12 months ago this was barely fathomable, and yet now it’s very much a reality (or a brutality, if you will): Rhea Ripley, a 23-year-old wrestling phenom born and raised Adelaide, South Australia, is set to cap off a meteoric rise through the WWE ranks with a dream match against wrestling royalty Charlotte Flair at inarguably the biggest date on the sports entertainment calendar, WrestleMania 36.
It’s already a banner time for Australians in pro-wrestling. Off the back of an exploding local wrestling scene that’s now seeing multiple locally-bred grapplers signed to large international organisations, the WWE is currently enjoying it’s richest Australian presence ever.
Melbourne-born Buddy Murphy (now just “Murphy” thanks to WWE’s inexplicable habit of erasing names willy nilly) is one half of the RAW Tag Team Champions alongside company headliner Seth Rollins.
But it’s Ripley that’s set to fly the flag higher than it’s ever been.
The current NXT Women’s Champion – the WWE’s “third” brand that has a much more rabid following than its other two – officially punched her ticket to WrestleMania this afternoon, following a successful defence of her title at the NXT Takeover: Portland event.
Immediately following the match, Flair – a decorated 10-time WWE Champion and the silver spoon daughter of wrestling icon Ric Flair – attacked Ripley, and signalled her intention to challenge for Ripley’s NXT title at WrestleMania, a championship opportunity earned by winning this year’s Royal Rumble match.
— WWE (@WWE) February 17, 2020
Not only does this mean it’ll be the first time ever a Royal Rumble winner has challenged for an NXT Championship at WrestleMania, it’ll be the most prominent spot any Australian has achieved at a WrestleMania ever.
Ripley’s championship defence against Flair eclipses the previous high water mark of the Sydney-based IIconics tag team – collectively Billie Kay and Peyton Royce – winning the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships at last year’s show. Beyond that, Australia’s involvement at the Grandaddy of them All™ has been limited to human speed stick Nathan Jones being tangentially involved in a handicap match between the Undertaker and the team of Big Show and A-Train at Wrestlemania XIX back in 2003. And honestly the less said about that the better.
The matchup against Flair caps off a phenomenal rise from Adelaide’s local Riot City Wrestling in 2013-14, to signing a developmental contract with WWE in 2017, to now being one of the star attractions on the global mat behemoth’s biggest stage of all. Not a bad effort, that.
WrestleMania 36 goes down on Monday, April 6th (Australian time) from the decidedly pirate-themed Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.
Rip her goddamned throat out, Rhea.Image: WWE