Alexa Bliss is at the top of the wrestling world.
The former University of Akron cheerleader is the WWE SmackDown women’s champion. Last week, she climbed into a steel cage in Memphis and retained her title by defeating Becky “The Irish Lass Kicker” Lynch.
You can catch the battling Bliss on Tuesday night at the Huntington Center in Toledo, or tune into USA Network at 8 p.m. for the latest dose of SmackDown Live.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun. You’ll see all of the WWE superstars,” said Bliss on the phone from Columbus. “There’s definitely going to be a lot of drama.”
The Ohio native was in Columbus last week visiting family and
friends. Her real name is Alexis “Lexi” Kaufman and her rise through the WWE as “Alexa Bliss” has been swift. She signed in 2013, served in the minor leagues for a few years and was called up for main events last summer, winning her first title in December.
Bliss, 25, is listed at 5 feet 1 inch. She is alternately referred to as “The Wicked Witch of the WWE” or “Five Feet of Fury,” and can also be found on “Little Miss Bliss” T-shirts.
Fiercely competitive and fantastically fit, her wrestling feats have led to an extensive fan base. She has more than 900,000 followers on Instagram, and more than 400,000 followers on Twitter. Several websites also chart her progress, including alexablissdaily.com and alexabliss.net. She is also a video game character in WWE 2K17.
None of it would have been possible had she not overcome a life-threatening run-in with anorexia in the fall of 2009 when she was a UA cheerleader. It was her second time confronting the eating disorder.
“I had gone through it first in high school,” said Bliss. “Then when I joined college cheer, we had a very strict workout regimen that we had to follow. And I had just recovered from the first eating disorder. We had to sign in to do cardio, BOD PODs [a measurement of muscle vs. fat in the body], the things athletes should do. But it retriggered everything for me. I went from 120 pounds to 80 pounds in about six weeks.
“That was the main reason I left Akron. It was after a football game. I was still in my uniform. I told my coach that I needed to go home and get help. I checked into Nationwide Children’s Hospital [in Columbus] and the doctors were amazing and helped me get through it all. It was a tough time but it also made me the person I am today.”
She left UA and transferred to Columbus Community College. As part of her recovery to put on weight, she turned to body building, and eventually won several IFBB (International Federation of Body Building and Fitness) events.
As a kid, Lexi Kaufman excelled at gymnastics and track. Her cheerleading — she competed in individual, duo, team, stunt and tumble — also landed her on the cover of American Cheerleader magazine when she was just 17.
When the cameras are rolling, her Bliss bluster takes over. She is fearless and will take on anyone. But off camera, she admits that climbing into a steel cage to bash and be bashed isn’t easy.
“When I was walking down the entranceway, I was thinking, ‘Man that thing is huge.’ But when you’re standing right next to it, it’s even more intimidating. When you walk in, once the door closes, you’re like, ‘Oh, crap. I’m stuck.’ There’s only two ways out. Out the door, or over the top. I’m only five feet. It’s a longer fall for me than anyone else.”
Now based in Orlando, Fla., Bliss said she likes the travel and interacting with WWE fans. So far she is coping with the hot lights of celebritydom.
“I don’t really consider myself a celebrity,” she said. “When I’m not traveling, I’m just sitting on the couch watching Netflix with my dogs Teddy and Izzy. It is kind of weird to walk into a Starbucks and have somebody know your name. But normal-day life really hasn’t changed that much. There’s just a lot more eyes on you on social media.”
As for staying healthy, Bliss is ever-watchful.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh, you’re cured of anorexia.’ You’re never healed. You live with it the rest of your life. It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.”
Clint O’Connor can be reached at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ClintOMovies .