"I was always one for female heroes, ever since I was little."
"I can't stand bullies."
Traffic-stopping WWE wrestling beauty Nikita LeFleur is so tough, agile, and strong-willed that the day after hip surgery she exercised this much flexibility: Following is SC's interview with this admirable, butt-kickin' babe.
SC: Why did your parents name you Nikita?
N: Nikita-Nicole is my first name. They must have had a hard time deciding. The only thing that they agreed on was Le Fleur being my middle name but Nikita-Nicole... Call me Niki, call me Nicole, call me Nic, call me Ni by the end of everything because it just ended up being such a long day that I don't think that they could decide. So that's where it all came from, to be honest, from people not getting along.
S: When did you first start training in martial arts?
N: I started probably a little bit over eight years ago when I first [started wrestling]. I learned from the best, and that's the way I like to keep it. I'd always been an aggressive girl, always wanted to find an outlet for my aggression. My parents wouldn't let me have martial arts when I was younger.
SC: They would not?
N: No, they wouldn't. They're a very conservative family and they didn't want me to get into fights or anything like that which defeats the whole purpose of martial arts for the most part. I naturally had a really good right hand, and it just kind of came to be... how to kick appropriately and what to do, and I just kept up.
SC: How long did it take you to get your black belt?
N: A majority of my black belt came from inside, that 'I am not going to give up' attitude regardless of how badly beaten you are, no matter what your odds are against you just as long as you never give up. [I received] my black belt in almost probably after the first year and a half, two years.
SC: Is that kind of fast?
N: It is. I believe it's fast. I mean, I didn't learn the traditional forms. [My instructor was] not a traditional guy. Basically to get my black-belt from him is a great, high honor without a doubt. And in that fast a time, it's definitely worth it. Regardless of if I would have gotten one or not, the skill level has improved my life in many different ways.
SC: In what ways?
N: Basically keeping my head above water. You never want to give up. And no matter what, no matter how low circumstances or what life throws you curveballs-wise, it could always be worse. And that's pretty much common sense to everybody but he also taught me how to pretty much be a little bit meaner and nastier. And how to defend myself a lot more than anything. And so if I can take down somebody that's twice my size or even the little guys, I'm comfortable in my own shoes. I'm a very comfortable person and I haven't had any problems ever since.
SC: Has there ever been a real-life situation where you had to defend yourself?
N: I have. Well, before I even learned martial arts I've had, you know, bad experiences happen to me which I will not talk about but for the most part afterwards I've had a few instances that have happened to me and let's just say I've dropped some people.
SC: Why did you decide to study martial arts? Did it have anything to do with some of those experiences?
N: Well, not only just as a release, it did have a little bit to do with previous experiences but a majority of it was just the concept of sparring and it's kind of like if you want to be a boxer and you've watched Rocky a million times then all of a sudden you finally have a trainer to teach you and you want to go for it. It was very similar to that except for I didn't watch too many movies when it came to that and I just wanted to learn.
You're always learning other stuff and why not martial arts? Why not kickboxing? Why not wrestling? I mean, why not any of those things? A female in the sport... There's a lot of great females out there. Unfortunately, they're not heard of because it is a man's world out there. I hate saying that, don't get me wrong. But it is, it's a man's world out there. So the more females that we get to come up in the business I think the better.
SC: Did you always know you wanted to learn martial arts?
SC: Do you know why?
N: No. Like I said, I had... I was an aggressive girl. I didn't have too many aggressive sports that I was able to release any of that on. Martial arts, granted, is not always an aggressive sport. But it is when you learn the way I did. And that's the way I liked it. Granted, my parents probably wouldn't like that. But guess what? I turned out the way I did anyway. (Laughs.) Yeah, they weren't really thrilled about me, you know, kickboxing and then giving in to the whole wrestling thing. When they found out, my mom cried and my dad laughed so to speak and well, they realized I definitely made a majority of my careers out of it.
