Nikki Bella was at the height of her wrestling career in 2015 when she broke her neck and underwent a risky surgery to fix it — a journey she relived during Monday night’s episode of Dancing with the Stars for Most Memorable Year Week.
Bella, 33, couldn’t wait to get back in the ring after suffering a career-threatening neck injury, but her fellow WWE Divas were hesitant.
Speaking with PEOPLE Now last spring, the Total Divas star recalled her shock when other wrestlers did not want to compete with her after the recovering.
“All the girls would be like, ‘Oh, we don’t want to work with you. I don’t want to re-injure you,’ ” she said. “That kind of took me by surprise because I was like, ‘Wait, what? I just had the toughest journey of my life, I came back in record time and now people don’t want to get in the ring with me?’ ”
Bella proved everyone wrong when she made her comeback debut during SummerSlam in August.
“That was an incredible moment,” she said “I literally was told, ‘You have that one percent chance of getting back in that ring,’ and when I did, woo!”
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Bella, is engaged to fellow wrestler John Cena, was thrilled to return to the ring and get in front of a live audience again, which she said is her favorite part of being a WWE star.
“There is nothing like when you walk down that ramp with the WWE universe, and they’re booing you or they’re cheering you,” the Total Divas star said. “Then whatever you do in that ring, they’re reacting to it. It really is this Broadway with body slams.”
Bella also said her job gives her a sense of confidence.
“Honestly, to be a woman and be able to wrestle is so kick-butt,” she said. “It is the best thing ever. Like, yeah, look what I can do. It makes me really proud.”
- PEOPLE’s special issue, 25 Seasons of Dancing with the Stars, is out Sept. 15
But her family, including twin sister and fellow WWE diva Brie Bella, is there to remind her who is she really is.
“If I ever thought that I was cool for one second for what I do, my cousins would put me in a check real quick,” she said.
On Monday’s episode, Bella performed a powerful, contemporary number with pro partner Artem Chigvintsev, and was awarded a 24/30 by judges.
“He just really told my story and my passion and my heart with dance and I thought I could never feel that. It’s the first time anyone has seen me put my guard down,” Bella said about Chigvintsev. “The past few weeks I’ve really had my guard up and I feel like today I finally let it down and I really let people see who I am and that was all thanks to Artem.”
“My hunger and my passion for wrestling … I had that hope,” she said about recovering. “Hope overtook whatever fear I had.”
Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.