In an industry known for its trailblazing women, Rhea Ripley has already cemented her legacy at such a young age. After all, the 22-year-old Australian-born WWE superstar made history when she became the first-ever NXT UK Women's Champion. Just like Tyler Bate did with its male counterpart, Ripley's reign as the inaugural Women's Champion could help to shape the potential of the division going forward and put down an all-important marker for what she is capable of achieving in her career.
It's worth remembering that it was no easy task for Ripley, real name Demi Bennett, to claim the title in the first place. She had to climb her way through the NXT UK Women's Championship tournament and take on the likes of Xia Brookside and Dakota Kai. Earlier this week, the WWE Network showed her final match in the tournament with Toni Storm, who had previously won the Mae Young Classic at WWE's first-ever all-women's pay-per-view, Evolution, last month. Of course, the result from the taping had been posted online months in advance, but even for Ripley, she had the opportunity to compete in one of the biggest matches of her career with one of the fastest-rising stars in UK wrestling. Storm, real name Toni Rossall, also knew how tricky it would be to take on her fellow Australian wrestler.
"I'm not going to lie and say I'm not intimidated when I'm in the ring with, you know, athletic machines like Rhea Ripley [and] girls like Meiko Satomura and Io Shirai," Storm told SPORTbible in a recent interview. "It's an intimidating world and it's a very high-pressure situation, but I just got to remember and keep in the back of my head where I came from and the journey that it has taken for me to get here. If I can overcome that, then I can overcome anyone."
Much like her rival from the UK Women's Championship
tournament final, Ripley had made her name on the wrestling scene around the
world. From her time in Australia with Pro Wrestling Women's Alliance and Riot
City Wrestling to working at Pro Wrestling Zero1 in Japan, she has channelled
that experience into her WWE career and has left a very early -- and lasting --
impression in NXT UK.
With NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool announced for 12th January 2019, Ripley will once again find herself in the ring with Storm when she puts her NXT UK Women's Championship on the line. It will be the toughest test in her title reign so far, but a win would put the entire women's roster of NXT UK on notice with one simple message: this is one fighting champion who isn't going down so easy.
SPORTbible had the opportunity to sit down with Bennett ahead of NXT UK's show in Liverpool. We asked her what kind of precedent she wanted to set as NXT UK Women's Champion and what it was like to compete with Storm in the ring, as well as who she would want to face out of NXT Women's Champion Shayna Baszler, SmackDown Women's Champion Becky Lynch and Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey.
[SPORTbible] Most WWE superstars will win a title that already has a prestigious history behind it. As the inaugural NXT UK Women's Champion, what kind of precedent are you looking to set with the title?
[Rhea Ripley] I just want to set a challenge pretty much. Like, I want to show everyone how much this title means to me because it means the world to be the first-ever NXT UK Women's Champion. Like, I'm so honoured and humbled to be able to hold this prestigious title and I'm not letting go of it that easy. Ha-ha!
When we chatted to Toni Storm ahead of NXT UK's Liverpool tapings, she spoke very highly of you. What was it like to step into the ring with her in the final of the Women's Championship tournament?
It was awesome! I've known Toni for a long, long time. We were both in Australia together and I've known her since I was 16 pretty much. To be able to share such a special moment with her was just amazing to see how far we've both come in the amount of time and to both end up in the same place. Going for the same prestigious title like that is insane. Just how life works out, you know.
And it looks like that rivalry is far from over, especially as you'll be putting your title on the line against Storm at NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool. What can fans expect to see from both of you this time around?
They can pretty much expect a hard-hitting match. We're gonna go all out because this is a big, big stage and it's for the NXT UK Women's Championship, so we're not holding back. Gloves are off. We're gonna go all out, I reckon.
Aside from Toni, who do you think could be your toughest opponent for the Women's Championship?
Apart from Toni? Pretty much the whole NXT UK women's roster. They're all very deserving and very tough competitors, and to step into the ring with all of them I don't take it lightly because it can be one little slip up and it's gone, so pretty much everyone is a danger to me at the moment. Ha-ha!
