Last week on NXT, champion Sasha Banks had a dilemma: She was set to face Emma and Dana Brooke, but didn’t have a partner. The tension mounted and the fans at Full Sail began chanting for one wrestler to come to her aid – but it wasn’t Becky Lynch or Charlotte, the two women who would join Banks on Monday’s historic Raw, and it wasn’t the lovable Bayley. They were chanting for Blue Pants.
It was just the latest weird chapter in the career of Leva Bates. Known on the indies for her love of comic books and general geekdom, she showed up to NXT as mere enhancement talent. However, thanks to one fateful wardrobe choice, a great introduction by one of NXT’s most charismatic characters and the devotion of the rabid NXT crowd, Blue Pants has become a phenomenon. Despite not being a regular, she routinely gets the biggest pops of the night, even as the crowd knows she’s likely about to lose in a short match.
For Bates, this is just another step in what she describes as “an awesome ride.” With NXT currently generating the biggest buzz in the business, Rolling Stone spoke with her about breaking out as Blue Pants, working with the next generation of stars and why she’s keeping her day job – for now, at least.
So, how did you first get involved in pro wrestling?
Perseverance really got me to this point. I went to college and graduated with a degree in theater and radio/TV production; I double majored, with a minor in dance. I always knew I was going to perform one way or another. I found a lot of odd jobs all over the place. I worked at dude ranches, I worked at theme parks, I’ve worked all over. One of my best friends was moving to Florida and she said it would be perfect for me. So I went to Florida, got a job at Universal as an entertainer, doing characters and dance shows and all that jazz. I’ve always been a huge fan of wrestling. A couple of my friends I met working through Universal were involved with TNA, and so I would go to the TNA shows that used to be taped here. They said, “You do all this other stuff – acting, dancing – maybe you’d like wrestling.” And I was into the idea. So I looked for some wrestling schools, and found FXE. It was run by Matt Bentley, AJ Gallant and D-Von Dudley. D-Von left to go do his own school with Bubba, and I left to go with them. I’ve pretty much been there ever since. From there, you train, you start doing local shows, and the next thing you know, you keep working at it, and the magic happens.
How did NXT happen? Did they contact you?
They have a recruiting page online, and I filled it out and they got a hold of me through that. Actually, my first time I did anything with WWE was being a Rosebud. So when they called me for NXT, I assumed it was another Rosebud gig, which I was all for. Then they told me I was going to be on NXT doing a match. That’s kind of how it went down. They actually called me the day of the show, so thank God I was local. I ended up just leaving Universal and going straight there.
Most enhancement talent get no intro – how did ‘Blue Pants’ happen, with that dramatic introduction provided by Big Cass?
Enzo and Cass were doing a tag match, and the team that they were wrestling against (Sylvester Lefort and Marcus Louis) ended up turning on each other, so they don’t do a match at all. So they were already in the ring, and they needed to bring me out. So they call out the girl they saw in the back, Blue Pants. “Blue Pants” wasn’t supposed to be my name at all, it was just kind of a joke, Cass calling out the girl in the blue pants, but the crowd picked up on it. And when I came out, a lot of the crowd recognized me because they’ve seen me wrestle before, so they started chanting “Blue Pants.” I just played off of that, in a tongue-in-cheek way, and they played right along. And then Blue Pants just went nuts. It was really a unique situation. Really, the stars just aligned for me that day.
Are you surprised you’ve become a Full Sail favorite?
It was definitely unexpected. I didn’t expect to be called Blue Pants, I didn’t expect it to catch on like it did. And then when I got called back the second, and even third time, I didn’t expect for the chants to keep happening. Whenever I get those “Blue Pants” chants, it just blows my mind. I think part of it was Carmella though, whenever her character would be disgusted with me, and then I’d come out all excited, the crowd just ate it up. It really was just right place, right time; the stars aligned, and now the sky’s the limit.
You’ve now wrestled six matches on television. Most recently, when you wrestled Emma, it seemed like you got the biggest pop of the night – on a show that featured Samoa Joe’s in-ring debut. How did we get to this point?
I honestly don’t know. I think it’s partially because each time they use me, I get a little bit more into the character. I get to show off a little bit more each time. I look at Blue Pants as the everyfan, the ultimate fangirl. She’s the embodiment of what it would be like if a fan got called out of the audience to wrestle. That’s how I picture Blue Pants. She’s just happy and excited to be there. I think the crowd really connects with that. She’s just one of them.
Some wrestlers are concerned that if they are enhancement talent on a regular basis, that’s what they become. Are you worried about that?
Not really. I’m getting a lot more attention now. I’ve gotten more opportunities in wrestling, my fans have increased, a lot of doors have opened for me. I still do a lot of things outside of NXT, and people get that. Some of my fans have actually gotten more upset about that than me. They talk about how I’m not Blue Pants, I’m Leva. But I really don’t mind it. I have a lot of creative ideas, and I don’t think Blue Pants will hinder those ideas, even if they get to know me as her.
How has Blue Pants changed what you do on the indies? Has anyone wanted to book you as Blue Pants, or is it still always Leva Bates?
