Ahead of her return to WWE NXT, Toni Storm talks to Daily DDT about her surprise appearance at TakeOver 31, rekindling her rivalries with Io Shirai and Rhea Ripley, why wrestling is so important to her, and more.
Toni Storm, one of WWE’s brightest female prospects, saw her momentum come to a screeching halt earlier this year after being forced to sit on the sidelines due COVID-19 limiting overseas travel.
It took her many months to work her way to the United States, and at NXT TakeOver 31, she finally resurfaced following the hotly-contested NXT Women’s Championship match between Io Shirai and Candice LeRae.
Now, she’s looking to prove herself all over again following the immense amount of success she’s had in the past as both a Mae Young Classic winner and a former NXT UK Women’s champion. Sky is the limit for this soon-to-be 25-year-old, and she’s only just getting started.
Toni Storm on returning to WWE NXT and her recent whereabouts
“I am more excited than I ever have been, to be honest, because this is the longest time I’ve ever had off since I was 13,” Storm revealed to Daily DDT in an exclusive interview over the phone. “It’s definitely given me a chance to think and prepare. I’ve had time to get myself together and I’m more motivated than ever, which is pretty exciting to me.”
There wasn’t a better time for her to come back and make her presence felt than at TakeOver 31, a show considered by fans to be among the black-and-gold brand’s strongest in 2020. She cherrypicked her moment and popped up minutes removed from Shirai’s hard-fought victory over LeRae.
During her quick cameo, which marked the first time the WWE Universe had seen since the start of the year, she put the entire NXT women’s division on notice and specifically singled out Shirai. Storm confirmed that travel restrictions kept her away for so long but that the arduous process was well worth it for that moment alone.
“I thought TakeOver was a great time, a great opportunity to get my foot in the door at NXT and start doing some stuff,” she said. “Obviously, there were loads of restrictions and stuff getting out of the UK. There was a process to it, but I got here just in perfect time to start at TakeOver, which I think was a good time. It was a very exciting night. A lot was happening and I thought it was the best time to swoop in and show my face a little bit.”
Fans wondered whether Storm was set to make the transition from NXT UK to NXT well before she showed up at TakeOver 31. In fact, it was widely speculated that she was NXT bound as early as the fall of 2019 following her loss of the NXT UK Women’s Championship to Kay Lee Ray at NXT UK TakeOver: Cardiff.
She wound up sticking around a little longer to finish her feud with Ray over the title, but once that ran its course, nothing was stopping her from reporting to NXT full-time, at least until the pandemic hit.
“After I lost the title, there was still some unfinished business for me in NXT UK. After I lost the ‘I Quit’ match, that meant that I couldn’t face Kay Lee Ray again for the title,” she said. “I figured that I’ve done a lot in NXT UK, I had a good championship run, and I kind of did all that I could do. It got to the point where I thought it was time for change. As the new year got started, I was in America a lot and I was getting my foot in the door in NXT. I was getting to know everyone and after a while I thought, ‘This might be the place to be.’ In the back of my head, I had always known I would go to America at some point. Honestly, it’s a bit of a dream come true. I’m kind of about to live the life I’ve always wanted to. It’s exciting.”
How did Toni Storm keep her WWE NXT comeback a surprise?
Storm noted that her obvious goal now that she’s in NXT is to capture the NXT Women’s Championship. She’d be the second woman behind Rhea Ripley to hold both the NXT Women’s and NXT UK Women’s titles, and the only to hold both belts and win the Mae Young Classic tournament.
With all eyes on NXT, she wants the prestige and recognition that comes with being a champion and is looking forward to working with everyone in the locker room. She’s also aiming to have a good time, especially after doubting that she’d be back eventually with everything going on in the world at the moment.
“Obviously, when all of the COVID stuff started happening, I had a lot of time on my hands, which meant a lot of thinking time,” Storm said, adding that she felt stuck with no idea of what was going to happen and that it was scary at some points because wrestling is her life.
It wasn’t until right before TakeOver that Storm says she told they were ready for her to return, revealing that it was more a matter of when than if after a while once she made the move to America.
“Honestly, I had no idea I was going to be popping up because I didn’t know until last minute, either,” she revealed. “Luckily, I got the green light last minute. I’ve been in America for a little while and obviously I’ve been keeping my head down, getting ready, getting everything together. And then I saw my opportunity to pop up and of course I took it.”
Everything coming together as quickly as it did is one of the reasons why she enjoys wrestling so much, as well as being able to deliver a surprise no one saw coming.
Toni Storm’s history with Io Shirai and Rhea Ripley
The inevitable bout between Storm and Shirai is guaranteed to be great, not just because they’re both tremendously talented because we’ve seen before how well they work together. They’ve had a documented history both in and out of WWE, with Storm beating Shirai in the finals of the 2018 Mae Young Classic.
They went on to wage war once more on the January 22, 2020 edition of WWE NXT in a match that was deemed a no-contest. Storm is one of the few to beat Shirai under the WWE banner and is planning on using that to her advantage as she guns for the gold again.