Some people might say that your championship win lost the full attention that it deserved because the taping of the show had been done months in advance. Do you think that the next step for WWE is to take NXT UK live after TakeOver: Blackpool?
I hope so. I'd like to record live. With the whole NXT tapings and it not being aired yet but, like, still being seen and people finding out, I'm okay with it because it eventually does get aired.
Yeah, it's a shame that I haven't been able to talk about it for three months, but at the end of the day, I'm still the first-ever NXT UK Women's Champion, so... I don't really mind when it gets aired. It's still awesome, it's still amazing, it's still a cool experience! But at the end of the day, the main goal for me is to be on live TV and if NXT UK could go live that would be awesome.
WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne has been very much a fighting champion in terms of taking the title from promotion to promotion, which is reminiscent of the old NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Are you going to do something similar by taking that championship to other promotions? And do you think it will also draw more people to smaller independent companies knowing that they can see the first UK Women's Champion?
Yeah. I mean, I will take it wherever I go. I will defend that title wherever I need to defend it, wherever I need to put my name out, wherever I need to put WWE's name out. As long as I'm booked there and I've got it, I will always defend it. I've got a lot of fight in me. Yes, I will definitely be a defending champion. Anywhere, anyplace, anytime -- I don't care. As long as I'm booked.
You hit the headlines back in September for sharing your Dragon Ball Z cosplay. We know that some wrestlers love to make pop culture references with their wrestling outfits at different pay-per-views. Is there any chance we could see something similar from yourself, whether it's at NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool or another event in the foreseeable future?
Ha-ha! It's funny you say that because I've been thinking about that for a while. It might not be at NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool, but it's definitely coming down the line somewhere. I'll definitely have like an Android 18 or Vegeta cosplay or something. I have to. I just have to. Ha-ha!
You've previously said that The Miz was a big inspiration for you growing up. What was it about him that made him stand out from the rest of the crowd? Also, were there any traits from The Miz that you directed into your wrestling persona?
I don't think I've really taken anything from him. Maybe just his snarkiness, but I think that's the main thing that I really liked about him. How he was just so cocky all the time and he pretty much just goes out there and says what he wants, so I guess I've been trying to do the same. I do it more on Twitter than in person, because why not? I just like his attitude and thought he was cool.
It was only one month ago when we saw the first all-women's pay-per-view, WWE Evolution, debut on the WWE Network and you also competed in both Mae Young Classics. How has it felt to see the company make such major strides that it has done with women's wrestling?
It's insane. Like, I'm so proud of everyone and how far we've fought to get [where we're at now]. It's so awesome to finally get that recognition as females in this industry and it's only up from here. Like, we're gonna keep pushing for more. WrestleMania main event -- that's what we're pushing for.
WrestleMania next year or the year after?
Hopefully, as soon as possible!
What has it been like to train at the WWE Performance Center and under the tutelage of Sara Amato?
It's an amazing experience pretty much. Like, going in there every single day of every single week -- it gets tiring, of course, like all work does, but it's definitely worth it and it's definitely amazing and special going in every time. And learning from the greats... like, I've learned so much in a year and a half of just being at the Performance Center and it's all thanks to all the experienced athletes in that building and all the trainers and everything. They've taught me so, so much and I'm so grateful for having all of them.
Considering that you are representing the WWE's UK branch of wrestling as champion, who would you love to face in a champion vs champion match out of NXT Women's Champion Shayna Baszler, SmackDown Women's Champion Becky Lynch or Raw Women's Champion Ronda Rousey?
That's a tough one because they're all awesome athletes, so I definitely want to have a go at all of them. But the main one would probably be Becky Lynch just because she did have a little bit of a Twitter war with me and I don't appreciate that. So, you know, you got to give it to her. Ha-ha!
Tickets for NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool are now sold out, but tickets for NXT UK: The Aftermath on 13th January are still available on Eventim.
Featured Image Credit: WWE