NXT superstar Tegan Nox on her comeback to the ring, mental health and how Captain Marvel saved her

Tegan Nox has had to overcome a great deal in her early tenure with WWE. Shortly after she signed with the company in 2017, she suffered a torn ACL in her right knee that forced her to miss the inaugural Mae Young Classic.

She went to work on rehabbing the injury and was back in the ring just in time for the second Mae Young Classic the following year. She advanced to the quarterfinals where she would face Rhea Ripley. Less than a minute into that match, Nox connected on a dive outside the ring but immediately felt pain in her left knee.

She was determined to continue but was hit with a dropkick and the match was immediately stopped. A hushed quiet came over the NXT Arena as Nox cried out in pain. She would later find out that she blew out every major ligament in her left knee. Nox wondered if her pro wrestling career was over at the age of 23.

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Then Nox got back to work, determined to return to the ring. She did just that in the summer of 2019, but it didn’t come without hard work along with plenty of ups and downs mentally, which she admittedly still deals with. All of that was recently chronicled in a series of WWE produced videos titled “The Comeback,” detailing the physical and emotional toll she has fought through.

Now, the Welsh superstar is embroiled in a bitter rivalry with her former friend-turned-enemy Dakota Kai who turned on her last November at NXT TakeOver: War Games with a brutal attack targeting her knee.

The two faced off in a street fight at last month’s TakeOver event in Portland where Kai  — along with help from Raquel Gonzalez – scored a win against Nox. The next chapter in their ongoing rivalry will be Wednesday night on NXT television — airing from 8:00-10:00 p.m. ET on USA Network — when Nox and Kai square off in a steel cage match.

Sporting News recently spoke with Nox regarding her comeback and everything she has persevered through — and continues to deal with — to continue her wrestling career.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

SPORTING NEWS: We’re just a day away from this big cage match at NXT TV. As we’re talking right now, what’s going through your mind? Are you anxious? Excited? What kind of emotions are you feeling?

TEGAN NOX: I’m a bit of everything.  To be honest, I’m excited because it’s rare that we get to do these sorts of matches in NXT, especially with women, which is super cool for us. But also nervous because it’s really high and I’m not good with heights.

SN: Obviously, this is a huge profile match and so many people have followed along with your story and in your comeback. What does this match mean when it comes to your journey, your career and where you are right now — to not only be back but be back in a prominent match on NXT TV?

TN: It means a lot to me, especially having the trust of people like Triple H and Coach Amato who were around when I went through two ACL surgeries. To be able to bring me back, not just bring me back to wrestle normal matches, but to give me such high caliber matches like the street fight at TakeOver and this cage match. I’ve experienced online people that doubt me, call me a liability and say that I shouldn’t be doing these sorts of matches. But just having the respect and the trust of those people, it makes the match that much more special for myself.  Although me and Dakota aren’t on great terms right now, I know it means a lot to her as well because of her ACL injury, too.

SN: You actually have people that are out there saying you shouldn’t have these kinds of matches because they’re too dangerous? I would look at it from the perspective that if you’re going to be in the ring, you need to be able to do anything and everything or else you probably shouldn’t be out there in the first place.

TN: Yeah, you wouldn’t believe the amount of people (commenting on) the street fight, especially the amount of people that were commenting on my Twitter, my Instagram, everything just ripping me apart saying that I shouldn’t be in these matches. It was insane to see how much negativity people were bringing instead of the positives. Like (they should be saying) “these women are doing the first street fight in NXT women’s history” instead of looking at it like that, they went straight for the “oh, they both had ACL surgeries and shouldn’t be doing this.” It was crazy to me.

SN: I was there in the building the night that you got injured the second time in the match against Rhea (Ripley) and I distinctly remember that moment because of how quiet the building got. There were some of us looking at each other and wondering if this was part of the match and quickly realized it was not. Did you ever get that sense from the crowd and what was going through your mind at that moment?

TN: Honestly, I didn’t realize how quiet it was until I watched the match back and all I could hear were the doctors talking to me. So, to me, it just seemed like everything was super loud still. It was such a crazy experience. I legitimately thought that my career was over. Not in a sense of I couldn’t come back from it, but that they wouldn’t want someone who at the time was 23 and going to have to have another knee surgery. I just thought they were going to pass me to the side and be done with me, but they worked so hard becoming the best agents in the world on both occasions and brought me back stronger than I could ever imagine I’d be if I didn’t have the knee surgeries.

SN: When it comes to a situation like that where you’re dealing with not just the one, but two serious knee injuries, was it tougher to come back physically or is it tougher to come back mentally?

TN: I think physically it’s so easy in comparison to coming back then it is mentally. I still struggle mentally with dealing with both injuries. I still have times where I’ll think I’m going to do something in a match and then I just can’t do it. Like, I want to suggest things but I can’t. It’s so mentally draining. Luckily, I have such an incredible support group that when I get into those situations, they know when to push me and when not to push me, which is something that I feel like if I didn’t have them, I’d either completely quit or just try and overtake those boundaries and get hurt again. So they level me out a lot.

