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Road To WrestleMania 39: Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair

“If you didn’t know the future of women’s wrestling is Rhea Ripley, now you know.” – Trish Stratus

WWE WrestleMania 39 is set to feature the latest chapter in the rivalry between Rhea Ripley and Charlotte Flair when “The Nightmare” challenges “The Queen” for the SmackDown Women’s Championship. It wasn’t a rematch that many fans had on their radar until Ripley won the Royal Rumble and selected Flair as the champion she wanted to face at the “Show of Shows.” But in hindsight, it’s absolutely a rematch that should be happening now.

2019 marked a major turning point for Ripley as she transitioned from NXT UK over to NXT and was warmly welcomed by Full Sail fans, setting her up to be the next face of the women’s division. The lead up to Survivor Series was even more crucial as Ripley had her hands full leading the charge for both a WarGames match and a 15-woman Survivor Series tag bout. During a November episode of SmackDown, Ripley — still considered a rookie — was thrown into a triple threat match against decorated former champions Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks. As it played out, Ripley pinned Flair for the upset victory.

From there, Ripley pinned Shayna Baszler inside WarGames and then pinned Banks the next night at Survivor Series to keep her momentum rolling. Less than a month later, Ripley pulled off what few had been able to do when she slammed Baszler with a Riptide off the top rope and pinned her to capture her first NXT Women’s Championship.

Ripley walked into 2020 with her confidence so high that she laid out a bold challenge. After Flair won the Royal Rumble, Ripley appeared on Raw to confront her. The surprise meeting ultimately led to Flair officially declaring she would challenge for the NXT title at WrestleMania 36.

The world had other plans for WrestleMania 36, though, when the pandemic forced the event to relocate from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to WWE’s own Performance Center with no fans in attendance. But that didn’t stop Ripley and Flair from brutalizing each other in the opening match of the second night. Both women walked into that match confident in their own capabilities as Flair didn’t bother watching Ripley walk down the entrance ramp, while Ripley managed to hit Flair with a Riptide just minutes into their encounter.

Unfortunately for the champ, Flair’s experience proved to be vital as she weakened Ripley’s leg for several minutes before making her tap to the Figure Eight. Charlotte was champion again. Ripley’s confidence was crushed. The climb back up for the Australian star was far from easy.

Rhea Ripley Wrestlemania 37
Photo: WWE

After Io Shirai beat Ripley and Flair to win the NXT Women’s title that summer, the WrestleMania rivals didn’t meet again until the 2021 women’s Royal Rumble match. The final three came down to Bianca Belair, Ripley, and Flair — the same trio who occupied the NXT title picture a year before. Flair, though, was outnumbered when Ripley and Belair united to eliminate her in emphatic fashion.

Despite losing, Flair seemed poised to challenge her former tag team partner Asuka at WrestleMania 37 for the Raw Women’s title. However, “The Queen” disappeared from storylines just weeks out from the grand event, leaving Asuka without a challenger… until “The Nightmare” seized the opportunity.

At WrestleMania 37 in Raymond James Stadium, Ripley righted her wrongs when she planted Asuka into the mat for a three-count in order to win her first Raw Women’s Championship. The only issue was, Asuka wasn’t Charlotte.

Charlotte did return following Mania and inserted herself into Ripley-Asuka to set up a triple threat at Backlash where Ripley once again pinned Asuka. Flair, still determined, challenged Ripley again at Hell in a Cell, but the bout ended in disqualification.

The two rematched at Money in the Bank, the first premium live event with fans back full-time. It was almost poetic as fans were back to witness Ripley finally beat Flair once and for all… except it was Flair who was victorious by submission yet again. The following night on Raw, Nikki A.S.H. cashed in her Money in the Bank contract to win the title from Charlotte. The trio met at SummerSlam, but Ripley still didn’t win. Event at the 2022 Royal Rumble, Flair eliminated Ripley and any chances she had of facing her at WrestleMania once again.

Photo: WWE

Then we arrive at January 30, 2023. Ripley has evolved even further as a member of The Judgment Day. She outlasted all 29 women to win her first Rumble. And she had two options: set her sights on Raw Women’s Champion Bianca Belair, or seek redemption as the hero of her own blockbuster in Hollywood. The story wrote itself.

Flair may currently be portraying a babyface on television these days, but those who have been following Ripley’s journey know who the real protagonist is. Whether or not her last name had anything to do with it, Charlotte has made plenty of history over the last decade. Meanwhile, Ripley has carved out her own path by winning every major title except the one Flair currently holds.

If Charlotte Flair thinks she’s ready for this version of Rhea Ripley, she’s bloody wrong. WrestleMania 39 might as well be called Judgment Day as it will mark the place where Ripley finally defeats Flair in an act of revenge for what happened three long years prior.

Do you think it’s time Ripley beats Flair? Or does The Queendom live to see another day? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments below!

Celebrate Women’s History Month! Ring Post Journal’s 2022 Women’s Wrestling Year in Review is now available on Amazon in digital, paperback, and hardcover formats internationally. Relive the entire year in one book with a news timeline, detailed results, and win-loss records for WWE, AEW, IMPACT, NWA, and more!

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