SC: In the real-life situations you were in after you were a black belt, would you say that (training) definitely affected the outcome?
N: Yes, I got away. And they maybe had a broken finger or nose and were dropped.
SC: And do you think you might not have gotten away safely without the training?
N: I believe that training has to do with repetition, over and over again. A lot of people want to go from A, all the way past everything else, and then straight to Z. I believe my reaction time, my calmness in the situation makes a huge difference. And that's what I try to train people when it comes to women's self-defense. Regardless if you learn from one class, it doesn't mean you're going to react the way you should. Your instant reaction is gonna be... You're gonna be scared - You're gonna have fear. You just need to learn how to control it and which direction to point it.
If you are going to make that confrontation, you'd better make it. It's not grey. It's either black or white. Either you do it or you don't do it. If you don't decide to do it and somebody's attacking you, guess what? You know what the outcome's gonna be. If you do decide and at least try and you don't give up, then you obviously know what the outcome of that's going to be. Regardless of if you do get away or don't get away at least you're still trying. You're, you know... You're trying to survive.
SC: What are the common mistakes that you find women tend to more than men?
N: When women get hit if they are in a confrontational situation: They get hit, they pretty much give up. There's a selective few that will want to fight back but a lot of people do not know how to react. Their first reaction is, 'Oh no. This is happening to me.' And their whole body is just... They want to give up. And that's the world's biggest no-no. And if you can get into any martial arts studio and practice over and over again in how to defend yourself, you're going to have a better chance of reacting.
There's a lot of women out there that have never hit anybody. You've got all variety of people going into martial arts schools. Some just for exercise and fun then you have people who really want to learn how to self-defend, then you've got some people that actually want to learn how to fight. The majority of women can't hit somebody like that. They've never had that physical contact or had it happen. And if they have it basically in a martial arts studio, it might not be such a shock to them if they're out in the street and they have a confrontation. They might get a jab or a hit depending on the situation but they might react a lot differently than if they hadn't already (practiced). (Phone rings.)
N: We were talking about women giving up right?
SC: Yes, and I was going to ask you also in the same vein what you think the reasons are besides women having less experience with fights for example that women might make mistakes that men might not in situations like that.
N: Actually women do something that men don't and that is, as soon as they get away, they're like, 'Oh, thank heavens I got away.' A lot of them don't want to stick around and try to beat on somebody which is like the #1 thing you don't want to do. Granted you might feel like you want to do it, but at least you got away. Guys on the other hand will turn around and actually want to continue to fight and try to duke it out which is also a big no-no because if you do have any trained experience and there's a chance to get away, all of a sudden (because of giving in to the temptation to keep fighting) you can't get away. Now mistakes that women have made... it depends on the situation. If they're being confronted, if it's on a street, at a bar, if they're going to talk back and get this guy all ticked off. If you're going to slap somebody for grabbing your behind or whatever it may be, obviously you're going to enrage a man.
Women don't get as enraged as men do. Men want to react on that, and especially if they're intoxicated, if there's something not all upstairs with the guy, he is going to react. So instead of women slapping him and saying, 'Leave me alone,' you say, 'Leave me alone' a lot louder and you make sure when you hit him, you drop him. It comes down to the whole safety issue. It's black or white, not grey in the middle. If you're going to hit or react to something, you'd better do it correctly the first time. If you choose not to, obviously you know to get help or so forth if you can, depending on where your scenario is, that's always best as well. Guys don't want to do that, guys just want to... for the most part, brawl. So that's pretty much the difference between men and women.
SC: Going back to your martial arts training, did you study some specific forms or did you kind of study over all?
N: Pretty much just the PKA (Professional Karate Association) kickboxing. A little bit of Aikido, a little Jujitsu, obviously with wrestling and everything that (wrestling) has come up, pretty much a little bit of everything mixed all into one. I never learned a specific form or art.
SC: What is PKA kickboxing?
