Exclusive: Kaia McKenna Opens Up About Her Injury and Recovery, Her Experience in AEW, Being a Witch, Future Goals

(Photo Credit: Kaia McKenna)

Independent female wrestler, “The Good Witch,” Kaia McKenna, recently joined PWMania.com’s T.J. Stephens for an exclusive in-depth interview. McKenna opened up about her injury and recovery. She also discussed breaking into the wrestling business, her experience in AEW, being a real witch, and much more.

Below is the complete exclusive PWMania.com interview with Kaia McKenna:

You are recovering from a shoulder re-injury. So what exactly happened?

Well, I learned my lesson on why you should not be a bad witch. Why you should always be a good witch. I went to strike Mike Bennett in the back when he was attempting to cause some harm to Bravo on AEW in October. And his back is like sheet metal. I’m not even kidding. I hit his back, and my shoulder went. And I was like, Well, okay, that happened. It was wild. It’s totally like a freak accident, not my fault. Not his fault, not anybody’s fault. I don’t know if it was the right angle, the right amount of force. I have not been able to figure it out. But I did re-dislocate my shoulder in that instance, there was a clip going around for a while if you don’t mind being grossed out. You can check that out.

So we’re good? No structural damage, nothing like that?

We’re good. I was really concerned because obviously you have that type of injury happen again, and you’re like, “Okay, Did I did I re-damage something?” I just went through this grueling rehab process. I had surgery in February, all this stuff’s going through your head. So I did go visit the orthopedic surgeon and I did not sustain any further damage. Presumably, I have a small labrum tear just from the shoulder dislocating because that happens when your shoulder dislocates. But it’s not anything that I’m unable to fix with a little bit of physical therapy and some extra time in the gym. So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past two months is just letting everything resettle and doing as much as I can in the gym and physical therapy to get ready to come back in 2023.

Do we have a timeline for your comeback?

Probably late winter, we’re gonna say. I think that sometimes in wrestling, we all rush like we all don’t want to be away from it. We’re not desperate to wrestle, but we love it so much. We hate being away. And we rush ourselves back. Sometimes we don’t actually afford ourselves the time that we need to process injuries and handle them accordingly. So even though the surgeon said I’m kind of good to go, I am still gonna take an additional month to make sure everything is truly good to go from all standpoints. You know, my physical therapy is complete. I’m back to lifting the way I want to lift, I’m moving in the ring the way I want to move. And most importantly, like I’ve dealt with the injury mentally, and I’m in a good headspace to come back. I feel like sometimes we neglect the mental health aspect of being injured and maintaining a focus on trying to make all the physical repairs.

One of the good signs or one of the good things to emerge in the last few years has been the focus on mental health. And I think it’s been vastly overlooked. I started watching wrestling in 1990, and you know, that was not a factor back in those days. So it is good to see that is now considered.

Well, it’s really interesting, too, because I was really struggling with my reinjury. I was like, oh my god. You’re so frustrated, you’re so angry because you put all this time and energy into fixing something that should have been fixed. This shouldn’t have happened, the whole internal downward spiral, and you realize, okay, maybe I should talk to somebody about this. Can people talk to therapists, when they lose a loved one when they go through something traumatic, like if your parents get divorced, right? There are numerous reasons for people to speak with a therapist. But I didn’t realize until this injury, that there are people who are called sports therapists, and they talk to people or they talk to athletes who have been injured, who have had a loss in their sport, who are returning to the sport who are having performance issues, a number of things, and it helps you address that from a healthier standpoint, instead of just constantly putting yourself in the mindset of, I just need to get over it, I just need to do it. It’s very toxic to operate that way, and I didn’t realize how toxic that was until I actually spoke to a professional about it. So that’s been really a big part of my healing this time around as well, getting to a good mental space with what happened to me, and being able to cope with that moving forward and not let it affect my performance in the future.

So if you were going to talk to someone else in your shoes who’s recovering from an injury, what would be the advice you would give them right now?

Don’t rush it. And it’s okay to have days where you’re really angry about it. Because it’s a loss like when you are injured in wrestling, you’re losing a part of something that you love, right? You’re not able to go be in the ring and do what you love and that’s no different than any other type of loss. We all suffer. So it’s okay to take time to process that loss, recover physically and do everything you need to do be very diligent with your doctors and diligent with your physical therapy, but also give yourself space and time to deal with what happened to you. Be upset about it, be angry about it, be annoyed with it, you know but then come up with plans on how you’re going to combat all of that anxiety when you return also. So just make sure you’re not neglecting the mental aspect of what happened to you because that’s what I did, and it was not good. I wish somebody would have told me that earlier on that it’s okay to have to deal with an injury mentally as well as physically.

