Shamong native Daria Berenato made the switch from combat-style competition to the sports entertainment world after a great deal of encouragement from her mentors.
Berenato, whose WWE stage name is Sonya Deville, is a lover of hand-to-hand combat sports such as Mixed Martial Arts and Jiu Jitsu. She’s also an actress.
“I was always the class clown and wanted to put on a show,” Berenato recalled. “I always told my best friend Shelby that I was going to be on TV, but I didn’t know what capacity I would be in.”
Berenato was an active kid who played soccer, basketball, lacrosse and track. After sharpening her skills in Mixed Martial Arts, she moved to Los Angeles to fight in the University of MMA and California Fight League.
“I was on the verge of my fourth fight and Keven Undergaro and Maria Menounos came to my fight and they told me to try it,” Berenato said. “I respected them and started to do my research … and I always loved acting and doing all of this.”
Berenato caught her big break in the wrestling world when she was asked to participate in the organization’s show “WWE Tough Enough” for season six, and shortly after signed a contract with WWE.
To this day, she says her favorite match was the all-women’s elimination chamber match on Feb. 28, 2018, mainly because she had her close friend Mandy Rose (whose real name is Amanda Saccomanno) competing with her.
In terms of wrestlers, Berenato cited Asuka (portrayed by Kanako Urai) because of fighting styles the two share in striking and submissions.
She hopes to continue showcasing her acting and athletic skills in the near future by doing stunts in movies while she’s a member of the WWE.
As she becomes a larger national icon in the sports entertainment world, Berenato admitted she still misses Shamong and gets a laugh from coworkers when the town is called out during her entrances.
“My co-workers always make fun of me and tell me to say I’m from Camden, Cherry Hill or Newark. They say it’s boring and to make it more fun.”
But Berenato is proud of the town she calls peaceful and serene.
Off-camera, the WWE superstar advocates for much of the organization’s philanthropic and social justice ventures such as anti-bullying and GLAAD (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) that instill confidence in the younger generation.
“I’m the first out superstar and it’s been a super crazy experience,” she noted. “On my career four years ago, I was asked if I had a significant other and it was a hard question for me to answer at the time, and I think that ‘Wow, if I had a voice in the wrestling community, it’s okay to be you and gay,’ I probably would’ve felt more comfortable with saying I have a girlfriend.”
Through the organization’s anti-bullying campaigns, Berenato encourages kids to love one another and keep in mind the Golden Rule: Treat others the way you wish to be treated.
She also fights for equality among male and female entertainers in the organizations by working to get equal pay established. One of the largest changes that came to the media company was a shift to calling the women wrestlers and not divas.
In her own spare time when traveling between different cities and states, she and Saccomanno review donut shops on their YouTube channel, “Damandyz Donutz.” Her favorite donut shop is Meche’s Donut King in Lafayette, La., because “they’re light, fluffy and like Krispy Kreme.”
She made it a point to note that getting into the WWE didn’t happen quickly. She started working at her dad’s business, then bussed tables and tended bar in California to make ends meet while she worked toward her career.
She encourages anyone working toward a dream to “not set limitations” on themselves and that it’s OK to think big because it helps push you forward.
“You have to believe in yourself when no one else would,” she insisted. “You need to have that hope to help you go throughout life.“