Rhea Ripley says she wants to leave a permanent mark on Charlotte Flair and recapture the NXT Women’s Championship.
The 23-year-old Australian has quickly established herself as one of WWE’s most impressive and promising breakout superstars.
Having sought glory as part of the Mae Young Classic tournaments, Ripley became the inaugural NXT UK Women’s Champion and the first Australian woman to hold gold in the company.
She then reached the top table at NXT in the USA, captaining a team in the first all-female WarGames match, then winning the yellow brand’s women’s title.
Ripley made an impressive WrestleMania debut in April, and despite losing her belt to Flair, now aims to win it back in a triple threat match with Io Shirai at NXT TakeOver: In Your House, this Sunday.
She chatted exclusively to Mirror Sport’s Danny Stone about what wrestling in empty arenas has taught her, the origins of her in-ring personality, and how social media bullying impacts on WWE talent.
You recently revealed that you pitched an idea to WWE to have yourself tattooed by an opponent as part of a match. If you could tattoo anyone on the roster, who would it be, what would you tattoo on them, and why?
Oh man, yeah, that was just an idea that I threw out. I thought it would be super cool to have a little moment, a thing from the match. If I could do it to anyone else? At this current time, since I’m in something with Charlotte and Io [Shirai] I would probably tattoo Charlotte. I’d probably put a little demon face – just to remind her who I am.
Io doesn’t get that treatment?
No, Io’s been pretty good so far. Ha!
You’re having to work empty arena matches because of the coronavirus pandemic, including at WrestleMania. Drew McIntyre suggested he was hitting harder to ensure the sound carries in his matches. Is there anything you’re doing differently or will do differently that you’ve learned from the empty arena format?
I think just vocalising things. I’ve always been vocal in my matches, and I’ve always made a lot of noises, a lot of random noises. It’s really awkward with no people in there, so I’m glad the NXT peeps are in the crowd now, because it’s very awkward, very quiet and so I felt like I needed to be louder. Sometimes that came across a little bit weird to people, but I’m just trying to make it as entertaining as I can.
You’re competing for the NXT title at present, but technically you never had an NXT UK title re-match. Might you come back and if so, who would you like to have the belt at the time?
Man, I would love to wrestle Kay Lee, I would love to go back to NXT UK and wrestle Kay Lee Ray. I have never had a one-on-one match with Kay Lee. I’ve only ever been in the ring with her at WarGames, actually. So I would love to have a one v one match with her. I think it would be absolutely incredible, she’s a great worker. That’s definitely something I’m looking forward to, hopefully in the future, but if I went back to NXT UK, I would want it to be versus her.
When you joined WWE, did you have a list of things you wanted to accomplish? First Australian women’s champion, performing at WrestleMania… is there something major you haven’t yet achieved?
I feel like we all have our lists and being at WrestleMania was definitely one which I ticked off my bucket list, thank God. At that time, I was just so new here, I was so new in the wrestling business as well. I feel like, I’ve been wrestling for seven and a half years now, but I’d still classify that as new. I still don’t know everything, and I just really wanted to try my best and see how many things I could accomplish. That’s always been my goal.
I want to see how far I can get, how many history making things I can put my name under. I’m still working on it. There has been a few! There has been a few. WarGames is definitely one of my highlights. First ever female WarGames match in WWE. That’s pretty cool. I’ve always wanted to be in a match with weapons and stuff so that was definitely something!
You’re one of a number of Aussies in WWE. Do you think we could see a formal Australian or Australasian faction. Who would you team up with?
I would love it! Even if it was just a one-off thing when we went to Australia for a show. I still feel like that would be so much fun. I’ve tagged with the IIconics once on a ‘Coconut’ show [The Coconut loop shows are WWE non-filmed shows in Florida] here in Orlando. I think it was the first time that I had ever gone out and I was a heel and it was something else.
It was so entertaining. I was just trying not to laugh the whole time. So if I could do something with the IIconics, even if it was just a one-off thing, I would absolutely love it. They’re so entertaining, and so funny, they just make everything so memorable. They’re just great to be around, so it would be them, for sure.
What was the inspiration for the name Rhea Ripley? Did you choose it?
Yeah, so I actually made this name. When I first came to WWE, they said to make five names, first and last name, you give it to us and we’ll choose one. So, my main goal was to come up with either band names that I loved, names from bands, or strong women’s names.
Rhea is a goddess name. Ripley is the chick from aliens, and she’s a badass, and I was like, ‘hell yeah, Ripley sounds cool!’ Because it was R and R, I thought ‘these go together’, so I put them together and handed in my form. They walked past one day when we were getting ready for Mae Young Classic stuff and they were like ‘Rhea Ripley’, and I was like, ‘I guess so! Okay’.
You mention the Mae Young Classic. Do you think there should be a separate women’s brand or another [all-women’s PPV] Evolution maybe?
Because there’s so many females in WWE today, I feel like we do need something extra. Whether that be a show for ourselves, or a new title, or Evolution again, or a new Mae Young Classic, I feel like there definitely needs to be something. I would love for there to be another Mae Young Classic just to see all of the other athletes out there that are trying to get into WWE. There are so many females on the indies and they deserve their shot as well, so I would love to see that.
I would love to see another Evolution. I would absolutely love it! That was so much fun. Dakota (Kai) and I actually opened up Evolution in a dark match for the NXT UK Women’s Championship. So being in the first match to ever come out on Evolution is insane! It’s another thing in the history books for me that not many people will probably know, but I know. Another Evolution would be fantastic because we do need that stage and we need to shine the way that we should shine.
