It used to be so simple: win the Royal Rumble, earn yourself a world title shot at WrestleMania. When Yokozuna went the distance back in ’93, Mr Fuji didn’t have to worry about which champion the big lad would be facing — it was Bret Hart’s World Heavyweight Championship or nothing. So spare a thought for poor Charlotte Flair who had three potential titles to choose from. It’s like Sophie’s Choice but with triplets.
To make matters worse, Charlotte had plenty of reasons to go after all three titles. The RAW Women’s title is currently held by Becky Lynch, a woman who bested her in last year’s WrestleMania main event despite not being involved in the finish. Then there’s the Smackdown Women’s Championship held by Bayley, a woman she has had history with since their days in NXT.
Speaking of NXT, WWE’s third brand has their own Women’s Champ in the large, muscular shape of Rhea Ripley. Although, on paper, Charlotte has the least personal investment in challenging for the NXT title, her choice to face Ripley at WrestleMania could help elevate everybody involved.
Firstly, NXT Champion Rhea Ripley has already been positioned as a big deal thanks to her thumping title victory over the seemingly unbeatable Shayna Baszler. She’s reached the top of the NXT mountain and needs a worthy challenger. While there’s no denying that there’s a wealth of talent on the NXT roster ready and waiting to make an impact, many of them are either tied up in other storylines or not quite ready for a shot at the title.
Charlotte represents a challenge above anything Ripley has faced so far. She’s reached the top of the NXT mountain and seen that the real peak extends way off into the distance. It elevates Rhea and the NXT title to a higher level than it’s ever been.
Not only does it do justice to the title, it elevates NXT as a whole. Now that NXT is being positioned as a third brand rather than a developmental brand, it’s important that the titles are perceived on a similar level. The fact that the NXT Women’s title was presented as a viable option is good, but then once upon a time, the same could be said for the ECW title. It needed to be actually chosen by the Royal Rumble winner to prove it is on the level of the RAW and SmackDown championships.
WWE have taken great strides to change the mainstream perception of NXT. It can no longer rely on its underdog status, its “Best Kept Secret” attitude. Now, Adam Cole has to be directly compared to RAW and SmackDown’s champions. At 2019’s Survivor Series, WWE did precisely that, with NXT winning 4 inter-branded matches, claiming overall victory at the event. NXT wrestlers were being presented on the same level as RAW and SmackDown superstars and then winning.
It’s perhaps strange, then, that the perception prevails that NXT wrestlers are “called up” to the “main shows.” This is at least partly because, in the majority of cases, NXT wrestlers have to turn up on RAW or SmackDown to make an impact. There needs to be more traction the other way. Charlotte Flair taking on Rhea Ripley as an equal can go a long way towards rectifying this.
Charlotte doesn’t need the NXT Women’s Championship. It’s a title she’s already held back in 2015 at a time when NXT was certainly portrayed as a developmental entity. In many ways, she’s evolved past the NXT title, or at least the historic perception of it. Charlotte doesn’t need the championship but she wants it. She’s made her choice. She’s chosen to highlight NXT on the biggest stage possible. Win or lose, it’s a decision that will elevate Rhea Ripley, NXT and Charlotte Flair herself.
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