N: PKA kickboxing is basically kicks to the head, not like Muay Thai which is all, you know, shin kicks. They're good kicks, don't get me wrong. And they hurt. But if you do PKA, it's a lot more work to get your leg up to hook somebody in the head: Round kick 'em, side kick 'em, whatever, all up to the head.
SC: How did you [get introduced to wrestling]?
N: Actually it was a fluke accident: I was working at a store across the street from a tattoo shop and a good friend of mine had said, 'We have a professional wrestler here by the name of Bobby Black' and I said, 'A professional wrestler? Get out of town!' And he's like, 'No, really.' So I went over to meet this huge guy with tattoos all over him and he said, 'We're looking for some help to promote our wrestling school. Would you be interested?' And my friend, Jason, said, 'I could see you doing something like that.' I was like, 'Well, yeah, I'll give it a shot!'
SC: Have people made the comparison... I know I made this comparison when I saw you, 'cause you're like beautiful, blonde, everything, between you and the TV Nikita (of La Femme Nikita)?
N: Ah, of course, otherwise Nikita Koloff or they'll sing the Elton John song, Nikita – Please don't sing that song to me. Yes, they've said certain things like that. When they found out how mean and nasty I could be, they said, 'Well, gosh, we thought the one on TV was a little bit nicer!' I'm like, 'Well there you go!' It depends on what day you catch me on! No, really, with the La Femme Nikita, when I saw the original one, I fell in love with that and that's not why I got into martial arts or anything like that but, you know, I was always one for female heroes, ever since I was little. When I was little, I liked to watch Wonder Woman, and of course there's The Hazards (The Dukes of Hazard) but that had nothing to do with superheroes... just fast cars. And that's (fast cars) my other thing too.
SC: Was it partly because of the Daisy Duke character? She's really strong and she can pretty well take care of herself.
N: Pretty much, and she had cute guys running around her... even though they're supposed to be her brothers or whatever! You know, when you're little you don't think of those things, and now that I think back I'm going, 'Okay, why were they getting chased around so much?' Yeah, Daisy Duke... but for the most part Wonder Woman was my hero. Eventually, I was never into comic books, but Elektra became one of my favorites by far just because she wasn't good, she wasn't bad, she was her own person. And she was mean and nasty about it, and I thought, 'You know what? I like her already!'
SC: What do you think about TV and film action heroines in general these days?
N: These days women have a bigger role and I see nothing wrong with that whatsoever. It's entertaining to watch. If you find a female that's on-screen that's pleasant to look at and kicking some butt, the more power to 'em. I like though just a little bit more realism. If they can show actual takedowns and things like that to make it a little more real, I love it even more. But I think it's great. It's great on both parts: if it's a man or woman. But women superheroes are great.
SC: What are your favorite ones currently?
N: Other than Elektra? Oh, goodness, that's a good question. I've never really thought about it. Elektra is one of my favorites. Who else, movie-wise? There's been a lot of them that have come out too. Angelina Jolie is just hot.(Laughs.) But her and ah, I don't know if you've seen Mr. & Mrs. Smith?
SC: I did! I liked it. I thought, 'Very predictable but fun.'
N: Very predictable but it was fun and Angelina Jolie was GREAT, and I thought, 'How much fun would that be to play?' I mean... in all retrospect it would be a great time to play. I really can't think of anything other than that right now – That's the most current movie that I've seen.
SC: Do you like the Tomb Raider movies?
N: Tomb Raider movies are good. I also like gore and horror movies. That's one of my loves and passions in life, and one of my favorites was Resident Evil, actually Part II because she comes back and she's stronger and she's learned how to use batons and things like that. And of course I love old school Kung Fu movies that are of course horribly voiced-over, but you know that's half the fun. And you always have your female character that seems very house-mousey at first but she turns around and next thing you know she's keeping up with the big boys and in their game, so I like that.
