JACKSONVILLE, Florida. – It was more than 20 years ago, and young Melina Perez worked as a paramedic for a cardiologist. Like many young women, she was looking for an opportunity to stay in good shape. While yoga was an option, Perez decided to go the other way. She enrolled at the independent wrestling school Jesse Hernandez’s School of Hard Knocks in Southern California. The daughter of a boxer, Perez saw this as a great way to keep fit in an environment that was comfortable for her. “Because it includes running,” Perez said. “I used to be a runner and loved tightrope running. My dad was a boxer. He taught me to box. So I thought it was a game, running, boxing, but not real boxing. So he took everything I loved and put it all together.”
Before she knew it, a WWE talent scout found her. “Dr. Tom was looking for me,” Perez said, speaking of Dr. Tom Pritchard, a longtime wrestler, trainer and WWE talent scout. “He told me that you know what you look like and Vince (McMahon) will probably like you. Does this mean I could make money from it?” And as a result, she earned a lot of money and gained considerable fame.
It was then that Perez began a rapid ascent in the world of wrestling. She was quickly drawn into the WWE development system, which included their old show Tough Enough as well as some other independent promotions the company was involved with. In fact, in a 2004 article, Perez wrote that she “has the most natural ability of any woman who has ever been in their school.”
Fame followed in just a few months as Perez quickly began to surprise the WWE audience. Her debut took place immediately after Thanksgiving 2004, but the role was minor. However, this quickly changed when she moved to the Smackdown brand for the company and debuted as MNM’s tag team manager the following April.
Developing the industry’s most popular entrance
Perez’s character, like MNM, was a Hollywood celebrity character. A glamorous faction that entered the ring every week with the paparazzi taking pictures of them. The team will wear long fur coats to help them enter the ring. It was this entry that immediately fell in love with her predominantly male audience. Perez got up on the ring apron, sat on the splits and slipped under the lower rope. WWE cameras were often placed in exactly the right place to maximize the impact of the TV exit.
The idea for the entry really came about when she was in high school on the track and field team. “The strangest thing is that in high school, one of my friends on the track and field team could sit on the splits,” Perez said. “So I just quit and did it. And I thought, “Oh, I can do it.”
“So when wrestling came along, I wanted to show my flexibility. But I didn’t know what was right,” she said. So she showed her male colleagues. “I just sat on the splits and asked:“ Will this work? Then the guys said: “Yes, do it.”
“I never thought it would be this big,” Perez said.
Fame didn’t change her.
After her first performance with MNM, Melina became, so to speak, the “made woman” in the world of wrestling. She was instantly recognizable and fans were drawn to her, for better or worse. It’s called “moving over” in the business, and she did it as often as any Diva on the list at the time. But Perez will tell you that almost overnight, the fame didn’t go to her head. “My brain, the way I see the world, the way I process it, is fair, beautiful, it confirms,” Perez said. “Because I was hated and booed. So I didn’t see anything good. I didn’t see love. Because for me it was love. Boosting, hating and contributing to character. It was love”.
Some of her favorite Perez competitors were Ashley Massaro, who passed away in 2019, Beth Phoenix and Michelle McCool. She also mentioned that she was working with an established female wrestler when she arrived, Trish Stratus. “She was easy to work with,” Perez said. “Knowing that she asked me to work with her was a great honor.”
One of the problems Perez faced as a performer was gossip if she seemed overly friendly. Perez says that she is a “cuddler” by nature and this is related to gossip. “I kind of just kept my distance because it feels like if I made friends with someone as a woman. If you make friends with any man, for example: “Oh, you must be sleeping with him.” I can’t even be friends with anyone.” Perez said she had to stop hugging people so she wouldn’t gossip.
Perez said that this was to some extent the price of success and fame. “It was a problem in the sense that if you are successful then people want to create drama. So you have to try not to give them bullets,” Perez said.
Another problem Perez faced was that he was an introvert by nature. “I was very quiet and introverted,” Perez said. “I’m sure people don’t understand quiet people. “Like, oh, that you don’t talk to me because you’re a ****.” I’m like, “No, I’m just looking and paying attention.”
Today, Perez has mostly retired from wrestling, but still appears at fan events such as River City Wrestling Con. She has also made occasional WWE appearances in recent years. In addition, she says she tries to live a low-key life. As for legacy: “If I end up being an unsung hero like so many women before me,” Perez said. “They went through so much hell for me to have what I had at the time. So it’s not even about credit. To be able to participate and have what we have now. I’m proud, I’m happy.”
Also on this episode, we’re talking to River City Live host Jana Angel about WWE tryouts at their performance center in Orlando. She talks about the relationships she has developed over the years with both Charlotte Flair and Jade Cargill.
We’ll also have a preview at the end of the live wrestling episode hosted by the Love Alive Charity, founded by former WWE superstar and Jacksonville native Elijah Burke. They have a live event on July 29 at Murray Hill Church Grammar School at 4300 Post Street in Jacksonville. Doors open at 18:00, call at 19:00.
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