So you’re not playing a witch, this is really you?

I am the witch. There you go. A real witch. It’s not just an act.

What is the aura of Kaia McKenna?

The best way to describe this is I’m the conduit of karma, right? I’m sure you are familiar with the concept of Karma. What goes around comes around. My particular spiritual practice is very, very big on energy direction, energy absorption, and how you can best utilize energy to benefit yourself and get outcomes that you want that are favorable. I don’t do spooky, dark magic that’s evil or scary. I’m sorry, that’s just not me. I’m a nice witch over here. But what I do is I draw my power from the moon and being able to do that I can use this energy to have a little bit of a competitive advantage in the ring, right? Like I’m more powerful, I’m more stable and more strong, I’m more focused, a lot of magic is in your intent. If your intent isn’t set, and you’re not focused, you’re not going to have an ideal result. So being able to hone in on this energy, and to set an intention of winning, helps me perform in the ring. I think it does give me an edge over competitors that might not be as focused or disciplined. Also just like spreading a little magic across the land. I love making people just believe in magic for the six to 10 minutes that I’m out there doing my thing. I think it’s a wonderful escape.

There’s a wrestler in Iowa named JT Energy, currently wrestling for SCW Pro, and he wrestlers for a couple of other promotions in the area, but mostly SCW, but he’s also been on AEW and WWE television. The questions we asked him were, what to you is the most important aspect of your performance? How do you want to be remembered by the fans? And he was pretty much his answer was I will do whatever I have to do to make those fans feel like they got their money’s worth. He almost immediately mentioned Randy Savage. So is that kind of your philosophy, “I’m goomg let the personality out, I’m gonna make sure these people come back again to see me?”

100% I always think of what I enjoyed the most about wrestling when I was a child because you know, contrary to popular belief, we don’t wrestle to appease other wrestlers, I don’t at least. I always am very grateful for any feedback or observations I get from fellow wrestlers but that’s not why I’m here doing what I do. I am here because I enjoy entertaining the fans and I want them to be a part of the story that I’m telling. I want them to be a part of my magical story. I want them to believe and if they’re happy with what I’m doing, and I can make them have a good time when I’m in the ring performing, and I’m having my match, then I’m over the moon like that’s what it’s all about, for me at least. I love that you can create these characters and create these stories that people become invested in, then they have ideas about or they start thinking, “oh, what’s his origin story”? You know? All of this cool stuff then segues off of the fan involvement and to me, that’s what makes it really, really fun. Maybe I’m just different. I don’t know.

The hint that it’s not just your in-ring ability, which, you know, has been the craze for the last few years. I think you’re starting to see bigger personalities come back and become full characters again, which, you know, if you have the personality to do that it’s going to show you’re going to become more prominent, you’re gonna get noticed quicker.

100%. If you want people to feel like they’re involved, right? So if you can make them feel present in that moment, instead of like, distracted looking on their cell phone or like, bored, because you didn’t do a double moonsault Phoenix splash off the top of a balcony, right? If you want to have that engagement the entire time, that’s what makes them feel like they’re a part of something bigger. That’s what I always strive to do I always try to take them along for the ride. Whether it be just through my mannerisms, in the ring through the ritual that I do in the ring, or even things on my entrance that require fan involvement, like using a magical charm, or just anything that makes it fun and makes people feel like they’re involved in a part of the show. Because people want to be involved, you don’t go to wrestling to just sit there and like, be bored out of your mind or look on your phone or stare at the ceiling, you’re there because you want to enjoy yourself and you want to be involved. So I always want people to be involved in what I’m doing.

How did you become interested in wrestling? When did that start?

I don’t know. I always watched wrestling growing up so it’s just like a mainstay in my house. Like every Monday night, my grandma used to watch wrestling. So she’d watch WWF Superstars and stuff Monday. I remember WCW when I was growing up was a thing and like ECW was still a thing I’m probably giving my age away a little bit now. So it’s like always been such a part of my life and my parents used to take us to house shows when we were kids. We never went to any of the big events because I’m from a smaller town in Maryland and that would have required a ton of travel and a ton of money that we didn’t necessarily have at the time. However, they always took us to like smaller house shows or local wrestling shows, or independent shows and I would attend those shows through college. I got very into watching independent wrestling as soon as I got an internet connection and I was like “Oh my god, what is this? What is what is PWG? What is Ring of Honor? I remember you’d have to go to forums and look up results of wrestling shows and I used to love to do that after school and see, “did anybody post any pictures? What’s going on?” Then it just kind of snowballed and it started as a kid as something I would watch with my family and I just always had a keen interest in it. I just loved it. It’s like this escapist thing that’s so wonderful.

