Carmella Talks Royal Rumble 2020 & Hopes for Her Next Championship

This Sunday marks the third-ever women's Royal Rumble match, an opportunity given to the entire female roster vying for a spot at WrestleMania.

While both RAW and SmackDown's women's divisions have continuously been occupied by the likes of Becky Lynch, Charlotte, Bayley and Sasha Banks over the years, Carmella has been a stabilizing force since her debut in 2016.

After coming through the NXT system as a manager, Carmella burst onto the SmackDown women's scene and earned several career highlights in just a few short years. She's the first winner of the women's Money in the Bank match, competed in Royal Rumbles and was the top champion of the "blue brand."

But Carmella has found it hard to get on television recently. As the Royal Rumble approaches, only five women have been confirmed for this year's match, and the "Princess of Staten Island" isn't one of them.

Despite this, Carmella isn't getting down quietly. She knows it's not her time but it may be again.

Newsweek spoke with the former SmackDown Women's Champion to talk about this year's Royal Rumble and her desire to get to the top of the mountain again in 2020.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

carmella wwe smackdown live

The Royal Rumble is this weekend. What makes this year's Rumble different for you?

I'm hoping to be a part of it. I'm hoping to be announced for the Rumble, but I have no idea. The cool thing about this year is that they barely announced anyone for this match, so that part, I think it's exciting. So that is good, but also bad. Because before you used to know who would be in it and have a chance to prepare. Like last year I went in as #30, so I had a big advantage over everyone. This year I have no idea, so your guess is as good as mine.

As a fan, do you prefer to not know who is in the Rumble?

As a fan watching I think it's great. I think right now there's only four-five girls confirmed for the match. So for a fan you're excited because you don't know whose music is going to hit. Is someone from the past coming back? is it a girl from NXT? How many? We have no idea, so, as a fan, it's way more exciting this way.

NXT being involved in this year's Survivor Series was the brand's first time. Starting out in NXT yourself, how was it to see the brand come up this way?

I think it's so exciting. When I was in NXT we were just starting out from the ground up, so I knew in the locker room the women were rallying together, supporting each other no matter who you were in a story or on TV with. Because we wanted to succeed so badly, and we are all in it together. And I think that's the vibe the NXT girls give off now as well. Even though it's a third brand, now they have something to prove. They are a third brand, they are not developmental anymore, so you can see and feel that from the girls, which I love. I thought it was very cool. They came together, they wanted to kick some butt with a y'all better watch out [attitude] and I loved that.

You've been off television in recent weeks, and you're not confirmed for the Rumble. You've played up that fact on social media, but how are you handling it?

I think you have to take a step back and be like, "man I've been booked week after week, and I've been on TV since I've debuted." I've been involved in a story, and this is the first time that I haven't been involved in a story, and it's OK. Obviously, it's social media and I'm playing it up, I'm joking around. When you see "we want Carmella," I have to joke around with them. Would it be nice to be in a story? Yes. But I also don't want to be thrown in a story that doesn't make sense. I want to make it impactful, so I have to remember that. You know, you also don't want to be shoved down the fans' throats either. The fans are smart and they realize "they want us to like this person, so we'll rebel against that." So it's more about making it organic and making it work and fit. And right now it's just not my time, but it will be again. I'm not worried about that. I just have to take a step back and enjoy the breaks that we rarely ever get. That part I'm enjoying.

Has your experience helped you get past this rough spot? A younger Carmella may not be taking this time off from television as well as you are now.

Absolutely. I know that any opportunity they give me, I make the most of it. I've taken everything they've given me and ran with it, and I know they know that too. I've made history, I had a great feud with Nikki Bella, I was the first Ms. Money in the Bank. I cashed in my Money in the Bank briefcase to beat Charlotte, I've defeated Asuka. I was champion for way longer than anyone expected. I had this amazing run with R-Truth. Man, I was so lucky. Even if I don't do anything else with my career, I've done so much. So I'm very very lucky and right now, it's ok to chill. When the time is right, strike while the iron is hot.

Speaking of your 2019 with your run with R-Truth and becoming a face, how was it?

