not taking any bookings I think was needed in a weird sense.
“It’s crazy how the timing worked all out. Fate and all that.”
Fate and timing are two words that can easily describe Kai’s last few months, as just a short time after being let go from the company an incredible amount of change began to brew in the WWE hierarchy.
Vince McMahon’s retirement meant his daughter Stephanie McMahon and son-in-law Triple H stepped in to take the helm of the company.
A flurry of changes came under the new leadership, one of them - the return of Dakota Kai at SummerSlam.
Just three months following her release the Kiwi star made her way out in front of one of the biggest crowds of the year, turning up and joining longtime star Bayley and fellow NXT mainstay Iyo Sky.
It was a moment that Kai says she only knew about 24 hours beforehand.
Having worked with Triple H for many years in WWE’s developmental brand, it felt like the perfect storm of the new boss stamping his imprint on the company and finally giving Dakota Kai her major moment.
Kai said: “I think (Triple H) was very instrumental for me to be back in the company and he’s just an awesome guy to work under.
“He’s fantastic in the sense of bouncing ideas, he wants to hear our ideas and have his input too. He wants to make sure we’re all on the same page.”
Alongside Bayley and Sky as Damage CTRL, the trio were immediately thrust into a major angle with some of the top stars in the company, the likes of Becky Lynch, Bianca Belair, Alexa Bliss, and Asuka.
As Kai mentions, the stable was the brainchild of now-veteran Bayley and had been in the works for quite some time.
Kai said: “She’s mentioned this to me for more than a few years now.
“She’s said she wanted me to be part of it, and she obviously trusts me, probably more than I trust myself.
“I get confidence that she trusts me with that to the point where I feed off of that.”
The former NXT Women’s Tag Team champion is now scheduled to compete in perhaps her most important match yet at Clash At The Castle - WWE’s stadium show in Cardiff.
It’ll be the first major stadium show the WWE has held in the UK since SummerSlam 1992, and will undoubtedly be a once-in-a-lifetime atmosphere.
Kai continued: “I’m yet to absorb everything around me and what I am actually doing.
“Since (SummerSlam) it’s been 0-100, being thrust into this main story, being part of Damage CTRL, which as I said has been years in the making, and now this huge match.
“It’s another surreal moment.”
Kai says she’s most excited for all the incredibly inventive and brilliant chants that the UK crowd will bring to the table, commenting on how nuts it is for a performer to experience such support.
She said: “Sometimes I wonder if they all meet up beforehand and are like ‘here’s all the chants were going to do and here are all the words’.
“The UK crowd are very exciting, I love performing in front of them.”
Along with Dakota, Triple H’s WWE has brought back the likes of NXT stars Karrion Kross, Johnny Gargano, Dexter Lumis, and tag team Hit Row.
There’s certainly a change in the air, not just with the personnel, but with the show that is played out on our screens - a lot more unpredictability and excitement.
Kai spoke about the atmosphere over the past month or so.
She said: “Since being there the vibe backstage is very positive and exciting.
"If anyone’s watched the show it’s been very chaotic in a good way with all the matches, promos and backstage vignettes, it’s felt like anything could happen.
“You’ve got people returning that were in NXT, you’ve got mainstays on Raw and Smackdown colliding, it’s all very unpredictable in a good way.”
Clash At The Castle this weekend will signal yet another milestone in the new WWE regime and roster, one that Kai has more than earned her place in.