SC: You mentioned a couple of ways that your training has helped you currently but I wanted to ask you, aside from self-defense situations, if you find that in other ways it's affected your personality, your confidence: things like that.
N: I can't say it hasn't. I've always been a strong person, stubborn, very independent without a doubt. And I think that just kind of will magnify everything, and it does, and especially if you look at my past versus present. Martial arts will affect anybody that's learning and taking from it.
My #1 thing is that I can't stand bullies. I can't stand being bullied, and the #1 thing to remember is that there's always someone smarter, faster, quicker, and stronger than you at all times. No matter how great you think you are. That is my #1 advice to the young girls at the martial arts school here (where Ms. LeFleur is an instructor). Same with boys. 'Cause, you know, sometimes some of 'em get a big head. They don't realize that there's going to be somebody out there that's going to be able to be faster, like I said, stronger, and be able to hold their own a lot better than they can.
SC: Did you see Batman Begins?
N: I have not.
SC: Okay, 'cause there is... Maybe I'll describe it real quick if you don't mind –
N: – Go ahead.
SC: There was a situation when Batman was a boy and his parents got mugged and they ended up dead because – at least I'm attributing it to – because the father stood in front of the mother's necklace sooner than let the mugger take it, and what he seemed to want was their [material valuables].
N: If someone's mugging you, you let them mug you for what it's worth – especially if they've got a gun of some sort. Now, granted, with the past Batman movies and storylines, obviously they had a different agenda to get them in the first place. But if somebody's mugging you or robbing you, just let them have the crap – Is it worth your life? Majority of the time: No.
SC: I don't understand very much about TV wrestling and I don't watch it very much but I did interview some TV wrestlers once before when I was at NATPE (National Association of Television Program Executives annual conference, Las Vegas) and they were promoting XWF (Xtreme Wrestling Federation). I don't even know if they're still current right now or if they got cancelled or what happened there –
N: - They're not part of the league anymore. I don't think that they have anybody left over in that. Right now, because Vince McMahon bought out WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling), he's pretty much the only one in town other than TNA (Total Nonstop Action) and TNA is also a very small organization who's trying desperately hard to get bigger. But right now, Vince McMahon is pretty much the only one in town.
SC: The consensus that I gathered from talking with those wrestlers at that time (approximately early 2002) was that the storylines were like premeditated, pre-scripted but that the fighting seemed to be real, like they would actually really get injured, and they would really beat each other up and stuff like that.
N: Yeah, it's a lot of punishment in the ring. You get the bigger guys that can make that ring look like a trampoline without a doubt... I mean, they can make it look bouncy. Now when you get somebody like me or some of the other female wrestlers and you take a hit, you've got about two inches of wood that you're falling on with a very little bit of padding and it doesn't bounce nearly as much. Granted, the ring's supposed to give in a little bit – it's springloaded – but it really doesn't give all that much. It's a lot of punishment on the body.
The fighting scenes: A lot of people ask me, 'Is it real? Is it fake?' Well, first of all, it's not fake. If you want to talk about the drama and, yes, certain angles, things with storylines: That can be false. Sometimes they'll actually be real, based off things that are going on behind the scenes. So I can't really say if it's not real or if it's real, 'cause sometimes they'll take real-life situations and just amplify them and throw them on television to get real, raw emotion... which isn't always fun, especially if it's something dramatic that's happening to you or a loved one or whatever it may be.
With the fighting in the ring, it's most definitely real. Some people are like, 'Oh, is it predetermined and so forth?' There's an old saying: Plan A, Plan B, and Plan Oh Shit. And if somebody gets hurt, it's usually the last one. For the most part, there should be a plan for every thing but in that ring, you never know what's gonna happen in that squared circle. You never know what's gonna happen. All that can go wrong, will go wrong. And you've only got one take, 'cause you're on live television. Same with the promos and live interviews and stuff – You only have one chance.
SC: You said something I'm curious about: Are there different rings for the men and the women?
