AEW (All Elite Wrestling) is the fastest-growing, and definitely the most exciting wrestling promotion on the planet, and the sheer roster of martial artists, and wrestling talent they’ve accumulated in record time is equally impressive.
From having the likes of wrestling icons such as “Big Show” Paul Wight, the “World’s Strongest Man” Mark Henry, and wrestling journo legends Tony Schiavone and Excalibur, to the “Human Suplex Machine” himself, Taz, handling commentating duties, their martial arts knowledge is always delivered with great rapport, color, and a sense of fun that makes AEW THE place to be for wrestling entertainment today!
If you know your wrestling, then no doubt you’ll be pleased to know that more fan-favorite veterans such as CM Punk, “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes, Bryan Danielson, Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley, Chris Jericho, Sting, Tully Blanchard, Matt Hardy, Arn Anderson, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts are on the AEW scene, and even UFC royalty are getting involved!
If you love martial arts action, just some of the names you absolutely must look out for include: Thunder Rosa, Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, Stu Grayson and Evil Uno (of The Dark Order), Red Velvet, Matt Sydal, Dante Martin, Big Swole, Brian Cage, Sammy Guevara, PAC, the Mexican luchador brothers; Penta El Cero Miedo, and Rey Fénix, and many, many more!
Pro wrestlers enter the arena from all different backgrounds and walks of life, and Taynara Melo de Carvalho, hailing from Rio de Janeiro, took up Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as a kid, and came close to joining Brazil’s Olympic Team for the 2016 Olympics.
Destiny had other plans though, and for her, that came in the form of professional wrestling. Because of that, most people know her today by her ring name, Tay Conti.
Starting out in WWE, Tay’s career in the pro wrestling world transitioned her to her current affiliation with the now-exploding AEW wrestling brand.
Despite spending much of her early AEW career with no live audience, due to the pandemic, Tay’s popularity has grown massively, and today, people cheer the young wrestler, and veteran judoka in the stands and from TV screens alike.
Today, in our first interview with an AEW wrestler, Tay Conti sits down with KFK to discuss her early days as a judo competitor, her move into pro wrestling, and the many important life lessons she’s learned along the way.
So without further ado, please welcome one of the best, battle-tested female fighters around (who not only possesses the most disarming smile you’ll see all year, she also packs some lethal finishing moves too), Tay Conti!
Bom dia, (good day) Tay and welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom! We hope you’re doing well?
Hi Brad, thanks for having me, I’m doing great!
Super! Well, before we get started, KFK’s mission is to encourage 100 million people around the world to get into martial arts for all the positive benefits that it brings to individuals, physically, mentally and socially – what do you think about this goal?
I think it’s great. Any time kids come up to me and ask me for advice if they want to be a wrestler, or even just want to make friends, I tell them, “Go do martial arts.” It’s not just about the sport, it’s about the confidence that it brings you and the respect that you learn, as well as how to be grateful and humble.
Tay Conti’s Background & Influences
Absolutely. Okay, so let’s start off with a bit of background: Where were you born and bred, and how did you first get into martial arts?
I grew up in Rio de Janeiro in a really poor neighborhood, and I felt like martial arts was my escape to have a better life. I actually started gymnastics when I was 7, and then right across from the club was a judo school, so I took up judo. I was the only girl, so I felt a little bit weird.
I see. So, who would you say were your main influences?
I don’t think it’s even a person, it’s just the light that I had that gave me a lot of hope and motivation. I’ve had so many people in my life that have helped me.
You’ve also been open about mental health in the past – how would you say martial arts helped you to overcome mental health struggles?
Well, I was never really a shy person, but when I started in judo, I think because of depression due to the pressure of competition and everything, I started having some issues for which I had to ask help for. That’s when I realized that mental health is really important, so I did a lot of reading and had a great relationship with my therapist. Martial arts also showed me the importance of mental health in living a happy life.
So true. Martial arts are such a great tool for the development of the mind and well-being. So, before starting in pro wrestling, you were in the Brazilian Team trials for the Rio Olympics in 2016. How was that experience?
