Welcome to Gorilla Fighters, a feature where I profile some of the lesser-known entities of WWE and NXT. Not so much lesser-known as in terribly obscure or superstars who barely wrestle, but people that though we see them on TV and have become a little familiar with them, we really don’t know that much about. We pretty much know the life stories of guys like John Cena, Randy Orton, Kane, Undertaker, Triple H… they’ve been around for decades and have been profiled and had their stories told to us by JR, King, JBL, Michael Cole, and countless backstage interviewers. In this feature, I’ll try to research the same information about wrestlers that I find highly interesting and want to know more about, and I’ll definitely take suggestions on who to feature in these posts. I’ll also discuss each wrestler’s potential, where they are now, and where I hope they’ll end up.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but people have asked me to profile someone who is inexplicably proud to call herself the “Princess of Staten Island.”
Who is Carmella?
Paul Van Dale was a WWF superstar. Well, maybe royalty is a bit of an exaggeration. Or a huge, mega, Super Macho Man over exaggeration.
Ok, so he was more of a YouTube star than a wrestling star. Still, Paul Van Dale had his moments. He never got a single win in WWF, but he did have two matches on Raw, losing to Jimmy Snuka on December 27, 1993 and, with tag team partner Tony DeVito, to Diesel and Shawn Michaels on August 15, 1994. Overall he had 11 matches with the WWF from 1988-1995.
Before that first match, when he wrestled as Paul Vandello against the Big Boss Man (seen in the video above) at a Superstars of Wrestling taping, Paul’s daughter Leah was born on October 23, 1987. Leah grew up watching wrestling with her father and idolizing the legendary valet Miss Elizabeth. Leah/Carmella gave an interview explaining:
“I was obsessed with Miss Elizabeth. I thought she was so fabulous and I just loved watching her every week with Macho Man. My dad used to carry me around on his shoulder like Macho Man would do with her.
“We would record Monday Night Raw every week so that I could watch it, My dad worked nights, so we’d watch it the next day. Those are some of my earliest memories of wrestling.”
Here’s a secret many people don’t know: The Princess of Staten Island is not from Staten Island. She’s not from Long Island. She’s not from New York City. She’s not even from New York! She grew up in Spencer, Massachusetts, and went to college at UMass Dartmouth. The “moon-walking, trash-talking” Van Dale, who began dancing at the age of three, even honed those dance steps with the evil, heinous New England Patriots, as she was an NFL cheerleader from 2008-2010. She was also a Laker Girl during the 2010-11 NBA season. So how did this Massachusetts mistress become a Staten Island princess?
During her time as a Patriots cheerleader and a Laker girl, Van Dale was fortunate enough to work with many different charitable organizations and loved giving back to the community. Fit For Life grew to be her favorite organization to work with. Seeing kids without any sense of healthy living inspired her to show teach them everything she knew about being healthy and fit. Leah grew up around the fitness industry, as you can imagine, with her father being a wrestler as well as a semi-professional boxer. This led her on a new career path. When she left the Lakers in 2011, she become the operations director for Gold’s Gym in Worcerster, MA near her hometown. In 2012, she become a certified fitness instructor and personal trainer at her local Boost Fitness.
Not much as known about Van Dale’s wrestling training at this time. We do know that she applied to be a part of WWE Tough Enough in 2010, but withdrew from the selection process when she was accepted as a Laker Girl. It seems almost natural that someone who grew up a huge wrestling fan, with a professional wrestler in the family, is a personal trainer, and is also a professional entertainer would end up in a WWE ring sooner or later. Sure enough, following a tryout, she was signed to a contract in June of 2013, and was assigned to NXT that September. She was given her ring name Carmella two months later.
Nearly a year later, she first appeared on TV as an enhancement talent, losing to Natalya on the July 31, 2014 episode of NXT. On September 4, she re-debuted as a hairdresser and friend of Enzo Amore and Big Cass. After in storyline losing that job because of Enzo and Cass, she began training with them to become a wrestler, and fit right in:
She memorably defeated “Blue Pants” (long-time indie wrestler Leva Bates) in her re-debut in the ring, using her Code of Silence finisher.
Carmella remained Enzo and Cass’ manager throughout 2015 but was also transitioning into a singles career of her own. In January 2016, she won a battle royal to become the number one contender to Bayley’s NXT Women’s Championship. Carmella received her championship match against Bayley, on the February 10 episode of NXT, but she was unsuccessful in capturing the title. After the match, Eva Marie and Nia Jax attacked the two, which led to a tag team match, on the February 24 episode of NXT, where Carmella and Bayley were on the losing side. Carmella made her first appearance on WWE’s main roster on March 12 at Roadblock, accompanying Enzo and Cass to their match against The Revival for the NXT Tag Team Championship. On the May 25 episode of NXT, Carmella competed in a triple threat match against Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss to determine the number one contender to Asuka’s NXT Women’s Championship at NXT TakeOver: The End, which Nia won.
Where is she now?
On July 19, Carmella was drafted to SmackDown as a part of the WWE Draft. Carmella made her main roster debut for the brand on July 26, where she confronted the brand female talents before being interrupted by Eva Marie. Two weeks later, Carmella defeated Natalya on the August 9 episode of SmackDown, marking her first victory on the main roster. The following week, Carmella teamed with Becky Lynch in a successful victory against Natalya, and Alexa Bliss, after a distraction provided by Eva Marie, and Naomi. A six-woman tag team match was announced for SummerSlam between Carmella, Lynch, and Naomi against Natalya, Bliss, and Marie, but following Eva Marie’s suspension on August 18, her place was taken by the returning Nikki Bella, and Carmella’s pay-per-view came on August 18 at SummerSlam when she, Becky Lynch, and Naomi lost to Natalya, Alexa Bliss, and Nikki Bella. Carmella soon turned heel, and her career skyrocketed from there. Since that heel turn, Carmella has won the inaugural women’s Money in the Bank match (twice), held the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship for 131 days, and defeated Charlotte Flair (twice!) and Asuka in singles competition. She has become one of the best mic workers in the business and has been given a lot of promo time, which she was taken and run with.
How far will she go?
How much farther CAN she go? She is one of the best, but obviously, you have to keep things new and fresh. She is a GREAT heel, but I think the seeds have been planted for a face turn. I don’t know how that will go, since the crowd loves to hate her and she loves to be hated, but I think she’s talented enough that she can turn the fans on a dime. I see multiple title reigns and possibly a PPV main event someday. Her father was a jobber, but his daughter is a champion, and could be an all-time great.