I’m still pretty much always Leva. I don’t want to step on any toes, so if they want, I say the companies can say “Also known as Blue Pants,” but I’m Leva. I do get booked sometimes where they ask me to wear the outfit though. It actually is easier, because I don’t have to bring a new outfit every time, though I don’t mind doing that.
Speaking of the outfits, they’re a big part of your gimmick. Obviously the Blue Pants outfit is inspired by the X-Men. What gave you that idea to bring a cosplay element to your wrestling act?
That’s just me. That’s 100 percent who I am. When I first started, I wanted to do that. At the time, and this was before AJ Lee joined WWE, there wasn’t really anyone doing that in wrestling. There was nobody combining geekdom with wrestling, so I wanted to do that. That’s just me. I make costumes in my free time, even for no reason. I would go to parties in the costumes. I went to a party as Buffy once. It wasn’t a Halloween party, it wasn’t a costume party. I just went, because I thought it would be fun. I’m probably the biggest geek you’ll ever meet, and so I went with that. And it makes sense if you think about it. There are so many wrestling fans who are also into comic books and video games and things like that. Why not tap into that?
Besides the outfits, how do you incorporate that aspect of geekdom into your character?
If you watch over the past few years, I pretty much do all my shows in different costumes. When I do the costume, I incorporate aspects of the character into my match. When I dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow, I actually wrestled as I thought he would wrestle, in a drunken master-type style. If I’m doing Spider-Man, I’ll do more agility and high flying. When I’ve done Purge stuff, it’s way more aggressive and angry. That just goes back to the acting degree I have. I just incorporate it all. It’s one thing to dress in the outfit, but to then show traits from that character, that’s different. I’m still Leva Bates, but I can incorporate all these other things as well. Really, as much as anything, I do it to entertain myself, and hopefully everyone else is entertained while I’m doing it.
So was it just sheer luck that you had the X-Men outfit with you at NXT instead of a different outfit?
I actually had that outfit, and one other, which was just a generic superhero outfit, with me at the time. They’re the outfits I have if I need to do TV, since they don’t have any logos on them. I showed Sara [Del Rey, NXT trainer] both outfits, and she told me to put on the blue pants to go in the ring. So that’s how the girl in the blue pants came about. If she had chosen something else, I could’ve been black pants, or red shorts.
Have you sensed any jealousy backstage in regards to the reactions you’re getting?
No, not at all. I do hear a lot of disbelief that I’m as over as I am, but everyone has been really nice and supportive. One person even told me that I make superstars, or villains, which was really cool. Everyone has been super nice; they even celebrated my birthday the last time I was there. All of that caught me off guard. That was incredibly heartwarming. The thing is, if one person succeeds, it proves that success is possible. Everyone just stays positive there, which is great for me, since I’m a super-positive person.
You still have your job at Universal Studios. Has that helped you in the ring?
Well, if there’s ever a slow period in wrestling, it definitely helps pay the bills [laughs]. But, I perform every day. It’s a great way to get out there and try different things. What will make people laugh? It’s very hands-on, because you’re not just doing shows, a lot of times you’re doing meet-and-greets and signing autographs and whatever else. It’s honestly helped me more in wrestling than I can imagine. Just being onstage, in the public eye, allows me to constantly grow.
With your profile increasing, has anyone ever recognized you onstage?
No, nobody onstage. I’m usually wearing full costume and full makeup. So never in a show. I have been recognized while I was walking around. I’ll be waiting in line somewhere and I’ll hear, “Leva!” or more recently, “Blue Pants!” That happens a lot. It’s pretty funny when I’m with someone and someone yells “Blue Pants” at me, because if they don’t watch me in wrestling, they get pretty confused. I have to explain what Blue Pants is all about. That’s really fun.
I know that you’ve started to get used on the house shows for NXT, instead of just the TV tapings. Has there been any talk of getting a developmental contract?
We’ve talked about doing more house shows in the future, which is a lot of fun. I think I’m kind of creating something new with them. I’m sort of a free-agent regular. I can do my things, but also appear on their shows. If they do offer me something though, that would be awesome. If they don’t, that’s still great, because I get to live my dream. I get to work with WWE. That’s always been a dream of mine. I’m just looking at everything positively. You have to enjoy the moment. I could be sitting here concerned about if they’re going to be offering me a contract or not. Instead, I’m enjoying every time they’re calling me. I can say I’ve won a WWE match now! I can cross that off my bucket list. I got to wrestle the NXT champion! I got be on Raw! Cross all that off my bucket list. Instead of worrying what comes next, you have to enjoy what you’ve accomplished so far. I think so many people, especially wrestling fans, are concerned about what comes next. I don’t know what’s going to happen, I just ride the moment. You never know when it’s going to end. I’ve had an awesome ride.
You talk about checking all these things off your bucket list. What’s still on yours?
I want to travel more. I’ve wrestled in Mexico and Switzerland, but that’s pretty much it as far as international. So that’s my next big step. I want to go abroad. I want to see other countries. That’s part of why I’m in entertainment, is that opportunity to see the world. I’d love to go to Japan, Australia, England – all these places. I’ve been blessed so far to see so many parts of this country; now, I want to see other countries.