Since Brie and Nikki Bella, the 34-year-old wrestling twins of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., took a three-year break from tag team action, they've kept themselves extremely busy. Brie gave birth to her daughter, Birdie Joe, after 21 arduous hours of labor; and Nikki's relationship with fellow WWE Superstar John Cena blossomed and ended more times than most fans can count. They've also founded a wine company, Belle Radici, and an apparel brand, Birdiebee. All of these highs and lows, of course, have been documented on their WWE-centric reality shows, Total Divas and Total Bellas, which both air on E! — the unofficial home of the Kardashians.
But, for all the drama we've watched unfold in Nikki and Brie's personal lives, some of the most recent — and intriguing — developments for the duo have taken place inside the WWE ring. The Bella Twins made their comeback as a tag team early last September and, in short order, reminded the rest of the women's division that they're are a formidable pair of veterans. Team Bella's experience will be on full display later this month at Evolution, WWE's first ever all-women pay-per-view event, when Nikki will challenge Ronda Rousey, the former Ultimate Fighting Championship star, for the Raw Women's Championship title, one of two major titles available to female performers on the main roster.
For both Nikki and Brie, their return to the ring is a sort of homecoming. After training for approximately two years at Florida Championship Wrestling, a developmental division of WWE, the duo signed with WWE in 2008. From there, their career as both singles competitors and a tag team rapidly flourished. They both held the Diva's Championship title before it was retired in 2016 — Nikki was and remains the longest reigning Diva's Champ. And along the way, they became two of the biggest faces of the company. Brie stepped away from wrestling in 2016, while Nikki announced that she'd be taking time off due to neck injury in 2017. Although they've made a few surprise appearances since, they've been missing from regular competition until last September.
No wonder they're thrilled to get to don their famously bright red gear, mingle with their stans known as the Bella Army, and generally stir the pot in the women's division once again. But, don't think that their return will be a retread of what they've already accomplished. These are not the same Bella Twins you remember from the Divas era.
"I’ve been with the company for almost 12 years and, since day one, I’ve wanted a change for the women here," Nikki tells Refinery29. Indeed, the tides have slowly been turning for WWE's female Superstars. The last few years have seen the women's division get their own Royal Rumble, Hell In A Cell, and Money In The Bank matches — all of which existed previously, but only in the men's division. Now, the yearly Royal Rumble pay-per-view, for instance features one Rumble for the men and one for the women.
"[Evolution] represents the barriers that we’ve broken together as women. It’s the perfect time to have a comeback."
But, given the sheer number of entire WWE pay-per-view events that haven't featured women at all, Evolution signals a total sea change for the female performers. There's never been a WWE event dedicated completely to women, where every single match revolves around them and their respective storylines. It's no wonder the Bellas want back in on the action.
"[Evolution] represents the barriers that we’ve broken together as women," Nikki says. "It’s the perfect time to have a comeback." Brie agrees, adding that they've spent their decade-plus career watching these changes gradually unfold: Women in the company have gone from "Divas" to "Superstars," and "bra and panty" matches have been replaced with "iron woman" events. This is the Bellas' opportunity to prove just how far the women's division has come, Brie says. And, in Nikki's match with Rousey, that's exactly what she intends to do.
"I literally feel as if I’m training for the Olympics," she says, alluding to Rousey's own medal-winning background. Rousey's training in MMA and judo is, of course, very different from what WWE's Superstars do in the ring, but in order to put on an entertaining and convincing show for Evolution's audience, Nikki is prepared to adjust to Rousey's in-ring style. "I need to move differently. I need to work differently." It makes sense that, as the platform widens for female competitors, the stakes will get higher — and meeting this ever-rising bar is one of the reasons why Nikki decided to come back to the WWE. "I'm ready to give my absolute best performance at Evolution," she says.
For Brie, motherhood has presented its own set of challenges in her comeback. Ever since she gave birth to Birdie on May 9, 2017, in an emergency C-section, parenting has been her priority. But her desire to perform never completely went away. "When you become a mom, sometimes you lose a little bit of your identity," Brie says. "[It] was really important to me to blend both what my life was like before being a mom and what it is like now, being a mom." Without a doubt, motherhood changes you and your life, Brie says — but it can still coexist with your other passions.
But as Nikki prepares to face a former UFC champ and Brie balances her career aspirations with her home life, they've never lost sight of the biggest constant in their lives: each other. "I consider myself very lucky that, not only do I have a twin sister, but I get to work with her," Nikki says. "She supports me the most. She gives me the honest truth."
"She nailed it," Brie says.
Beyond Evolution, the Bellas have their sights set on making and witnessing even greater progress. Brie hopes to see women hold down the main event at a WrestleMania, as it remains a "first" that the women's division has yet to see. But, more than any specific match or event, both women can't wait for the era of "firsts" in women's wrestling to come to an end.
"I’m looking forward to the day that it isn’t about women making history," Nikki says. One day, they hope, an all-women's pay-per-view or a women's ladder match won't be considered groundbreaking. Instead, it'll be the norm.