INTERVIEW: Janai Kai details how ‘YoKai’ came together, talks AEW and ROH appearances, TERMINUS

Andrew Thompson caught up with Janai Kai to discuss her ROH and AEW appearances, being a part of the 'Black Girl Magik' show and much more

Photo Courtesy: SP Media Graphic

In 2021, the fourth-year wrestler Janai Kai hit the ground running and competed for promotions such as Game Changer Wrestling, Paradigm Pro, Beyond, Black Label and she wrestled for companies like All Elite Wrestling and Ring of Honor.

Janai’s first match of 2022 was for Jersey Championship Wrestling and she teamed with her tag team partner and significant other, Yoya. They’ve dubbed themselves ‘YoKai’ and while speaking to Janai, she detailed how the idea of Yoya and herself teaming together came about. They had their first match together in late 2020 and have been working together on a consistent basis since.

When we [Janai & Yoya] started training, we didn’t have the idea of tagging but, I think it all came together, like we wanted to do this. Gosh, it was more towards the end of 2020 when we really thought about actually coming together and it started at Paradigm Pro Wrestling where we had our first tag match together and we thought like, ‘Oh, our names combined together already creates a cool name which is YoKai so let’s go with it. Let’s see where it goes’ and there’s not many intergender tag teams around so we thought it’d be cool to be like even more — come together as that but yeah, we had our first match this year at JCW [Jersey Championship Wrestling] and it was great. I love working with Yoya.

This past summer, Janai was a part of ProUnapologetic’s ‘Black Girl Magik’ show that aired on IWTV. The likes of Jordan Blade, Ariela Nyx, Jazz, Trish Adora and Willow Nightingale among others were spotlighted on ‘Black Girl Magik’ to showcase Black women wrestlers.

Kai looked back on that event and said it was one that all parties involved knew it was special by the time it concluded.

Yeah, most definitely [we felt like we accomplished something special with the Black Girl Magik show] and if anyone watches the show, you can see how there are different styles represented within our community so, this is like a great show to present that and really showcase that and to really put more eyes on more Black women in wrestling so I definitely recommend those who haven’t seen it to watch it and I know for sure that we’re gonna be coming back this year.

She further dove into the topic of representation in wrestling. Janai is Afro-Latina and said there are times when people wonder what ethnicity she is or represents. She added that she’s still figuring out how to represent both cultures to the best of her abilities.

I’ve been thinking about this very hard myself because recently, there’s been a lot of talk about it again. I mean it pops up all the time when it comes to Black women’s wrestlers or just Black athletes in wrestling in general and I’ve been really trying to take a look at myself and who I am and what I represent and I thought about it and other people have mentioned this to me, there’s not a lot of people that look like me and there’s a lot of people that can’t really figure me out and what I am and I am Afro-Latina and to other people, they can’t really see it but at the same time, I am representing Black [people], I do have that background but I also have that Latina side so I’m really trying to figure out how I can represent it really well and I think I’m doing okay with it. I’m just trying to learn a little bit more about how I can represent it even more and still trying to learn more about the history of just being an Afro-Latina so, I’m working on it myself and I’m trying to learn from others and others in the wrestling industry who are representing it really well and following their lead and I think what helps is just, you know, being around them, being part of these shows and really learn more about myself in that way.

In late 2021, Janai was brought into Ring of Honor for their final set of television tapings. She had matches against Trish Adora and Chelsea Green that aired during the month of December.

Maria Kanellis-Bennett and Bobby Cruise were steering the ship for the women’s division and Kai said both were helpful to her. Janai’s stint with Ring of Honor occurred after the company announced that they were going on hiatus until spring 2022. Kai expressed that there was that locker room comradery and she felt welcomed.

