For 26-year-old Daria Berenato, professional wrestling is the ultimate blend of her passions.
Known in the ring as Sonya Deville, New Jersey native Berenato always had the spirit of a fighter and a performer inside her. She started mixed martial arts training when she was 16, but also found herself bitten by the acting bug.
“My dream was to fight professionally,” said Berenato. “I moved around a lot for that, but ultimately ended up in Los Angeles because I love to act.”
While in California, Berenato had her first three amateur fights and landed a gig hosting a podcast owned by Maria Menounos and her husband Keven Undergaro. After Menounos came to one of Berenato’s fights, it was Menounos who gave Berenato the idea to audition for “Tough Enough,” a reality competition show that put 11,000 girls up for 13 spots in the WWE.
“[Menounos] told me, ‘You can’t do this forever, have you considered professional wrestling?’” said Berenato. “I love to fight and I love to perform, and when I auditioned for ‘Tough Enough’ I fell in love with wrestling.”
In June 2015, Berenato auditioned for “Tough Enough,” where she was ultimately eliminated third. However, she was signed to the WWE in October that same year, and ultimately met her tag team partner Mandy Rose on the show.
However, one thing she didn’t expect to do while on “Tough Enough” was to come out as gay.
“It wasn’t intentional. No one really knew before that besides my family,” said Berenato. “It was a crazy process of saying “I’m gay’ for the first time on TV and not knowing if it was a bad thing or a positive thing.”
Berenato ultimately learned that this indeed would be a positive thing not just for her fans, but for her as well.
“It was one of the best things that happened for me,” said Berenato. “Coming out forced me to start living my reality and accepting myself for who I was, which I wasn’t really doing before. It was cool to share that journey with my fans.”
“I also get to share with my fans that it’s okay to be whoever you are,” Berenato added.
Since her time on “Tough Enough,” Berenato has wrestled for NXT, Raw and SmackDown as the first openly gay woman in the WWE. She developed a strong friendship with her tag team partner Mandy Rose, both in and out of the ring – during their time on the WWE, the duo formed a weekly show specifically about the donuts they find while on the road for work.
“We are like sisters, and we both love food,” said Berenato. “As we were traveling and encountering all sorts of food, we decided to start DAMANDYZ DONUTS as a sort of review show. It started on YouTube and just kind of took off – people enjoyed seeing this side of us.”
Life on the road for the WWE can be demanding. Wrestlers can be on the road every week from Thursday to Saturday if they perform on TV, or Thursday to Monday if they do live events. Berenato acknowledges that the travel is the hardest part of the job, but also the most fun.
“It’s crazy, I love it,” said Berenato. “I’m young and don’t have kids, so it’s easier for me. I feel bad for the moms and dads that are on the road all year. It is the hardest part of the job, you never get to stay in one place for too long.”
Outside of the ring when she has free time, Berenato loves to hang around the house and have some much-needed “chill time.” These days Berenato finds herself busy following the launch of her new clothing line, Rainbow Hearts.
Berenato created Rainbow Hearts in collaboration with Heavy Heart, and is meant to empower people to not be afraid to show their true emotions, regardless of what society says.
“We wanted to create a line that speaks on the taboo emotions that we’re afraid to talk about, like feeling sad or down, or anything not happy or excited,” said Berenato. “[The owner of Heavy Heart] asked me to make my own version that centered around the LGBTQ community and mental health.”
“Through Rainbow Heart, I wanted people to know that it’s okay to not always feel great or be happy,” said Berenato. “It’s also fun to wear and sends a positive message.” The collection is available at shopheavyheart.com.
While the world is in fear due to the spread of coronavirus, Berenato is proud of the steps that the WWE is taking to ensure everyone’s safety. The WWE is already airing new episodes with no audience, and the organization still plans to host Wrestlemania, but this year to a stadium of empty seats.
“We’re taking all the necessary steps to make sure everyone is safe and healthy,” said Berenato. “I believe that professional wrestling can provide some comedic relief for those in quarantine – it allows people to get a little relief from the stress of what’s going on. Wrestlemania is still a thing, but this year we’ll make history with something unique, just like we always do.”
More so than ever, Berenato says we should take this time to truly enjoy our families and the important people in our lives.
“Stay safe, stay healthy, and don’t be afraid to take this quarantine to spend time with family,” said Berenato. “Use the time to slow down and take it with people who matter.”