You named a bunch of good ones. You watched WWE, you watched WCW, but I will say you know there was this lore around ECW and you know growing up and watching, it was all about what the wrestling fans want with none of the gimmicky stuff, and if you go back and watch it now… ECW was kind of terrible.

I love watching the light heavyweight slash cruiserweights. To this day one of my favorite things to always throw on if I get a remote is I love a good like to watch a Super Crazy vs. Little Guido type match like a technical match. I think those are so fun and special. It had its moments right like I love Chris Candido. So everything has its good and bad right? Like you have to take the good and the bad but there’s so much I think that I enjoy about ECW that doesn’t always get the credit it should. Like, oh my gosh when they were bringing all the guys over from Michinoku Pro, there are these six-man tags they would have and like the trios those were incredible matches too.

The group that would become Kaientai.

Yes, Kaientai. Oh gosh, I’m going to be a nerd here for a second. There’s a five-man tag for Michinoku Pro it’s team Kaientai and DX vs Team Michinoku Pro that absolutely goes off and is incredible. It’s on YouTube and is probably one of my favorite matches of all time.

So the thing with ECW, you would get like Eddie (Guerrero) and Dean Malenko who are absolute legends. Or you get like Rey (Mysterio Jr.) and Psychosis, right? Then you would see these in-ring clinics. Chris Jericho and Lance Storm are in there. But then you have to watch like Ian Rotten and JT Smith. How did we get here? What was that other match? That was way better.

So it’s funny you said like Eddie and Dean Malenko. This is how I kind of gave away my age one time like the first day of wrestling school and they always ask you I think every wrestling school does this is like, “Well, who’s your favorite wrestler?” And like people usually say Triple H or like Roman Reigns or like Edge or John Cena or whatever and I’m like, “Ah, easy. I love Dean Malenko.” Everybody’s like, “What? Like, how old are you?” I was like, 29.

So is your in-ring style today more inspired by the cruiserweights from the 1990s and early 2000s?

Oh, very much. Except for the fact that I’m five foot nine and 165 pounds and I don’t need to jump on people to be effective. I really love a good technical wrestling approach. I think you can do a lot of damage to people with minimal effort. If you play your cards right, you can be very dominant and very assertive, and very aggressive. I used to love how William Regal used to wrestle too.

I love a lot of good World of Sports stuff. I really like Jim Breaks. He is definitely somebody I enjoy watching. I miss that style that was just like very technical and aggressive. I kind of want to try to bring that back and make that my thing like pure magic. It’s like pure wrestling, but also magical. How does she do it?

So I’ve interviewed about 10 people since I joined PWMania and you’re the first person to mention World of Sport.

I love it. One of the things that always like kind of frustrates me about my size and most of the girls that are smaller than me is like I love that classic Johnny Saint opener. You know, a test of strength break the hold, between the legs, over the back, hop around, hammerlock, leapfrog over. I love that but there’s no reason for someone my size to be crawling under someone with smaller legs. So I just do it and I just have modified it into a really nasty choke that works for me. It’s sad that I can’t do that spot because I love it so much. It’s such an iconic thing in wrestling.

My first introduction, keep in mind this was on tape I never watched it live but I saw footage of Billy Robinson wrestling Verne Gagne in like ’73 or ’74 and again, I’m from Northwest Indiana so I never actually saw AWA because it was defunct by the time I started watching but I was aware of it, but I’d never watched European style wrestling before. Then I see Billy Robinson and I’m like look at what he can do. It’s just so fluent and they make it seem so easy.

It’s smooth, it’s fast, they’re such experts and such pros that they’re not moving fast but it just looks so fluid and to me, there’s such a lost art and being able to wrestle that style but…

You will get guys like Adrian Street who I think does not get his fair share, he was fantastic but then you know in the 90s it kind of went away until like you mentioned Regal came, and then they brought in Fit Finley I think just to have Regal beat up on for three months. After that, they brought in Alex Wright who didn’t do it so much, but there was some of it there. Whenever you bring people in to showcase a new style that’s what fans remember. Everyone makes fun of Alex Wright now, but it’s not because of his style because it was good. His gimmick was terrible but the dude could go like he was really really good.

