Mickie James returned to WWE after more than a year away because of an ACL injury and the coronavirus pandemic. The 41-year-old James — a six-time women’s champion — now finds herself back in the title hunt for the first time in nearly three years as she faces Raw women’s champion Asuka tonight on “Monday Night Raw” (8 p.m., USA Network). Before stepping into the ring, James took time for some Q&A with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski.
Q: When you’re rehabbing your ACL you probably have a target date in mind of when you are gonna come back. How do you mentally readjust and its months and months before you get back in the ring?
A: It was frustrating to get injured in the first place. It was right after WrestleMania. I had just switched over to SmackDown and yet to debut on SmackDown and then I got hurt in Texas at just a live event. It was like the worst-case scenario for me because I’m going like nobody even saw it! Aside from whoever was in attendance in Waco, Texas nobody saw it and so I’m like, well this is frustrating.
What was cool was I got to come back and do commentating for Main Event and play in that role and dabble in the role. I want to learn as much as I can. I love this business, so it was cool to do that and work a little bit behind the scenes.
I’m ready to come back and as I’m set to return — I just have to get that final clearance. That’s that last step and then it’s like pandemic and I’m like holy crap my time is impeccable all the way around here. First it was really frustrating and I was really down for a second. It took me a second to sit back and go, you know what — whatever you believe in, whatever your thing is — this is almost forcing me to sit back, spend some time with my son (Donovan).
It took me about a month, month-and-a-half before I got to the moment where I’m just gonna chill out. This is what it is and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m sitting here complaining about why I can’t go back to work or why I can’t get this last bit of clearance and I’m watching family members lose their job. I’m watching family members worried about how they’re gonna pay their rent because they can’t go to work and I’m stressing over this and I’m OK.
Q: When you did return in August for your first match there was some fan outcry when your entrance wasn’t shown, Seth Rollins interrupts your and Natalya’s match. It was taped, so did you sit back and watch it that night? What’s going through your head as you are watching it presented on TV?
A: Obviously, I wasn’t ignorant to the fact of how it was going to be presented on TV because we filmed it. I kind of know what the business was gonna be. Of course, I didn’t love it and I expressed … you know what I mean. But at the moment I’m going well, this is my return, this my first match back and what I’m gonna do is go out there and do the best I can to put on the best match I can.
But I was so elated that the fans were so overwhelmingly … like the love and respect that they had for me. If you say these things and I don’t want to come off as cocky or conceited. It can look like an ego, is this an ego-driven thing that I’m feeling some sort of way about it or is it a real thing? So it wasn’t until that moment with the fans that I go, so it wasn’t completely ego.
That’s all. It’s all good and maybe it was a blessing in disguise for me or maybe it turned out to be something really beautiful because not only did it remind WWE and the WWE Universe of who I am and everything I’ve done as far as a female and women’s wrestling, but it reminded myself of how empowering I hopefully have been to not just the organization, but women’s wrestling. It made me happy and cry and sad and excited all at the same time.
Q: What does it mean for you after more than a year away to get a shot at the Raw women’s championship?
A: It was crazy to come back (in 2016) after being gone for seven years the first time I faced Asuka. Now, to be able to come back the second time and get a genuine love from the audience that has now set me up. They have helped me I think because it not only reminded us, but it reminded myself who I am and what I’ve done in this industry, in this business, in the company. And now to go full circle and face Asuka again one more time, but this time for the Raw women’s championship after we’ve both grown as performers — she’s a household name at this point — and undeniably so electrifying. She’ll probably go down in history as one of the greatest female champions we’ve ever had. I know what I’m capable of. I know I’m going to take her to her limits. She’s going to take me to my limits. It’s going to be match of the night regardless.
Q: You mentioned that first match with Asuka at NXT TakeOver Toronto in 2016. What do you remember about that match and the opportunity to come back to the company at that point?
