Nightmarish Ambition: The Destined Greatness of Rhea Ripley

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Rhea Ripley NXT Women's Champion
Photo / World Wrestling Entertainment

WrestleMania 36 takes place this weekend, as the first two-night event in the show’s history, and among those involved will be “The Nightmare,” Rhea Ripley. At “The Showcase of the Immortals,” Ripley will defend the NXT Women’s Championship against Charlotte Flair, who held the title during her time on the black-and-gold brand. To say that this will be a challenge for Ripley is an understatement. With Flair having won a total of 11 titles since her World Wrestling Entertainment debut, the Adelaide native will have to be at the top of her game.

Needless to say, Rhea Ripley will do whatever it takes to reclaim the NXT Women’s Championship. Win or lose, however, she is a talent that is fated for greatness. Whether it’s her unique presentation, sheer confidence, or the catalog of matches she has put together since her debut less than seven years ago, Ripley has the tools to achieve greatness. The sky is the limit for “The Nightmare,” but to better understand these heights, we must start from 2013.

The Early Years

Prior to becoming Rhea Ripley in WWE, the Adelaide native wrestled under her real name, Demi Bennett. She began her professional wrestling career in mid-2013, debuting for Riot City Wrestling. Bennett spent the year working with other local wrestlers before winning the RCW Women’s Championship the following year. She also appeared for other Australian promotions, including New Horizon Pro Wrestling and Melbourne City Wrestling.

Though Bennett lost the RCW Women’s Championship in November of 2014, her hustle continued. From spring to early summer in 2015, she toured Japan, working for promotions including Diana, REINA, and Sendai Girls. Upon returning to Australia, Bennett was back in title contention. She faced then-RCW Women’s Champion Savannah Summers on numerous occasions, falling short time and time again. Ultimately, Bennett’s persistence paid off when she won the title for the second time in October of 2016. It wouldn’t be until the following year that she achieved recognition on a mainstream level.

The Mae Young Classic

During the summer of 2017, WWE held its first Mae Young Classic tournament. The MYC brought 32 women’s wrestlers from around the world, from the United States to the United Kingdom to Japan. Among the recruits was Bennett, who adopted her current ring name, Rhea Ripley. Fans were introduced to the long-haired blonde with an innocent smile, a far cry from what fans know her as today. In the tournament, she defeated Miranda Salinas in the first round before ultimately falling to Dakota Kai in the second round. Little did fans, and perhaps Ripley and Kai, know that this wouldn’t be their final confrontation.

As a new WWE signee, Ripley worked in NXT from August of 2017. She competed in live events and even an NXT Women’s Championship qualifying battle royal on TV. In the summer of 2018, she was invited to take part in the second Mae Young Classic. Ripley was not the same competitor she was the year prior. By this time, she adopted a rougher edge. In addition to a studded black leather attire, Ripley entered the tournament with a foul attitude. Though her appearance would change in subtle ways, such as with her hair, this personality would bring her greater fame.

The Start of Brutality

Rhea Ripley vs. Io Shirai
Photo / World Wrestling Entertainment

Ripley’s performance in the second Mae Young Classic surpassed the first. In addition to dominant victories over MJ Jenkins and Kacy Catanzaro in the first and second rounds, she showed little remorse when Tegan Nox re-injured her knee in the quarterfinals. Though Ripley ultimately fell to Io Shirai in the semifinals, “The Nightmare” didn’t make it an easy victory for “The Genius of the Sky.” Ripley failed to win the trophy for a second time, but greatness awaited in the form of NXT UK.

Early in the life of NXT UK, the brand introduced its Women’s Championship. The first titleholder would be decided in a tournament in the summer of 2018. Ripley entered with a sizable chip on her shoulder. She ran through Xia Brookside in the first round. Ripley met Kai, once again, in the semifinals, soundly defeating her and avenging her Mae Young Classic loss the year prior. In the finals, Ripley triumphed over Toni Storm, becoming the inaugural NXT UK Women’s Champion.

Rhea Ripley Triple H Johnny Saint
Photo / World Wrestling Entertainment

In the months that followed, Ripley successfully defended the NXT UK Women’s Championship against different challengers. Names such as Isla Dawn and Deonna Purrazzo fell to “The Nightmare,” who continued to assert her dominance. In January of 2019, NXT UK held its first WWE Network event, TakeOver: Blackpool. In the second to last match, Ripley defended the NXT UK Women’s Championship against Storm, who she initially beat for the title. On this night, it proved to be “Toni Time,” as Storm overcame Ripley to become the second titleholder.

Branching Out

As Ripley’s time in NXT UK winded down, her stock rose in WWE in other respects. As a surprise 2019 Royal Rumble entry, she had a strong showing, eliminating Catanzaro, Dana Brooke, and Zelina Vega. Her final NXT UK program involved Piper Niven, which morphed from a clash of dominance to a partnership against Jinny and Jazzy Gabert. The following August, Ripley returned to NXT proper, confronting Shayna Baszler, who was NXT Women’s Champion at the time. Ripley stepped up to the plate against the brute force that was Baszler, which began her transformation into a fan favorite.

Later in the fall, WWE was preparing for Survivor Series. What wasn’t expected was an NXT invasion. Among the invading stars was Ripley, who led fellow NXT women’s stars against those from RAW and SmackDown. Ripley joined Storm, Bianca Belair, Candice LeRae, and Io Shirai at Survivor Series against Team RAW and Team SmackDown in a 5-on-5-on-5 elimination match. At the end of this clash, Ripley’s team emerged supreme. This victory was even more impressive considering that NXT TakeOver: WarGames III took place the night prior.

With brand supremacy on the sidelines for that night, Team Ripley challenged Team Baszler in the iconic two-ring, steel cage match. Matters looked bleak in the match in question, as Team Ripley member Kai attacked fellow partner Nox. Despite this betrayal, Ripley was able to lead her team to victory, covering Baszler for the victory. This hard-fought win only pushed “The Nightmare” closer to the NXT Women’s Championship.

Overcoming the Spade

After multiple confrontations with not only Baszler but Marina Shafir and Jessamyn Duke, Rhea Ripley was that much more driven to win gold. In December, Ripley challenged Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship. Ripley was all heart, fighting out of multiple Kirifuda Clutch attempts and planting the champion with an Avalanche Riptide. One pinfall later and Ripley became the first individual to hold not only the NXT UK Women’s Championship but the NXT Women’s Championship as well.

Ripley may have become the new female face of NXT, but she wasn’t bound to the black-and-gold brand. In January of 2020, Charlotte Flair emerged victorious in the Women’s Royal Rumble match. Flair’s decision, concerning the champion she would face, was unprecedented. She decided to challenge Ripley for the NXT Women’s Championship, a title “The Queen” hadn’t held in over five years. Not one to turn down such an opportunity, Ripley accepted.

Rhea Ripley Charlotte Flair
Photo / World Wrestling Entertainment

Looking back at the career of Rhea Ripley, it’s easy to see why she is destined for greatness. From her humble beginnings in Australia to her current status as a champion, her dominance is seemingly never-ending. From Baszler to Belair to Sasha Banks, Ripley has stepped up to the best and brightest of WWE’s women’s division and came out on the other side stronger. WrestleMania 36 will prove to be her greatest challenge yet, though, as she faces an individual whose legacy in professional wrestling can’t be denied. At the most important wrestling show of the year, Ripley will show her brutality, continuing her ascent to greatness.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. WWE fan? Check out the WWE Network to view all the matches above!

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