“Charlotte Flair, I choose YOU!”
On Saturday night, Rhea Ripley outlasted 29 other women to become the winner of the 2023 Women’s Royal Rumble match. Currently a member of the Monday Night Raw brand, it seemed like a conclusion that Rhea would select reigning Raw women’s champion Bianca Belair as her targeted opponent for Wrestlemania 39, but as the January 30th edition of Raw would prove, WWE sometimes does maintain its timeline. Rhea showed that she, like us, does not forget her history with the current Smackdown Women’s Champion.
As a lifelong wrestling fan who does not easily forget when WWE’s booking goes south, upon Rhea winning, I hoped she would deviate from the expected and select Smackdown Women’s Champion, Charlotte Flair. Closing in on 3 year ago, Charlotte Flair won the Royal Rumble herself in 2020, and had what we thought was the pick of either Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch, or Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley. Charlotte selected an unforeseen third option and set her sights on NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley. At just 23 years old at the time, Rhea Ripley was perhaps NXT’s fastest rising star, following an absolutely electric title win, snatching the gold from then-champion Shayna Baszler on the December 18th, 2019 edition of NXT following a top-rope Riptide to put away the Queen of Spades.
The prospect of the queenpin of the WWE Women’s division Charlotte facing the young star Ripley at Wrestlemania was enticing but worrisome. Unfortunately, the reservations of this matchup came to be true and Charlotte defeated Ripley for the NXT women’s championship on Night Two of Wrestlemania 36. Just over one year later, Ripley, now the Raw Women’s Champion after she defeated Asuka on Night Two of Wrestlemania 37, found herself soon to cross paths with Charlotte again. Three months into her reign, Rhea defended the Raw Women’s against Charlotte at Money in the Bank on July 18th, 2021, and the result from a year before was the same. Rhea tapped to Charlotte’s Figure-8 and relinquished the title.
After a triple-threat match for the Raw Women’s Championship also involving champion Nikki A.S.H at SummerSlam 2021, Charlotte and Rhea since have not crossed paths, with Charlotte sidelined being drafted away from Raw to Smackdown, and also taking a 7-month hiatus from WWE from the middle of 2022, returning on the final Smackdown of the year, defeating Ronda Rousey for the Smackdown Women’s Championship in a truly surprise return. That brings us to where we are now. Rhea Ripley has to beat Charlotte Flair at Wrestlemania 39 for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. For its historical implications, and to cement Rhea as the keyholder for the next decade of women’s wrestling.
Firstly, it is an old and beaten idea, but in this scenario Rhea Ripley does deserve to get her win back. Three years ago, she was thrust into the world stage at Wrestlemania as an NXT superstar and would not even be part of the main roster until the following year. The dynamic was different and in hindsight, maybe Rhea losing was okay. Three years later, Rhea does not have a significant win over Charlotte in her career. Three years later, at just 26 years old Rhea is a mainstay on WWE television, part of the second highest-profile stable in WWE and is sure to be a lock as an evergreen fan favorite and staple of the WWE roster for years to come.
The dynamic of this match is one to watch. As it stands, Ripley is the heel and Charlotte the babyface, at least in script. Wrestling fans surely see the implications of this feud being renewed and what Charlotte has been in WWE for the past eight or so years. Charlotte herself works much better as a detestable heel, so it will be interesting to see how the interactions between these two play out as we close in on April and their showdown at the Grandest Stage of Them All. Despite being part of a heel stable, the payoff would be much greater if at least both wrestlers walk into Mania with neutral heel characters at least. Rhea defeating a cocky heel Charlotte would be even more sweet than Rhea defeating an underdog babyface Charlotte.
Charlotte herself doesn’t need this win either. As her near-decade long stranglehold of WWE women’s wrestling has garnered her “final boss” status. Charlotte is entering a full decade of performing on the WWE main roster and has had its women’s division in her clutches since day one. Including her current reign as Smackdown Women’s Champion she is a 13-time Women’s Champion with wins over virtually every woman on WWE’s roster. This includes names no longer with the company such as Sasha Banks (now Mercedes Moné in New Japan Pro Wrestling/Stardom), Ruby Riott (now Ruby Soho in All Elite Wrestling) and Toni Storm (All Elite Wrestling). She has beaten everybody and has cemented her place on WWE’s women’s Mount Rushmore. A loss to Ripley won’t weaken Charlotte by any means, and could even help Charlotte add more layers to her character.
A victory at Wrestlemania 39 for Ripley would signify an effective changing of the guard and a sign that the future is coming for the WWE Women’s division. With relative newcomers Iyo Sky and Dakota Kai hitting the main roster along with budding talent in NXT such as Zoey Stark, Gigi Dolin, Jacy Jayne, and current NXT Women’s Champion Roxanne Perez, Charlotte being dethroned by Ripley can breathe new life into the whole of WWE and forge a path for tomorrow’s talent. Rhea herself as a character acknowledges the importance of a victory over Charlotte.
What do you think? Should Charlotte or Rhea walk out of Wrestlemania 39 as Smackdown Women's Champion. Leave a comment below or interact with us on social media.
Follow Noah Drouin here: Twitter: @Endydoe