SN: I think that’s one of the great things from the standpoint of NXT is that we see how close people are. When it comes to your support team, what has that meant to you to have these different people in your life that have helped you out in so many different ways from somebody like Dakota to a newer friendship like Candice LeRae?

TN: Honestly, in everything in my career that I’ve done as an athlete, having this support system is the most incredible experience and the most special thing that’s in my life. Without those girls, I’d probably wouldn’t be wrestling anymore. With Dakota, we rehabbed at the same time with my second and her first knee injury so we bonded even more. I’ve known Candice for about coming up on five and a half years, but we only really got close when I moved over and went through the first knee surgery. So, it’s super special to have those kinds of friendships. You don’t find that in everyday life let alone wrestling where it’s even rarer.

Those older girls mean the absolute world to me and they helped me even now when I still struggle mentally with stuff. If I’m having a tough day and I’m so exhausted mentally over everything, they’re there to help me. I send them a text, I’m not OK or I’m fine and then they, within a couple of minutes, reply or are at my door and it’s incredible. I couldn’t ask for more. If anything, I don’t think I deserve as good as a friendship but they have given me.

SN: One of the things that really stood out to me from watching The Comeback series was what Captain Marvel did for you when you were going through a lot emotionally. Can you explain what watching that movie and that central figure did for you?

TN: It was actually Candice who watched the movie the first time. She’s like “you need to see this movie, it’s incredible. I cried.” I was like, oh God, if she cried, then I’m gonna cry, this is not gonna work. So, I went and saw it and it was just more so that everyone was telling her that she couldn’t do something or she didn’t deserve to be in the Air Force. They just told her that she didn’t deserve to do anything and every time they kept saying that, she kept getting back up. Me and Candace, we were talking about it and how much we related to that from the independents when we were doing intergender wrestling and they were saying you shouldn’t be doing this. You can’t do that. It just resonated with people telling me that I should quit now after the second knee injury and that I can’t be doing wrestling anymore. The strength that she has to overpower that, it just spoke to me on a whole new level. And it was a great movie, too.

But yeah, it was just the fact that she overcame so much and people were telling her to quit. She just didn’t. So that’s why it stuck out to me and is such a special thing to me. And then getting to study the actress Brie Larson. She’s also become such a big inspiration to myself as well as the character Captain Marvel because she’s such an advocate for all these different things that it’s inspiring to watch. It’s something that I would like to do with my platform. Now that I’ve gone through some of this stuff, I would like to be able to help like she’s helped.

SN: What can you do now when it comes to helping other people and inspiring other people because you do have this platform?

TN: Yeah, that’s my goal. Ever since I’ve been in wrestling, I want to help others whether it’s in wrestling or just in life. But now that I have such an incredible platform with WWE, I want to help people, especially people with mental health issues because when I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I had such incredible help for me. So, I want to pass that off to other people and help them and, you know, explain to people that you shouldn’t be talked down to or talked bad about because you’ve got a mental health issue. We need to break this stigma that mental health is bad and everyone has to be OK. I want to try and help them and that’s what I want to use my platform for, as well as the LGBTQ community. I’ve got family members and friends back home as well that are part of that, that I want to be a spokesperson for because I truly believe that everyone deserves rights. There’s a lot that I want to do, which is a big task, but I feel like I can do it and I really, really want to help people.

SN: Was it tough to admit to yourself and to others, that I need some help and I’m having problems with mental illness?

TN: It wasn’t difficult to admit to myself because I kind of was just like, OK, I’m not right. Something is wrong. I spoke to some people in the office and they were so helpful. They put me on to a therapist, and I was seeing this therapist for a while and then I went on to a different therapist. Not that the first one wasn’t working, but because I had other underlying issues that I needed to address. Admitting to my friends that I need help is something that I still struggle with. Luckily, they know me well enough that they know when something is wrong and they just offer help without being asked. It takes a lot for me to ask for help but when I do, I feel a lot better than when I’m struggling and they come to me. I’m still teaching myself that it’s OK to ask for help, which I’ll get eventually. But it is OK to ask for help – I’m just stubborn too.

SN: Getting back to the match on Wednesday night against Dakota, we saw how this began back at War Games, this emotional turn. In the moment, I don’t know how many people really saw that coming. It wasn’t just the fact that there was a turn, it was the people that were involved and especially you considering your comeback story. Do you think it would have worked as well if it had been two other people?

TN: Honestly, I don’t think it would have worked as well. It still would have worked but it wouldn’t have worked as well because the fans know how close me and Dakota were. We spoke about it in interviews before the match. We landed the exact same time and traveled from the port together. And then we went to rehab together and the first knee injury that I went through, and she was in the ring when it happened. So we were able to transfer our friendship in real life onto TV to give you this exposure and when that turn happened, you could just feel the atmosphere just change and it was the most incredible thing that I’ve ever experienced in wrestling. You could cut the tension with a knife, that people were so agitated by the fact that what she just did. Some people kind of assumed it was happening, but not in that way and I think that even the people that assumed it was gonna happen, we still surprised them, which is exactly what we wanted.

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