The one-named Naomi is a trailblazer in the professional wrestling world. She is the first African-American woman to win a SmackDown title. She has danced for the Orlando Magic and been a backup moneymaker-shaker for Flo Rida. The WWE superstar has done some big things in her life. But she might be sleeping on the couch after this episode of “Renaissance Man” airs.
Because she is married to fellow wrestler Jimmy Uso (government name: Jonathan Fatu), a proud Samoan, I had a burning question for her: What is one Samoan dish everyone needs to try?
“Oh man, this is embarrassing. I can’t think of one,” she told me. “His mom comes in town and she cooks just like all the Samoan dishes.” Naomi went blank.
But that’s OK. She is forgiven because she didn’t come here to talk about the finer points of Polynesian cooking. I invited her on to tell us how she became a massively popular performer, a champion and the purveyor of “The Glow,” her trademark dance with glow-in-the-dark gear.
“The Glow is a metaphor,” she said. She came up with it during “a hard time that I was going through in my career and not believing in myself. So I just started to talk to myself more positively. And when I really started believing in myself is when I started to see things turn around. So the whole Glow concept is just about believing in yourself, being positive and having confidence … Finding the light in all those dark moments in your life, no matter what. And then I was like, ‘Man, it would be cool if I could physically express the Glow and show it.’ So that’s where all of the aesthetics came in.”
Naomi, whose real name is Trinity, grew up in Florida and came from a big ol’ country family. Her father put her in dance classes at 8, and her life as a performer took flight. She did tap, jazz, ballet, lyrical, modern and hip-hop until she was 18.
“And then from there I became an Orlando Magic dancer. I did that for two years. That was awesome. I cheered from 2007 to 2009 seasons.”
And then she saw her first wrestling show and caught the bug.
“[I] never watched wrestling growing up. Never knew much about it. Then I seen the women perform and … my mind was blown. I was like, ‘Women can do this.’ I was like, ‘I want to do that.’”
Of course, there are many similarities between dancing and wrestling. Naomi learned discipline from an early age.
“You have to memorize a lot of choreography. And in wrestling, it’s kind of like a dance … When you’re in there, fighting with someone … you’re really working together and using your bodies together and having to trust each other. I felt like it was just a natural transition for me.”
The self-professed “country bumpkin” said marrying into a Samoan wrestling dynasty also opened up her world. Uso “comes from a legacy of successful wrestlers in his family,” Naomi said. “But I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know who was who. I had never met a Samoan until I met my husband. It was crazy … I was like, ‘What is you: black, white or Puerto Rican? He was like, ‘I’m Samoan.’ I was like, ‘Samoa. What’s that?’”
His short answer: “Like The Rock.”
And nobody is universally understood like The Rock.
“He’s currently a tag-team champion with his twin brother,” she boasted of her man.
So there’s a lot of winning in their house. But Naomi wasn’t born into that world, and so her victories came with grit and patience. It took her six years to earn a title.
“All that was on my mind was just getting a championship. I hadn’t even realized that no black woman had ever even held it … until after the fact,” she said, calling it a special and rewarding experience. “And since then, women have continued to make history. We had our two black females, Bianca [Belair] and Sasha Banks … headlining WrestleMania, the first two African-American women [to do so]. But there’s still so much more history to be made as women and as black women in this in this industry. And I’m just looking forward to continuing to break those glass ceilings.”
The wrestling world is filled with fantastic personalities. I have interviewed Titus O’Neil, whom Naomi affectionately called “my boy.” She also rattled off a bunch of names of fellow performers who are helpful and gracious. She had high praise for Rey Mysterio: “No matter how big on the roster you are, how small, he always comes and says hello to everybody, gives everybody a hug,” adding that with him, she’s in “good company.”
And presumably she is taking tips from her “good company,” many of whom — peers and greats who have come before her — have crossed over into the acting world. Naomi has already done a megasuccessful crossover from dance into wrestling, so will she be jumping from the ring to the big screen?
“Yes. Absolutely. Yes,” she told me, adding that she was in the 2017 flick “The Marine 5: Battleground” and loved the experience. “This is something I would like to … challenge myself with.” So FYI, Naomi fans: She is poised to pile-drive the acting world next.
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA, before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is currently an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book, “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker, and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.