"Smiley" Kylie is putting smiles on faces again, after many wrestling fans weren't sure when we'd see her again. More importantly, the smile is back on her face again.
Kylie Rae is an interview we've wanted for a while. We actually interviewed AJ Gray backstage at Black Label Pro just before the pandemic crippled the wrestling world. A focused Kylie Ray and Gray put their match together diligently, just before she'd win the BLP Midwest Championship, an hour away from where her former employer would run their AEW Revolution show. I actually spoke with AJ, as well as Erick Stevens, Danhausen and others. I'd wanted to reach out to Kylie, but at the time, she'd not done an interview since returning to the ring. Would she even want to talk? Four months after being too nervous to ask the question, she gave me the answer to that, and much more.
She describes herself as "socially awkward," but her friendly charisma is apparent the moment you speak to her, or catch her demeanor in person. This unique quality helped land her an AEW contract in 2019.
"It’s kind of a funny story because I would have never guessed they would have even been interested. I think I had just moved back up to Chicago within a year and had started grad school. That’s when I was really pursuing wrestling full time. Like, 100% I was in. I was like, I’m giving this my two years of graduate school to pursue wrestling full time and I don’t know if I knew what I wanted, but I think I just wanted to live off of wrestling income. If that makes sense," Kylie told us.
Last year, Kylie Rae figured heavily into All Elite Wrestling's plans, but disappeared after one match. Company founder Tony Khan would confirm to Fightful in September that she'd asked for her release from the company. With the wrestling world speculating as to why, she took to Instagram to say her piece.
I don’t know how to start this and I can’t speak on other’s behalves. I can only speak for myself and what’s in my heart. I don’t know many rumors and honestly try to stay away from everything, obviously --. But here: nobody made me leave. AEW took my career to new levels and I’m beyond grateful for every opportunity and experience that has come along the way and wish nothing but the best. It’s a great group of people who truly love wrestling and just want everyone to succeed. I’ve always tried to be a good person but I make many mistakes along the way. I needed to get my mind, body, and soul right with God. I wish I had the answers but the truth is I don’t. We all go through obstacles in life and we may want all the answers but we don’t need them. It’s God’s plan and he has shown me what’s truly important in life and to find a blessing in every moment because in the blink of an eye, everything can be gone. So instead of bashing, let’s just love one another and appreciate what we have, or something like that lol sorry I’m awkward. ------
Things didn't work out the way either party had intended, but it capped off a wild 12 months for Kylie personally. She wrestled a tour in Japan, underwent collarbone surgery in 2018 and actually watched All In with her shoulder in a sling. Shortly after the show, members of the now-AEW VP team had let some on the All In card to not sign anywhere, as something big was coming. One of those was Dr. Britt Baker DMD. After appearing on-screen at All In, for WWE, NXT, and ROH, she was looking for other qualified candidates to help fill out the women's roster. Kylie Rae fit that qualified description.
"I just got a message from Britt Baker one day that just asked what my goals were in wrestling and where I saw myself in a few years," Kylie recalled. "I remember thinking, “That’s a fun question.” I’m like, “Well, this and that,” then she came back with, “Would you ever be interested in a contract?” I’m just like, “Oh, my gosh. Yeah, who wouldn’t be? That’s why we do this.” She’s like, “How about AEW?” My heart dropped, I was like, “Do you have their contact information? Do you have someone I can talk to? I’d love to!” I was just trying to get anything. “I would love to.” I was at their first show in Chicago at the Sears Centre. Just seeing that, I remember that, being in there. I have the broken collar bone, ‘cause I have the sling on and I’m sitting there crying because I’m seeing like Britt and Tessa [Blanchard], and I’m so happy. It was cool. So, to be considered for that was awesome ‘cause I was just in Japan with Britt a couple weeks earlier. Then once we talked a little bit, she was like, “Alright, I’ll put you in contact with Brandi [Rhodes]. She’ll be reaching out to you.”"
Brandi Rhodes did reach out to Kylie, and a discussion led to a deal. As Kylie remembered, everything happened so fast.
"Then when I talked to Brandi, I remember I was trying to be so, like, calm on the phone, but inside I’m shaking and I’m sweating ‘cause I’m really socially awkward.”So, like imagine that conversation and trying to keep it cool and not say anything that would get me fired before I even started a job with them. So, yeah, after that phone call—it went well—I think, at least. ‘Cause then we went to the press conference. I still wasn’t believing it, like we’re talking wrestling, “Oh, you get this pipe dream, and blah, blah, blah, and here’s this brass ring.” Yeah, so, it’s very much like a “I’ll believe it when I see it” type of business. But, I was happy to even be considered. It was amazing," she said.
Selfishly, fans, media, wrestlers alike wondered if Kylie would return to wrestling. After three quiet months, she did, and the wrestling world welcomed her back with open arms. It was her boyfriend, Isaias Velazquez, who welcomed her back with an emotional embrace and a competitve match that helped show her what she was missing.
