EXCLUSIVE: Rhea Ripley is following in the footsteps of WWE’s powerful, boundary-breaking women
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It’s been a year of incredible growth for Rhea Ripley, who has established herself as one of the most powerful, intimidating, and entertaining members of the WWE roster.
She has become one of the most featured parts of WWE television over the past year and is getting set to headline WrestleMania 39 against Charlotte Flair.
Her rise over the past year was underscored by her winning the Royal Rumble match in January, becoming the first Australian to do so, and the first female to win from the number-one spot.
A mammoth distinction that only three other superstars have achieved.
Her journey really kickstarted following last year’s WrestleMania, as she joined one of the most intriguing groups on the roster - the Judgement Day.
That formation really kickstarted a year of smashing boundaries while becoming authentically herself within the wrestling world.
She told SPORTbible: “I was known as the one who could wrestle. Now people know me as ‘Mami’, the ‘Eradicator’, as pretty much the enforcer of the Judgement Day - the one that goes out there and has this creepy smile, creepy wave, creepy laugh and is just a menace to society.
“I go out there and I have fun and I think people see that and I think it’s growing my character into this really cool creepy demonic way, which people are gravitating to.
“It’s been really cool to see where my story has gone from there where I did just take chances and do random things like wear an ‘I’m your Papi’ shirt on TV.”
The emergence of Judgement Day eventually led to one of the most entertaining partnerships in the WWE - the on-screen bond between Rhea and Dominik Mysterio.
Ripley became the driving force for Dominik to turn on his legendary father Rey Mysterio and has really helped the young wrestler develop into his own skin.
Their relationship has blossomed, and as with anything that is successful with wrestling, has been compared to a beloved pairing of the past in Chyna and Eddie Guerrero.
It’s a comparison that sits fondly for Ripley and Dominic, who both idolise two of the greatest superstars to ever do it.
Ripley said: “I love the fact that I get compared to Chyna because she is such a legend in this business - she broke down so many women stereotypes.
“Her being a part of the men’s Royal Rumble - her beating up guys, physically showing that she is stronger than some of the men.
“I look up to that sort of stuff, I idolise that sort of stuff. It is really cool to me that I do represent Chyna vibes in that sort of way.”
Chyna broke down many barriers for women back in the Attitude Era.
She was presented as a larger-than-life character who was capable of taking down anyone - man or woman.
So much so, that she at one stage in her career, captured the illustrious Intercontinental Championship.
That title is currently held by a mammoth Austrian by the name of Gunther - but just like Chyna, the 26-year-old would relish such a challenge in order to make history.
She said: “I would love to face Gunther. I would absolutely be down for that.
“I would love to try go for the Intercontinental Championship - it would be another history-making event which is all I want do.”
“I want to be remembered for breaking the stereotype for women at the same time."
It’s a mantra that could similarly be shared by yet another icon of the women’s division and a woman Mami recently stepped into the ring with - Beth Phoenix.
Phoenix was a woman that stood out head and shoulders above the rest in a time when female wrestlers weren’t as spotlighted as they are today.
She represented power and strength - much like Chyna, and much like Rhea.
The former Divas Champion was the quintessential wrestler for the young Australian who grew up seeing Phoenix battle it out on Raw and SmackDown.
She recently got to step into the ring with her idol, alongside Judgement Day member Finn Balor, with Phoenix teaming up with husband and fellow Hall of Famer, Edge.
"She is one of the main women that I idolised growing up in the WWE just because she looked different, she had muscle, she stood out as this really really strong force,” Ripley said.
“I remember seeing her get crap for the way that she looked and I hated that and it reminded me of people picking on me for the way I looked.
“But seeing her go out there and not care about anything and just be herself - I idolised that.
“So to be able to step into the ring with her and even just go face to face and just have these two beefy girls looking at each other, ready to kill, I live for those moments right there.”
It’s a reflection of just how far Ripley has come in her relatively short time in the WWE to be compared to these two Hall of Famers.
It will be her fourth WrestleMania and her fourth in which she has been in a championship match - proving that she is not only the future but the present star in the company.
It will be a rematch with her first-ever Mania opponent, Charlotte Flair, who took her NXT title on that occasion - and Rhea aims to repay the favour.
Rhea says: I’m hungry. I want to win the Smackdown Women’s Championship. I need to get redemption and that revenge for myself.”
“I don’t think she understands how much I’ve grown over the past three years. It’s not three years ago anymore.”
If the past year is anything to go by, expect Rhea to break down yet another boundary.
WrestleMania 39 streams live to Australia on Sunday 2nd & Monday 3rd April on BINGE.