Isla Dawn is WWE‘s youngest Scottish Superstar. On NXT UK, she’s on a mission to become NXT UK Women’s Champion. After competing in Japan, the US and the UK, she was part of the Mae Young Classic and can be found grappling every Thursday night on NXT UK. Inside The Ropes‘ own Kenny McIntosh spoke to Isla this week to discuss lockdown, NXT UK’s return, her RAW debut against Asuka and much more.
Hey, Isla, first of all, how are you doing?
I’m good, thank you. How are you?
I’m good, thanks. It must be pretty exciting for you because NXT UK is back, you’re back on TV wrestling again. How has it been for you so far? We saw you last week face Piper Niven on the show. It must be good to just kind of get back to it.
It’s been an absolute dream. Like, all through lockdown, I was just desperate to get in some form of wrestling ring. I was like, “I just wanna train, I just wanna wrestle, I just wanna hit people.” Every part of getting back has just been so exciting – whether it’s getting to see everybody again after so long, whether it’s getting back into the swing of training and getting into the BT Sport Studios – everything has just been great. I couldn’t ask for a better end to this year.
What was it like when you find that you’re coming back and you guys are going to BT Sport Studios? WWE have basically created another Full Sail essentially but in London.
It’s perfect. That’s what I hope it’s going to be going forward is our version of Full Sail, somewhere that we can call a permanent home, because it’s the most unreal space. We were all sharing photos of it on our phones before we managed to get in and we got great feedback with people saying it looked amazing.
Then when we walked into the studio, it blew any expectations we had out of the water. It was beautiful, it’s just such a great thing. It looks great on TV and it feels like such a nice home for everybody. Hopefully this is somewhere we can be long term, get fans in eventually and make it even more special than it is right now.
Yeah, fingers crossed. I was watching Drew McIntyre’s WWE 24 special and he talked about being in the UK doing a press tour when he found out about the COVID restrictions back in March. How did you find out and then how did you keep busy in that six months where you’ve got to kind of be ready for as soon as NXT UK is able to start up again?
It was strange, I was actually supposed to be going away for a couple of weeks to Orlando when we got the text through that everything was closing down and nobody could travel to America. I was gutted to not get to go over and train and I was going over for WrestleMania, and that was going to be such an exciting week. It was going to be my first ‘Mania. I was looking forward to it so much, that it was gutting when it finished. I remember there was a few of us texting each other to commiserate because we couldn’t go over.
It was difficult because we never knew how long it would be, we never knew whether it was a few weeks, few months, so you have to kind of try and motivate yourself as much as possible, which was hard with gyms being closed and just being stuck in a house for however long. I just adapted so I was out in my back garden, doing squats with dumbbells and like trying to replicate some sort of in-ring conditioning and stuff on the grass. So many things, like playing on a swing set. And then I took up baking as well, which never helps. I was trying to juggle baking cakes and trying to exercise and stay healthy. It was a waiting game to see when we could finally get back and it was for the good of the world that we took that time away.
During this time away, I think it helped me re-assess what I was doing and to come back with a new attitude and to realise what I wanted more from NXT UK. So I think it was disappointing at the time to be away from wrestling and disappointing to not get to have our Dublin TakeOver, and do all the things that were in the works – but I think, in the long run, it helped a lot of people kind of refocus and it helped us get to BT Studios, reimagine different ways that we can present NXT UK. So there was a silver lining to the cloud.
Absolutely. Your story is a really interesting one because you were trained by Killian Dain and it came about in a very bizarre way. Can you tell people, for those who don’t know, how you ended up getting involved in wrestling?
Yeah, it wasn’t the usual route. I studied acting and was then pursuing a career to be an actor and ended up getting cast in a play about professional wrestling.
Now, I used to watch it when I was younger and I was a fan. I’d get to go and see live events when I was about 12 years old. So I had a base knowledge of wrestling and I knew who wrestlers were and knew certain things about the industry. But we got Killian to come in and give us the insight into how it works so we could portray the characters authentically rather than just like people that come in and try to just pretend they’re in WWE. The play was all about independent female wrestlers and it was funny because my part was a former WWE star who came in and she was the diva who didn’t bump or take any moves. So I never actually got to do of the physical training aspect of it. All the other girls got to learn how to do moves and get involved, whereas I just kind of like went along and watched it all.
Fortunately, through that I developed a really good friendship with Killian and he knew I’d danced and I’d done kickboxing. He also knew I really enjoyed wrestling and I had been a fan. So he kept encouraging me to go. I’d always think to myself that I wanted to do it but I didn’t know what it would be like. And I was a bit nervous and apprehensive about it and he’d say, “Just try it and see if you like it.” It did take a little while with all of his encouragement and Nikki Cross would come and see other shows that I was doing, and other plays, and they would always say, “You’d be really good, come try, come try.” So they did eventually convince me to go – and ever since that first training session, I’ve been in love with it.
Did that help, the acting background? Because the physical part of it is so important, but also the acting is really important.
I think everything that I’ve done before helped from dance to kickboxing, it all helped a lot. Even just for being comfortable in front of crowds and even in training, if we were doing promo classes I was confident enough to know I can go up and try something in front of people and I’m not going to be terrified to do it. It was just able to help me to relax into training a little easier.
