If you are a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), you might be familiar with Bianca Belair, the EST of the WWE. However, Belair has not always been the confident, fascinating showstopper she is known for being today.

During an interview with WWE UK in 2020, Belair explained what her nickname, “EST,” means in a world of greats.

“The ‘EST of WWE’ it just means that I am a hybrid athlete. So, I’m the strongEST, I’m the fastEST, the quickEST, the roughEST, the greatEST, the smartEST, I’m the bEST,” Belair said. “All those ends in EST. So, I just see myself as being the absolute best in every single area that you can think of.”

Born Bianca Nicole Blair, she started as a track and field star and powerlifter headed to high places. Pressure to be great led to depression, bulimia and a condition that could end her career.

One message from a WWE legend, who saw her greatness, introduced her to the wonderful world of wrestling; which led Blair to meet her husband, WWE wrestler Montez Crawford and the opportunity to be the first Black woman to headline WrestleMania.

As Belair prepares to face Becky Lynch on Saturday, at WrestleMania, she hopes to become the 2x WWE Women’s Champion. Last year marked her first title win.

Here are six things to know about the EST of the WWE.

A scholar student and star athlete

Bianca Belair, a Knoxville native, played basketball and ran track at Austin-East Magnet High School, winning state titles in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles in 2006 and 2007 and leading the Roadrunners to a state title in 2007.

Before Belair embarked on her career as a WWE wrestler, she was a scholar student and a star athlete. Blair attended the University of South Carolina (USC) in 2008, Texas A&M (TAMU) in 2009 and the University of Tennessee (UT) in 2011-2013 during her six-year track career and received several awards and accolades. 

While attending UT, she studied sociology; and she was twice named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll as a Lady Vol in 2011 and 2012. 

An exceptional athlete despite living with Costochondritis

Belair’s original plan was to transition from track to CrossFit after she left the Lady Vols. However, when she competed in the CrossFit regional circuit, she suffered an injury that would immediately derail any future she had in the industry. Belair was training up to three times a day when she experienced slipping rib syndrome.

“I was training to go to the Games, and I was training two or three times a day. I overtrained. My rib in the back slips out, and that’s what shifting rib syndrome is. The rib in the back came out, and the same rib that wraps around to the front popped in my sternum, so all the muscles in-between my ribs, the intercostal muscles, the rib popped away from it,” Belair said. “I developed slipping rib syndrome, and I had intercostal costochondritis. It was [painful]. I had to stop doing cross fit, and I got really upset about that. I’m like, ‘Gosh, I finally found something that I’m good at, and now I have to stop.'”

Belair revealed that she had just been contacted to participate in the “American Ninja Warrior” TV show when she got injured, calling the syndrome one of the “most painful things” she ever experienced.

“Doors were opening for me. I was getting sponsorships. I was projected to make it to the Games that year. American Ninja Warrior had contacted me to audition. All these doors were opening, and then this happened. It was probably one of the most painful things I dealt with,” Belair said. “I couldn’t bend down to tie my shoe. I couldn’t lift up to do my hair. I couldn’t pick up my nieces to play with them. It was really tough to deal with.”

Belair’s three-times-a-day workout routine abruptly changed after he got injured, and she stopped working out. Despite being in excruciating pain, her MRI and X-rays showed nothing, and she had to let it heal on its own.

“I went from working out three times a day to doing absolutely nothing walking around with my hand on my chest the whole time trying to keep my rib in….it doesn’t show up on X-rays,” Belair said. “It doesn’t show up on MRIs. There’s no surgery. It heals on its own eventually, and it’s something you just have to learn to deal with and maintain.”

Designs and hand-makes her own wrestling gear

Since her days as a CrossFit competitor, Belair recalled making her attire and displaying her unique, handmade outfits. During an interview with Milwaukee Record, Belair revealed that making her gear gives her an amazing feeling, and she takes pride in customizing her outfits.

“Yeah, I make my own ring gear. I take a lot of pride in making my own gear. It’s just an amazing feeling to go out there and stand in the ring and have these big, amazing moments in the ring gear that I made,” Belair said. “Or I look at a video game and see that it’s the gear that I made or an action figure. I try to make gear where I only wear it one time for big, major events so every single gear has a significance to it.”

Belair shared that often there are times when she even has to fix the gear of other wrestlers in the locker room, how she creates outfits for her husband (Montez Ford), and how she has built a reputation for creating new gear herself every week.

