It was the second episode of the first edition of the Mae Young Classic in 2017. The WWE Universe got its first look at Rhea Ripley, a young Australian wrestler trying to make a name for herself. She won that match but lost in the second round to Dakota Kai. A little over two years later, Ripley just walked out of Survivor Series weekend with the most hype of any superstar in the WWE.
Before signing with WWE, Ripley spent four years in the Australian independent wrestling scene honing her skills. While she impressed in the 2017 Mae Young Classic, it was her appearance in the 2018 edition that had fans buzzing. She reappeared with brand new look along with a more intense and brutal style.
Ripley would go on to join the NXT UK roster, becoming their inaugural Women’s Champion. Now, she’s riding high in NXT as they push her towards being the woman to take Shayna Baszler’s NXT Women’s Championship away from her.
This year’s Survivor Series weekend would prove to be a watershed moment for her. On the go-home episode of SmackDown leading into the pay-per-view, Ripley pinned Charlotte Flair. Then, despite a four to two disadvantage, her team won the first Women’s WarGames match at NXT TakeOver when Ripley pinned Baszler. The next night at Survivor Series, Ripley led her team to victory again by pinning Sasha Banks.
Describing her weekend run as dominant could be the understatement of the year. The only wrestler who came out looking even as close to as good as her was Keith Lee.
Anyone who has been paying attention has been on board with Ripley since her WWE debut in 2017. Even at that early stage, her power and athletic skills were obvious. The problem was that she needed a gimmick of some kind to distinguish her. When she returned to the Mae Young Classic in 2018, she had it. She enters to loud rock music, dressed like she’s ready for a mosh pit with a perpetual sneer on her face. Her in-ring style changed to match, brutalizing her opponents with an inventive and powerful arsenal.
Fans are 100% on board. Originally positioned as a heel, the WWE Universe bought into her as an anti-hero character. NXT crowds on both sides of the Atlantic are always excited to see her walk out and cheer her on. Even the prospect of her facing Baszler sent ripples through the crowd at Full Sail. Although fans aren’t the only supporters rallying behind Ripley. On a recent episode of WWE’s The Bump, Trish Stratus referred to Ripley as “the future of women’s wrestling” and called Survivor Series weekend her “coming out party.” Stratus is right on both counts, but Ripley isn’t the only one deserving of that kind of praise.
Keeping in mind that she is a great heel champion, the problem is that Baszler has been at the top of the NXT Women’s Division for too long. It means that a wealth of deserving talent have not gotten a shot to lead the division since Baszler took the championship back from Kairi Sane over a year ago. Part of the reason NXT fans are so behind Ripley is that she represents their best chance to dethrone Baszler. For that to happen, Baszler would actually have to defend the belt and she made it through two huge matches on Survivor Series weekend without doing that.
Fans know that they’re in the midst of the build up to the inevitable TakeOver match between Baszler and Ripley for the NXT Women’s Championship. The question is when.
It would be interesting to have Ripley win the Royal Rumble, then use her title opportunity to take on Baszler at TakeOver or maybe WrestleMania. That could be a huge moment for a wrestler that’s only 23 years old. Frankly, Ripley/Baszler would be a show-stealing match regardless of which show it was on. Ripley winning the NXT Women’s Championship on WrestleMania weekend has the potential to be a bigger moment for the overall WWE Women’s Division than the Rousey/Flair/Lynch match.
At the very least, it would be a better match than Rousey/Flair/Lynch as long as it has an ending that hopefully makes sense.
It’s undeniable that Rhea Ripley is a talented wrestler with an aggressive style and character than fans are rightfully responding to. She’s on the verge of a huge breakthrough and if Survivor Series weekend is any indication, she’s going to live up to the challenge.
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