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LA BELLA VIDA

POW! BAM! The beautiful Bella Twins revolutionized the way we think of women’s wrestling. Now they’re busting out of the ring and putting a hammerlock on reality TV.

By Jessica Rodriguez | Photographs By Warwick Saint

NIKKI & BRIE


Garcia-Colace may be identical twins, but let’s get this straight: Nikki is 16 whole minutes older. Those 960 seconds of separation might be one of the longest periods these wrestling superstars have ever been apart, because since their birth it’s been all about sisterhood. Does it ever get to be too much? “For like two minutes in the day,” says Nikki. “I feel like it’s a 32-year marriage,” Brie chimes in. “You have your moments where she can chew her food a certain way and it bugs me. But we will always be together. I couldn’t imagine not having her in my life.”

Inseparable, yes, but also fearsome, talented, and ambitious. They’re the Bella Twins, the WWE female superstar act—complete with championship belts, high-profile relationships (Nikki is dating John Cena, the wrestling superstar and Amy Schumer muse, and Brie is married to retired WWE superstar Daniel Bryan), and a hit show (E!’s Total Divas), with their own spin-off, E!’s Total Bellas, premiering Wednesday, October 5 at 8 PM. So if the ladies couldn’t stand being around each other, they would really hate life, because their career revolves around being sisters who kick ass and love hard.

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For all that, perhaps their biggest accomplishment is changing the stereotype of women in wrestling as sexy arm candy (such as “Macho Man” Randy Savage’s Miss Elizabeth) or hyper-muscular superwomen (the late Joanie “Chyna” Laurer). Like their UFC counterpart Ronda Rousey, the Bella Twins have heralded the advent of fight champions who look like real women and can truly work a ring, not just adorn one.


The difference shows. From the old three-minute matches to today’s 20-minute battles, the renamed Women’s Division is on fire thanks in large part to their efforts to achieve parity with professional men’s matches. “I think in the past so many girls would try to individually get themselves over and knock every other woman down, and it got the division nowhere. The minute [the women] united is when all of a sudden it exploded,” says Brie. “To see all the transformations…you feel like you conquered something. It’s empowering.” So far they can definitely proclaim, veni, vidi, vici.

Before there were the Bellas Twins, there was just Brianna and Nicole, two Mexican and Italian girls who hail from a California farming family and spent their childhood playing competitive soccer, rocking the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their dad’s truck, and waitressing to feed their scrapbook obsession (“Michaels once sent us a thank-you card,” Brie says, laughing). After high school, the pair left Scottsdale, Ariz., and relocated to San Diego for college, eventually making their way to Los Angeles to work as models and actresses. As Nikki was preparing to launch a pro soccer career in Italy, Brie was bowled over by something that would change their lives forever: the WWE.

“The first time I ever saw women wrestling, I immediately felt connected,” Brie says. “I thought, ‘This is what I’m supposed to do.’ ” Though they had never wrestled, she was convinced she’d found her calling, and naturally persuaded Nikki to join her at the 2006 WWE Diva Search. That is, until they got there. “We showed up and it literally looked like a line of go-go dancers,” Brie recalls.

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“I looked at her and was like, ‘What did you get me into?’ ” Nikki growls, sounding as she probably did the day it happened. Although the future wrestlers didn’t make the cut, they had enough potential and were offered a trip to visit Deep South Wrestling in Macon, Ga., to see wrestling up close. “We were only supposed to watch, but literally we got in the ring every day that whole week,” Nikki says. When the pair returned home, they packed their car and drove cross-country to Florida for a WWE development deal, hoping to make it to the big leagues.

 

Today, the Twins are the most beloved female villains in sports entertainment. “I love playing bad,” Nikki confesses. But their real-life personas are more like what you see on Total Divas, true to their different personalities. “She’s so glam, I’m more granola,” Brie says. It was this easygoing style that Brie’s husband, Bryan Danielson (whose ring name is Daniel Bryan), fell in love with. “Brie’s free-spirited attitude is what attracted me at first,” he says of his wife of two years.

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And unlike villains, all their current efforts are focused on empowering women and giving back. The Bella Army is a perfect example of this. Their diehard legion of fans was born after Nikki put an online troll in her place. “I stuck up for some girls on social media that were getting bullied. I couldn’t believe [the comments] I was seeing. That’s something Brie and I really want to use our voices for,” Nikki says. In the ring, things have changed drastically for the tag team. For now, at least, Nikki has gone solo due to Brie’s retirement. Yet they still have Total Divas—which chronicles the lives of female wrestlers, from injuries to workplace romance (and drama) to balancing career and family. And nuestra gente, longtime fans of lucha libre and telenovelas,
love it.

 

“We really wanted our characters to be very Latin-based because we’ve always been so proud of our roots,” BRIE says.

