Competing Against Charlotte Flair for the First Time in Front of Fans
Rhea Ripley and Charlotte Flair first interacted in the buildup to Survivor Series 2019. That paved the way for Ripley to challenge Charlotte to a match for Ripley’s NXT Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 36 in front of what was supposed to be a capacity crowd at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Due to the circumstances surrounding the rapidly-developing pandemic, WrestleMania had to be moved to the Performance Center a few weeks ahead of the event. Ripley vs. Flair went on as planned but without a crowd—and yet they still managed to have one of the most memorable matches all weekend.
Their most recent one-on-one encounter went down at Hell in a Cell last month inside the ThunderDome and saw Charlotte pick up the disqualification win. Money in the Bank on July 18 will mark the first time they’ve ever squared off with an actual audience in attendance.
Despite the change in atmosphere, Ripley has no doubt that the fans will fuel them to have their best bout to date.
“[The crowd is] definitely going to rev both of us up a lot more, which is going to be interesting,” she said. “Every time we step in the ring, we’re already pretty revved up at each other, so I feel like this one is definitely going to be brutal and we’re going to get a lot of adrenaline from fans in attendance. We’re going to go completely ham I reckon. We’re just going to try to obliterate each other until the very end.”
Not only does Ripely promise to walk out still the Raw Women’s champion, she’s looking forward to connecting with a crowd again for the first time in over a year and feeding off their energy as she puts her archrival down for the three count.
“It’s been so different going to the ThunderDome and working there because it sounds different to how it could be,” she said. “You don’t ever know if what you’re hearing is correct. When you’re in front of a crowd, the sound that you hear is exactly how they’re feeling. I really do miss connecting with the crowd in that way and hearing if they like or dislike something and being able to look at them in the first, second, third row and being able to make eye contact and make them feel something they didn’t know they could feel or vice versa. They bring something out of all of us performers, and it’s definitely been something that’s been missed.”
Not Knowing How Fans Will React to Her and Whether She’s a Face or a Heel
Ripley’s last year in WWE has had its fair share of ups and downs. Following a hot stretch at the start of 2020, she was without her NXT Women’s Championship and also without momentum for the better part of the year.
It wasn’t until 2021 arrived that she caught fire again with her strong showing in the women’s Royal Rumble match and subsequent Raw debut. As excited as she is for WWE to return to the road, one thing she’s unsure about is how the audience is going to react to her given everything that’s happened with her on Raw since she became Raw Women’s champion at WrestleMania 37.
“It’s been completely wild to say the least,” she said about her experience of the pandemic period. “It’s been so strange at times, not knowing how anyone is feeling. I’m very intrigued for this Sunday to see how people react when I walk out. Honestly, I’m not too sure how people feel about me right now. I know a lot of people didn’t really know me too well before I came to Raw, so a lot of people may not know exactly who I am, and I’m here to show them exactly who I am.
“I can’t wait to possibly change their minds and make them back me up and cheer for me and believe in me because they should,” she continued. “I’m here to stay, and I’m the Raw Women’s champion.”
Fans have cited confusion during the Charlotte vs. Ripley rivalry as one of the reasons they aren’t anticipating their matches as much as they should be. Neither of them have come off as likable due to the booking, making it more difficult for the audience to determine who to cheer for in the feud.
“People just have to pick one,” Ripley responded. “It’s the same with Stone Cold. Was he really going out being such a nice guy? No, he wasn’t, and people loved him for it, so I don’t see why people are getting so angry about my feud with Charlotte and getting so confused over it when I’m pretty much doing the same thing I was doing in NXT and people loved me for it. I don’t believe there should be designated faces and heels. People should go out there and do their thing and you choose whether you like that person or not.”
Ripley simply wants to fight and prove her point, and she intends to do just that at Money in the Bank.
Becoming the Rhea Ripley of Old
The Rhea Ripely of NXT was vastly different from the Rhea Ripley of NXT UK. Upon arriving on the NXT UK scene, she immediately made a star out of herself by targeting the best (and beloved), winning the top title and doing whatever was necessary to remain champion.
She altered her attitude once she made the move over to NXT in 2019 and started to endear herself to the audience more than she had previously. She was still successful but lacked that killer instinct she has since regained on Raw.
“If you don’t care about me, I’m not going to care about you, and I bet you’ll come crawling back and want to be a part of my fan group,” Ripley said about her detractors. “That’s sort of what my mentality was going to Raw. I was trying to find myself and find my confidence because in NXT UK, I had such a strong aura of confidence around me, and I really did miss that Rhea Ripley from those days. And I tried to be the same Rhea Ripley I was then because that’s when I feel I was my strongest and my healthiest and I accomplished so much in my career. That’s all I want to do: I want to accomplish things, I want to make history, I want to hit my goals and do everything there is to be done.”
