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One-on-One: Zoey Stark’s ACL recovery crushed doctor’s expectations

Some athletes are just built different.

Zoey Stark tore her ACL and her meniscus while competing in the Scareway to Hell Ladder Match at Halloween Havoc 2021. Stark lost more than her NXT Women’s Tag Team Championship that night. She lost eight and half months of her career, but it was expected that she would be out of action for much longer than that. She underwent a successful surgery in early November and was back in the ring by mid-July last year.

Even though Zoey shattered the doctor’s initial time line for her recovery, her road back to competition was not an easy one. And it was a road that was filled with a few educational stops along the way.

Cageside Seats had the pleasure of catching up with Zoey Stark at the WrestleMania Press Junket a couple of weeks back. The second interview in our series that shines a spotlight on the Superstars of NXT.

We spoke about her injury and how she was able to come back so quickly. Plus, could a main roster call up be in the works? Starks has worked several Main Event tapings in recent months, including just this past week when she wrestled Raw’s Nikki Cross.

You can read our Q&A with Zoey Stark below or you can watch the interview in it’s entirety in the video at top of the page.

Disclaimer: The questions themselves have been edited to provide additional information and better fit the written format.

Cageside Seats: I’ve talked to a number of athletes who have come back from a variety of different injuries. And they always expressed that they had a little bit of doubt. A little bit of hesitation until they were able to really get back out there and test it and slowly get their confidence back. What was that experience like for you?

Zoey Stark: It was hard. It took me some time to even just to train my knee how to run again, because I was running just a little lopsided and stuff. You’re favoring that side, because you’re scared of it happening again. But once you go through that surgery, that knee is gonna be much stronger than the other knee. So yes, you have some hesitation, but it’s all mental at the end of the day. If you tell yourself, oh this is gonna happen, more than likely it’s going to happen. So you gotta think positively and just keep it going.

CSS: You were back by the summer. I mean, I’m no doctor, but that’s a relatively quick turnaround. So the recovery process had to have gone extremely well.

Zoey Stark: They were thinking that I would be out for at least a year. At least a year. And when the doctor told me that, I was like, no. It’s not happening. Like, there’s no way I’m going to let that happen. I need to be back within eight months.

CSS: Was it just sheer will and determination? A little bit of luck? How’d you pull that one off?

Zoey Stark: I gotta give a lot of credit to my physical therapist, Lauren. She was absolutely amazing and I had to have been very hard to deal with because I needed to be there every single day, multiple hours a day. And she would tell me to relax. I can’t relax. She doesn’t know this yet, but I even did some rehab at home, which I’m pretty sure I wasn’t allowed to do.

CSS: So if she’s watching\reading this...

Zoey Stark: She’ll be like, what? Really? But it worked, right? I came back at eight and a half months. A lot earlier than what they expected. At first I said six months and that just didn’t happen. So eight and a half, I was happy with that.

CSS: Now you didn’t stay away while you were gone. You worked out as a producer for a little bit. Getting a new look at the business from a different angle. Was there anything that you learned in particular that you have now been able to use to elevate yourself as an in-ring performer?

Zoey Stark: Producing is hard. Gave me a whole new respect for that. You know, Matt Bloom, Coach Bloom, he gave me the opportunity to really sit there and shadow a few people to figure out how it all really works out. And it just shows everything in a different light. Of how things work and how to tell a story. Now, even as a performer, I don’t think as a normal just performer. I’m thinking of TV. You know, how the producers work. I work a lot with Johnny Moss and he’s amazing. So, it changed everything, story wise and how I perform in every little bit.

CSS: I don’t think the casual viewer or even those who look at professional wrestling in a negative light, they don’t realize how much work and how much of a mental game there is to just putting on a basic match. From ring placement, to foot work, to selling, to know where the hard camera is located. There’s so much that goes into it, and it sounds like you discovered even more that goes into it.

Zoey Stark: I was even able to sit in the truck where the director’s at and watch how he does everything. And you just learn so much more when you put yourself in those situations and everything’s in a different light at that point. You don’t look at it the same way anymore. Because now you’re thinking, okay, that camera’s over there, that camera’s over here. If I’m doing something, I need to be facing this way. And like, you’re breaking it all down.

CSS: I promise I’ll get to the good stuff momentarily, but it hasn’t been all smooth sailing since you returned from injury. You were scheduled to be part of the Women’s Tag Team Championship Tournament last year and that ultimately did not happen. Yourself and Nikkita Lyons got taken out. That’s a big opportunity and it unfortunately fell by the wayside.

Zoey Stark: Missed opportunity, but that’s okay. Everything happens for a reason and I’m a firm believer in that. It just wasn’t the time to do it at that point. That’s fine.

CSS: Now to the good stuff I was going to mention, you got to take part in the Royal Rumble this year.

Zoey Stark: See what I mean? Like everything happens for a reason, right? So that was a better oppor... I don’t wanna say better opportunity, but it’s the Royal Rumble. Like to be able to say that I was a part of that, that was amazing.

CSS: For 26 minutes you were in that match.

Zoey Stark: For 26 minutes. Longer than the [former] NXT Women’s Champion, Roxanne Perez right?

CSS: You’ve actually been very busy, because not only have you been on NXT, not only were you in the Royal Rumble, but you have been showing up on Main Event tapings. I watched you take on Dana Brooke in Cincinnati. Obviously if you’re doing all that, and they were gonna put you on SmackDown, then that means they’re looking at you, right? How do you compartmentalize everything and focus on the work that’s still ahead for you in NXT?

Zoey Stark: I’m just focused on the present right now. All of that’s great and it will happen at some point, but I want that NXT Women’s Championship on me before I do go to main roster. Right? So, like, that’s my goal right now.

Zoey Stark is back in action tonight as she takes on her rival, and former NXT Women’s Champion, Roxanne Perez. NXT kicks-off live at 8pm ET on the USA Network, and you can follow along with the action in our live blog here.

Make sure to check our full interview with Zoey Stark in the video at the top of this article. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.

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