ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with WWE Superstar Zelina Vega about her podcast, ZELVX and CHARLIE GIRL. Vega discussed her affinity for anime and nerd culture as well as her role as an announcer in Street Fighter 6. Episodes release once a week every Friday.
“Cyberpunk meets Kawaii in this gamer podcast: ZELVX and CHARLIE GIRL,” reads the show’s description.
Tyler Treese: You recently started the ZELVX and CHARLIE GIRL Podcast. Tell me a bit about this podcast. You get to share your love for some outside interests with Dakota Kai.
Zelina Vega: Well, it was funny because we realized that we had so much in common because I’ve known her for so long. But it’s just a fun, nerdy get-together. I like to think about it like we’re going to have some new guests on the show — other nerdy people who like to talk about games or anime or whatever it is that connects us as friends. I think, too, a lot of people wouldn’t expect her to be so knowledgeable about games or me to be so knowledgeable about anime or whatever it is. So it’s just getting to know us on a deeper level and having fun with whatever ends up coming up. We actually kind of did a deep dive into some Pokémon conspiracy theories and fun stuff that we don’t really get to talk about when we’re in the ring, cursing each other out. It’s the flip side of us.
You’ve always had a really nice connection with your fan base and have always been very open. I remember you did a Twitch stream after you were released and you really let people in to get to know your personality. What’s been most rewarding about having fans of you and not just the WWE superstar Zelina Vega, actual fans of Thea?
Well, I feel like it’s a nice blend of the two because, to be honest, a lot of them wouldn’t really know Thea if it wasn’t for Zelina and if it wasn’t for WWE. So it’s being able to take those newly gained fans and get them to know Thea and get them to know how I came about and what this journey looked like way before WWE to show them, yeah, it’s okay to like video games. It’s okay to like anime. A Lot of people don’t even realize that both my legs are completely covered in anime tattoos, you know? It’s cool to have just a little bit of realness, I guess. It’s just because, again, in WWE, you’re playing a character.
It’s a bit of you, but you’re under a different name, and you’re playing up to that. I feel like once people get to know me as Thea, they kind of understand Zelina a little bit better. So I think it just goes hand-in-hand. For as much as Thea is me, Zelina is also very important to me.That’s partially why I have the LWO tattoo and why this whole wall is just covered in — I call it my accomplishment wall. So it’s got, on the one side, me being a commentator in Street Fighter 6 as Thea, but then, also, me going into WrestleMania as Queen and Tag Team Champion as Zelina. So it’s a nice blend of the two.
We saw a change in direction with the company where they are allowing wrestlers to do these side avenues and these passion projects, and it’s great to see you get to express your interest and do stuff like this podcast because there’s a period where it wasn’t happening. How rewarding has it been just having that access and getting to do this stuff?
It’s been really rewarding, especially because … I mean, it’s no secret that it wasn’t an easy journey — especially for me. But I also feel like it was a necessary one because it got us as talent and the office on a much more fun page, and we get to do this together. All I ever wanted was to do this together and to blend my loves together. It’s funny, recently somebody said to me, “How does it feel to know that this whole thing kind of started with you?” And I’m like … that’s kind of crazy to think about that little loudmouth from Queens. (Laughs). That’s the one that started this whole thing. I just like that I can be, I guess, a positive light when it comes to this. There were some ups and downs, but overall, we all came out on top because of this. Now we’re all doing this together and hand-in-hand. I think that’s the most important part.
Your co-host isn’t as knowledgeable about anime as you are, so you recommended Demon Slayer as a good place to start. What are some anime you would recommend to those that are beginners?
So I would say Demon Slayer I love because the characters are compelling. The illustration is absolutely beautiful. You fall in love with these characters and it pulls at your heartstrings in good and bad ways. So I love Demon Slayer to start with, but also Death Note — and I’m actually telling Dakota this, too, to start with Death Note, because it’s only 37 episodes, but they do so much in those 37 episodes that you either come out feeling like this is a great story, or you end up feeling like me. I felt very empty inside afterwards. I was like, “This is so good. But now it’s come to an end.” Those are the two I usually like to recommend first, but if you’re looking for something that’s going to hold you for a while, Naruto, One Piece, Inyuyasha — those are the ones that you can get into for a while.
Who’s your favorite Naruto character? Rock Lee is probably my best boy, but where do you stand?
I love Rock Lee. He holds a very special place in my heart. It’s so hard for me to pick one character, because I love Neji, for instance. I feel like he just got the short end of the stick when it came to his development as a character. Not development I guess, but his ending as the character. Itachi has such a beautiful story, and once that story is actually told in full, you end up falling in love with him even more. I also think that Madara Uchiha is just so epic, you know? There are so many epic characters and you get to lose yourself in the side stories. It’s not just like, “Oh, here’s our main guy, Naruto and this is all you care about.” Like, I love Naruto, but I was like, “Yo, what’s going on with Neji and his uncle? What’s going on there? What is Itachi out to get Sasuke? What’s going on?” So it’s really difficult to pick a favorite. I actually have all of them tattooed on me. (Laughs).
