Xia Li recalls her reaction to getting drafted to WWE SmackDown, talks impending debut


Xia Li has the potential to be a major star on WWE SmackDown.

Among the fresh faces from NXT being called up to the main roster in the 2021 WWE Draft was Xia Li, who was selected by SmackDown in the third round on Night 2.

Li has undergone an incredible transformation from when she originally arrived in WWE as part of the inaugural Mae Young Classic four years ago to her most recent appearance in NXT over the summer. Her heel turn as part of Tian Sha highlighted her strengths and saw her come into her own as both a character and a competitor.

Now, she has her sights set on conquering SmackDown, starting this Friday night when she makes her debut on the brand. It isn’t yet known what’s in store for her on the show, but the vignettes that have been hyping up her impending arrival have been exceptionally done and have given viewers new insight on her background.

Before she makes her premiere appearance on SmackDown, Li chatted with Daily DDT about her reaction to being drafted, the vignettes that have been airing over the last month, her time in NXT, and more.

Xia Li talks about getting drafted to SmackDown and her recent vignettes

Following a four-year stay in NXT, it was evident Li was main roster bound sooner rather than later.

She defeated Mercedes Martinez in a decisive fashion at TakeOver: In Your House but unsuccessfully challenged Raquel Gonzalez for the NXT Women’s Championship a month later on NXT TV. She disappeared from programming after that but wrestled an occasional dark match before SmackDown.

That all but confirmed she was headed for the blue brand, and sure enough, it was made official during the 2021 WWE Draft when she was selected by SmackDown on Night 2. In true WWE fashion, Li was unaware of the call-up until it was announced on television.

“Actually, I found out while I was eating at home,” she said. “I just hear my phone go beep, beep, beep and there were many messages. I’m thinking, ‘What just happened? Why is it so busy? Oh, I got drafted!’ That’s how I found out. Before that, I was having some dark matches at SmackDown, so I know that’s the test.

“My friends told me about [doing dark matches],” she added. “If they move me up, that’d be great. If not, I’m happy with what I’m doing in NXT, so I’m okay with both because I believe one day if that happens, I will be there [no matter what].”

WWE has taken a unique approach to introduce Li to the main roster audience through a series of well-produced vignettes detailing her upbringing and background. The animation in particular has been excellent and they’ve given viewers a reason to care about her before she even arrives.

According to Li, everything portrayed in the vignettes has been 100 percent accurate. However, she was blown away like everyone else when they began airing because she had no idea what they were going to look like until they made TV.

“They asked about my background and about my family, so I told them my story,” she said. “That vignette is a real story about my real life. I’m really happy they put my real story on TV and there’s a lot of feeling there. When they [aired] it, I cried. If I have that feeling, they will have that same feeling. Also, I had a dream, like a superhero dream, when I was a child, so this is kind of my dream come true with a superhero dream on TV. I’m very happy that they have this whole package for me and they did an amazing job.

“I’m surprised they did this whole package for me,” she admitted. “I didn’t know. I found out at the same time as you. When it came up, I’m sitting in the back like, ‘Oh my god, so good!’ They did an amazing job. I really appreciate that.”

Xia Li on Tian Sha and her NXT tenure

Despite having an unceremonious end, Tian Sha was integral in helping land Li a regular role on NXT TV. Prior to the fall of 2020, she appeared sparingly and hardly had any character development.

Once she took on a more serious and straightforward persona with Tian Sha, there was no stopping her. She went undefeated in singles competition for many months before finally falling to Gonzalez.

“I very much enjoyed that time with my partners Mei Ying and Boa,” she said. “It was very fun to do that. I think that started at the end of last year. With them, we had similar but different vignettes, and that part I really liked, too. The new character is coming out and we were working together on it and it was creative.”

She praised the move to make her character more dangerous inside the squared circle and noted that the WWE Universe will be seeing something similar from her on SmackDown.

Her main roster call-up may not have been possible had it not been for Triple H, Shawn Michaels and the rest of the powers that be at NXT. They honed in on what made her special and gave her the opportunity to become the star she is today.

“I’m very happy with what I did in NXT because I didn’t have any wrestling experience before I came here,” she said. “All the stuff I learned from here, I learned from every coach like Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Every coach at the PC taught me a lot and helped me a lot. Without them, there’s no Xia. NXT makes me feel like family. I moved here, so it’s hard to go back to China, especially during the pandemic, so my coworkers and my coaches are my family here. They teach me a lot, they help me a lot, so I’m very thankful for that. My heart is still in NXT and I’m very excited about my future on SmackDown.”

As the first Chinese woman to ever compete in a WWE ring, Xia Li will make history this Friday on SmackDown. She’s looking forward to mixing it up with everyone on the women’s roster and rekindling some friendships from her NXT days.

“I think there’s a lot [of people she’s familiar with] because a lot of people were in NXT, so we were friends before and now it’s going to be a lot more casual,” she said. “Superstars like Sasha Banks have always been very nice to me and she’s there, too. Everybody at SmackDown is very nice to me and I’m very happy.”

Catch Xia Li in action this Friday on WWE SmackDown at 8/7c on FOX.