Things have come full circle for Rhea Ripley.
The former NXT star challenged Raw women’s champion Asuka to a match at WWE’s WrestleMania 37 last week during her debut on “Monday Night Raw” and will have a contract signing on this week’s show (8 p.m., USA Network). It gives her a second chance at performing at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Night 2 of the event (April 10-11, Peacock) that she missed out on last year because of the pandemic. Ripley, 24, took time for some Q&A with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski to talk about it all.
(Edited for clarity and length)
Q: A year ago you’re filming vignettes at Raymond James Stadium preparing for your first WrestleMania. Obviously, the pandemic kept that from happening. Has it gone through your mind that the world has brought the opportunity back to you a year later somehow?
A: Definitely. It’s funny to think that my first WrestleMania was at the Performance Center, which is still awesome because it’s still WrestleMania, but now I finally get my second chance to do it in front of a crowd and it’s something that I’ve been waiting for, for a year. It’s super exciting for me. I can’t wait to see actual faces in the crowd.
Q: How did you find out you were going to be heading up to the main roster and what were your emotions?
A: I was super excited. I honestly found out like super late, but that’s how it goes in wrestling. You always find out last minute. It’s always so exciting and it’s a new adventure for me. Even though I miss NXT, I miss all my girls, it’s a new opening for me and I get to experience new things with new people. I was scared and terrified and nervous but I was still super excited.
Q: Is that something Triple H tells you?
A: I heard it from one of the producers because Triple H was actually busy. He was doing a lot of things. But he told me later on and he went through it with me.
Q: What have the last couple of weeks been like where you’re getting ready for your debut and at some point find out, ‘I’m going to be calling out Asuka and go to WrestleMania?‘
A: (Laughs) So, it’s actually kind of funny. My last few weeks have actually just been in catering. I’ve just been going to the Raw shows and I’ve just been chilling in catering, not really knowing what was really going on with me or what they had planned. I just was eating too much (laughs) and that’s pretty much how it went for like weeks and then last week I found out, I want to say around 4 p.m., what was going on. Man, it was a shock to me as much as it is to everyone else. I was super surprised, super excited.
I guess, Asuka has been putting over in few interviews that she wanted to wrestle me for a long time and vice versa. I’ve also been saying she’s someone I’ve watched for a long, long time and always looked up to and thought was amazing at what she did. I’m very happy that this match is being planned because I think it’s gonna be a great one.
Q: What intrigues you the most about getting a chance to wrestle and work with Asuka?
A: A lot of things really. I remember when I was 17 I went to Japan for a three-month tour and I was actually on one of the same shows as Asuka. I don’t think she remembers me at all from it, but I really do remember her. I thought she was super cool looking and I loved the way that she wrestled. I’ve watched her since she started in NXT since she had that (win) streak going. I wanted to be the one to break it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t (Laughs).
I’ve always had that intrigue in wrestling Asuka. I feel like this match is definitely going to be a very hard-hitting match and it’s going to bring things out of me — and hopefully her — that we haven’t seen before because it is a new challenge. We wrestle very differently and somewhat still the same. So I’m very excited to put on a great match for everyone.
Q: Charlotte Flair has been out with COVID-19, but she has a way of finding her way into WrestleMania matches. Would you welcome the idea of it being a triple threat and maybe for your own personal story to bring it full circle at a WrestleMania with her involved also?
A: I’d be down for the match if she got added, but also in a selfish way I really want to have a one-on-one match with Asuka. It’s something that I’ve wanted for a long, long time. I’ve always wanted to step in the ring with Asuka and we haven’t had a one-on-one match ever. So I think there is that it factor that everyone is really excited about. If Charlotte gets added to the match, I’m still not going to complain. It’s still going to be a fantastic match and it’s going to be a fantastic story. So I guess we will just see what happens. She always has her way, like you said, she’ll probably end up in it but that’s not my call to make. So I’ll be happy either way. I’m just happy to have a match at WrestleMania and I think it’s still gonna be great whether it has Charlotte in it or not.
Q: With that in mind, how do you envision the “Monday Night Raw” version of Rhea Ripley either differing or going back to something we saw in NXT? From your Raw Talk interview, that mean and nasty streak has come back a little bit.
