This week's episode of Raw isn't going to be your ordinary affair, as WWE is going all out and providing a stacked lineup of big-time matches for the In Your Face edition of Monday Night Raw. That lineup includes several Championship matches, and one of them has been a long time in the making. That would be the battle between Mickie James and Raw Women's Champion Asuka for the right to hold that Championship gold, and while the two faced each other back in NXT, a lot has changed since their last meeting. ComicBook.com had a chance to talk to James ahead of the marquee matchup, and during our conversation, we talked about everything from the ThunderDome and Asuka to becoming a 7-time Women's Champion and a WWE show just focused on the women's division.
First though we had to talk about her recent return to WWE, and after being out of action for a bit due to injury, she's returning to a WWE that is in the midst of the ThunderDome era, which was certainly a little strange at first.
"It is. I would be lying if I said it wasn't strange and wasn't unique," James said. "I will say that. It's different. I love the ThunderDome. I'm so excited about the ThunderDome. It's just a really, really a cool, unique experience. Like I was saying, the way it's all set up, it's mind-blowing. Those screens, how they're layered, like in a real stadium sort of way. It's just really, really cool."
It takes some getting used to of course, but it does bring back some of that live crowd atmosphere. "It feels the same and it fills the energy that we're so used to feeling from the people, that genuine reaction," James said. "At least you can see some of the genuine reaction from the people back home, sitting at home watching. That's kind of cool."
James is just thrilled to be back in the ring after her knee injury, which did bring with it some focus on becoming Champion once more.
"I'm excited to be back. I feel better than ever," James said. "I've been training hard. I've been rehabbing hard. My knee, that was my first injury surgery ever in my whole tenure of wrestling. I was very fortunate. I have to find some wood to knock on right now because it's kind of crazy. I think that kind of setback really refocused me and reset me in a sense and I'm so much more driven in the sense of my goals and what I want to achieve out of this run. I'm really excited about it."
It was right after James' initial WWE return after 7 years away that she faced Asuka at NXT TakeOver: Toronto, but both stars have changed quite a bit since then, and Asuka isn't unbeatable any longer.
"I feel like I know her a lot better. I've studied her a lot more," James said. "It is ironic how it is full circle. It's full circle for me because when I first came back, I hadn't been in a been a WWE ring for seven years and it was in Toronto, which was such an electrifying crowd anyway. They're so vocal. I got such an amazing response. It just filled my heart with so much joy just to be back in a WWE ring and to be competing for the Women's Championship, the NXT Women's Championship, and at such a high level. I didn't know as much about Asuka as I know now. There was that mystique about her because she was undefeated. She's not undefeated anymore. She has been beaten and she can be beaten."
"She's such a strong personality and such a strong character. I think that me, I am just as strong and I've been in the ring and beaten the greatest women's champions of all time," James said. "She will absolutely go down in history as one of the greatest female Champions we've ever had, but there is a difference between good and great. I feel that I am that difference-maker. It's going to be a treat on Monday. I'm excited. It's going to be a hard-hitting match. It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun. We're going to take each other to the limits that, hopefully, she's never been to before. I know she's not underestimating me so it's going to be a hell of a match."
James got a big pop on social media after making her return to WWE, and she couldn't be happier with the reception. "It was so cool. It was not, I didn't expect it, not to that level. I was so overwhelmed. We all hope that what we've done with our history, you hope that it's connected with people and that people genuinely care," James said. "I was so excited to come back, but then the response from the fans, I was so happy. I'm still happy about it. It just fills me with joy to know that whatever I've done in my career thus far has connected with them that they love that much and respect me so much. That means a lot to me.
James is a six times Women's Champion, though her longtime rival Trish Stratus has often held it over James' head that she has reigned seven times. James has the chance to tie that record tonight, and she's not going to let that opportunity pass her by.
"Well, and obviously Trish's record has been surpassed. However, I have not. I have not surpassed Trish's record. When you think about it as coming in and that's full circle for me as well, because my story coming in, I was Trisha's biggest fan," James said.
"That story set my bar for who I have been within this organization and who I've been in the wrestling business since then because it put me at such a high level to be able to work with her," James said. "Then to go on and work with Lita and so many people after her, it's been pretty amazing. Still, you think back to the rumble and that reaction when we finally faced each other. That people still remember and they care and they look at that moment for Women's wrestling as one of the pivotal moments, I think, in Women's wrestling where the tides really, really started to turn."
"It's just so funny because I just tweeted a GIF recently where someone, because she did that thing backstage where it was like seven times, me, not her or whatever. That's all going to change on Monday because that has been the longest-running rivalry ever," James said.
Women's wrestling has never been bigger, and women's matches are some of the biggest draws on in wrestling, not just WWE. That's why James thinks it would be a great time to have a women's division-focused show on the Network, and I can't be the only one who wants to see that become a reality.
"I feel that's a very, it's a big dream," James said. "It's a big reach because it's so much that's involved when you're creating something like that. I feel like where we are now, we have so much. First, we have the Network, which has so many outlets and so much stuff that we can do and different types of products that we can put out there."
As James notes, the Women's Division across the WWE brands is stacked with amazing superstars, and there are plenty who would benefit from a bigger spotlight.
"We have the largest female roster that we've ever had combined between RAW, SmackDown, NXT, and NXT UK, and there's a vast amount of female talent, more female talent than there's ever been," James said. "It could be an opportunity within our shows. Sometimes there's really only time for a female championship match or whatever. A whole show, even if it was just an hour, like a 205 Live or something like that, that is cultivated just for the women, is something I think would satisfy a market that really just loves women's wrestling. It's a chance for a lot of females that perhaps don't get a chance to shine as much on TV to shine there, and then Evolution could be our big pay-per-view of the year."0comments
Fingers crossed that happens because it would easily become one of WWE's best shows. In the meantime, though you can watch James in action when she takes on Asuka on tonight's In Your Face edition of Monday Night Raw, which airs on USA Network at 8 PM EST.
Do you think James will become a seven-time champ? Let us know in the comments or as always you can talk all things WWE with me on Twitter @MattAguilarCB!