N: No, it's pretty much one ring. And if you're doing the independent scene which is a whole bunch of little leagues all the way around [the U.S.A.], they're not televised. They're all the way around the country. You can be put in some really crappy rings that... you shouldn't be.
SC: Oh, so it's not based on gender but some of the rings just have better spring-floors underneath them and stuff like that?
N: Yep, some do and some don't. And WWE's (World Wrestling Entertainment's) ring is one of the best. The old WCW rings were harder than a rock. It's like taking a fall on concrete.
SC: I've heard that some wrestlers in the last few years have been talking about potentially getting a union together to help alleviate some of that.
N: They're trying. The Cauliflower Alley Club which is a lot of the old-timers have tried. I don't necessarily agree with that but I don't also disagree with it... It's really hard for wrestlers after their career is over if they have made it a career. A lot of them don't have anything to back up on. If they've saved their pennies... they've done something smart... or invested, and so forth – Now if they haven't, or they didn't get paid much to begin with, and here they got let go and they have nothing to fall back on then what would you do? I mean, there you are, you're hurting, you're injured constantly, you have probably a majority of the time no insurance.
Nobody wants to cover a wrestler for that matter and it makes it difficult. And you are all independent contractors. The thing that I don't understand is how everybody can be an independent contractor and yet work for one company and can't work for anybody else. But for the most part, that particular situation is a hard one. I mean, where do you go after that if you want to continue unless you have a lot of school education or a business degree or things you can fall back on? A lot of people don't have those things. Or pursued it (wrestling) at such a young age that they have nothing to go to after that.
SC: Do they take any precautions to help with your safety while you are actively wrestling?
N: Well the safety issue is – You try to work with as many people as possible and there is a way to protect yourself when you're wrestling somebody, especially when they don't have any idea of what to do, where to go. You can almost wrestle a broomstick and do it yourself if you have to but it's hard... Regardless, you are going to get hurt. If your body is more or less used to that kind of punishment, a majority of the time, you can... I can take a fall on this floor right here that's all concrete with a little bit of carpeting on top of it and I think I'd get up and walk away, and I'd still be okay even though I haven't wrestled in a year.
Now let's see you give it a shot: What do you think is going to happen? You're probably going to lay there for a while and go, 'Okay, I'm not going to get up.' It's just a matter of if your body's constantly going through the punishment, obviously it's going to be able to handle it. If you've had rest, it's entirely a different story. You've got to get used to it all over again.
SC: I noticed in martial arts classes that even though you're teaching people to not hold back or pull punches on the other hand they're sort of watching out for each other: They react immediately if somebody gives them a signal, like to stop, and they're trying not to hurt each other. Is that generally something that fellow TV wrestlers would do or is it something where there's too much competitiveness and sometimes they just really go for it?
N: There's a lot of egos in the ring. Are you kidding? I mean, there's always a safe way and there's a wrong way and there's a mad way and then there's an 'I don't like you' way. I mean, there's a million different ways to hit somebody. And when you see somebody getting hit, for the most part they're getting hit. Obviously if you're punching somebody twenty-two times, they might be knocked out after the first two... It just depends. It depends on what the situation calls for. But for the majority: If you look at somebody chopping somebody open-handedly or slapping or any of that, you're taking it.
SC: They're doing it as hard as they can?
N: Yeah, why not? If you two have been trained for over eight hours a day on how to punish each other and you can take it, it's – If I were to hit somebody not necessarily as hard but give 'em a good shot and maybe it was too hard for them and they give me a little stiffer shot, obviously you can see where it's going to escalate. Until somebody puts it to a stop. That's just how it is. You go out there and you make it the most brutal match you possibly can.
SC: Do you have health insurance while you're actively wrestling?
N: When I was wrestling, yes I did, under the WWE. They're wonderful insurance to get: If hurt in the ring, they'd pay for it. Otherwise, outside the ring, no, I didn't have insurance.