A: I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last few weeks and I’ve thought about all my NXT days and how I got a little bit soft to the fact people were trying to push me over and they didn’t really care about the name Rhea Ripley. I had people calling me out left, right and center. I want people to be afraid of me. I don’t like it when people want to be buddy, buddy. I don’t like that at all. So I’m definitely going or trying to get my mental state back to the same way that I was at the start of NXT and in NXT UK where I don’t care. I have to remind myself every now and then not to care about other people and their feelings because I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to accomplish everything that I want to accomplish. It’s just pretty much what’s going through my mind right now. I want the gold. I want to be the top dog. I want to be the face of “Monday Night Raw” so I have to portray that in myself and just stop caring about everything, to be honest.
Q: Do you think that little bit of softness the character showed took away from the presentation a little bit, where obviously the other way was what got you hot in NXT?
A: Yeah, I think my no-care sort of attitude was what people sort of gravitated to. It’s really weird to say. I always went out there and I picked on people. I spoke down to people. I didn’t care about anyone and for some reason it made people care about me. If they want to like me, they’re allowed to like me. If they hate me, they’re allowed to hate me. To be completely honest, I just don’t care anymore. I’m there to do my job and put on a good show. If you love me, great. If you hate me, great, whatever.
Q: How do you think working at Royal Rumbles, Survivor Series and last year’s WrestleMania has prepared you to join the main roster? It’s not like you are coming in cold or unknowing of what things are like up there.
A: It’s definitely prepared me for this place. Just like stress-wise, I’ve always been a super stresshead. I want everything to be perfect. I’m sort of a perfectionist, so being able to be part of Survivor Series and going out there and being the captain and having all this responsibility and all this weight on my shoulders, and still conquering it and coming through to the end and being happy with what we’ve done, it definitely helped me for this. Especially the Royal Rumble, because I hadn’t wrestled in a couple weeks. That definitely put me back in the groove of everything.
It’s gotten me ready for mostly the stress and anxiety ’cause it’s something that I’ve always had. It’s definitely even higher now because this place is so important to me. Wrestling is so important to me. I just want it to be the best possible show that I could put on. But yeah, it’s probably the stress and anxiety more than anything.
Q: What would it mean to you to be the first woman to be NXT UK champion, NXT champion and a singles champion on the main roster?
A: Man, you just saying it makes me super excited (Laughs). It’s just incredible to know that they trust me, they believe in me to have me hold a title in this company. Being the first-ever NXT UK women’s champion was an amazing thing and something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I got to help make a brand and that’s incredible to me. And then to be NXT women’s champion and not only be it, but be the person to break the streak of Shayna Baszler, that’s also incredible. Hopefully, I can do it again. I would love to help promote and carry “Monday Night Raw.” I just think it would be really, really cool to say that I was Raw women’s champion.
Q: How proud are you of the Last Woman Standing match with Raquel Gonzalez? I know you lost, but it seems like it propelled her into the NXT women’s championship picture.
A: That match is one of my favorites by far. The whole story that we had building up to that match meant so much to me. Raquel is someone that has been with me through everything at NXT and she’s never had people look at her in a certain way where they thought and believed in her to be a face of NXT, which is really, really sad to me because she is so amazing at everything she does. She’s a great athlete. She’s only getting better and better with each time she’s on TV and she really does deserve this. I’m really thankful and glad we got to have that Last Woman Standing match. I sort of want to say I passed the torch on to her so she can be the monster in NXT because she deserved it so much.
Q: We talked about getting into that stadium with fans and getting that WrestleMania moment. Is that something you are going to try to take a second before you walk to the ring or get in the ring to really kind of soak in?
A: I want to say, yes. I want to say I will take that time to soak it all in, but knowing me I’ll probably go a million miles an hour and it will all be over and I’ll be in my bed and I’ll be like ‘Wow, what did I just do?’ That’s probably what’s gonna happen. I’m not too sure but that’s probably going to be the direction for me because I am so crazy and I just don’t stop all day. And it will just be over and I’ll be like, ‘Wow that was so cool.’ Then I’ll probably fall asleep because I’m in a lot of pain because Asuka kicked my ass. (Laughs).
Q: At least you may be falling asleep with a championship next to you even with the pain.
A: I mean hopefully (Laughs)