That was crazy! It was the biggest dream ever, it was my goal since I’d started out in judo. I wasn’t expecting to be selected for the tryouts, but I was working super hard, and I guess it was a good effort. I saw my name on the list, and I was freaking out!
Unfortunately, I lost, but then came the opportunity for pro wrestling. I’m so grateful, I think everything happens for a reason. If I’d won that match, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I’m super happy with where I am today.
You also made the move to the US at just age 21, was that a difficult leap of faith and did the busy, competitive judo lifestyle prepare you for leaving home?
Well, I really kind of left home when I was 15, because in judo, I had to be traveling a lot. Since I was having issues and felt like I didn’t belong anywhere, judo became my place and I loved it there.
So, when I got here, I was used to moving around a lot, but it was still hard. In Brazil, I could still get back to my family pretty quickly, but in the U.S., I spoke zero English when I arrived, and it was a lot further away. So, it was just a lot harder starting out life in the U.S.
Tay’s Wrestling Career
Sounds like quite a journey. So, how did you first get started at WWE?
When I lost the tryouts for the Olympics, I was really sad, but there was a tryout for the WWE in Brazil, and they asked me if I wanted to do a tryout. At first, I said I turned it down, but I got some encouragement from some people involved, so I decided to do it. I had no idea what I was doing, but I saw it was a competition, and I just decided, “It’s a competition, and I want to win!” So, that’s pretty much how it happened.
So, coming from a background of judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, how do you adapt to the theatrics of pro wrestling?
At first, it was a little bit hard, because it was completely new to me. I’ve been competing against people since I was 7, and in pro wrestling, you have to work together with your opponent. That was the most challenging part for me, but my body was also so used to taking lumps and rolling around, so that was super, super helpful.
Training with Legend, “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes
You’ve also trained with the legend Dustin Rhodes, son of the “American Dream” the late Dusty Rhodes and brother of Cody Rhodes at the WWE Performance Center, (who’s also producing excellent wrestlers in AEW under the Nightmare Family) what was that experience like. Do you still get a lot of tips from Dustin?
Well, I’m so grateful to have Dustin in my life. He’s like a dad in wrestling for all of us. He makes you believe in yourself, and he’ll tell you, “You’re gonna do better and you’re gonna be better, because you deserve better.”
He’ll let you know it’s more than just about running around the ropes and everything inside the ring. I’m so grateful to have been able to work and learn so much from him.
On Joining AEW
Dustin’s a legend for sure, sounds like his mentorship has helped mold you well.
So, in April 2020, your WWE contract expired and you soon joined AEW that August, and you actually started wrestling without a live audience due to the ongoing pandemic. How was that experience and what was the change like for you?
Well, I had a lot of support when I first started, but people didn’t really know me that well either. When I went to AEW and there wasn’t a live audience, I was actually kind of used to not having a big fan base yet. When we started to have audiences again, I had a great reaction in my first match with the audience back.
I don’t even know how to explain it, but I felt so good, because it was something I’d never experienced before, and I still don’t even believe it sometimes. It’s kind of new for me, because I didn’t have that energy back in WWE, so every time I have a match now, it’s a great experience. The pandemic also changed the whole world of course, so we needed to adapt too.
Preference for a more Grounded Fighting Style
So, what new skills are you working on at the moment? Will we see more high-flying rope moves or dropkicks given your gymnastics background, or do you prefer the more grounded approach?
No, no, no! I like to learn, and I did gymnastics, but that’s the one area where I’m like “Nope! I’m not flying around!” I like to stay on the ground with my takedowns and submissions, that’s it!
Tay’s Finishing Move: The DD-Tay
(Laughs) Definitely safer! You’ve got a great finisher, the DD-Tay (a hammerlock DDT, which often follows the Tay-KO knee to the face), has anyone ever escaped your finishing move?
No, not really, and I hope it never happens (laughs). The DD-Tay wasn’t actually my finisher at first, but I used it in one match, and everyone was saying “That should be your finish, it looks so good!” So, I’ve used it since then, and it still works, thank God!
Tay’s Favorite Own Match: Vs. Hikaru Shida
It’s a stunning finisher. Who’s your favourite wrestler in AEW?