I love like another weird thing that I really like watching, I pull a lot of inspiration from this like French Catch from like the 50s and 60s. Are we getting super too nerdy here?

So, I definitely went down the rabbit hole of British Wrestling and I’m like, let’s just take it a step further, but there’s a wrestler named Le Petit Prince, and he’s kind of like, if you had a French Rey Mysterio that could do super awesome technical wrestling. It’s just incredible. So I love that too. That’s another thing that I’ll watch on my bed at like 2am when I can’t sleep.

I started buying DVDs of Houston wrestling. I’ve got one of the Louisville Gardens, so people probably know who made that one… I also found a DVD copy of Super Clash III that someone burned.

You know, just talking about getting DVDs. I remember being in middle school and early high school and I’d ride my bike to the mailbox to get Ring of Honor DVDs. “Oh look, it’s Samoa Joe, and there’s Homicide. I still loved watching that when I was in like middle and high school. I’m a big, big Ring of Honor fan.

Were you a fan of all of these different styles from around the globe and smaller promotions like ECW and ROH, how did we start training?

I wanted to go to wrestling school when I was 19 but when I was 19 women’s wrestling was not as big of a thing as it is now. Oh my gosh, like if I was 19 years old now, absolutely sign me up. I would go right away. I’d probably be very good and successful right out of the gate. I think that’s so great that the opportunity exists for women now, but when I was graduating high school there were women who worked in the Indies like you had Allison Danger, you had Lexi Fyfe, you had Lacey you had Rain, you had Sara Del Rey, these iconic women wrestlers, they were there and they were doing their thing but women’s wrestling was not as widespread as it is now. It certainly wasn’t as mainstream. So I went to college. But I’m here and I’m wrestling now and that’s all that matters. There’s so much opportunity for women and I think that that’s incredible. I just love that.

You go to college. Where’d you go?

Salisbury University. On the shore of Maryland. This is in part because I didn’t want to pay a lot of money to go to college. I just was like, I need to go to college. How can I go to college efficiently and not be in student loan debt forever?

I wish more people would know how they can do that. Right? Like you don’t have to run yourself into debt to go to college. I just didn’t want a whole bunch of student loans. I mean, I went for graphic design. So it’s a little bit different. You know, if you’re going to be like a doctor or lawyer, you went to a really prestigious teaching school, I totally get that and I respect that choice. However for what I was trying to do, I was like, I need a piece of paper that says I can make art.

Do you make your own merch with that?

I do, I design all my merch. I have all the guys back up in Pennsylvania they print all of my stuff up for me and they always do a beautiful job.

We just got new beanies. Love it for chili season.

You go to college. Eventually, you do end up in wrestling school. When and where did that start?

Oh man, I have kind of been going through it in my personal life. I had a really bad breakup. I got stuck with an apartment I could barely afford the rent because someone moved out. I lost my job at around the same period, my big girl job that was paying for that apartment and had benefits and all that, and I was working three jobs. I was a bartender, I was a dog sitter and I was a painting instructor. I was just doing anything I could to make this rent happen. Then I finally realized, “Wait, hold on, there’s no reason I have to be in this city. There’s no reason I have to do any of these jobs.” For the first time, I’m not in college. I’m not at a career. I could just do what I want to do. I’ve always wanted to do wrestling, I love wrestling. I never stopped loving wrestling, even during college and all of that. I decided I’m gonna go to wrestling school, I’m just going to do this for myself because I was in a good position to do it. It’s just worked out so wonderfully. It definitely, like turned my life around in that sense.

Did you go from Maryland to Black and Brave in Iowa or was there a stop before?

No, I decided to go right to Black and Brave in Iowa, because I personally believe that’s the best wrestling training that you can get available these days. I was kind of trying to figure out what I want, did I want to invest in that? Or did I want to go locally, because I’m on the East Coast, and there are options. But where I was living at the time, I’m gonna have to still work my regular job, I’m gonna have to drive one way in two to three hours of traffic, if I’m lucky to go train three times a week, then drive back two to three hours to my house, and then get up and do my shoot job again. I’m also now spending a ton of money on gas, and I’m spending a ton of wear and tear on my car and I’m on the east coast. So there are tolls out the wazoo going up those roads. I realized, well, if I’m going to spend this kind of money and invest in this, I just need to do it in a place where it’s stable and I can really focus on getting the education and the training that I need, instead of being worn down tired and running out of money and driving 200 miles every week for no reason. So that was a big deciding factor for me too. We’ll go all in. Just go. Okay, we’re doing it.