“But yeah, sometimes maybe we’re in the locker room and a girl might have a tear in her gear and I’m in there sewing the gear up, helping her with the tear. My husband, I do some of his stuff every now and then, but for the most part, I’m so busy with my stuff,” Belair said. “I kind of put myself in a hole with building a reputation of every time someone sees me I kind of have a different gear on. So I’m always busy trying to make new gear so I can have new gear for Raw.”

From Knoxville, Tennessee

A key was presented to Bianca to her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee 

In Sept. 2021, Belair, a graduate of Austin-East high school and the University of Tennessee, received the key to her hometown of Knoxville.

 In addition to visiting the children of her former high school, Belair was joined by Knox County Mayor WWE Legend Glenn “Kane” Jacobs. 

Belair told the students that they could achieve anything. 

“There’s greatness that lives inside of Austin East. If you went to Austin East, greatness lives inside of you. And it lives through me,” Belair said. “I carry that out with what I do every single day, being a WWE superstar, I represent Austin-East. And that’s really what this is all about. It’s about coming back for them, and showing them what this community is about.”

Jacobs presented Belair with the key to the city at a live taping of WWE’s Smackdown.

A mental health advocate after overcoming depression and bulimia

Belair has always been expected to rise to great heights in life, and with that expectation, she has experienced the stress of being a powerful woman. During her time in college, Belair became depressed, and things started to fall apart for her. 

She shared that she first had bulimia in high school and how her coaches pressured her about her weight during an episode of WWE Chronicle on Belair’s career and life before and as a pro-wrestler. 

“So I suffered from bulimia, which started in high school. I was always considered the bigger girl in track. I was always very muscular, just naturally muscular. I was running fast and then I just kind of plateaued. The next thing I could think of was, okay, all my coaches talk about my weight,” Belair said. “Let me lose weight. I got so obsessed, so I started throwing my food up. No one knew. My parents didn’t even know. I hid it. I was throwing my food up all the time, every night, and I lost weight. I ran faster. I got hurt and actually not ended up being able to compete my senior year in high school, but I already had my scholarship, thank God.”

Belair revealed that her eating disorder picked up again during her time at the University of South Carolina. Eventually, she would become so stressed and depressed that she would attempt to take her own life. 

“I went to try to go talk to somebody about it, to work through it all, and they put me on medication. I end up leaving that college and transferring to another college to try to start over again, instead of facing my issues and thinking, I’m just going to run away from it,” Belair said. “I stopped the medication, and you can’t do that, you have to wean yourself off of it. So when I stopped, everything came crashing back down. I got very, very, very depressed and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what was happening. I was like, I just don’t want to be here anymore. So I tried to not be here anymore.” 

Belair would spend time in a psychiatric hospital, where she would reveal to her parents what was going on in her life. 

“I feel like a failure and, so that was the moment when I was like, I need to go home. I can’t keep running from college to college, I have to face this. I was able to sit there and talk to my parents and know that I have their support,” Belair said. “That was the moment for me where I felt very safe and I felt like, okay, it’s going to get better. It wasn’t better at that moment, but I felt like it’s going to get better.”

Represents Black women in wresting

Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks made history during their WWE Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania 37 when they became the first two Black women to main event in its 37 years. Banks, whose real name is Mercedes Varnado, revealed that it was a moment she got to be a kid again.

“Once that promo was official and it was over and the fireworks went off, I got to be Mercedes again,” Banks said. “I got to be that 10-year-old kid being like, ‘Oh, my God! Are you potentially checking off the biggest check mark, goal, dream you’ve ever had in your whole life?’ And that is to main-event a WrestleMania.”

Belair shared that the moment meant so much to both of them, and their emotions demonstrated how meaningful the match was to them. 

“That’s how much this moment means to the both of us: I’m shaking, she’s crying,” Belair said. “I think that just speaks volumes, to be in that moment and have that real emotion coming out of both of us.”

Belair won her spot in WrestleMania by winning a 30-woman Royal Rumble earlier that year; she was the first African American woman and second person of African American descent to win the Royal Rumble match in Jan., following Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. 

“I think about our match; you have two alpha females, two alpha Black females that are in the ring, the representation,” Belair said. “Without us even touching or talking or opening our mouths, that’s already a moment right there. That’s history.”

Belair would beat Banks in the match to become the sixth Black woman to win the WWE Women’s championship belt. 

No two Black male superstars have ever wrestled in a one-on-one world title match at WrestleMania.