"It was everything I needed, if that makes any sense," Kylie told us. "Because this past year was the hands down hardest time in my life and that match it kind of brought me back and helped me realize how fortunate I am. Not just from the match, but just the amount of support that I got. Like, coming back and seeing everyone at the show and talking to everyone. ‘Cause I missed a lot of people. I was away, it was like a few months and it was hard. It wasn’t intentional at all. I hated every second of it. So, I never wanted the fans to think I’d let them down. It was very scary to come back because I don’t know if they thought—like I felt like I’d let them down. I felt a sense of guilt. They have so much importance to me and my stock and built me up. I was like their girl and I wanted to be their girl. I wanted to fight for them. It was sad, but then once that match happened it felt like it was right."
Things got rolling for her after that point. After voluntarily leaving AEW, many were surprised to see her taking IMPACT bookings so shortly after leaving the spotlight. They weren't alone in being surprised, though.
"I think I was, too," she said of her quick return to TV. "I’m a very spur of the moment type of person. Like, commitment kind of scared me a little bit. So, when I think of something long term I’m a lot less likely to commit to something. But, if someone just approached me like, “Hey, you wanna do this tomorrow?” I’m like, “Yeah, screw it. Let’s do it.” So, I had wrestled the weekend before or a couple weekends before. That was my first show back and I wrestled my boyfriend. Then after that a couple of weeks later I wrestled on Zelo Pro., but it was like the pre-Bound for Glory weekend. So, I guess I just impressed Scott D’Amore and Don Callis because it was amazing. I got to be in the battle royal. Even that day it was fun. It was a different group, like some of the people who were there aren’t there any more. They’ve added some new additions. But, even the new people we just discussed, they’re amazing, you know?"
After Bound For Glory, IMPACT wanted to bring Kylie into the fold full-time. She candidly explained that she passed on a contract offer. IMPACT diligently followed up after a while and made a deal happen. That short amount of time spelled big changes for a rejuvenated Kylie Rae.
"I’m just in a completely different state mentally, physically and emotionally," she proudly stated. "After the Bound for Glory pay-per-view, they did approach me with an initial contract. I was just straight up with them and I said, “I’m not there yet. I’m not ready.” I was just being honest with myself. I needed to continue to work on myself. I think it was the right choice, obviously, and they respected that. I can’t thank them enough for being 100% understanding. ‘Cause that’s not easy to do, turn down a contract. This is my dream. Any wrestler, that’s their dream. They want that contract. I’m just letting it slip through my fingers. It was very hard. I sat on it for a while and then a couple months later they re-approached me with another offer and I grasped at it. I couldn’t reach quick enough. I still had to be like, “Hey, ask a couple questions?” But, I knew I was signing. I was so ready."
One year apart, Kylie Rae was in a much different place this July than last July. Today, she signed with IMPACT Wrestling as a member of their blossoming women's division, arguably the deepest in North America. What the future holds? She's not sure.
"Currently I signed a long term contract. But, yeah after that, we’ll see where that goes. But, I’ve been saying since the day I started training, “I’ve got about two years left in me.” So, now it’s seven years later," she said.
Kylie's move to IMPACT was officially announced in March, adding to a roster that already included Jordynne Grace, Su Yung, Taya, Kiera Hogan, Tenille Dashwood, Rosemary and others. Many expected Kylie Rae's acquisition to be among the last for Impact for a while, only for them to reinforce the division with Deonna Purrazzo, Tasha Steelz, Nevaeh, and Kimber Lee.
A glimmer of positivity and optimism in an often cynical wrestling business, Kylie's demeanor often drew comparisons to WWE's Bayley, to the point where AEW's Cody Rhodes referenced it on a FITE Q&A. These days, those comparisons have subsided. Bayley is reaching new career heights as a heel, and Kylie Rae is reaching personal heights continuing to be herself. The longer you talk to Kylie Rae, the more you realize this isn't an inspired gimmick, it's Kylie Rae. The social awkwardness she speaks of looks more like a kind person existing in a world that isn't always so kind. For a girl who went from working at Pro Wrestling Tees, to being one of the most requested additions to the store, being genuine has paid off.
Today, Kylie is slowly starting to take independent dates again after COVID-19 brought most everything to a halt. She's been regularly training, and encouraging people to wear their masks. However, she's encouraged Su Yung (now Susie) to lose the one that's concealed her in recent years, and now the two are teaming up. It's not just Susie that's grown as a friend of Kylie's, she speaks highly of the entire IMPACT locker room.
"The depth within the division is ridiculous. Every person in the division brings something to the table. We're able to play off of each other. Everyone has something different to bring, character-wise, and move-set wise. It's fun, it's been a blast there since the day I walked in. You can't ask for a more supportive group of people. It's been wonderful. I can't say enough good things about it. Especially since I knew the majority of these women before IMPACT, and I loved all of our matches. Every time we're there, it's just fun. It's not a pain to be there, we're working for each other and getting along. It's not just a job, it's fun to be there. That's not just the division, it's the entire company. It's relaxed and chill," she said.
"I’ve never been happier. I’ve never been more at peace in my life. It’s so beautiful," Kylie said, with that signature smile on her face.
You can see our full interview with Kylie Rae above, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram. She's in action each Tuesday on AXS' IMPACT Wrestling, and will appear at Glory Pro on Saturday, August 1 at Glory Pro in St. Louis, taking on Laynie Luck. Support her by checking out her Pro Wrestling Tees store.