I think once I started wrestling on shows, even though I wasn’t like at the highest level of in-ring skill, I think I was comfortable enough to go out and try stuff knowing I could react in front of a crowd and not let that overwhelm too much so I could focus on improving my wrestling skills. It was really beneficial.
You mentioned Nikki there as well. Nikki Cross…. I mean, I can’t explain to you how much how much it pops me to hear that Glaswegian accent on RAW & SmackDown. And so what’s it been like for you as someone who trained with her to see that the sky’s the limit for what you could do in your career?
That’s one of the things, Nikki’s such an inspiration for me because she’s been there through so much of my career. She was my first match ever. In fact, I think my first ten matches were all with Nikki. So then seeing her from the time I started to wrestle into everything she’s achieved and from that time frame of me meeting her, watching her ascend to such a high level, you cannot help but be inspired. B
ut it’s also great to see the amount of Scottish people in WWE. It’s just really inspiring because so many of us are now in WWE, it’s such a good example of what you’ve seen and how much Scottish people could achieve. Hopefully an inspiration for other people coming up now that there are so many Scottish people in the company that they can look at all of us, whether it’s different body shapes, different genders, different styles, different everything there’s so many people to look up to and aspire to, for everybody that’s coming up. So this is an exciting time for Scottish wrestlers or trainees.
I heard you mention before that you used to go to shows when you were wee and see Drew McIntyre perform when he was younger. Now, he’s beaten Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, he’s essentially the king of Scotland. What is it like for you, having worked with him as well, to see all of his success?
I remember when I used to go to shows and I must have been like ten or something. It was like 2004-2005. Even then, I remember seeing Drew and he was heads and shoulders above everybody. He looked like an absolute superstar when he was still doing independent shows in places like Bellshill. Even then, he was always someone that I remembered and stuck in my mind. I stopped going to live shows for a while but I always remembered Drew. Then he got signed and it seemed so wild for a Scottish person to be able to achieve that. We had such a small Scottish wrestling scene and for someone to have broken out of it and exceeded that expectation of what a Scottish wrestler could do.
He smashed through so many barriers and then even when he came back to the Independent scene, he smashed through the barriers of what you can achieve once he leaves WWE. He never went down the route of, “I’m not going to try as hard. I’m just gonna do signings.” He became the best independent wrestler again. Then he came back and became the best in WWE today. He just constantly breaks down every single expectation. I think that’s just a massive inspiration for everybody. I feel that at one point, it was almost like you felt like he was THE Scottish person in WWE, it’s almost a god-like thing of, like, he was the only one that was going to be able to do that – but I think he opened the doors for so many people and now we can all follow in his footsteps and hope to achieve that same thing.
I mean, you’re an example that you’re following in his footsteps doing things in WWE. Another interesting part of your career so far was when you were in Manchester to do a tryout and then you get told you’re facing Asuka on RAW. Talk us through the next few days, because that must have been mind-blowing?
It was unreal actually. I had the best time at the tryout, I had so much fun and just enjoyed it.
Aside from thinking, “I’m going to get signed from this,” it was just such an amazing learning experience, like having the training days, the tryout experience with Robbie Brookside and William Regal. So to then be told, “Oh, you’re going to go and wrestle Asuka,” it seemed unreal, but it was such a good experience for me as well. It’s such a learning experience of working in front of a crowd that big and working on TV. I felt like I was flung into deep water and just had to try to make sure that I could hang in there and belonged in there.
It’s always my fun fact that I was the first Scottish woman to perform on RAW. Which is a nice, fun fact. Asuka is, in my opinion, one of the best wrestlers period, male or female. She’s just so talented. So to get to get in the ring with her is unbelievable. Hopefully that’s something that can happen again, because I’ve grown since then, I’ve improved so much and changed so much so hopefully at some point in the future we can get back in there and see how we level against each other now.
Did you come up with the name ‘Stacey Coates’ for that match on RAW or was that someone else?
I don’t know who came up with it, but it was an ode to Davey Coates who works with WWE in NXT UK. I think, on commentary, I was called his granddaughter. Now, I’ve known him for over two years with NXT UK. I’ll always walk up to him and say “Alright, Granddad!” His son Henry works there too, so it’s a running joke now where he asks me if technically that makes me his daughter. It helped break the ice backstage and made me get more familiar with people. It definitely made me feel more at home and like I had a connection to something.
For sure! Well, the last thing I wanted to ask you was we saw a couple of years ago that Kay Lee Ray went out and did WarGames on Survivor Series weekend. Like I said earlier, the sky’s the limit for you. I know you’re just going to get back into NXT UK again. What are the long-term goals that are that you’re shooting for in the near future?
There’s always going to be WrestleMania dreams and everything like that for every single person you speak to and, if at some point down the line, NXT, RAW or SmackDown come callin,g that’s perfect. But for me, right now, NXT UK is my full focus.
The goal is the NXT UK Women’s Championship. I think the time away helped with that a lot, it gave me a chance to reassess what I want and reassess what I was doing to get what I want. So I think I’ve came back with that new mindset of wanting that NXT UK Women’s Championship, and that’s everything I’m doing in-ring and out of ring is to get me to that eventual goal.
And trying to get to that eventual goal, hopefully, next time I talk to you, you will have that NXT UK Women’s Championship on your shoulder.
Hopefully, it’ll be in person.
Yes! I’ve got my fingers crossed. I want to thank you so much for taking the time and best of luck with NXT UK.
Thank you so much for having me.