Her journey through the ranks of WWE has been nothing short of inspiring. At 20, she wrestled in the first Mae Young Classic and didn’t know if she’d continue with wrestling before overcoming the doubt and believing in herself.
“I’m so proud of myself for pushing through the hard times and not forgetting who I was as a person and building that confidence within myself,” Ripley said. “I never stopped believing in my abilities, even when others didn’t want to believe in them. I’m glad I kept going and tried to stay somewhat positive in my darker times because without that, I wouldn’t be the Rhea Ripley you see today.
“I wouldn’t be so accomplished, and I wouldn’t have been these champions that you see and someone that people actually look up to, which I think is wild,” she continued. “I’m 24-years-old, and I have 35-years-olds saying, ‘I want to be Rhea Ripley when I grow up,’ which is just insane to me.”
Adjusting to the Main Roster and Whether She’s Found Her Footing Yet
Although Ripley has held the Raw Women’s Championship for almost her entire run on Raw so far, she admits that she has yet to completely find her footing on the main roster.
“[The main roster is] completely different. I didn’t think it’d be so different,” she said. “I’m still trying to find my footing. It’s nearly there, it’s nearly there. It’s so unpredictable, and that’s something I’m not used to just yet. It’s also got a different stress level to it because there are more eyes on it. Before, I didn’t realize how many people watched Raw and SmackDown and how many people watched NXT. Now I’m getting the picture of how many more people are tuning in to Raw and SmackDown that puts a lot more stress and pressure on myself to perform and do fantastic, especially being a perfectionist as I am.”
The Mosh Pit Kid is growing more and more as a performer with every appearance she makes on WWE TV. She’s making the most of the material she’s given and is having standout matches with everyone she steps in the ring with, most recently Natalya on the July 12 edition of Raw.
She could have been called up a year ago to the Raw roster from NXT and been just fine based on how well she fared against Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania 36. However, WWE waited until the time was right, which just so happened to be on the road to WrestleMania 37.
After being the last one eliminated by Bianca Belair in the women’s Royal Rumble match, Ripley disappeared from WWE TV until randomly being brought up to Raw weeks ahead of ‘Mania for a Raw Women’s title opportunity. She revealed that she was as shocked as anyone by the development.
“I had no idea what was going on,” she said. “I was pretty much just showing up, trying to make a good impression and then chilling in catering, eating too much food and getting a little bit chubby. I didn’t know what was going on and I did think I would be saved for after WrestleMania because I was like, ‘There’s no way they’ll have time to build something up before WrestleMania for me, so it’ll probably be after WrestleMania that I pop up.’
“Then, they started doing the vignettes, and I said, ‘All right, it will probably still be after WrestleMania,'” she added. “And then my time just came. I confronted Asuka, she accepted and I had a WrestleMania match and I was like, ‘Oh, damn. That’s pretty cool. I get to wrestle someone I’ve wanted to wrestle for the longest time, and I get to go to WrestleMania again and actually get to be in front of a crowd.'”
Vince McMahon’s Advice to Her and Thoughts on the Recent NXT Call-Ups
Some NXT call-ups are affected more than others on the main roster. By and large, Ripley has been handled fairly well and hasn’t had to change much about her character, presentation or appearance.
Other than encouraging her to continue being herself, the biggest piece of advice Vince McMahon has bestowed upon her, Ripley reveals, is to do more smiling.
“He’s sort of been pretty happy with what I’ve been doing,” she said. “He likes my aggression, which is something that comes to me pretty easily which I’m sort of thankful for. But one thing he says is to try to smile more, which is something I’m still trying to learn.”
She isn’t the only former NXT UK star to grace the main roster this year. Since Ripley made her way over to Raw, Doudrop (f.k.a. NXT UK’s Piper Niven) and Toni Storm have also joined the Raw and SmackDown rosters, respectively.
Ripley has waged war with both women on countless occasions and couldn’t be happier for their success. She looks forward to facing both of them again very soon, along with other recent NXT call-ups Tegan Nox and Shotzi Blackheart.
“I’m loving it, I’m absolutely loving it,” she said. “It’s so nice to see other girls making their way to Raw and SmackDown, and it’s well-deserved, it really is. They’re such great competitors and they’re so good at what they do. They finally have that platform to finally show the world what they’ve been working for for years. I’m excited to see what the future brings for them.”