WWE SmackDown women’s champion Bianca Belair will defend her title against Carmella for a second straight week as WWE is set to appear at the 2021 Rolling Loud festival in Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. Rolling Loud is the biggest hip-hop festival in the world, and the promotion looks to crossover into the hip-hop and contemporary music genre, which comes with the type of younger crowd the it is currently targeting.
“Given our ties to music, this was a great opportunity to plan a crossover event as part of a larger strategy to seek out culturally relevant moments in music, sports, art, fashion and entertainment. That’s where we want to be, challenging ourselves to say ‘how do we hit a new fan?’” said Scott Zanghellini, WWE Senior Vice President, Revenue Strategy and Development, by telephone.
“For as popular as the brand is, we’re always looking to extend our reach and thought this was a great way to bring in a new audience—while also providing a unique experience to our existing fanbase.”
Zanghellini went on to note that WWE’s current plans at Rolling Loud will not be affected by the recent Rolling Loud stage collapse, where nobody was injured, as WWE will be performing on a different stage.
WWE’s presence at Rolling Loud comes amid dedicated efforts to push black Superstars, some of whom will be competing at Rolling Loud alongside the trailblazing Belair. On the men’s side, Angelo Dawkins of The Street Profits (with Belair’s uber-talented husband Montez Ford) will face Chad Gable (with Otis). Belair and Sasha Banks recently won an ESPY for “Best WWE Moment” after becoming the first two black women to main event WrestleMania at WrestleMania 37.
Ahead of her SmackDown Women’s Championship rematch against Carmella at Rolling Loud, Belair fully embraces the magnitude of inspiring younger fans who look like her. Even as somebody who did not grow up as a wrestling fan, she too found inspiration in black women in wrestling from the past and present.
“The older I’ve gotten, I now understand the power of representation. For me, I always gravitated towards Jacqueline. I thought she was amazing in the ring. She was beautiful, she was strong, she was powerful and it was really empowering to watch Jacqueline,” said the SmackDown women’s champion in an exclusive interview.
“When I got older, right before I started in WWE, I went to a live event in Atlanta—I think I was 26—and I saw Naomi in the ring. And I remember just watching her, and because she was in the ring I could see myself in the ring. So she was so inspiring to me and she impacted me in a positive way before I stepped in a ring, even at 26 years old.”
Belair has daily interactions with people who are taken aback by the fact that the former track star and CrossFit athlete is now a WWE Superstar. Some within her community now feel compelled to watch upon learning she is such a prominent star with the company.
“Sometimes I’m out in public and people are like ‘you’re a wrestler?’ and they kind of ask me with a little question in their voice, like ‘oh I didn’t know that WWE had wrestlers like you. I’m going to start watching.’” said Belair.
Belair hopes to have a similar effect on the Rolling Loud audience tonight in Miami Gardens as Friday Night SmackDown will air a joint broadcast from the first major music festival of 2021. Despite wrestling in front of a hip-hop audience, Belair feels right at home as a fan of hip-hop herself. Belair’s catchy theme music (”I’m on my own/against the wall…”), undeniable swagger and once-in-a-generation athleticism makes her the perfect ambassador for WWE at any event, let alone Rolling Loud.
And Bianca knows that.
“It’s going to feel like home to me because that’s my environment, that’s what I’m all about,” said Belair of Rolling Loud.
“One of my main goals, even when I first arrived in NXT/WWE, was to bring as many eyes to the product as possible and bring more eyes in the urban market, the hip-hop market. I want to bring more eyes to the product, and that’s what we’re going to get to do at Rolling Loud. I go out there with my baby hairs, and my bamboo earrings, I love to bop around so I hope I’m received well because I’m gonna feel like I’m at home. I hope they receive me like I’m coming to the cookout and they’re giving me the invite to come in.”
Belair cited City Girls, Lil Baby and Moneybagg Yo as acts she wanted to see before flying out to Pittsburgh, Pa. on Saturday and Louisville, Ky. on Sunday with WWE now back on the road full-time. And after Bad Bunny stole the show at WrestleMania 37 alongside Damian Priest, Belair has a few names in mind for similar collaborations.
“I would love to work with Megan Thee Stallion, City Girls, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj—I’m in love with Nicki Minaj—a few of these people are actually going to be there, so maybe I can go talk to them and see if we can have a tag team or partnership in the future.”