Yeah, so from what I can say, so the first day when I got there [Ring of Honor]… this was legit after the cuts happened [ROH’s hiatus announcement] that I was there and so it was already kind of like that type of situation where I really don’t know what’s going on and then I’m new and I don’t know what’s going on with how they’re gonna be treating the women’s division and what’s gonna be moving forward so the first day when I got there, there was like a full meeting with the women only and Maria [Kanellis-Bennett] was there, Bobby [Cruise] was there so we’re just talking overall about just different things like they don’t know which way things are heading but it really did seem like it was a tight family and I felt welcomed. Everyone just had this special kind of love and it was a very emotional moment too as like you’re going around and sharing different things and different stories and just, you know, really hoping that this is not the end of all of them together. Yeah, I kind of felt that for sure, but you know, it’s unfortunate but at the same time, we hope that this is definitely not going to be something that is just over with because the women’s division was really building up to something special in Ring of Honor to where it finally seemed [like] something more of a focus and we really have to thank Maria for that too and Bobby, and Maria, she feels very strongly about this so, yeah. I overall just like the experience there, just being around them. They really made it feel very comfortable.

While on the topic of feeling welcomed in a locker room, Janai reflected on her experience in Thunder Rosa’s Mission Pro Wrestling promotion. She went one-on-one with Rosa and heaped praise onto Mission Pro for the professionalism that is carried throughout the promotion.

She is looking forward to seeing what Mission Pro accomplishes in 2022 as the promotion has resumed their tour of North America. Janai is hoping to work with the promotion this year.

Oh yeah, 100 percent [I could feel the camaraderie at Mission Pro Wrestling] and being a part of that locker room, that whole experience overall was just very professional, very welcoming. It was definitely like a family right off the bat. It was just kind of crazy to even experience it that way because I haven’t really experienced locker rooms in that way. It’s always just been like, ‘All right,’ just show up. ‘Okay, you’re good, you already wrestled, leave. We’ll pay you.’ Just being over there, it was just like — we were all just like — it was just way too tight in a sense. It was definitely like a family and [Thunder] Rosa really — I know it’s obvious that she feels strongly about women’s wrestling but like, from the beginning to the end, it’s just been like I felt that and I believed it and I believe that Mission Pro is really heading to like maybe even a top-type of promotion in the future if it keeps going on this way because it’s just way too special and being around the women there is kind of like the same type of situation when I was at Ring of Honor but like, it’s like these women that are just starting out at Ring of Honor, most of those women already have that kind of face, they already have been places but, over in Mission Pro, it’s mainly women that are just kind of starting out. They’re like — we’re all kind of like around the same range when it comes to how many years in we’ve been doing this so we’re all trying to build and to try — we’re trying to, you know, make a name for ourselves so, being in Mission Pro is that stage for us to learn and to develop each other so I appreciate that because there’s not many promotions like that, especially all-women’s promotions and it’s great and they already started traveling. They’re not staying in one spot so, the fact that they’re new, an all-women’s promotion and already traveling, that’s great. That’s better than most that have been around for a while so, I know for sure this year, there’s gonna be a lot more craziness. Just craziness in a good way. Just great stuff coming from Mission Pro so, I’m looking forward to it and I’m looking forward to actually coming back in the future because this is a very special thing going on.

Janai was able to make her All Elite Wrestling debut on the 12/1 episode of Rampage. She was defeated by Jade Cargill in 30 seconds, but Kai wanted to make sure to maximize the time she had. She explained that she learned from her trainer Santana Garrett to always make the most of her time. Kai was appreciative of the support that she received on social media after her appearance.

Yeah [the AEW Rampage spot gave me more exposure] and this is actually another thing I learned from Santana [Garrett] is that when you know you’re not gonna get a lot of time, make the most of it and so, the way that I handled myself and did everything in the ring for that little time, that was all Santana in my head telling me, ‘Okay, make sure you pose well. Make sure you circle the ring how you usually circle the ring. At least circle your style in one way and that will get some sort of attention’ so that’s what I did and it honestly worked because if I had not did the pose or circled the ring like how I usually [do] then I just would have been another random person to be honest, because when I go on Twitter, everyone was saying how cool I was. I was like, ‘I have like three seconds in the ring’ but they were just talking about everything else detail-wise. I was like, ‘Okay. So this is what Santana meant and this is how it actually does work out’ so, yeah. I think with that overall experience, you know, it is what it is but I’m so thankful that I knew how to handle it.

