WWE Diva Gail Kim ‘Rings It’

In an industry where Asian wrestlers have frequently played exaggerated ethnic caricatures (Mr. Fuji, The Orient Express), Gail Kim redefines the WWE stage.

By Timothy Yoo

Every Monday night, WWE Raw, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.’s flagship program, routinely draws more than five million viewers to its unique brand of sports theater.

Large, impossibly sculpted grapplers toss, dropkick and body slam each other around a 20-by-20-foot square ring in front of thousands of fervent fans. The story arcs include clandestine alliances, conspiracies and backstabbing—and you thought Korean dramas had byzantine plots?—all of which make for an explosive yet highly entertaining spectacle. It’s not your father’s ole’ wrasslin’ show. The preferred term, in fact, is now sports entertainment—with emphasis on the second word—a Molotov cocktail-like blend of equal parts over-the-top showmanship and world-class athleticism.

This often larger-than-life world of sports entertainment, it might seem, is an odd place for a 5-foot-4 Korean girl from western Toronto, Ontario. But for WWE Diva Gail Kim, one of the company’s top performers, there’s no place else she’d rather be. “I couldn’t be any happier,” says the former two-time women’s champion. “I’m doing what I love to do.”

Gail, who first signed with WWE in 2002, competes on Raw in the company’s “Divas” division, WWE’s designation for its increasingly popular assemblage of female talent.

WWE Divas are more than just pretty faces; it’s not enough simply to be an attractive wallflower. Gone are the days when women in professional wrestling were mostly confined to roles as lovely but frail managers or valets who escorted the male competitors to the ring and often played the dainty damsel-in-distress. Indeed, Divas today work with a level of physicality and an in-ring tempo that approaches, and in many ways exceeds, that of their male counterparts—the WWE Superstars.


And among the Divas, Gail is one of the very best. In the ring, she’s well known to WWE followers for her acrobatic moves and creative high-flying attacks. Her gregarious personality, which seeps through onscreen as well as in conversation, and the earnestness with which she approaches her chosen craft, make her a popular fan-favorite (or babyface in wrestling parlance). Her entrance music, “Strong and Sexy,” amply describes her in-ring persona: a beautiful and serious athlete who just also happens to be Korean.

So how did Gail get her start?

“I was always a huge WWE [formerly WWF] fan growing up,” says the 33-year-old native Canadian, who is now based in Tampa, Fla. “Hulk Hogan. Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart. Tito Santana. I loved all those guys. And then in my late teens and early 20s, I started to get obsessed with it.”

Gail, a natural athlete who grew up playing soccer (she rooted for Korea during the World Cup), volleyball and golf (having had typical “golf-crazed Korean parents,” she explains), remembers being drawn to the athletic side of the sports entertainment business.

“I was one credit shy [in late 2000] of getting my degree in nutrition at Ryerson University, when I decided to leave school and pursue my dream.” She adds with a giggle: “I’m a very spontaneous person!”

So, just like that, she dropped out—keeping it from her parents at first—and enrolled in a professional wrestling school in Toronto, where she learned the basics of the trade: taking bumps, selling opponents’ moves, developing a character, etc. Gail also received extensive training in the Mexican lucha libre style of wrestling, which places a higher emphasis on dizzying acrobatics and aerial-based maneuvers.

After honing her skills in various independent Canadian promotions, Gail received her big break in the form of a tryout with WWE, the industry’s biggest and most influential company, in 2002. After what she describes as a “perfect” audition, she was signed to a development deal and later made her TV debut on a June 2003 episode of Raw.

She didn’t wait long to make an impact. That same night, she vanquished six other Divas in a battle royal to capture the WWE Women’s Championship. Although it remains a career highlight, the details of that night, Gail admits, are a bit of a blur.

“I was so excited, and it all happened so fast that I can’t remember the particulars of the match itself,” she recalls. “I do remember my older sister, Jinnie, drove down to Buffalo from Toronto and cheered me on from the front row. So it was a very special night, which I got to share with loved ones.”


Professional wrestling traces its roots all the way back to the late 19th century, when barnstorming promoters, as part of traveling carnivals, would stage legitimate catch-style wrestling matches. It gradually evolved to where the competitors would “work” the contests to add dramatic flair and more entertainment value. “Kayfabe” refers to the portrayal of the competition as genuine.

In the past, WWE divas would protect kayfabe by zealously shielding the true nature of the action from the public. While those days are long over, the real physicality involved remains unchanged. It is now widespread and well accepted that the match results are predetermined. Just don’t mutter the dreaded F-word in front of Gail. That word—fake—suggests something artificial, or not real. But the physical toll, as Gail can attest, is tangibly real. After all, you can’t fake gravity.

“I’ve broken my collarbone; in addition, I’ve worked constantly through various nicks and bruises,” relays Gail, who still finds the time to lift weights nearly every day. She takes meticulous care of her body, making sure to stretch carefully before each match. “What we do in the ring is incredibly demanding, physically.”

The nomadic lifestyle, at times, can also get exhausting.

Gail, like most WWE talent on a full-time schedule, travels five days a week, which translates to roughly 260 days a year on the road, with no off-season. Every night, it’s a different city, a different hotel room, a different venue.

A typical day involves checking into a hotel, finding a place to eat, squeezing in a workout and then heading to the arena to prepare for the show. Rinse and repeat in the next town. Fortunately for Gail, she enjoys traveling to new places and experiencing new things, although she confesses that it’s not always easy to find good Korean food.

“I love kimchi!” she says. “When I did a tour in Korea, people commented, ‘Gail, kimchi jal meogeo! (you eat kimchi well!).’ Thankfully, my mother cooks a lot of good Korean food when I go home.”

Her parents, initially wary of her career choice, have since come around and are “proud” of what she does.


On a recent episode of Raw, Gail is doing her thing, competing against fellow Diva Jillian Hall, a buxom blonde brawler. For Gail, the adrenaline rush that she feels in the ring is almost indescribable, but second to none.

As Jillian hoists Gail on her shoulders for a scoop slam, Gail twists away and surprises Jillian with her finishing move, Eat Defeat. Gail grabs Jillian’s left arm and with her right foot planted under Jillian’s chin, she falls backward toward the mat with her leg still extended, driving her boot forcefully (all within kayfabe, of course) into her opponent’s jaw. Eat that!


WWE is big business. This year, its annual showcase, Wrestlemania, drew nearly 900,000 pay-per-view buys, and the company’s net revenue in 2008 exceeded $500 million. The Connecticut-headquartered company, which has been publicly traded since 1999, has also expanded its reach beyond the ring, venturing into films, books and video games, among other segments—all different components of an ever-expanding sports entertainment empire. These days, WWE is aiming to provide more PG, “family-friendly” fare, as roughly 40 percent of the company’s audience is now comprised of women and children.

This month, on Aug. 15, the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles will host one of WWE’s biggest pay-per-view events, SummerSlam, where Gail hopes to compete for the WWE Divas Championship. She will also participate in SummerSlam Axxess, a two-day event on August 14 and 15 at L.A. Live, the downtown entertainment complex, where fans will get the chance to meet, get autographs from, and take photos with various WWE Superstars and Divas. Gail hopes to see more Koreans in the crowd.

“I enjoy the opportunity to connect with my Korean fans.”

Gail envisions competing in the ring for at least a few more years before hanging up her boots. While she is mindful of how much she has already accomplished, she still has a few personal goals to check off, including one day headlining at a Wrestlemania event. One thing is for certain: she believes in herself.

“For me, it was never a matter of ‘if’ I would succeed, but ‘when.’”