Rhea Ripley made her presence felt last week, reintroducing herself on Raw and issuing a WrestleMania challenge to Asuka.
Asuka accepted, setting up a match against Ripley at WrestleMania 37 for the Raw women’s championship. There is even more at stake than the title for Ripley. The 24-year-old Australian Demi Bennett wants to dominate WWE programming, and the first step is to entrench herself as the signature star of the company’s flagship show.
“My goal is to become the face of Monday Night Raw,” Ripley says. “I accomplished a lot in NXT. I’m very proud of that. It’s made me so confident in my ability, and I am ready for the next challenge.”
Ripley developed into a star over the last two years in NXT, with her signature moment occurring when she defeated Shayna Baszler to become NXT women’s champion in December 2019. That run ended at last year’s WrestleMania, where she lost an incredibly hard-hitting, compelling match against Charlotte Flair. The match’s realistic and physical presentation worked from the moment the bell rang, allowing the audience to hear the strikes and constant contact inside the empty arena.
“The world was going through a tough time, there was no crowd, but it was still WrestleMania to me,” Ripley says. “Of course, it was a different set-up and atmosphere, a different WrestleMania than we were used to, but we had a great match. We did our best to have the match of the night. There was no crowd, which we feed off, but I loved it.”
Following that match, the feud struggled to maintain its momentum. The story suffered when Ripley was never afforded the chance to avenge the WrestleMania loss. Ultimately, the disappointment in the story and its execution have brought Ripley to Raw with even more to prove.
Ripley had a dynamic showing last week on Raw, bringing a presence that otherwise is not felt on the show. Her promo immediately established herself as a legitimate threat for Asuka, boldly articulating why she will be Raw women’s champion. Yet, despite a wealth of talent harnessed and perfected throughout the past eight years in wrestling, Ripley admits she tensed up before stepping on screen.
“I was definitely nervous,” Ripley says. “I’m so critical of my own work, and I was walking around in circles backstage. So I thought back to what I’ve done in NXT, and that helped me stay confident.”
Perhaps the nerves helped produce such a memorable moment, as Ripley delivered once on screen. It will be exciting to see how this story builds to WrestleMania, since Asuka is also hungry for a solid story and opponent. There is so much potential in this program with Ripley, who has already helped create one of the most memorable moments so far this year in WWE when she finished as the runner-up in a very detailed Royal Rumble match in January.
Bianca Belair won the Rumble, but before her showdown with former NXT rival Ripley, the two teamed up to eliminate Flair. The backstory is especially important, as Flair had won the prior year’s Rumble and then wreaked havoc for both Ripley and Belair in NXT.
“That tied together our whole story, going back to our NXT match together in Portland,” Ripley says. “Then Charlotte came in for the WrestleMania match, and she knocked us both down. We never overcame Charlotte, until we both eliminated her in the Royal Rumble. That was a great moment, and then it came down to me and Bianca in the end.”
The finish between Ripley and Belair was extremely well executed, with the future of WWE on display as Belair eliminated Ripley to win the match.
“Man, that was incredible,” Ripley says. “As it was happening, I could feel it. I knew it was going to be a fight. If you watch, I was so frustrated on the outside, but on the inside, I was so happy for Bianca.
“Bianca is someone I completely and fully respect. I know her story, what she’s been through, and I know how big a star she is going to be. She is going to be the face of the women’s division. I am so happy and thankful to share that moment with her.”
Ripley has watched Belair emerge as a star on SmackDown, building toward a title match at WrestleMania against Sasha Banks. Though there is plenty to accomplish beforehand, the thought of an eventual WrestleMania match against Belair has crossed her mind.
“We came up in NXT together, and now we’re taking on Raw and SmackDown together,” Ripley says. “I want her to win her match at WrestleMania, and I want to win my, too. I’ll be the face of Raw, and she can become the face of SmackDown, and one day, we can headline WrestleMania.”
Ripley can start her path toward that future with an impressive showing in the present. Working with Asuka, who has long been an influence for her, holds the potential to be the best match of WrestleMania weekend.
“I was on a show in Japan when I was 17 years old when I first saw Asuka,” Ripley says. “I wanted to be just like her. Now I get the chance to wrestle her. We’re going to build something special in the weeks to come, and I am excited to get my hands on her.
“It started out of nowhere. I went from sitting in catering to a WrestleMania match against Asuka. Luckily, I’ve stayed prepared. And I’ve watched Asuka for years. She is someone I can’t wait to get in the ring with. This is my golden ticket, and it’s going to be a hard-hitting match.”
The enormity of what is at stake is not lost on Ripley. Not even a quarter of a century old, she now has the chance to inject life into Raw, turning herself into one of the most distinct, compelling characters on the industry’s most well-known show.
“I want to be the top of the food chain,” Ripley says. “There is so much opportunity for me here. I’ve dipped my toes into the main roster before, but the Raw roster is so deep, and this is the first time for so many new matches. And now I have the chance to wrestle Asuka, who is the best in the world at what she does.
“My first goal on Monday Night Raw is to be champion, and that’s the chance I have at WrestleMania.”