From unlikely call-up to breakout star, Alexa Bliss has seized opportunity in WWE

Since moving to Tuesday nights in 2016 and broadcasting live following the WWE's latest brand split, SmackDown has attempted to build its identity upon being "the land of opportunity" opposite the flagship Raw. 

It has been a mission statement of sorts constantly echoed by commissioner Shane McMahon and general manager Daniel Bryan. And looking back over the first nine months since SmackDown's facelift, there may not have been a superstar who has taken better advantage of that than Alexa Bliss. 

The diminutive former gymnast and bodybuilder made a surprising leap to the main roster at last July's draft after a strong yet far-from-spectacular three-year run in NXT. Even more surprising was how quickly she made an impact on SmackDown, going on to win its brand new women's championship twice over a three-month span. 

Bliss, a native of Columbus, Ohio, whose real name is Alexis "Lexi" Kaufman, made it a routine habit of acting like she has belonged at each step of her rise, which included a move to Raw last Monday during WWE's "Superstar Shakeup." 

As Bliss, 25, prepares for her new role on Raw -- she and Mickie James jumped over in what amounted to essentially a 2-for-1 swap for Charlotte Flair -- she wasn't afraid to admit one important thing about her meteoric rise on SmackDown. 

"When I was first drafted, I was actually really surprised because in my mind I still had a lot of things that I was supposed to accomplish first at NXT," Bliss told CBS Sports last week. "I had never had a TakeOver match, I had never held the title, and I felt like, in my mind, I didn't think that I was ready."

Bliss, who is most excited to work with former NXT foe Bayley on Raw, said she was forced to stand up to the voice of doubt inside her head and almost talk herself into believing she was ready by constantly repeating to herself that she belonged. 

"I just knew that I had to take this opportunity and run with it because opportunities don't come around very often, and if you mess up an opportunity, chances are you are never going to get it again," Bliss said. "So it was one of those things I knew I had to put my comfort aside, step out of my comfort zone and really just run with everything I was given."  

Being transparent about the emotions and challenges she has overcome is nothing new for Bliss, who spoke out in late 2016 about a teenage battle with eating disorders that threatened her life. And she was equally unafraid to share how difficult her evolution on the microphone initially was in NXT. 

For a heel performer who is barely five-feet tall and so dependent upon her dialogue and body language (her "Resting Bliss Face" has become iconic) to get over, it's difficult to imagine a time just three years ago in NXT during promo class when Bliss was regularly overcome by anxiety.

"I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm not good at talking!' I could talk to people all day, and I love to talk, but not in front of a crowd of people," Bliss said. "I used to get so nervous and would get so upset to where I cried because I just felt weird in front of people."

Years later, Bliss was an instant hit on SmackDown. A little more than three months after Becky Lynch won the brand's inaugural women's championship, Bliss was given her first major push. At TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs last December, Bliss defeated Lynch in a tables match to win the title. 

While Bliss' victory was a surprising one, her work both inside the ring and on the microphone only improved with the belt around her waist. But despite being naturally competitive, she wasn't let down on a personal level about being forced to drop the title to Naomi in February at Elimination Chamber, nor did she look at it as losing a promotion so quickly after gaining it. 

"Honestly, I don't see it that way. I see it as evolving," Bliss said. "When I lost the title to Naomi, I didn't see it as, 'Oh my gosh, I'm losing the title.' I saw it as, 'This is Naomi's turn. It's time for her character to evolve.' 

"I think getting to be that person to help in the beginning stages of that is an honor. It's an opportunity and it's evolving her character and my character -- and adding more dimensions. So it's like, OK, what can we do from now until then that tells the best story, that puts us both at an area where we are like, 'Man we want to see that again' or 'Man, that was great.' That's kind of how I view it."

Bliss regained the title on SmackDown just two weeks later when Naomi was forced to give it up due to injury. The quick change allowed Bliss to enter her first WrestleMania match on April 2 in Orlando, Florida, as the champion. 

The six-pack challenge match -- which was originally scheduled for the kickoff show but moved to the main card due to fan demand -- proved to be a short one at just under six minutes with Naomi regaining her title in front of her home crowd. It served as a popcorn match of sorts directly before the WrestleMania 33 main event between Roman Reigns and The Undertaker. 

The experience was a great one overall for Bliss, who had made a brief appearance three years earlier at WrestleMania XXX while still with NXT as a featured extra during Triple H's entrance. But as she entered Camping World Stadium for her first WrestleMania match, she was carefully mindful about the daunting walk ahead of her down the 80-yard entrance ramp.

"So everyone kind of pumps up backstage, and I wanted to make sure I didn't so that when I was walking down the ramp, I didn't get blown up," Bliss said. "I had to do a fast walk, too, because we know that we have six entrances to get through, so I was like power walking my whole way down. I was afraid I was going to get blown up but I was the first person down the ramp and had the chance to rest during the other five entrances to catch my breath."

As Bliss looks toward the future, her goal remains the same of one day being part the first women's match to main event WrestleMania. She also has the Raw women's championship in her sights as she settles into yet another chance to prove that she belongs. 

"It's a new opportunity; it's a new brand," Bliss said. "They haven't seen anything really about me, so I'm really excited to go out there and show what I can do and who Alexa Bliss really is."

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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