Going Ringside Ep. 21: Melina Perez

The legendary WWE “Diva” discusses her career as a 5-time world champion

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It was more than 20 years ago and a young Melina Perez was working as a medical assistant for a cardiologist. Like a lot of young women she was looking for an option to stay in good shape. While yoga was an option, Perez decided to go a different route. She entered an independent wrestling school, Jesse Hernandez’s School of Hard Knocks in Southern California. The daughter of a boxer, Perez saw it as a great way to keep in shape in an environment she was comfortable with. “Because it incorporates running,” said Perez. “Back in the day I was a runner and I loved running the ropes. My dad was a boxer. He taught me how to box. So I was like this is acting, running, boxing but not real boxing. So it took everything I loved and incorporated it into one.”

Getting discovered:

Before she knew it she was scouted by a WWE talent scout. “I got scouted by Dr. Tom,” said Perez, speaking of Dr. Tom Prichard, a longtime wrestler, trainer and talent scout with WWE. “He told me you know what you have a look and Vince (McMahon) would probably like you. Does that mean like I could make money doing this?” And she ended up making a lot of money and gaining considerable notoriety.

That’s when the quick ascent of the wrestling world began for Perez. She was quickly involved in WWE’s developmental system which included their old show “Tough Enough” along with some other independent promotions the company was affiliated with. In fact an article from 2004 wrote Perez “has the most natural ability of anyone female to have ever come through their school.”

Stardom followed in only a matter of months as Perez quickly started wowing WWE audiences. Her debut came right after Thanksgiving 2004 but the role was minor. However, that quickly changed when she was brought to the Smackdown brand for the company and debuted as the manager for the tag-team MNM in April of the following year.

Developing the most popular entrance in the industry

Perez’s character, as was MNM’s, was that of Hollywood A-listers. A glamorous faction that would enter the ring each week with paparazzi snapping their photos. The team would wear long fur coats as help her enter the ring. It was that entrance that immediately endeared her to the largely male audience. Perez would get up on the ring apron, do the splits, and slide herself under the bottom rope. WWE cameras were often placed in exactly the right spot to maximize the entrance’s effect on television.

The idea for the entrance really started when she was in high school on the track team. “The weirdest thing is in high school, one of my friends on the track team, she used to be able to do the splits,” said Perez. “So then I just dropped and did it. And was like, oh, I can do it.”

“So when wrestling came about, I wanted to be able to showcase my flexibility. But I didn’t know what would be right,” she said. So she showed her male counterparts. “I just dropped into the splits and said ‘would this work?’ Then the guys said ‘yep, do that.’”

“I never thought that would be as big as it was,” said Perez.

Fame did not change her

Following her initial run with MNM, Melina was a “made woman” so to speak in the wrestling world. She was immediately recognizable and fans were drawn to her good or bad. That’s called getting “over” in the business and she had done that as much as any Diva on the roster at that point. But Perez will tell you the almost overnight fame did not go to her head. “My brain, the way I see the world, the way I process it is just, it’s beautiful, it’s validating,” said Perez. “Because I used to get hated and booed. So I didn’t see the good stuff. I didn’t see love. Because to me that was love. The boos and the hatred and the investment in the character. That was love.”

Perez some of her favorite competitors were Ashley Massaro who passed away in 2019, Beth Phoenix, and Michelle McCool. She also mentioned working with an established female wrestler when she arrived, Trish Stratus. “She was easy to work with,” said Perez. “To know that she requested me to work with her, it was a high honor.”

Double Standards

One of Perez’s issues she ran into as a female performer was gossip if she appeared overly friendly. Perez says she’s by nature a “hugger” and that came with gossip. “I kind of just stayed my distance because it seems like if make friends with anybody being a female. If you make friends with any male, like ‘Oh you must be sleeping with him’. I can’t even be friends with anybody.” Perez said she had to stop hugging people so she didn’t foment gossip.

Perez, said that was to some extent a price of success and fame. “It was an issue in the sense of if you’re successful, then people want to create drama. So you have to try to not give them ammunition,” said Perez.

Another struggle Perez faced was being by nature introverted. “I was very quiet and introverted,” said Perez. “I’m sure people don’t understand quiet people. ‘Like oh what you’re not talking to me because you’re being a b****’. I’m like ‘no, I’m just watching and paying attention.’”

Life Today

Perez is mostly retired from wrestling today but still makes appearances at fan events like River City Wrestling Con. She’s also made sporadic appearances in WWE in recent years. Other than that she says she tries to live a low key life. As far as legacy -- “If I end up being an unsung hero like so many women before me,” said Perez. “They went through so much hell for me to have what I had in that time. So it doesn’t even matter about the credit. To be able to participate and have it what it is now. I’m proud, I’m happy.”

Also in this episode we speak to River City Live host Jana Angel about trying out for WWE at their performance center in Orlando. She talks about relationships she developed over the years with both Charlotte Flair and Jade Cargill.

We’ll also have a preview at the end of the episode of a live wrestling event put on by the Love Alive Charity, which was founded by former WWE superstar and Jacksonville native Elijah Burke. They have a live event July 29th at the Murray Hill Church Gymnasium at 4300 Post Street in Jacksonville. Doors open at 6PM, bell time is at 7PM.

About the Author:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.