According to E! Network, 1 in 4 adults who watch Total Divas are Hispanic.“I don’t know what would be off-limits,” Brie says, when asked what they don’t share with the cameras. “That’s the thing about us, we’re too much of an open book,” adds Nikki, digging into her cheat-day breakfast of powdered French toast and coffee at the Brasserie Cognac in midtown Manhattan.

During their Latina interview, the twins are fully themselves: Brie is wearing ripped jeans and wrapped in a soft white sweater, with her hair pulled into a high bun; her makeup is dewy. Nikki, the more glam of the two, is rocking a fitted, black shoulderless shirt with jeans, along with a full cat-eye and lashes, loose hair, and Hollywood-sized sunglasses perched atop her head. And let’s not forget fringed cowboy boots, because after spending the previous night out on the town, her feet were killing her. Yup, these are definitely the Bellas—one ethereal hippie mama, one glittering glamazon.

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Unlike scripted TV, real-life plot twists can move a story in unwanted directions. A neck inury forced Nikki to have surgery, and Brie announced her retirement from the ring at WrestleMania 32 (think: Super Bowl for wrestling) this past April. All signs pointed to the end of the Bella Empire.

 

But the Twins are far from done. They’re busy promoting Total Bellas, which offers a close-up of the whole Bella fam: Brie and Bryan, Nikki and John, brother J.J. Garcia, mom Kathy, and stepfather John. The best part? It’s as Latino as it gets, with everyone living under one roof. The idea came at a tumultuous time in the twins’ lives. “It was during a period of time when John had shoulder surgery,” Brie explains, nibbling on fruit, yogurt, and a croissant. “Three weeks later Nikki had to get her neck surgery, and a little after that, my husband was forced to retire. Bryan and I were like, let’s move in with Nikki and John and help them out.”

Muscle-bound men, Latinos, and twins? It sounds better than anything Adam Sandler has ever put out. “Growing up, we were always the feisty Latin girls,” Brie says. So much so that they sought to have it reflected in their WWE personas. “We really wanted our characters to be very Latin-based because we’ve always been so proud of our roots,” Brie says. Even their stage name is a nod to their cultures—“bella” meaning “beautiful” in both Spanish and Italian. From how they eat tamales at Christmas to always honoring la Virgén, the two credit their Mexican heritage for teaching them to value family, have faith, work hard, and live passionately.

Rather than wait for someone to invent their next chapter, the duo are rewriting their book. First up is the launch of Birdiebee, a lingerie line in the spirit of TOMS Shoes, with a plan to donate a pair of underwear to a girl in need for every pair sold. The pay-it-forward concept has already attracted interest from Shark Tank investor Daymond John. “We’re hoping Birdiebee will launch in September, the perfect time for Fashion Week,” says Nikki, who acknowledged that sneak peeks will be released all summer. “It’s a brand about women’s empowerment, not just ‘panties with a purpose,’ ” says Nikki. “It will be a brand to educate women and girls about feminine health.”

Beyond their careers, they’re each focused on starting families. “Bryan and I have had serious baby fever for the last year,” Brie says. That’s why she opted to retire a few months ago. “I just felt like I should move on to the next chapter of life together with him and not just have him be at home waiting for me while I live his dream.”

As for Nikki, her relationship with Cena started with doubters and haters. “People thought I was such a gold digger,” she says. “Because my man is handsome and successful, that makes me a gold digger? First of all, I pay my own bills and I still pay my own bills. But if your man is gonna give you a gift, you’re gonna accept it. I’m not gonna be like, ‘No, can you please take back the Louis Vuitton purse?’ Absolutely not.” After four years with John, Nikki is eager to tie the knot. “Marriage fever,” she says with a sigh. “I have to remind him when I get hit on, ‘I got hit on because no one saw a ring.’ The good thing is, he’s more open to marriage now—kids, unfortunately, no.” Despite the uncertainty about her romantic future, Nikki keeps it all in perspective. “When I envision having my life without John, it hurts more than having a life without kids.”

A return to the ring isn’t far from either of their minds. Although Nikki was sidelined by surgery, she’s already adopting safer ring techniques and crossing her fingers that she could return to action this summer. “I want to have the comeback of a lifetime. As long as I work smart, I know I can get back in that ring and do some damage.” Brie sees herself coming back after she becomes Mama Bella.

The return of the Bella Twins will be felt throughout the sports world. They’d be sure to wear their signature red crop tops emblazoned with their mottoes, “Fearless” and “Brie Mode,” strutting into the spotlight to their theme music, the Bella Army screaming along (“You can look, but you can’t touch!”) at the top of their lungs.

Today, they’re walking back to their five-star hotel in Manhattan. No entourage, no glam squad, no nada. Just Nikki and Brie, as always. Together.

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