From modelling to MMA and now WWE: bombshell Zeda finds her Chinese roots through wrestling

Julia Ho felt like she never fit in growing up as a Chinese American but now she has found her identity in the ring through WWE’s ‘Mae Young Classic’

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 September, 2017, 12:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 September, 2017, 4:54pm

One of the stars of World Wrestling Entertainment’s groundbreaking all-female tournament, the “Mae Young Classic”, Julia Ho has come a long way from sleeping rough in her car for six months.

Scraping together money for a gym membership so she could shower, the Chinese American had just moved to Los Angeles as she continued to pursue a career in modelling, acting and singing.

But while Ho may have gone by the name “Julie Real” as she looked to forge a path in the fame industry, she had yet to discover her real identity in life.

“I’ve always been unsure of where I was supposed to be,” she said.

Born to Chinese parents in the United States, Ho was bullied growing up in Virginia.

“I didn’t fit in because of the fact I was Chinese but I wasn’t American enough to fit in either. I was just floating in the middle,” she said.

She may now go by another new name in “Zeda” when she performs in the wrestling ring, but it is in WWE where she has found her true self.

Her journey to WWE began when she turned to Brazilian jiu-jitsu and mixed martial arts as a form of self defence, out of fear for her safety in Richmond in 2007.

“It was a complete accident,” she said. “I never planned on getting into MMA, I just wasn’t living in the safest place at the time, I did it for protection.”

“And it worked out!” added Ho, who compiled a 4-0 record including wins in Cage Fury Fighting Championships in 2012 and One World MMA in 2009.

She went on to train at the famed Black House MMA gym in LA, where she was given guidance by coaches Kenny Johnson and Luis Panza and was teammates with none other than Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) legend Anderson Silva.

“I’ve been really lucky to have learned from those guys and be with those coaches,” she said. “It helped my skill level within MMA, which helped me to think on a more technical level.”

Last December, Ho announced she had signed a “dream” developmental deal with WWE.

“MMA is the only sport I had ever really done,” she said. “It if wasn’t for that, it would have taken a lot longer to learn something completely foreign like professional wrestling.

“Some of the moves are very similar – there are certain moves I feel like I’ve been able to pick up, also some I’m able to put a twist on with my own style, because of that background.”

Last month, she made her televised debut in the Mae Young Classic, a 32-woman single elimination tournament showing on the WWE Network.

“It flew by really fast,” said Ho. “It feels like we were preparing for a month and a half and before you know it, we’re rushing through getting everything done, all the media stuff, all within a few days.

“I was standing in the back, my music comes on and I’m like, ‘OK, time to go’. I guess I was just expecting myself to be nervous.

“But that just never happened. Before I could even process what was going on, the match was over. It just ended and I was like, ‘Wow, that was a lot of fun’.”

Zeda put on one of the stand-out matches of the first round, and is grateful for having had the perfect dance partner in former UFC competitor Shayna Baszler – a close friend of Ronda Rousey.

“Shayna had more experience than me. Her MMA background and my MMA background really meshed well, it was a really well-planned first match,” she said.

“I was able to do what I’m familiar with rather than trying to do pro wrestling stuff I’m still not too familiar with yet. I’m happy I got the opportunity.”

Zeda lost the match but has already set her next target as she continues to train out of WWE’s Performance Centre in Florida with their developmental brand, NXT.

“This is definitely motivation for me to keep plugging away and working harder,” she said.

“Although some performers say they hate doing television, I feel like I enjoy it more than live shows because I enjoy that anxious feeling you get when you’re preparing for something so big.

“I want to be able to be on NXT television, on a regular basis. And be on there longer. That would be the next short term goal.”

Another big part of Ho’s role in WWE is to help the company’s Chinese recruits settle into life away from the mainland.

One of them, Xia Li, is her roommate in Florida. They have quickly bonded with Ho acting as a translator – in day-to-day life, as well as for this interview.

“It’s pretty challenging for all of the Chinese wrestlers, when you don’t understand the language, the culture, or the etiquette,” said Xia.

“It takes a while to adapt. The main thing is the English. I’m trying to learn that as fast as possible.”

Xia also wrestled in the Mae Young Classic, having competed in kung fu tournaments in China before impressing at a WWE tryout and earning a developmental contract.

“I’m really happy to be part of it, to represent China is such a big opportunity,” added Xia. “On top of that, being the first Chinese woman in WWE is a big title and a big honour.”

Helping Li and the other Chinese recruits has been challenging for Ho but it has given her a chance to embrace her heritage.

“My Chinese has got better, having to help them get everything done and do the basics,” she said.

“What I’ve known about my culture was just through my parents and my family before. Now I get to learn about the Chinese culture from people who have come from there recently.

“I felt when I was younger me and my parents wouldn’t get along – they had a Chinese way of thinking while I was American focused. We butted heads, but that was more so a generation thing.

“But talking to Xia and the other Chinese people in WWE, I feel like we’re all exactly the same and have the same type of thinking. We’re just on different sides the world.

“Having such a big responsibility in helping them, it makes me feel like I’m doing something important. I know they’re appreciative of it.”

Those memories of growing up and feeling like she didn’t belong are now distant ones for Ho.

“Being in a position where I’m representing my own race is really nice to be able to be proud of who I am and show that to the world and not be criticised for it like I was for most of my life,” she said.

“It’s a big thing for me and it’s a big honour as well, representing such a huge country in China, and on top of that I feel like it would really make my parents proud.”