In many ways, Toronto native Nhooph Al-Areebi has been training her whole life to become a professional wrestler.
The Arab-Canadian, who is among the most recent wave of international talent recruited to World Wrestling Entertainment’s wildly successful NXT brand, has been a fan since as long as she can remember.
“Growing up, I would watch every single SmackDown, Raw, pay-per-view,” the 20-year-old said over the phone from Florida, where she and 10 other international talents are cutting their proverbial teeth at the WWE’s Performance Center. “Every time they would come to Toronto, I would go to every live show at the Air Canada Centre. You could say I was a huge fan.”
Of course, given that she’s from Toronto, it’s not surprising to learn that Al-Areebi, who wrestled as Jasmin on the independent scene, calls the legendary Trish Stratus her favourite wrestler.
“I loved watching women’s wrestling,” Al-Areebi said, adding that she loves Stratus “not only because she’s from Toronto, but she looked amazing all the time.”
Stratus, a WWE Hall of Famer, is one of the most decorated and successful women’s wrestlers in professional wrestling history.
“I actually never met her,” Al-Areebi said when asked if she’d ever met the likeable Stratus, “however I did go to her yoga studio, which is in Vaughan, Ontario, about 40 minutes away from downtown Toronto.”
Before breaking into the independent wrestling scene in 2011, Al-Areebi honed her skills as a member of the Toronto Circus School and as gymnast. Both, she says, prepared her for a path toward her pro wrestling destiny.
“I knew I wanted to be a WWE Diva since I was a child pretty much,” Al-Areebi said. “As a child, you can’t really go into a wrestling school and ask to get trained, so in the meantime, I was placed in circus school, I did do a bit of recreational rhythmic gymnastics and I feel like the skills that I’ve learned there definitely have transferred into the world of professional wrestling.”
Not only did circus school and gymnastics prepare her for her calling, they gave her a distinct advantage.
“I remember my first day of wrestling school, I was doing stuff that people don’t really learn until they’re months in,” she said. “I remember my trainer (former TNA knockout Taylor Wilde, also a Canadian) was very surprised that I was doing front-flip bumps and doing all the bumps the way that I was supposed to.”
Four years later Al-Areebi is on the cusp of success beyond her wildest dreams. NXT is fast emerging as the hottest brand of wrestling on Earth. While it is suggested to her that four years is a fast climb to the top of the business, Al-Areebi doesn’t see it that way.
“It didn’t really feel so quick,” she said with a laugh, before adding that wrestling has afforded her the opportunity to travel and wrestle in front of a lot of people. “I’m just grateful that it all happened.”
While her own hard work and abilities have led to this opportunity for Al-Areebi, she credits Wilde, her mentor, for steering her in the right direction.
“She was my first trainer and she was the one who pretty much guided me into learning certain moves and locker room etiquette,” Al-Areebi said.
In NXT, Al-Areebi joins a growing list of Canadian-born talent that is thriving on the current roster. Kevin Owens (Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.), Sami Zayn (Montreal), Tye Dillinger (St. Catharines) and Tyler Breeze (Vancouver) are all stars in NXT, with graduations to the main WWE roster not far off. Al-Areebi says she’s honoured to be joining her fellow Canucks.
“I’m proud to be Canadian,” she said, adding she’s excited to be a part of NXT’s Canadian contingent. “I grew up in Toronto and a lot of great superstars and divas do come from Canada so it’s awesome to be one of them.”
In the meantime, Al-Areebi is soaking it all in at the Performance Center, an experience that so far has been nothing short of incredible.
“It’s been amazing so far,” Al-Areebi said. “It’s hard to believe that I’m here sometimes. I wake up every morning with a smile on my face, knowing that what I do for a living is to put smiles on people’s faces.”
As her lifelong dream unfolds right before her very eyes, Al-Areebi gets emotional when she thinks about how far she’s come and where she’s going.
“I’m really excited to be here. I’m really excited to be the first ever Arab-Canadian WWE Diva. I think that’s really exciting and I’m real excited to bring something different.”
With the opportunity of a lifetime in front of her, Al-Areebi is asked if she ever has to pinch herself about how far she’s come.
“I have people pinching me for me,” she quipped. “I’m really grateful for this opportunity and I’m ready to give it my all.”
Watch NXT on the WWE Network.