It just happened so naturally. It wasn't planned, it wasn't supposed to be a thing between me and R-Truth. I feel so lucky because I lost the championship at SummerSlam in 2018, and I was like "man, what am I going to do?" went right into the R-Truth story, and I was going from being booed out of the building and being one of the most hated people on the roster, not just women but in general, and two-three weeks later, people are cheering me. It was so bananas. And there was no plan to make Carmella a good guy or anything like that. It just happened. The chemistry R-Truth and I have, you can't teach that. It can't be taught. It was so natural, and he's one of my genuine close friends because of what we went through in the last year. 2019 was really cool, and it was fun to find different sides to my character. Going from this in-your-face, crass, talking brat to doing a dance break, being silly, running around with Truth, wearing costumes... It's just cool. Not many characters in WWE get to do that and have the best of both worlds. I feel very lucky for that.

Was it easier to be a face, or do you prefer to be a heel?

It's so much easier to be a bad guy. It's just so much more fun, and it's a lot easier [for a crowd] to hate you than to get them to like you. I remember when they first started pairing me with Truth, and I'm talking to Mr. McMahon and I'm like, "should I be nicer? What do I do now that I'm with Truth?" and he said "don't do anything. Just be you." And that's what I kept doing, and people started liking me for me even when I was still like this trash-talking brat. But because I was associated with Truth, for some reason, they liked me.

The match at SummerSlam 2018 when you lost the championship, personally, it opened my eyes to your in-ring ability and how far you've come. Is that something you continue to work at?

People can say what they want about my in-ring ability, but back when I was a bad guy and a champion, they legitimately hated me. They thought I sucked in the ring, I was a bad champion. They couldn't believe I could beat someone like Asuka and Charlotte. But what I was doing was working. So that's when I finally said I'm going to step up my game, because I knew what I was capable of. But at the same time it's not my job to get people to say, "oh she's cool, she can do cool things." I wanted people to genuinely hate me. In that match I felt there was an opportunity to show what I can do, and I felt like I opened a lot of people's eyes, and I felt that I can start showing a little bit more. I'm excited that people can finally see that I'm not terrible. I'm not this in-ring technician, I will never claim to be. But I'm more about the character and the performance than the moves themselves. When it's time, I can pull out some moves if I need to.

Has becoming a face given you freedom to try new things in the ring?

I think so. Also in NXT I was a good guy, so there was a lot of things in my arsenal that I had to wait to use when the time was right. I was able to reach into my notebook and pull out some stuff.

Do you feel like you are constantly having to prove yourself?

Man, I feel like I belong. I have proven to people that felt I couldn't become champion or wouldn't amount to anything more than a hype girl when I was in NXT. I think I made that very clear at SummerSlam when Nikki Bella came back, the week after we went through this feud, I really stepped up my game. You got to remember, when I was in NXT, I barely wrestled on NXT TV. I was mostly a manager, I was never on a Takeover, so I never had a live match ever. My first live match was on SmackDown, and I was like, "Whoa this is a whole new territory for me." And I learned as I went. I'm proud of myself. I only been wrestling for two-two and a half years so...I don't know, I don't feel like I have to prove anything to the fans. At the end of the day, the fans aren't paying my bills [Laughs].

With that being said, even when you said that at SummerSlam it opened your eyes it does feel good, because I do want people to recognize my hard work.

How is it now that SmackDown moved to FOX?

It's crazy that we're on Fox. It feels bigger, it feels more extravagant. The couple of matches I've had so far I've had fireworks and pyro. I'm like, "what is this? This is so nice!" and the set is different, and it's really cool. Even when Corey [Graves] and I are watching sports on TV, we see "Friday Night SmackDown, don't miss it" and we're like "what?" It's so crazy that we're kinda [mixed] in with these other sports.

What do you hope to accomplish in 2020?

I would love to be champion again. I really would. This is my time. I'm ready to do it again. And whenever that opportunity strikes, I will be ready. Hopefully 2020 Carmella will be champion, because Mella is Money, honey.

What did your first reign teach you?

To just continue to step up your game because you have a target on your back, and everyone is trying to get that title from you. How would it be different? I don't know. We'll just have to wait for what the circumstances are.

WWE's Royal Rumble pay-per-view streams live Sunday, January 26 at 7 p.m. EST on the WWE Network.

Carmella Talks Royal Rumble 2020 & Hopes for Her Next Championship | Sports