A: I remember most the reaction when I first came out because I wasn’t expecting that. I knew Asuka was good and I knew what she was capable of. She is so good. She is so, so good. I think that was such a hard-hitting match and it was such an intense match and such a great story.
Q: When you tagged in last week on Raw by tagging Asuka on the butt, was that unscripted? You just had this big smile on your face.
A: (Laughs) I love to get genuine reactions from people. It thrills my soul. But she got me back. I don’t think the commentators picked up on it later. But when she stole the tag back, she slapped me right back on my butt. I was perched up there and you saw my little face. I was like, oh you wench, you got me.
Q You have a YouTube show with Victoria and SoCal Val and are on Cameo. How does WWE’s new policy on talent using third-party platforms affect you or change your ability to continue to do them?
A: It really hasn’t affected me and I think because I have always had a very open communication with them as far as what I’m doing, what’s OK and what’s not OK. So it’s one of those things of like I feel it’s not really affected me. GAWs (Grown Ass Women) has been great. It’s such a unique product and this cool little thing that we’re doing with my girlfriends. I don’t do TikTok. I’m ignorant when it comes to a lot of the social media platforms. I can barely keep up with Instagram half the time.
Q: You have been a part of so many different phases of women’s wrestling. What do you think the next step needs to be?
A: Everyone is talking about Evolution 2, which I would love, love, love to see the next female pay-per-view. Even moving past that forward, I was like, I would really personally love to help or do something where it was cultivating a very female-driven product for the WWE Network or something like that, like similar to a 205 Live or something that’s based around the females because there’s a market for it and it would satisfy giving the chance to so many females that we have on the roster and even ones that are untapped talent right now. It would give us a chance to truly, truly shine and do something unique [in WWE].
Q: How much longer do you want to wrestle for?
A; That’s a tough question. It’s always been different for the women, hasn’t it? You watch men wrestle in their 50s and 60s and nobody blinks an eye. They’re winning championships, they’re doing all these things and nobody thinks anything of it. For a female it’s different. It always has been different.
I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna wrestle. It wouldn’t be any reason other than my son. He’s starting kindergarten this year. By the time he starts, we’re talking middle school, stuff like that. When he starts doing his extracurricular activities, playing soccer or playing baseball or whatever he wants to do, I want to be able to stand in the stands with my little sign and be his No. 1 fan. I want to be in that position and that could be five years from now.
I feel like I’ll always be in wrestling in some capacity, whether it’s backstage, whether it is the creative side or something because I love wrestling. I love this business. I’m passionate about it. I’ve always wanted to make a change in this business for the women and make strides and I think we’ve come so far. And there is no time like the present to be a female in the business, so I would be an idiot to think about walking away anytime soon.
Q: Someone posted that this was the 14th anniversary of your match vs. Trish Stratus, her first retirement match. What memories do you have of that and why was your feud with Trish so memorable to people?
A: We had six months to develop that story, to create the Mickie James character, define who she was and why she was the way she was. So people as that story unfolded with Trish and we took time and all those elements of all those stories. It wasn’t just about matches. It was segments backstage and all stuff. We were all able to work together between Trish and I and the writers and everybody else who was involved in those stories to really make it unique and special. And I think because we’ve all been fans at some point that everyone could connect with Mickie James the fan character, maybe not the psycho fan character, and it was so fun.
It connected with the people. It really, really did. It still does. It’s amazing when people say that that it’s one of the great female storylines of all time and it was just people we babied it. We treated it like a little baby and we cultivated it and created it and took the time to nurture it to get it to that moment.
Q: You’ve only had a handful of singles matches against Natalya. What do you guys want to accomplish with your current feud?
A: Because I had never really got a chance to work a lot with her before, it’s been really, really cool because it’s been matches that we’ve always wanted to have and to be able to work with each other in more than just a triple threat or something like that. I love Nattie, she’s so talented. I don’t know about all those TikTok with Lana (laughs).