This year more than ever, WrestleMania feels like an event rooted in star power and nostalgia. It’s a card loaded with familiar figures and established legends, stacking blockbuster matches stronger in stature than in story. That’s not necessarily a criticism either, not yet anyway as first, it’s only fair to see how this year’s WrestleMania eventually unfolds. Nonetheless, there are still some fresh faces central on this year’s show, names that in truth, are just one performance away from cementing themselves as major main event players.
Though an established talent, Drew McIntyre is an obvious example of that very scenario. Shayna Baszler too, challenging Becky Lynch for her RAW Women’s Title. Perhaps the most interesting case comes in NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley though, a young star that as of right now, appears to have the wrestling world at her feet. Still only 23 years old, Ripley is a unique case within WWE’s wider landscape. Beyond perceived potential, Ripley already seems set for a headline role, a position that with success, she can dominate for the next decade.
Those hopes will have to wait though, as Ripley enters the biggest match of her career, taking on Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania. Just weeks ago, this felt like a test of Ripley’s nerve, making the leap to a stage without peer in its size and scale. With relatively limited big match experience under her belt, Ripley was about to be dropped into a stadium of 70,000 people, meeting the woman that only last year, headlined this very show. Though daunting, that challenge was inevitable but now, a whole other task awaits Ripley.
With no fans in attendance, this NXT Women’s Title Match is suddenly without the splendor to signify its importance. Already somewhat lost in the sea of superstars, Ripley’s WrestleMania debut is now an inevitable footnote in history, taking place under the most unique circumstances imaginable. If beforehand, this match was a question of Ripley’s presence and popularity, it’s now a test of her and Flair’s creativity and versatility. In execution, this match almost certainly won’t reach the heights that once seemed feasible but even still, its significance remains palpable.
After all, this does feel like a potential moment worth recognizing. It’s impossible to predict Ripley’s future but in theory, this could go down as a genuine clash of eras, a generational battle between two women that divisions have and will be built around. Now clearly, that element will be decided in years to come, as Ripley looks to build her own legacy far beyond this match alone. Nonetheless, it does seem important to ponder the gravity of this moment itself, even if the women are likely handcuffed in terms of quality.
Rhea Ripley is already a rising star but against Flair, she can build upon that perception or halt it somewhat. That component has already been interesting too, comparing Ripley’s charisma and poise opposite Flair each time they’ve come face to face. The match itself remains the obvious test of that though. Ripley vs. Flair doesn’t necessarily need to be a headline at WrestleMania’s conclusion, but for her ascension to continue at this pace, the NXT Women’s Champion certainly needs to prove she belongs among such celebrated company.
In truth, there’s an importance to that quest which extends beyond only Ripley and Flair. Since the Four Horsewomen’s main roster debut in summer 2015, the women’s division has made undeniable strides. Though obviously not perfect, the women have become a pivotal piece of the WWE puzzle, even headlining last year’s WrestleMania. With those four building blocks in place though, the WWE have had mixed results when attempting to add to that core. In Asuka and Alexa Bliss, they’ve found immensely valuable additions to any title picture but outside of that pair, they’ve had less success.
With very few marquee matchups remaining fresh, it feels as though now more than ever, the women’s division needs some revitalizing. In Baszler and Ripley, they have two immediate options, two women that can become consistent contenders in the coming months and years. On age alone though, Ripley is clearly the long-term solution of that pair. She already appears firmly in position for the role too, and this match feels like a major step in that very direction. This isn’t a matter of phasing out the aforementioned horsewomen, it’s a case of supplementing them with talent that can rejuvenate the division’s title tilts.
Ripley fits that bill, looking like a rare candidate to truly shift the female hierarchy, obtaining a main event role that could make this the first of many featured WrestleMania matches in her career. Clearly, that process is firmly underway, but it could accelerate against Flair. This year more than ever, it feels almost impossible to predict the quality of each WrestleMania encounter. However, if Ripley and Flair can maximize their moment under these circumstances, it’d be yet another feather in the former’s cap.
For obvious reasons, this match may not produce the awe-inspiring imagery to match its potential historical relevance. Even still, it could prove to be a pivotal moment in Ripley’s young career. Regardless of the surrounding question marks, this will be Ripley’s first WrestleMania outing and ideally, it’ll provide the foundations for many more chapters to be built upon. It’d be naive to expect anything in WWE but as of right now, Ripley certainly feels as though she’s set to be a featured figure in WrestleMania’s future.
Whether this is the start of a new era or not though, it’ll always be Ripley’s WrestleMania debut. That much is history regardless, it’s now simply a matter of how important this puzzle piece will prove to be.