Kristal Marshall can do anything.
The former Diva can wrestle. She can talk. She can give you a hell of a hairstyle if you’re in the market for that sort of thing. You name it, she has probably done it, and done it well. More importantly, she’s always ready to pursue and perfect a new experience,ifit strikes her as an interesting opportunity.
“I just kind of take life as it is and take the next exciting adventure,” Kristal explained when WWE.com caught up with her.
The next exciting adventure, you say? What could be more exciting, or spontaneous, than throwing yourself into the sports-entertainment business on a whim? What possible circumstance —
“I competed in my very first fitness competition four months after giving birth to my son.”
So, yeah. She’s unpredictable that way, not to mention competitive. All of which are prized qualities in a Diva, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kristal was a recipient of WWE’s Talent Scholarship earlier this year. And even though her career began not with a record-setting bang, but by coming up just a little short of the mark in the 2005 Raw Diva Search, the fact that she got to that stage at all was a product of her confidence, impulsiveness and, depending how you look at it, a little nudge from fate itself.
“I was a model on the show ‘Deal or No Deal,’ and my agent at the time said, ‘You know, NBC is going to renew your contract, but something else came to the table. I don’t know if you’re interested. It’s the Diva Search.’”
Though it was something of a standard practice at the time for WWE to recruit models to their ranks, the opportunity struck Kristal as a bit more serendipitous. One could – if one were so inclined – even call it a sign.
“It wasn’t a lifelong dream of mine to become a wrestler, [but] it was something that was always with me,” Kristal said.
Her grandmother, an immigrant from Barbados, was always watching wrestling when she came to the United States, so Kristal’s introduction to sports-entertainment came at an early age.
“When [my agent] brought up the Diva Search, I was like, ‘Holy crap. This is exactly what I need to be doing,’” Kristal said. “And I thought, ‘I’m gonna ditch this Emmy Award-winning television show to give this wrestling thing a shot! I may or may not make it, but I’m gonna do it!”
Unfortunately, Kristal didn’t make it. Well, that’s not entirely true. She didn’t win the Diva Search; Ashley Massaro ended up with all the marbles. Yet her fourth-place finish was enough to convince future People Power preacher John Laurinaitis to offer Kristal a WWE developmental contract in Deep South Wrestling.
“That first week is ingrained in my brain forever,” Kristal said, groaning over the subject of training. “I remember, legit, putting Epsom salts and ice in the tub, soaking in the tub, getting out with my towel on, falling asleep in my bed and waking up in the morning to get back to practice.”
Rocky start aside, Marshall ended up as part of, perhaps, the biggest roster boom in WWE history. Making her name at the same time that Batista, JBL and King Booker were rising to prominence, Kristal found a niche for herself as SmackDown’s resident backstage interviewer and, famously, participated in one of the more catastrophic wrestling weddings in memory — one that, somewhat unsurprisingly, involved Teddy Long.
All of this transpired despite having no prior experience, but the upside of getting tossed into the deep end, ultimately, is that you quickly learn to swim. Building upon the guidance of her “mentors” — Bill DeMott, Michelle McCool, Trish Stratus, Fit Finlay and Jillian Hall — Kristal rode three simple rules to success as SmackDown’s commentator behind the curtain.
“Your job is not to highlight yourself; your job is to highlight the talent of that particular Superstar or Diva,” Kristal said of the Three Interview Commandments. “If you’re with a giant, you want to make yourself look really small. If you’re with someone that has a huge personality, you want to make sure you highlight their personality as much as possible. If you’re with somebody who is scary or evil, you want to make sure you are afraid.
“And, of course, do your job and don’t take yourself too seriously,” she added. “I think that’s the secret.”
In a world where backstage interviewers typically end up as punchlines or punching bags, Kristal’s work stood out. She was poised, professional and funny, and brought bigger presence than you might expect to arguably one of sports-entertainment’s less glamorous positions. As her eventual about-face against Ashley showcased, she could turn from bubbly to bristling on a dime. If it strikes the modern fan as unusual, credit that to the company Kristal kept, who constantly pushed her to up her game and keep pace with their own work.
“Can I tell you, I still think we had probably the best roster? It was amazing,” Kristal said of her peers at the time, with whom she occasionally mixed it up in the ring.
Her WWE tenure ended with a bang in the form of an in-ring wedding to Teddy Long, which culminated in not one catastrophe but all of them: A cameo from The Godfather (resplendent in his white fur coat), an series of interruptions by Hornswoggle and an unforgettable grand finale in which The Mac Militant Playa is felled by a heart attack before he can say “I do.”
Kristal left WWE shortly thereafter, and motherhood came next when she gave birth to a son, Myles. However, her spontaneity didn’t wait too long to rear its head again. Her entry into that first fitness competition was more or less on a lark, but she won “[her] height class and the overall,” and her next move became clear.
“Even when I was in WWE, I never worked out before! I would run a little bit, but I wasn’t a gym rat. So my motivation in [losing] the baby weight and getting myself back was getting into fitness,” Kristal said.
In 2009, she took second at the first-ever bikini competition in the NPC Arnold Amateur Championships. Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t thrilled with being a runner-up.
“I’m so stubborn,” Kristal laughed. “I was determined that I was going to win, I was going to turn pro, and I’m not going to stop until I do this.”
She officially went pro later that year and won the 2009 NPC USA Bodybuilding & Figure Championships in Las Vegas. In 2010, Kristal became the first-ever African-American IFBB Bikini Pro, taking fourth place.
“It was probably one of the best feelings of my life,” she said of the boundary-breaking honor.
And before you ask, yes, there are some similarities between bodybuilders and Divas, though one locker room is slightly less competitive than the other.
“In a fitness competition, you isolate yourself from people. There are so many things you deprive yourself of just for that one moment on stage,” Kristal said. “The same thing goes with wrestling. So much more for the women in wrestling, because back in my time, we weren’t highlighted as much as the women are now, which is a beautiful thing. But at the time there was enough space for maybe one or two girls to get their try to be in the spotlight. So it was extremely competitive. You really didn’t know who was your friend and who wasn’t your friend, because everyone wanted that spot. Everyone wanted the chance.”
Eventually, Kristal left the competitive world behind. Bodybuilding.com lists her last contest as an eighth-place finish at the 2013 WBFF Worlds in Las Vegas. Shortly thereafter, she got back into interview mode with a seven-month stint as the in-game host for her beloved Los Angeles Dodgers, chatting with celebrities who threw out the first pitch. She also had another child, a daughter named Naomi, took up work as a freelance hairstylist and has owned Beauty Trendz, LLC, a bridal and fashion hair and makeup salon, since 2012. Finally, Kristal decided to finish getting her college degree shortly before she was awarded WWE’s Talent Scholarship.
“I started while I was in WWE and had to stop because it was a lot between traveling and going to school,” she said of pursuing her Communications degree at Colorado State University. “Now’s the perfect time to finish my education.”
And yeah, here and there, Kristal finds time to attend the odd Raw and tune into “Total Divas” to see what’s become of the Divas division. She likes what she sees.
“I love the girls, I love the personalities, I love how athletic they are and how diverse they are,” Kristal said. “They’re like living, breathing action figures. They’re great examples for young women coming up now. My daughter is a fan.”
For now, that’s where we leave Kristal Marshall, a WWE fan with a very, very interesting resume working toward her college degree (she’s mulling a return to bodybuilding after she completes her studies). And, of course, a ridiculous work ethic that’ll carry her through to whatever the next adventure might be.
“It’s kind of like that New York thing. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Same thing with wrestling,” she explained. “I can do anything.”