“That’s the thing I’m not going to be letting her forget,” she said. “I’ve already beaten her before, so that’s the interesting part about this whole thing. I already know how to beat that girl and she’s had this incredible reign, plowing through everyone one after the other. There’s one person she forgot about and if you didn’t know or nobody knew I was going to be there, she sure didn’t, either. So, I guess it came as a bit of a surprise to her as well when my face popped up.”
Rhea Ripley, of course, is another familiar foe of Storm’s. The Mosh Pit Kid knocked off Storm to become the inaugural NXT UK Women’s champion in late 2018 before Storm avenged the loss at TakeOver: Blackpool two months later to take the title.
They went on to split victories on an episode of NXT UK in early 2019 and at Worlds Collide this past January. The latter matchup was contested for Ripley’s NXT Women’s Championship, and that defeat may soon lead to them rekindling their rivalry on the NXT brand.
“She beat me at Worlds Collide,” Storm said. “That still doesn’t sit well with me. That’s not something I’m just going to let get pushed aside. I still remember that. I am hoping to be in the ring with Rhea again [and] fix my mistakes from last time. I would be correcting that.”
Along with Shirai and Ripley, Storm looks forward to facing Ember Moon at some point. The former NXT Women’s champion returned right after Storm at TakeOver 31, which came as much of a surprise to Storm as it did to the viewers watching from home.
“Obviously with Ember Moon coming back as well, that’s cool,” she said. “I have no clue she was coming back on that night as well. She didn’t know about me, I didn’t know about her, either, which is kind of cool. But yeah, that’s so exciting. I’m hoping I can get in there… she’s a top dog and if I’m in there with top dogs, then that means I’m doing something right. That only helps me, so that’s good.”
Toni Storm on competing at Survivor Series and at the Royal Rumble and her goals going forward
Before the pandemic stole Storm from the WWE Universe, she was involved in some pretty big main roster-related moments, most notably at Survivor Series 2019 and Royal Rumble 2020.
She seemed to be last-minute replacement for Mia Yim on Team NXT at Survivor Series. Then, she took part in the women’s Royal Rumble match as a surprise entrant where she lasted nearly 20 minutes.
“Those are two good moments for me and I think more so than anything else, they just motivate me,” Storm said. “I just keep pushing and I don’t want to be on just the odd pay-per-view. I want to be on all of them as the champ and just plowing through everyone. It keeps igniting my fire to keep pushing forward [for] those big matches, the big moments.
“Everything is so spontaneous,” she continued. “I had no idea [that I’d be on Team NXT], which again is great because I had no time to sit there and stress over it. The best thing for me is to just get thrown into stuff and that’s where I thrive. All that stress is good for me. It keeps me on my toes.”
The Toni Storm we’re about to see in NXT, she assures, will be much different than when we last saw her on the brand at the onset of 2020. She’s coming into this run refreshed in addition to an entirely new mindset and an edge fans haven’t too much of from her in the past.
“I think I’m going to come back with a whole different attitude. I’m very excited,” she said. “I’m not beat up or broken down this time. I’m coming in with a fresh mindset as well. Obviously, in NXT UK, it got to me a little bit. I lost the title to Kay Lee Ray and then I got my rematch and she stomped on my neck until she forced me to say, ‘I quit.’ That does something to a person. Now I’ve had time. I’ve had time to heal, I’ve had time to get better. I think everyone can expect a whole different attitude and I’m excited for it.”
Amazingly enough, Storm is only 24-years-old, turning 25 next Monday. She’s already accomplished so much and is considered by many to be one of WWE’s biggest future female Superstars.
She admitted that her impressive achievements rarely dawn on her. Rather, she’s always looking to what’s next and that’s why she’s constantly at the top of her game.
“There are some moments that I have sometimes where I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, I’ve done pretty well for myself,'” Storm said. “I’ve got this really weird thing where I’m never content with anything, like nothing is ever good enough. You know what I mean? The second I do something good, I started freaking out and I want to do more things. It’s addictive. It’s very addictive. That was the weird thing about sitting around when COVID hit and not accomplishing anything. That got to me a lot because I’m like, ‘I’m just so used to going out and working hard and driving hard and doing some good stuff and now all of a sudden, I’m sitting here.’ That was weird. It’s cool to think, but I never get too comfortable. I always want to keep pushing for more.”
Storm believes wrestling is the be-all and end-all for her. Despite studying medicine at one point in her life, competing inside the squared circle is what she always wanted to do and she has no aspirations of ever doing anything else.
In a way, she’s fighting for her livelihood every time she’s out there, and being in NXT won’t change her approach to this business.
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but this is it for me. It really, truly is,” Storm said. “There have been times where I’ve been really down and really beat up and just over it. But then I’m like, ‘Well, what am I going to do?’ I don’t have any backup. I don’t have anywhere else to go. This is literally my life. This is it, which in a way is a good thing because I have so much pressure on shoulders to progress. I have so much pressure to do well and I have to fight like my life depends on it because it truly does. If I don’t do well at this, then I don’t do well at life. There’s no backup, there’s no Plan B. Literally, what you’re witnessing here is someone doing what they can to survive. There’s no college degree. There’s no second job. Before this, I was in school and I can’t go back there, so I better make this work.”