Sports entertainment isn’t quite the boys’ club it used to be. A new generation of Divas—a group of female performers who are fast becoming as big a part of WWE’s program-ming as household names like The Rock and John Cena—has stormed into the ring, gaining as much attention for their athletic abilities as their take-charge attitudes. Among those leading the way are two-time Divas Champion Nikki Bella and former champ Brie Bella, otherwise known as the Bella Twins.

The Bellas—born Stephanie Nicole and Brianna Garcia-Colace—hail from a farm in Scottsdale, AZ, where sports entertainment wasn’t something they encountered very often. “We were raised with horses, cows, and chickens,” Brie says. “We’d have to wake up before school and feed the animals, come home and feed the animals, and then go straight to soccer practice. My mother was very strict about what we watched. We were lucky if we could watch 90210 or Saved by the Bell.”

Nevertheless, both felt they were natural-born entertainers, putting on lip-sync shows for their family as young girls.
The two, age 31, were also talented soccer players—Nikki walked on to the team at Grossmont College in San Diego and ultimately helped lead it to a Pacific Coast Conference championship. “I was being recruited by a professional league in Italy,” she says, when Brie intervened, convincing her they should audition to be WWE Divas instead.

“It’s entertainment mixed with athletics,” Brie says. “Nicole and I felt that was our calling.”

But WWE wasn’t looking for a twin act at the time and initially passed on the Bellas. Hoping they could change the company’s mind, the pair begged talent scouts to let them wrestle. “They flew us [to the developmental center] to see what we were like,” Brie says. “Sure enough, we got into the ring and fell in love with it.”

In 2007, the Bellas moved to Tampa, FL, to join WWE’s developmental system and have since become Superstars on the top-rated Raw and SmackDown broadcasts. The sisters have performed as a tag team but have really excelled individually, and a WWE story line this past fall found them facing off against each other. (Nikki won!) “It was a little hard [playing enemies],” Nikki says, “because Brie is so good at giving that sad face. When I was in the middle of the ring saying the most hurtful things, she was making me feel bad. I guess she was doing her job right!”

“It’s easy for Nikki to be evil and mean,” adds Brie, jokingly.

Off camera, both agree Nikki is the more aggressive of the two. “I win pretty much any competition,” Nikki says. “I’m stronger. I’m more athletic.” Brie, on the other hand, is more quiet and laid-back. “Nikki likes to be the life of the party, and I stay in my own corner. I’m your total granola hippie. I love nature, the outdoors, and simple things. I get excited over making jam!”

The difference in the twins’ personalities has been showcased on their hit E! television reality series, Total Divas. The show also provides insight into their personal relationships with other WWE royalty—Brie married Superstar Daniel Bryan in 2014, while Nikki lives with WWE’s John Cena.

Traveling some 300 days a year can be rough on any relationship, but it helps that the twins travel with their partners. “Wrestlers are similar people,” Nikki says. “John, he’s my soul mate. If we can’t see each other for 14 days, we understand and support each other. He’s helped me become a better character. He’s helped my in-ring work.”

Cena has also helped Nikki, a self-proclaimed gym rat, in her workouts. Thanks to some guidance from the chiseled Cena, she can now squat 165 pounds for reps. “I have thunder thighs for days!” she jokes. In contrast, Brie loves Barre and hot yoga classes to stay in shape, looking up the nearest ones as soon as she gets to a new town.

The two also have a strategy for eating on the road. “I’m into eating healthy,” Brie says. “So if I can find a farm-to-table spot—score! Not only are you supporting local farmers, but you’re eating grass-fed meats and everything is organic. It’s a win-win. I’ll get two meals—one to eat there and one to go.”

The twins say that living such clean and regimented lives makes them good role models for their young fans, and they hope their name becomes synonymous with strong, athletic women. “We’re about living a healthy lifestyle, standing up for yourself, being strong, and doing something you love,” says Brie. Unlike some fashion models and movie stars, the two point out that their body types are more curvy, athletic, and attainable. Nikki plans to help combat childhood obesity. “I want to get kids in shape and educate their parents,” she says.

In the meantime, their rise to the top shows no signs of slowing down. “We’ve always wanted to create a Bella empire,” Nikki says. “We owe a lot to Total Divas that we’ve been able to bring a lot more girls and women to WWE.” 

The two appeared in a music video for the Trey Songz hit “Na Na” and the long-running USA Network show Psych in 2014. But money and fame aside, when it’s all said and done, the Bellas want to further the business that’s brought so much to them. “Our goal is to one day see that women have as much time on TV as our guys,” Brie says. “We’ve broken a lot of barriers and want to keep proving that we will only get better.”