The week of January 19th, AEW is returning to Washington D.C. for the first time since Dynamite’s debut show on TNT. Janai resides in Washington D.C. is hoping to get the call from AEW when they are back in the city.

I really hope now [that] I do come back [to AEW] and really showcase what I’m all about because that was just of course like nothing man. That was nothing. So yeah, I really hope I do come back. I know there’s people that did express that too that wanna see more and yeah, it should be like — it should be super crazy to come back because I know they’re coming to D.C. soon so I hope that I’m part of that. So if you come to D.C. man, let me tell you, it’s gonna be on, it’s gonna be on.

Janai Kai is scheduled to be a part of the TERMINUS debut show on January 16th. Baron Black and ROH World Champion Jonathan Gresham are the co-owners of the start-up promotion and Janai is interested to see how the show is presented production-wise.

She’ll be facing Liiza Hall and at the time of the interview, Janai had not started her research on Liiza but Jordynne Grace, who is also competing on the show, compared Liiza to Zack Sabre Jr.

So, for TERMINUS, I actually was listening to Baron [Black] and [Jonathan] Gresham’s interview that they had like a month ago. I was listening to it last night and because I even wanted to know more because there’s still more that I’m wondering so I wanted to make sure I listen to what they say so I can have a good picture in my head. But what is happening is actually very cool because going back to showcasing styles, this is another platform to showcase your specific style but have that ability to wrestle how you love wrestling without the pressure of thinking, ‘Oh, I have to wrestle for this type of crowd because this is what they like,’ because that does run through a lot of wrestlers’ heads. Like typically, the first thing they ask or think about is, ‘All right, how’s the crowd out there?’ Like when we’re at a show, that’s usually the question. ‘Oh, how’s the crowd out there? What are they like? And how is it feeling?’ And having that mindset is okay because they are trying to entertain them but at the same time, we have to remember that we came into wrestling loving some sort of specific style or just something that influenced us and we came in thinking like, ‘Okay, how do I like wrestling? How do I like seeing wrestling? And how do I wanna wrestle?’ And so that’s important to remember as years go by so that you don’t lose yourself so, this, like TERMINUS is kind of like these wrestlers wrestle a specific way because this is them so like, this is the platform to showcase who they really are and I’m very grateful for that because again, going back to how my style is and shoot-style and just like having that different type of style in women’s wrestling too is just very important to me and I can’t wait to completely showcase that coming up and with Liiza Hall, I actually haven’t done my studying with her yet but from what I heard, I saw Jordynne Grace tweet this, she’s kind of like a Z.S.J. [Zack Sabre Jr.]. The woman’s Z.S.J. so that’s what Jordynne said. I’m gonna check out her matches because I of course love studying my opponents so, I’m gonna see what she’s all about and I can’t wait because she seems like somebody that really gets it too and after hearing what Jordynne said, I’m like, ‘All right, we got this’ and looking forward to how all this is gonna look as well because I don’t even know how it’s going to look so I’m excited for it.

Kai is scheduled for House of Glory’s ‘Who Run The World’ tournament on 1/14 that includes Jordynne Grace, Sumie Sakai, Deonna Purrazzo, Mercedes Martinez, Violette, Natalia Markova and Santana Garrett.

To keep up with Janai, she can be found on both Twitter and Instagram @Janai_Kai. Her Patreon link is here and to watch our interview, click on the player at the beginning of this article or head over to the Andrew Thompson Interviews YouTube channel.

About Andrew Thompson 8239 Articles
A Washington D.C. native and graduate of Norfolk State University, Andrew Thompson has been covering wrestling since 2017.