England’s Saraya-Jade Bevis has reported for duty and started training at WWE developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) today – wrestling in a battle royal under the name “Sariah” according to PWInsider, though this could just be a phonetic spelling of her real name by the writer who doesn’t know the correct spelling yet – becoming the latest in a long line of British talents to end up signing for the world’s premier wrestling promotion. Until her final wrestling appearance in November last year, Bevis had competed under the ringname of Britani Knight, primarily for her family’s WAW promotion, but also across Europe for numerous promotions and for SHIMMER Women Athletes in the USA. Bevis had been on both WWE and TNA’s radars for some time, having had initial unofficial looks from both promotions, but was signed following her first official tryout in April 2011 with WWE. There were inaccurate internet reports circulating within hours of her tryout that she had “signed” – none of which originated with Bevis or her family – which caused issues for the then-eighteen year old, but regardless, she received and signed her professional contract about a month after her tryout and has spent the majority of the rest of the year getting her visa and passport sorted for the eventual move. During this time, “Britani Knight” had a chance to finish up the first phase of her career with an extended (unofficial) farewell tour which included a final Summer Season with WAW, a final run of dates around Europe, a final SHIMMER weekend in October which saw her bow out after defeating her mother Saraya Knight at the taping for Vol 44, and her final independent dates on the weekend of WAWW’s “The Return” show, which saw her lose her British Ladies Title to Liberty, then team one final time with her mother the following evening against the team of Allison Danger & Liberty.
I’ve known Saraya-Jade (better known amongst her friends and colleagues simply as Raya) since 2007, and I’m proud to say that for a lot of that time, not only has she been my favourite wrestler, she has been my friend – so I’m not even going to try to hide my bias here. I’m pleased as punch that she’s made it this far, and I never once doubted that she would make it. The first time I ever saw her wrestle was at ChickFight 7 in Great Yarmouth on January 14, 2007 (which is coincidentally the same day I met site co-founder Lee Burton) as a special added bonus tag team match, where she and her partner at the time Melodi (together known as the Norfolk Dolls – a take-off of the famous “California Dolls” female tag team in the 1981 movie of the same name) wrestled the heel team of Destiny & Kharisma. While the match wasn’t particularly great, there was something about the Dolls – Britani in particular, since I knew she was the daughter of “Rowdy” Ricky Knight and Sweet Saraya – that stuck with me. In a review I wrote of the show at the time, I remarked “The Dolls are going to be something special in a few years time, if they can just get the exposure.”
Over the following few years, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been at shows and watched Britani Knight wrestle and valet – I’ve even sat and watched shows from the crowd with her – but two things never changed. Her passion to entertain and her steady improvement every single time I saw her. Tag team partner Melodi fell by the wayside as real-life and other interests took precedence over wrestling, but that was never the case for Raya. Coming from a wrestling family, she never appeared to have any thoughts other than the fact she was going to make it in this business, and as some of what can loosely be termed as the “first ChickFight generation” started to leave the business for family or work (Eden Black, Jade, Skye amongst others) Raya was blossoming as a singles competitor. I remember being in Takeley for a WAWW/HEW double header show on December 22nd, 2007 and seeing Britani compete four times in one day (three times in a tournament for the WAW British Ladies Championship) and then coming back for a tag match in the evening which went about half an hour, and by then being pretty sure that she was destined for bigger things. 2008 was another growth year, but it was the start of 2009 (during WAW’s Fifteenth Anniversary Show on February 22nd) that represented Britani’s defining moment to that point – a heel turn on her mother that set her and Sweet Saraya on collision course. That heel turn was the absolute making of the youngest Knight – previously any matches with her mother had been typified with some good humoured bantering (such as the “Christmas Dinner” match on December 21st, 2007 which saw the two battle over who would cook the Christmas Dinner in the Knight household), but now they were typified by aggressiveness and outright viciousness.
Britani picked up her first singles title in the form of the HEW Women’s title on August 22nd, then won the WAW British Ladies title from her mother during 2009’s Great Yarmouth summer season at The Atlantis on August 31st and went on to later add the RDW and RQW Womens Titles that same year. From that Summer through to now, Britani was in her pomp – wrestling across the country for WAW, All Star, RDW, HEW, Premier (where she and her mother became the Women’s Tag Champions – and actually got banned from a building following a particularly violent match with the London Inc girls of Amazon & Ananya) and the holiday camp scene, not to mention across the continent for GSW (where she added their women’s title in January 2011), and more. Knight’s charisma was astonishing – and many times I’ve come away from lacklustre shows in Britain still pleased I got to see Britani mug, strut, preen and complain to audiences – a wonderful complement to her obvious in-ring skills. WAW always have a unique sounding award in their year-end achievement polls on their website, that being for the “Wrestler who gives most value for money”. Well, for my money, that’s Britani every single year.
In the last year or so, Britani’s been the first EVE Champion, and made her US debut for SHIMMER alongside her mother in a whirlwind of a tag team – hamming it up (initially in tandem with Rebecca Knox in March 2011) as a stark contrast to her deathly serious and beligerent mother Saraya, and then in October as the sympathetic babyface in one final blowoff match with her mother on Vol 44.
I’ve spent much of the last few years writing about how great Britani is – both on websites and in print media – so it’s kind of weird to write this article now, given that “Britani Knight” is no more. Other than hard work, I have no idea what lies ahead now for Raya. As far as I am concerned, she’s already good enough to go straight to the main roster – but I’m sure there’ll be a period of settling in and re-programming her from working her usual style to what WWE want of their female competitors – and then there’s her age. Although there have been exceptions in the past – such as Rene Dupree and Kelly Kelly, WWE traditionally don’t want athletes on their main roster under the age of 21. While everybody who knows her have offered her congratulations on her signing, the truth of the matter is that she’s achieved step one, and the real challenges and hard work start now – and in the “WWE Universe” there are no promises. FCW to WWE to Champion is no easy three-step plan, but I’ve had faith for the last five years and I’m not about to stop now.
– Stew Allen (who’s said his “final” goodbyes to Raya at least four times… it’s good to see you over there, champ)
Photos courtesy of Rob Brazier Jr/Last Chance Photography