SC: Is that because of the classification, basically, because [the underwriters] see that you're a professional wrestler and they won't insure you?
N: Well, Vince McMahon takes good care of his people. I'm still in good relations with the WWE. Obviously I've had surgery that took me out for quite a while. I had to try to work around it the best way I can but, you know, between eight hours of practice trying to work out in the gym and everything, I finally couldn't do it anymore. There was too much pain: I couldn't even pull my own pants on. But Vince took care of me. He took care of me even after they had released me under a mutual circumstance: I couldn't train.
They wanted me to train and it wasn't fair and I didn't want the wrath that – Some wrestlers will try to milk injuries and get paid for it anyway and I didn't want to be one of those people. And that's pretty much where it was a mutual agreement. It was, 'Okay, here's your release and you've been hurt. Take care of yourself. And when you're feeling better and you want to rock again, give us a call.'
SC: What do your parents think about you doing this?
N: Oh, goodness – Don't even get me started with them. They were so... My mom cried and my dad laughed. And that was the first year when they'd seen a tape of me and pictures and things like that of what I was doing. Then they saw the tape where I got the snot kicked out of me pretty much by Medusa whom I love to death. She's just a great lady but she wanted to test me, to make sure I had heart, and that I was gonna be able to handle the wrestling business. And she beat the crap out of me, humiliated me in front of many fans. But I love her for it because otherwise I wouldn't have known, and there's only one way to prove that and test that.
She tested me and then I earned her respect, and that was probably one of the best feelings in the world. So here I am, a professional wrestler... I finally show my parents the tape and they couldn't believe it. You know, this has been a few years later and they looked at me and they're like, 'You gotta be kidding!' Finally, when I did get a contract a few years down the road, they were like, 'Okay, well I guess our daughter's doing this.' And they actually, surprisingly, did support me in the best way that they knew how to. Obviously they weren't happy about it and they were scared that I was going to get so badly injured that I'd be like in a wheelchair or, you know, just in the worst case scenario... They didn't know what to expect.
SC: What made you go back into the ring and persevere after experiences like that fight with Medusa?
N: I loved it. When somebody's beating on you... (Laughs.) I don't know... I'm a weird girl, I guess. I've always had an aggression and I wanted to release myself and I felt wrestling was a way to do it. I could portray who I wanted to portray. I would take my personality and turn it up about ten notches, and showboat and make people want to hate me, or like me, depending on the mood. And to get in there and beat on somebody and have them beat on you back, I don't know... I just – Between kickboxing and doing that, it's... As soon as you have that sickness, why you're gonna do the things that you're going to do. I consider it a sickness because how many people want to be beaten on and hurting and so forth and I just – I loved it. I fell in love with it.
SC: If you were in your parents' position, say one day you have a daughter, then would you want her to pursue this line of action?
N: I would tell her how brutal it is in a man's world. You have your up & downs. I'd explain exactly what she's getting herself into. But I wouldn't... If she had her heart into it and she wanted to try it, I wouldn't discourage her from it. At all.
It's easier said than done though. I'm not a parent yet. But without a doubt I don't think I'd ever discourage a child in something that they truly, strongly believe in their heart is something that they want to do.
I think that's probably one of the worst things that you can do is discourage children so fast – that 'you're not going to make any money'... or give them some kind of negative information on something that they really love. I think people should have a way to vent themselves, if it's in a martial art, if it's in wrestling, if it's in some kind of sports activity... I mean, think of how much less violence there might be in the world if somebody could just hit a bag every now and then, you know? All that stress at work... I mean – Hey, when you're stressed out and your boss is riding you and you think you're going to have a nervous breakdown because you have no way to vent it, how would you like to vent it out? You'd like to hit a bag, wouldn't you? (SC nods.) See, and I think that's one of the best things.
Nikita LeFleur flashes a brilliant, warm smile.
Thumbnail artistically filtered by Sahar Chinyere ('SC')