There’s a reason Cleveland native and WWE Superstar Dana Brooke is known as a professional wrestler. Born Ashley Sebera, Brooke is part of a roster that is one of the most talented that the WWE has ever known. The excellence in the ring, the magic shared by its fans, and the cultural phenomenon that the company has become can demand a level of excellence hard to chase and harder to hold.
Like old-school WWE classics, Ultimate Warrior and Lex Luger, Brooke was originally involved with professional bodybuilding before embarking on her new career. In fact, at the time of the WWE’s initial offer, she admits to PressureLife, “It’s a great opportunity, but I honestly don’t have a clue whatsoever in the knowledge of wrestling.”
What followed was an unexpected uprooting to Orlando and a crash course in everything within the squared circle. “I was grinding away,” she recalls. “I would wake at six, do cardio, then go into the ring and train for three hours of straight wrestling every day.” Familiar with extensive training from her past lives in gymnastics and competitive fitness, it was the isolation and separation from her family that proved her most challenging opponent. “The only reason why I ever wanted to give up was that I felt alone.”
Despite the distance, family proved the strongest advocates in her corner while first cutting her teeth between the ropes. During times of doubt in her early training it was this anchor back home that grounded her. “There have been times where I would call my family and be like ‘I wanna come home. I can’t do this.’ and my dad would just say, ‘Dooders, that’s not an option. This is it. You’re doing it.’”
Brooke and the peers she would train with would become one of the first classes called up from the newly established developmental division, NXT. “Going there taught me so much about determination, dedication, and drive. That place will make or break you.” Technique and physicality, however, will only get a sports entertainer so far. Psychology is just as critical. For Brooke it also threatened to be her undoing. “I’m still kind of learning, still overcoming it,” Brooke admits. “It’s not just a match. There’s a story that’s trying to be told. It’s an art.” Artistic appreciation didn’t make it any easier for Brooke when she debuted as a villain, or “heel” in professional parlance.
She remembers the first time she was greeted with boos, “deep down I’m fine, but in the moment I’m like ‘oh my god, they hate me’, I just want to go and run back and curl up in a ball and cry.” Playing the antagonist proved more unfamiliar territory for Brooke who attests to being the “nicest person in the entire world.”; a trait she’s since had to shelve while cameras are rolling. “I don’t know who that person is. I’m in there as ‘Dana’ and I’m this person that is just so mean and the words that come out of my mouth repel me.”
Brooke’s progress has continued since being called up to the main roster and featured on WWE’s marquee program, Raw, nearly every Monday night. “When I first started it was like a shark tank. With the female competition in the locker room- it’s hard, I’m not going to lie. It is very difficult. Everyone wants that one spot and that is to be the best. The roster is very slim for the women so once you have your place you want to keep it. Always having other women come into your territory- gossip happens, rumors happen.”
The challenges of performing as a WWE Superstar only appear to fuel Brooke who views her position as a opportunity to be a vital force in women’s empowerment. “Through my journey and career in gymnastics, fitness, and now with WWE, I want to be a role model for other women and show them that anything is possible.” It was this motivation that inspired her to enter the Arnold Schwarzenegger Bodybuilding Classic in 2015. “I was the first male or female in WWE history to do both. That was kind of like my breakout point.”
Brooke, along with the other immensely talented female WWE performers, have made conscious strides to portray themselves on better footing than the ‘90s era WWE that saw its female roster used as little more than over-sexualized props. “I came to show my skill and provide a show of athleticism. Yeah, we’re pretty faces but I work with some of the most driven and determined women I’ve ever met in my life.”
As Brooke’s in-ring work matures alongside her peers, one can only imagine the heights achievable if her talents compare in the slightest to the level of excellence she holds herself accountable to. If and when this inevitably happens, the WWE and the world at large will have to take notice- Dana Brooke has arrived.