The now-retired wrestlers have always wowed crowds with their athleticism and strength. But it’s their willingness to show their most vulnerable sides that has turned them into superstars.
By Bethany Heitman, December 16, 2019
Tough. Bold. Badass.
Those are just a few of the words that have been used to describe the Bella Twins over the course of their career as arguably the most famous female wrestlers ever. And the descriptions track. Nikki broke her neck in the ring, had surgery, and returned triumphantly to the WWE before retiring for good last March. And Brie’s strength was on display every time she performed their signature Bella Buster move—which involves grabbing someone by the neck and aggressively throwing them down on the mat. But those aren’t the only words that should be used to describe this duo. A few more that are just as fitting: Smart. Ambitious. Kind.
When it comes to smarts, their résumé speaks for itself. They successfully wrestled with the WWE for close to 12 years. But the twins also knew that with so much wear and tear to their bodies, they wouldn’t be able to do that job forever—so they worked hard to start building businesses that could thrive long after they left the ring. Today, they have a combined Instagram following of nearly 16 million and run multiple companies, including an ever-expanding clothing brand called Birdiebee; a beauty-product line, Nicole + Brizee; and their wine label, Belle Radici. In addition to all of that, they executive-produce and star on one of E!’s top reality shows, Total Bellas—which, given their impressive list of accomplishments, could just as easily be called Total Bosses. And they’re hungry for even more success. “We want to be known as self-made billionaire twins,” says Nikki.
From anyone else, that statement might illicit an eye roll. But not from the Bellas. The 36-year-olds speak with such authenticity that it’s impossible not to believe them. It’s that realness that makes their show must-watch television. As executive producers, they could easily edit out some of the more difficult personal stuff. Instead, they show everything—from Nikki’s tough breakup with fellow wrestler John Cena to Brie’s struggle to balance her career and motherhood. “We aren’t the type to fake anything. The good, the bad, the ugly—you get it all,” says Brie.
Here, the twins open up about everything from marriage and babies to building an empire.
Growing up, were you big fans of wrestling?
Brie: No. We were soccer players and played competitively, traveling around the United States. After graduating high school, we went to California for college. We were working at Hooters to make money, and they’d play pay-per-view WWE matches.
And that’s when you started getting into it?
Brie: It was fascinating seeing these women wrestle. See, Nicole and I were athletes, but we also loved to lip-synch to the Spice Girls. When our parents would have parties, Nicole and I would perform for the entire party. Watching wrestling, I realized it was a mix of athleticism and entertainment. I found out the Diva Search was going on and started getting more into it. It was everything we loved to do. So I persuaded Nicole to try out. We actually didn’t make it—they weren’t looking for twins. But through that, we were offered the chance to go through a training program, and we fell in love with it there.
Did you know how physically taxing it would be?
Nikki: No! During the first few weeks we were learning how to wrestle, Brie and I would get ice packs and put them on our bed and just lie on our backs because we couldn’t move. We went to this chiropractor who told us we were basically putting our bodies through a car accident every night. When you are wrestling, you almost grow this inch-or-two-thick layer of fluid to protect you. It’s crazy—when you take time off wrestling, you shrink because you no longer need that protective shield from being slammed every night.
How did it feel when you started doing televised matches?
Nikki: In a way, that’s when I felt like we had made it. But the criticism was hard. Everyone started calling me the fat twin. It was the first time I really lost my self-confidence. I became so critical of myself and was so sad. Through Brie and the support of other people, I started to care more about what I thought than what other people said.
Brie: It was hard. You had to look like you fit into the entertainment world, but we were also athletes. So, look like a model but be a strong woman. It was a lot.
Beyond wrestling, you run multiple businesses together. What’s it like working with family?
Nikki: At times, especially with reality TV, there can be ups and downs with your loved ones, because every argument you go through, you have to live it twice. And it always brings feelings back up.
Brie: But the plus is that you do trust your family more than anyone, and they never want you to fail. Another thing I have noticed is my weaknesses are Nicole’s strengths, and vice versa. And there are days when she knows I really need a day to myself, so she takes more on. Then I’ll do it for her.
Let’s talk about the reality show! Nikki, do you regret sharing your breakup there?
Nikki: The one thing I really regret about showcasing the breakup is that no one got to hear [John’s] voice, and it just seemed so one-sided. I felt like that wasn’t fair to him because he was on this journey with us from the beginning. What people don’t realize is that John never took one paycheck from Total Bellas. It was beautiful—he was fully there to support me. I’ll never forget his support and his love. That’s what made me sad—I don’t want to say it became the Nikki show, but in a way it did because you didn’t get to see John anymore.