You want to headline it, surely?
You talked on Flash Morgan Webster’s podcast about Shinsuke Nakamura watching you do a part of his ring entrance during your own practice one. Are there any tributes in your work to others that people wouldn’t necessarily know about?
Not really wrestling-wise. The stomp that I do, the starter from my entrance, that’s actually from Mitch Lucker. He was the singer for Suicide Silence and he died in 2012. That band, I loved listening to that band when I was growing up. It was one of my favourites and I’m actually wearing my old Suicide Silence shirt right now. I absolutely loved them, and I loved Mitch Lucker. I thought he was so, so cool.
So when he died, he unfortunately had a motorcycle accident and he passed away, but he always did this stomp on stage. It was always such an impactful thing, it would be right when the bass used to drop or something and the wall of death would just run and smash, or the circle pit would get faster, it was just something really big and powerful, and I was like ‘I need something like that’ and this was the perfect thing for me.
There has been a lot of focus on bullying on social media following the tragic death of [Japanese wrestling star] Hana Kimura. Have you experienced bullying on social media and how have you dealt with it?
Yeah, I feel like everyone that is in this profession deals with bullying in social media and it’s sad. It’s a lot of people thinking we don’t see it, because we get a lot of things on social media, but at the end of the day, we see these things. We see through the cracks and it’s not nice stuff. I get stuff every single day whether that be comments on my Instagram photos, or tweets about a tweet that I put out. Just tweets that they make in general to just pick on me, make me feel bad about myself, belittle me or anything. It’s not good.
Society these days, it needs to change. It’s sad that these things still happen in this day and age. At the end of the day, people just need to realise that we are people too. We have feelings, we have our own lives. We’re not the characters that we portray online, and even if we are, we’re a 10-time version of ourselves. That’s still not us. Most of the things we do, we wouldn’t do in person.
So, if you have a problem with our character, that’s all good and fine, but you don’t have a problem with us. So why belittle us and make us feel this low about ourselves? It really is a shame what happened, it should have never happened. It really should have never happened. It’s really very sad. I’m not a person that cries but I shed a tear. I’d never met her, I didn’t know who she was, but I shed a tear because it’s sad. I just wish that people were kinder.
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Who do you follow on Twitter and what inspires you to follow them?
I follow a lot of my colleagues, because I feel like it’s work! I kind of have to! If I didn’t work for WWE, I feel like I would just delete Twitter! It’s just so poisonous, it’s horrible. It’s a horrible place and I don’t really want to be on it, but I have to for work. I obviously have to promote work. I used to read everything but recently I’ve just been letting it go, I’m just like ‘na’. I’m not going to read too much. So I don’t really follow too many people, that I know about, that I read everything that they post about.
What about dog picture accounts? You’re a big dog fan aren’t you?
I love dogs, man. If there’s photos of dogs, send them my way!
You were in the Royal Rumble last year, can you say something about what it was like to find out you were going to be in it?
It was incredible. It was scary at first because they called us into the WWE Performance Centre. I got a text message. I didn’t know if anyone else was going in, I didn’t know anything. Me being me, I thought I was in trouble. I was terrified. I was like ‘what did I do?’. Everything was going through my mind but I was like ‘I haven’t done anything, they can’t do anything to me, I haven’t done anything, they can’t, they can’t, they can’t get me in trouble’. [Laughs]
Then when I rocked up I saw Candice [LeRae] and Kacy Catanzaro waiting at the door, I think Kairi [Sane] was there too and I was like ‘if them three are here, I’m not in trouble! They’re not in trouble, so this is something good, ha’. We walked in and they pretended like everything was bad and they were going to scold us all. Then they pulled us into the office one at a time. I was the last one to go in and I could kind of hear people being excited and then going ‘shhhhh…’
So I was thinking something is happening. I knew that the Royal Rumble was coming up, so it must be this. I was getting excited sitting there but when they called me in I had to act all cool, calm and collected, like I was going to get in trouble. Then they told me and I was like ‘Yes! I knew it! I guessed it! You can’t fool me!’ but it was so cool, a very exciting moment. To be a part of the Royal Rumble is just insane. A very cool moment and something that I thought I would never be a part of. There wasn’t ever a female Royal Rumble, so to be a part of the second one was just insane and I loved every single second of it.
WWE has announced a new free WWE Network tier. If you could point people to watch a defining match of yours which would it be?
Oh man. I’d have to say the one that really made my career and that would be me versus Io Shirai from the second ever Mae Young Classic, the semi-finals. That match definitely cemented my career. It was a time in my life when I proved everyone wrong and pretty much proved to everyone that I deserved to be here, so I was fighting for my life!
There was a story recently that there was a planned Nexus re-union which was nixed due to the Covid pandemic. Has there been anything in your career that was stopped and you wished you could have seen through?
That’s the one, my partner told me about that yesterday and I was like ‘oh man!’ I loved the Nexus, I thought they were epic when I was growing up. I think I’ve done everything that I wanted to do. If anything, I wish they went with the tag team of me and Raquel Gonzales, because we know each other so well.
We’d been tagging together on the Coconut show loops and we just connected really well and could read each other really well. Plus, we’re huge. Just look at us! When we’re together who can stop us, really? So, I really wish they’d have gone through with something like that but her with Dakota, that works too. I hope that one day I can possibly feud with those guys.
You can see Rhea, Charlotte and Io Shirai tearing it up together in a match for the NXT Women’s Championship at NXT TakeOver: In Your House live on the WWE Network on Sunday, June 7.