This story was originally produced for ESPNDeportes.com.
LOS ANGELES - Nia Jax's path to professional wrestling can be defined as unique.
"It's been fun," says Jax (real name Savelina Fanene) on her current run with the WWE. "I've always been a part-time model since I graduated from high school. I was hired by one of the major agencies, Wilhelmina in New York, so I modeled there and played basketball during the school season."
Unlike many other wrestlers who enter the business after being professional athletes, the 33-year-old performer put sports on the back burner to continue her passion in modeling. Even while she attended Palomar College in California on scholarship as a basketball player and played for the 2002-03 team that won the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference championship, she also was a professional model.
Jax realized that basketball wasn't going to be part of her future post-college and chose modeling over the court, until her urge to enter the squared circle a few years ago. Being athletic and ready for the ring wasn't a problem.
"I've been an athlete my whole life, I've played every sport including soccer, baseball, softball, basketball," Jax recalled. "I almost played football until I started developing boobs, and my mother said no, but yes, college basketball was one of the first things I did in major athletic sports.
"Then I moved to Olympic weightlifting with my brother, because it was something like a passion he had and I was more or less his guinea pig," Jax said. "It was something cool, I got involved in it and I was pretty good and now I wrestle."
Jax is of German and Samoan ancestry and is a cousin of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Her passion for professional wrestling began at a young age, and she finally decided to try to jump into the business after seeing The Rock perform at WrestleMania XXVIII.
She went to a tryout at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, and found her niche and her marketability with her slogan "I'm not like most girls."
"The Performance Center in Orlando is the best place to go if you want to be a professional wrestler," Jax said. "It has everything. Seven rings, we can watch film there, we have the promo room, the Green room ... everything. So I had a tryout there, [and it] was very strict and intense and truly shaped me into the wrestler I am today."
During her stay in Orlando, after signing a developmental contract with WWE in 2014, Jax made her first appearance in the NXT brand in 2015, using the name Zada. Sometime later, her character was changed to the present one. Jax credits the coaching of Sara Amato, who wrestled for many years in independent promotions as Sara Del Rey, as the person who has helped her the most. Amato is currently the assistant head trainer at Performance Center under Matt Bloom.
"Sara Amato was the female head coach and she's by far the best coach I've ever had," Jax admitted. "I still go back there to continue developing my character."
At present, in the Raw brand, Jax is one of the top heels and often allied with Raw women's champion Alexa Bliss, against Sasha Banks and Bayley, with whom she had what Jax, defined as her best feud in NXT. Jax would love to renew their rivalry from the development brand.
"My favorite rivalry? I did not really have a chance to rival Bayley [on RAW], although we had a touch, but at NXT I had a feud with Bayley that was probably my favorite," Jax said.
The creative team has flirted with Jax having a potential run as a champion at some point. Jax says she's prepared for whatever the company decides and for the direction her career is going.
"It definitely feels good," Jax said of her current positioning. "I'm definitely a person who works well under pressure. I have no problems with that, and I'm very excited to bring everything I can to this brand because I have so much respect for it."