It was great that your family was supportive of you both through the breakup.
Nikki: My family loves John. I love John—he’s such an amazing person. The timing was off. But I love my family for that—they have never once been pro Nicole in this, and that is what has helped me grow. I didn’t have my family coddling me.
Brie: I thought she made a big mistake!
Do you still feel it was a mistake?
Brie: No. I did for a long time because they were just such a lovely couple, and I thought they were such a perfect match. Because I’m married, I felt like there are ups and downs in relationships, and you work on things—you don’t just give up. But then, after the breakup, I started seeing that they both wanted different things. So then I approved of the breakup.
Nikki, you’re now happily in love with your former Dancing with the Stars partner, Artem Chigvintsev. You’ve said you are your most raw self with him. How so?
Nikki: In past relationships, I feel like I was always trying to be perfect and was walking on eggshells because I didn’t want to upset that other person or make them leave me. Artem is the first person I’ve been with where I feel like I can be Nicole and never fear he’s going to leave me for it. We all have a little crazy in us, and he loves my crazy. He’s also the first person I’ve communicated everything I feel with. Brie was saying I’m almost too honest with him. But I’d rather him know everything.
Brie, how did you know your husband and sometimes wrestling partner, Bryan Danielson (a.k.a. Daniel Bryan), was the one?
Brie: We were dating, and as it got serious, I just knew. I was head over heels in love with him, but could look past that puppy-love thing and just know that he would make me the happiest wife and be the best dad. He’s the nicest person who has ever walked this earth, and he treats me like a queen. Even now, there have definitely been times when Bryan and I have had some downs, but because we talk to each other like friends and don’t say mean things, we work it out.
It sounds like you have a lot of respect for each other.
Brie: Before we got married, we asked each other, “Can you marry my flaws?” I was fiery. He fought depression. And I feel like, because we took that into our marriage, we both knew what we were going into and how to deal with it.
Your daughter, Birdie, is almost 3. Are you thinking of having a second?
Brie: I go back and forth!
Nikki: This is a discussion in the household right now!
Brie: We were trying for eight months, and I couldn’t get pregnant. I was stressed, and it wasn’t happening. There were a couple times that I was so late and was sure I was pregnant. Then I would get my period and bleed really badly. I think the universe was telling me something—like, it’s not a great time to have another baby. To be honest, I’d get these sweats thinking about how to travel with two. I hear going from one to two changes things big-time. Bryan travels all the time. We were talking about it, and think it would be amazing to see Birdie as a big sister. I just have to think about my career—and does it fit in now, or do I need to wait until my husband is home more?
Nikki, when you were with John, you were all about having a baby…
Nikki: It’s crazy; I was yearning for a baby for so long. In a way, Brie has been a great form of birth control because I love my career. I know it’s the same for Brie. When I see her balancing our career with being a mom—it’s the most exhausting thing to watch.
So no babies in the immediate future?
Nikki: I definitely want to be a mom one day, but I don’t want it now. I’m in this unfortunate situation where I’m 36 and everyone is reminding me, “Your eggs, your eggs!” So I’m freezing my eggs. I also found out I have PCOS—it kills your fertility. I’m getting brown spots all over my face, acne, weight fluctuations, and hair loss. I actually just found out and was devastated. You research it, and there is no cure. I just pray I have some fertile eggs left and that I can still be a mom. So yes, I do feel like being a mom is in my future. I am just not sure how soon.
Brie, what are you most proud of Nikki for?
Brie: Her bravery. She’s had to fight so many battles—not only with her breakup but also with the media—and her just saying whatever is on her mind. She’s never shied away. She just says, “This is who I am.” And that makes me really proud.
Nikki, same question to you.
Nikki: Brie is a kick-ass mom. I look at Birdie, and she is so well-educated, kind, and funny, and I know where that comes from—it’s Brie. I’m so proud that she’s this amazing mom and also sits in the boardroom with me. She’s the real-life Wonder Woman.
Where do you hope to be in five years?
Nikki: I envision that we will have taken our brand—our empire—to a certain number we have in our heads; it’s actually on our vision boards. But it’s not just that we want our brand to get to a certain number; our brand has purpose. We are always on such a hustle, and I can’t wait for the day when our companies are hustling on their own so we can give back even more.
Brie: We want to pay it forward. We weren’t raised with all this money, and we want to help women all over the world by giving them opportunities the way they were given to us.
Styling by Natalie Saidi at Tomlinson Management Group; hair by Paul Norton at Tracey Mattingly using Unite; makeup by Eileen Sandoval; manicure by Alex Jachno at Art Department using Dr. Hauschka