It’s Hard to Say Goodbye

Kohjiro Kinno for The Players' Tribune

You can call me Saraya now.

Tomorrow is my last official day as Paige.

I got signed in April of 2011, at 18 years old. I was just a baby from Norwich, England. And as I’m sitting here now, I’m only a month away from turning 30. That’s crazy, right? I’ve been Paige for over 11 years. For my entire adult life, I’ve been with WWE.

And while I’ve changed a lot over that time, one thing feels the same to me today as it did back on the day I tried out: the thrill of those three letters. WWE — those three letters have given so much to me. In many ways, they’ve come to define me. And they’ve never lost their meaning. The idea of being a WWE Superstar … I’m still blown away by that, still humbled by it.

Which makes it hard to say goodbye. 

I’ve known this moment would be coming for a while, but it almost didn’t seem real. Now that it is real, though, I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude.

Gratitude to people like A.J. — what an absolute badass she is. But she’s also so sweet and so thoughtful. I remember the first time we went on the road back to England, she got me this pair of Doc Martens with a Union Jack on the toe. Those little things that make someone feel cared about … that’s A.J. for you. I used to call her “my fairy godmother.”

Gratitude to people like the Bellas, who took me under their wing when they definitely didn’t have to. This business hasn’t always been the most encouraging place for strong women, and I admire how Nikki and Brie just came in and said, “You know what? Fuck that.” The Bellas empowered me, and then they taught me how to empower myself.

Kohjiro Kinno for The Players' Tribune

Also, seriously: the gratitude I feel toward each of the AMAZING women I shared a ring with!! While there are a million pieces to being a WWE Superstar, in the end for me it all comes back to wrestling. And that’s where a lot of my best memories are. Whether it’s my matches with Nattie (my favourite opponent), or with Emma (forever proud of the work we did in NXT), or countless others. When I first got to WWE, we weren’t very far removed from the time of bra-and-panties matches. A lot of people still considered the women’s match on every show to be the “pee break.” And I’ll always feel such a kinship with the women of my era, because we worked so damn hard to prove ourselves. To prove that we couldn’t just wrestle — we could wrestle our asses off.

And while I wish the same support had been given to earlier eras of female wrestlers, to WWE’s credit they did come around on what our group was capable of. So many people had our backs and gave us the tools to succeed. Stephanie and Hunter, obviously. Dusty. Dr. Tom. Norman Smiley. Joey Mercury. Steve Keirn. Nothing was handed to us, but it felt like anything was possible. Want to dress more alternative? If you can get it over, go for it. Want to do a top-rope suplex? If you can pull it off, we won’t hold you back. That was the attitude. We were very fortunate.

I’m also grateful for the CURRENT group of female wrestlers in WWE. Everyone seems to have a different idea on where and when our Women’s Revolution started, but to me the where and when don’t matter. What matters is that it happened, and that women’s wrestling is in good hands with the talent on this roster. I’m incredibly honoured to have gotten to be a part of something so special, and can’t wait to see what the future brings.

Kohjiro Kinno for The Players' Tribune

And then of course the other part of this that I’m grateful for … it’s more bittersweet.

The truth is, it was easy enough for WWE to get behind me in those early days. I was a young woman who could wrestle at a high level and cut good promos and move loads of merch — I was probably one of their top assets, you know what I mean? And you don’t learn much about people from how they treat you when you’re on top. 

You learn about people’s true nature, I’ve found, from how they treat you when you’re closer to the bottom.

And a few years ago I got pretty close to the bottom.

It was like, almost overnight, so many things changed: Suddenly my neck was fucked and I couldn’t wrestle. I popped a drug test. My sex tape leaked. I got depressed. I started drinking. And I became less of an asset to WWE, and more of a liability, for a long time. I’m sure of it. 

But they never lost faith in me — they never once threw me off to the side. They got me the help I needed when I needed help, and they gave me the time and space I needed when I needed time and space. 

They even gave me a full segment on Raw to announce my in-ring retirement. I’ll cherish that for the rest of my life. Not just getting to make the announcement like I did, but also the respect it showed on WWE’s part, that they viewed me as worthy of that kind of treatment — the kind normally reserved for an Edge, or a Daniel Bryan, or an HBK, or a Hunter.

That they viewed me as someone who’d built a legacy of her own.

Kohjiro Kinno for The Players' Tribune

I’ll leave on a quick story. Before I came back from my injury in 2017, I probably had the craziest case of anxiety I’ve ever had. I just kept thinking to myself, like, These people are all going to hate me now. With things having spiraled so out of control (and in such a public way) in my personal life, I had doubts about whether I still belonged, and about whether that connection I’d made with the fans had permanently been lost. 

And I’ll never forget this: As I was getting ready to go out there for my “re-debut,” Stephanie pulled me aside. And she just held me for a minute. She gave me the biggest, longest hug. And she said, “Hey — everyone out there loves you. They’re going to be excited to see you. You want to know why? Because you’re a survivor. You SURVIVED. And that means something. So hold your head up, and enjoy this moment. It’s yours.”

Stephanie was right (as usual). I went out there … and it was the most amazing feeling. No one hated me!! They were actually glad I was back. I was still Paige. The connection was still there.

And in a lot of ways, that story is my time with WWE in a nutshell. It was far from perfect. There were some brutal setbacks. And to be honest, I was a bit of an ass for a couple of years. But they always believed in my will to survive, and in the person I could grow to become.

So I wanted to say thanks.

And I want to thank YOU ALL — truly, anyone who might be reading. From my bosses to my coworkers to my friends to my fans. For the past 11 years, you’ve let me live out my dreams. More living to come. I’ll see you down the road.