I was curious what your introduction to anime was, because people are really spoiled now. They can go on any streaming service and have an unlimited amount. It wasn’t that way when we were younger. For me, it was a lot of Toonami or anime on Adult Swim. What was your introduction?
When I was around eight or nine, I started watching Pokémon. That era of Pokémon and Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z and Digimon — that whole time period. I think Pokemon was on WB11 or something like that. I don’t remember exactly where it was, but I remember Toonami being a big thing for me, and then Inyuyasha came around for me. My introduction was watching it through those channels. I think Toonami was the biggest one. It’s interesting because, like you said, you get to literally go on any streaming service — Netflix or Crunchyroll — and get to find out like, “Oh, if I’m feeling this way, maybe I could go back in time and watch Naruto.” Or if you want to watch My Hero Academia. There’s so many different ones that you can delve into now. I just like that it’s become so accepted now and so celebrated.
You’ve always been open about being a big fighting game fan, so it must have been awesome to be involved in Street Fighter 6. I love the commentary feature because you really get that hype tournament feel while you’re just playing at your home. You’ve done these awesome cosplays in the past for wrestling events and elsewhere, Juri and obviously Vega, so how did that come about?
When I was a kid, I used to get so mad that I would have to wait until Halloween to dress up like Bubbles or Harley Quinn or whatever it was. I shortly realized after that cosplay’s a thing, so that means now I can do it any day of the week if I want to. I just put it under the category of cosplay, and it’s not weird. (Laughs). Fast forward, I wanted to make the Royal Rumble specifically special. I mean, it’s already special, but more special in my own way. Obviously my last name, Vega, came from Street Fighter’s Vega. So I was like, “What’s more fitting than to bring him to my first Royal Rumble appearance?” So yeah, it started there and then I was like, “Ooh, what am I going to do next year?”
I think bringing in Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Tekken, and that kind of stuff has just been so unique because you’ve seen like Alexa cosplay Freddy or Chucky or something like that, and you’re like, “Okay, so she’s got the horror/Disney kind of feel.” But I think anime, as far as that goes, or fighting games … it’s so specific to me. I know Ricochet’s done — which I thought was so cool — he did Jin Kazama from Tekken. Obviously, Tekken is big and for Xavier and Kofi, so it’s just a cool … you get the bunch together, and you just nerd out and it’s like we’re 10 years old again. I think that’s really what it comes out to is you remember how you felt and how excited you were with that childish wonder.
You just want to get back to that, even in your later years in life. So I won’t say the number exactly, but I will say it’s nice to get back to feeling like a kid with your friends and you’re just hanging around and playing video games with them again. That’s, ultimately, how it started, was just trying to make something unique to me and seeing where I can take it and to the point where I actually got the English voice actor for Madara to do my entrance as I was Madara for the Royal Rumble was the craziest thing. Then, obviously, with Juri and announcing my involvement in Street Fighter, I was like, “My God, I don’t know how to top this”. So I’ve been trying to rack my brain for this coming one. I’m like, “What do I do? How do I top this? It’s so crazy.”
You also have had a bit of an acting career. You were in Fighting With My Family with Florence Pugh, who has become a superstar since then. How was it sharing the screen with her and doing those scenes?
It was amazing. Sometimes you get a little … I guess you’re not really sure how people who aren’t involved in wrestling are going to take wrestling or they’re going to handle it with care, but she handled it like a pro. She was so respectful, so humble, and so appreciative. Saraya was available to her at any point, so she could call her with a question at any time. It was just cool to be alongside somebody who appreciated it and respected it so much, knowing that she didn’t know much about it.
I think that’s such a cool thing. Again, wrestling can be looked at a bunch of different ways in the media and you aren’t really sure, but I think, now, WWE especially has made so many strides in such a positive way that people respect it and they want to be a part of it somehow. Which is why you have people like Bad Bunny coming into to WWE or Logan Paul — so many people that want to be a part of it in different ways is really, really cool. But Florence is a badass and I love her so much. It’s so cool that I get to look back and say, “Wow, we really did that.”
In the future, are you looking to do more acting if opportunities come up?
Yes. It’s funny, I thought about — after Street Fighter — how much I loved voice acting. I didn’t realize how much I was going to fall in love with it. But I would love to voice someone in anime. That would be so fun for me, to be a part of some anime that I love in that way. Obviously, the One Piece show on Netflix is doing really well, so even to be a part of it in that way would be really cool. I would love to be doing some more acting going forward, but I also know that I’m not the type of person to just jump into a project just because it’s a project, you know? It has to be something that I’m super passionate about. So I’m really picky when it comes to that stuff. Whatever’s going to be next is going to be something that is really close to my heart, for sure.