When first beginning her career with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), Total Divas star CJ “Lana” Perry was paired with Miroslav “Rusev” Barnyashev to create a performance duo for the brand. The instant chemistry was palpable: “We haven’t left each other’s side ever since,” CJ says.
On the date of their two-year anniversary, the couple was casually hanging out by the pool at their Nashville home when Miroslav popped the question. With a sparkling ring in one hand and his iPhone recording in the other, a shocked CJ agreed “yes” through tears and laughter. “I asked if it was a real ring!” CJ giggles. “I couldn’t believe he had picked it out himself and surprised me.”
The happy couple began planning for two incredible nuptial celebrations: one in California and another in Bulgaria, Miroslav’s home country. In “The Golden State,” the bride and groom opted for a seaside wedding. “I grew up on the Baltic Sea of Latvia, so ever since I was a girl, I wanted to get married on the beach, under a floral arch,” describes CJ. “I also knew that I did not want cliché seashells for décor.” With the assistance of her friend and costar, Natalya “Nattie” Hart, and the support of her family, CJ’s wedding wish list began coming to life.
Bridesmaids dressed in long gowns in a pretty shade of turquoise, the bride’s favorite color, complemented the beachy surroundings. In contrast stood the spectacular arch made of roses and wild flowers in bright, punchy hues that Miroslav arranged with the florist to surprise CJ. “The arch was truly what I imagined in my childhood dreams!” she exclaims.
The bride’s custom lace-and-rhinestone gown, designed by Olia Zavozina – who also created the bridesmaids' attire and groom’s suit – was made completely of an intricate lace-and-rhinestone pattern, and resulted in the perfect combination of femininity. “I wanted to feel free, light, and sexy,” illustrates CJ. “My dress was everything I wanted… it was ravishing.”
A sweet vow exchange was officiated by the bride’s father, a minister for over 35 years. “It was important to me that the service was no longer than 20 minutes,” reveals CJ. “I wanted our guests to stay engaged and not get bored.” And though the ceremony was on the shorter side, it did not take away from the sincerity of the moment. “Miro’s handwritten vows stole the show,” the bride smiles. “His words were both endearing and hysterical!”
For the reception, CJ and Miroslav decided to craft the festivities around a fun and whimsical theme of a circus carnival. “I felt like it reflected my life and personality,” explains CJ. “In the WWE, we travel 300 days a year and we are the closest thing to a modern-day circus.” The groom adds: “It was very unorthodox – just like us... it was unbelievably fun!”
To avoid falling into the traditional design scheme of an ocean-side wedding, the couple went full throttle with the circus motif, which included a Ferris wheel, caricature artists, a fortune-teller, clowns, stilt walkers, a photo booth, a circus-tent cake with fondant elephants, and the actual circus floor from the movie Batman. “People kept saying I had way too many ideas, but I was steadfast, telling them it was all going to tie together,” CJ admits. “My crazy ideas are what made the wedding epic!”
The newlyweds, along with their family and friends, danced and frolicked beneath the night sky until the late hours, enjoying the lively entertainment and each other’s company. CJ urges other brides to ultimately do what will make them happy on their big days and avoid fulfilling a wedding formula: “Create your own traditions – have fun and dare to be different!”