My favorite wrestler to work with, and my favorite match was with Hikaru Shida. She’s amazing, I’m a fan, and I really hope I can work with her again.
So, which of your own fights from your AEW career so far do you think represent your very best performances in terms of skill level, stamina and overall ability?
Well, growth is really important to me, so getting better at wrestling is the main thing I focus on. But yes, my favorite match in my career so far was the one with Hikaru Shida, and also my match with Serena Deeb is another of my favorites.
I’m so grateful to have had those experiences and built up so many fans.
MMA & Tay’s Admiration for Ronda Rousey
Hikaru is a phenomenal athlete with devastating knees to boot! Considering judo is widespread in MMA, who would you say is great judoka in MMA today?
Well, I don’t really follow specific fighters, but I do want to have an MMA fight someday!Of course, I loved Ronda Rousey when she was fighting. She also came from judo, and now she’s in pro wrestling, so we’ve kind of had a similarish path.
I was just about to get to Ronda! Would you be game to have a match with Ronda…Just envisioning that dream match up!
Oh my God, yes, 100 percent! I met her back in Brazil doing judo, and I met her in WWE, and she’s just someone that I look up to. She’s such a nice person, so yeah, for sure I’d love to work with her one day.
Of course, she’s not in MMA right now, but she’s my favorite for sure. For fighters right now, I would say Amanda Ribas. She came from judo too, and she’s doing really well right now. She’s a friend, and I was always rooting for her.
So Tay, what kind of training do you do these days?
My training routine is kind of crazy, because I do a lot of traveling. So, I don’t really have a set routine, but of course, wrestling is my priority. I have some great people who help me with things like diet too, and whenever I have time, I train in judo and jiu-jitsu. So a lot of it depends on my traveling schedule, but for the ring material, I’m always preparing for that.
Any wrestling or training injuries?
Honestly, I haven’t had any really serious injuries. I feel like I’m kind of lucky, but I work hard to be that lucky. I haven’t had any major ones.
Food & Diet
Glad to hear that! So, what kinds of foods give you the most energy for your workouts and for wrestling to perform at your best, any diet tips?
I try to eat super clean – but of course, I end up having pizza and burgers! Every time I’m on the road, I try to eat super clean. Rice and steak are my go to’s every time, and I also love carbs, so I have something with carbs every day.
Fun & Leisure
So, outside of judo and wrestling, what other sports do you enjoy the most, either playing yourself or as a spectator?
Soccer. I started judo in a soccer club, so I’ve always had a love for soccer. So it’s like, Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, all martial arts, then soccer!
On that note, what’s one geeky or interesting thing that people don’t know about you?
I think I’m pretty open about everything, but I actually went to law school back in Brazil, and I was going to be a police officer. It’s more like working for the FBI here, so that was originally my goal back in Brazil.
Goals & Dreams
Didn’t know that! So, what other dreams, goals and ambitions are you keen to accomplish?
Right now, I’m just working super hard because we do want to create a tag team division, so that’s my biggest goal in the company right now, and I really think that we’re getting there.
Tay’s Warrior Wisdom
We’re definitely in your corner on that! So, what are some warrior-wisdom quotes or philosophy that has helped you become who you are today?
“Believe in yourself”. It’s so simple and cliché, but I think it’s really important. When you believe in yourself and put in hard work, anything can happen.
Whether you’re poor, or rich, and have your family helping you out, if you believe in yourself, and you work hard, you’ll be able to do whatever you want.
Tay Conti’s Message to KFK Fans & Followers
Totally! Well as we begin to wrap, what special message would Tay Conti like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom followers and your AEW, and wrestling fans around the world right now?
I just want to say that I’m really thankful for all the support that you and all the fans give me and give the company. You guys are really important to us, and without you, there is no us.
Also, I want everyone to feel as important as you really are, and realize that when you believe in yourself, you can do whatever you want. If you have dreams and goals in life, do not let anyone say that you are not important or that you cannot do it. Because if you put 100% in, you will be able to do whatever you want!
Great words to live by. Thank you Tay, it’s been a real pleasure to interview you and we wish you all the best of success with your matches for the remainder of 2021 and your career at AEW!
Thanks Brad for having me on Kung Fu Kingdom today!