For those that don’t know, Black and Brave is owned and run by Tyler Black, aka Seth Rollins. He’s not there all the time and Marek Brave, had to retire early because of a neck injury but he just made his comeback a few months ago. He’s back in the ring. He is a super nice guy. Phenomenal in the ring and what a great coach.

Yes, I can’t say enough nice things about Merrick. He’s great.

I’m assuming you did some SCW shows?

Interestingly enough, I did not because I went to wrestling school during the pandemic. I had to go straight home to DC to Maryland when I graduated, so I didn’t get to hang around. I didn’t work in an SCW show until this past year, September of 2022 was the first SCW show I ever worked. I kind of was backward. I went and worked everywhere else first and then came back and worked at SCW. I did a reverse Cody Rhodes, I started out in the Fed and went back to the Indies. I don’t know.

You’ve also appeared on AEW television during your career. How was the experience for you?

I had a wonderful experience.

I don’t know if a rough patch is the right phrasing, but they’ve had some turmoil in the last few weeks. What has your experience been with AEW, both backstage and in front of the audience? What’s it been like?

You know, in front of the audience is really interesting, because you would figure as like a little tiny, independent wrestler, you’re standing there in the Prudential Center, and there are 17,000 people, that would be very nerve-wracking. It was actually more comforting. Now, when there are like 150 people, and I know 50 of them, for some reason that’s more uncomfortable. I just remember standing in the ring, I was the first match on that taping, and I just thought, this is really cool. This is really awesome. It was just so neat. Like you could feel it, like maybe you couldn’t make out every single person’s face, probably not past the third or fourth row, right? But you could just feel the energy of the people and it was just like this, it was just like this refreshing breath of fresh air. It was very cool. I definitely enjoyed it and I’m probably the one weird person that was less nervous doing that than I am when I go to Brussels, a small indie show but here we are. So I thought that was really really cool. This is gonna make me sound like a huge mark but I was so excited that Paul Turner officiated my match because I watched so much Ring of Honor growing up and I just thought that was the coolest thing and he was so wonderful. I’m backstage and it’s really interesting because it’s very relaxed but they still have a very much have an order in which they do things and like how the day goes. It’s like when you’re there to do “extra” work, you’re just kind of there to do your thing and have your match and you just kind of like, keep to yourself, right, because you’re a guest in someone’s house is how I look at it. I feel like you have to be respectful of the fact that you are invited, and that it’s a privilege to be there. So I really enjoyed it. It was a good experience, I hopefully will get to have it again in the future. Maybe they’ll have me back now that I’m not injured. But I really enjoyed it. It was a very eye-opening experience for me to have in my career. Just to get to see how it operates at that level is just very, very eye-opening.

Do we get to know where you’re going to come back? Or are you going to surprise us? It should definitely be the Midwest

I’ll say I would love to. I love the fans in the Midwest. I really, really enjoy the jersey fans. It’s like a home base for me. Um, I love the fans up in Worcester, they’re so great. That was like the first place that I actually started to have consecutive matches and people were able to become familiar with me instead of just being like an in and out type thing and they were just so welcoming and just embraced me there and like made me feel like I was just such a big deal. I love the fans up in Leicester. I miss them so much. I just love everybody there who is also just embraced me. I miss the people so much, it’s so hard to sit out for almost a whole year like it’s really rough.

We’re going to wish you nothing but the best for your comeback. Hope 2023 brings big things for you. Do you have any closing thoughts?

No, I’m really hoping in 2023 to just put all this mess behind me and just stay focused on the future. I want to get back to my goals, I want to win championships. I want to travel, I want to work in more places. I want to go back to places I’ve worked previously that I love to work, I want to work new places, you know, I want to wrestle new people. Like even though my career is still relatively new, one of the things I think is neat, I’ve only wrestled the same person like twice out of all the matches. I’ve always had different opponents and I love just taking on different opponents. I would like to have more first-time matchups. I have so much to look forward to and that definitely outweighs all the negativity from the past year. So that’s where I’m focused now. I ended on a high note, you know?

You can buy Kaia McKenna’s merch at kaiameckenna.bigcartel.com.