From Franki Strefling to 'Izzi Dame,' former Buchanan
volleyball star pursuing WWE career
South Bend Tribune
On Oct. 3, 2022, Franki Strefling started her formal WWE
On Oct. 3, 2023, Izzi Dame made her live television debut
with 857,000 people watching.
Strefling and Dame are the same person, with the real-life
Strefling transforming into her WWE moniker, Dame. It’s been
a quick journey for the 2017 Buchanan High School alum, who
went from never watching professional wrestling to being
inundated in the business in less than 18 months.
“That was a full-circle moment. It was pretty awesome,” said
Strefling of making her live TV debut exactly one year after
starting training. “I’m not a crier; I try hard to be
professional. But when they told me, tears started coming
out of my eyes. They saw something in me, which is awesome.”
Strefling is currently based out of Orlando, Florida, as
part of WWE’s “NXT” brand. NXT is designed to showcase the
next generation of WWE wrestlers before being promoted to
either “Raw” or “SmackDown,” the two main shows of WWE.
Wrestlers in NXT train at the WWE Performance Center. While
there are hundreds of trainees at the building, only a few
get spotlighted on NXT’s live, two-hour weekly television
show on Tuesday nights. There’s also a secondary show called
“Level Up,” which is a pre-recorded show that showcases NXT
wrestlers on Friday nights on the streaming service Peacock.
Strefling had made a handful of appearances on “Level Up”
before debuting on the main show Oct. 3. She was selected to
be part of the NXT Women’s Breakout Tournament, an eight-
woman tournament designed to spotlight the future stars of
the show. She was paired up against Kelani Jordan, real name
Lea Mitchell, in a first-round match.
Strefling lost, eliminating her from the tournament, but it
was still a monumental moment in Strefling’s young career.
“It was definitely a whirlwind of emotions,” said Strefling
of the match. “Luckily, I did have a couple ‘Level Ups’
under my belt, so not much changes between the two — one’s
just live and one’s pre-recorded. As far as the environment,
the crowd, the cameras — that was all the same, so I felt
very comfortable. The woman I worked with actually came in
with me at the same time, so it couldn’t have been a better
Strefling was a volleyball star every step of the way
Strefling had a standout volleyball career at Buchanan,
which included leading the Bucks to the Class B state
semifinals as a senior in 2016. She set program and single-
season records for kills during her time in a Bucks uniform,
leaving behind an impactful legacy that she still hears
about to this day.
Buchanan's Franki Strefling (5) strikes the ball against
Brandywine's Olivia DePriest (11) Wednesday, September 17,
2014, at the Buchanan-Brandywine volleyball match at
Brandywine High School in Niles. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ
“I actually get mail or messages on Facebook from teachers
who had me when I was at Buchanan, and there’s little kids
there who, when they ask to write down their role models,
are saying I am their role model and inspiration and someone
they look up to,” Strefling said. “I just think that’s cool
leaving a legacy not only through volleyball, but something
bigger than myself.”
After high school, Strefling played collegiately at Eastern
Michigan. She had a decorated career in Ypsilanti, totaling
1,267 digs and 1,118 kills for the Eagles.
Graduating from EMU in May 2021, Strefling went overseas to
play professional volleyball in Cyprus. She had a successful
first year playing for the Nea Salamina club and intended to
return for a second season in the fall of 2022.
When she came home for summer break in July 2022, though,
she received a message she wasn’t expecting.
“I got a very sketchy Instagram DM – I thought it was a scam
– from WWE,” Strefling recalled. “I was like, ‘There’s no
way these people are reaching out to me.’ I told my family,
and they were like, ‘Franki, there’s no way. You’re a
volleyball player. Just keep going about your business.’”
Strefling secretly messaged back to WWE without telling her
family. After a couple phone calls, Strefling was invited to
a tryout for the company in Nashville, Tennessee.
When the four-day tryout was completed, Strefling was one of
a handful offered a WWE contract.
“That was an incredible experience,” Strefling said. “It was
really the first time having a bunch of cameras in my face,
newspapers, press people, etc., and it was really amazing.
Right then and there, I knew I was born for that.”
Transitioning from volleyball to professional wrestling
While Strefling admitted that learning how to take physical
contact all the time was hard, it’s something she’s gotten
“The physicality in that ring is very much real,” Strefling
said. “It’s something our bodies are not used to – I’m not
used to getting hit all the time. At first, it was a big
adjustment; it’s hard on the body, but you end up building
calluses to it. It becomes easier and more natural the more
you do it.”
Strefling like, dozens of new NXT prospects, have been
recruited to WWE for their sports accomplishments outside of
the wrestling ring. It’s part of a new program WWE has
created called “Campus Rush,” where they’ve made multiple
visits at college campuses to scout potential new wrestlers.
They’ve also created their own version of NIL, called “Next
In Line.” Like the college version of NIL, WWE has reached
out to several college athletes to use their name, image and
likeness to promote WWE. In return, these athletes could
potentially be selected for WWE contracts once they graduate
“It makes the whole transition so much easier knowing that
you’re not the only one who has no clue what’s going on,”
Strefling said. “Luckily, I came in with 15 other people who
had absolutely no idea what we were doing every day. I got
to learn and grow and build connections with these people,
and it really made the transition so much smoother.”
Strefling has had 15 matches as of Oct. 27. She’s picked up
two victories, both coming in tag team contests. Now that
she’s getting more in-ring experience, Strefling hopes being
involved in the weekly television show becomes more of the
norm as well.
“Getting my own storyline,” said Strefling is her main goal
right now. “Not just being a player in someone else’s
storyline, but making an impact on this division as a
strong, power player. It’s so competitive, but I think
there’s not many big, tall women like me here. I think
that’s what differentiates me because there’s not a lot of
people my size. I’m looking forward to bringing that in and
starting my own storylines. Hopefully I can get a
championship title one of these days.”