There's No Stopping Rhea Ripley

There's No Stopping Rhea Ripley

The WWE superstar is chasing the elusive Grand Slam at WrestleMania 2023 — and she's doing it on her own terms.

With an informal title like The Eradicator, it's probably wise to stay out of Rhea Ripley's way. And it's not just the intimidating nickname, add in the superstar wrestler's penchant for spikes, studs, and leather — plus the black lipstick and ear gauges — and it's probably just a good idea to give her exactly what she wants. And this year, at WWE's WrestleMania 39 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, Ripley (real name Demi Bennett) is after the only title that's keeping her from getting a Grand Slam: the SmackDown Women's Championship.

For those unaware of the sheer magnitude of WrestleMania, last year's event broke records for viewership and outperformed the Super Bowl on multiple platforms — and it's where Ripley's set to make her mark on the sport and catapult herself and her singular brand of goth glam into the stratosphere. Names like John Cena, The Rock, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and the Bella Twins? They've all had major matches at the biggest wrestling event of the year, lovingly (and reverently) referred to as the Showcase of the Immortals and the Grandest Stage of Them All by the WWE's often over-the-top announcers.

"Wrestling can bring everyone together and have everyone just enjoy it immensely and just be on the same page and just sit there loving every second of what they're watching and be so invested. I think that's probably one of my favorite parts that I remember from growing up," Ripley tells InStyle of her experiences with the big show. She's been a fan all of her life and even though it was tough to catch the show live because she grew up in Australia, she managed to make it happen. "I'd take a day off of school, I'd go to the pub with my wrestling friends, and I'd watch WrestleMania with all my wrestling mates." 

Ripley's place on the WWE women's roster is unique. She's often seen as a powerhouse, taking on her opponents with brute strength and determination. It's just one way to make a name for herself, especially as the women's division grows and spotlights its athletes in different ways. There are the high flyers, women who sprinkle gymnastics into their moves, and there are the bulldozers, like Ripley, who eschew some of the flash of their fellow wrestlers for what can sometimes be seen as sheer stubborn willpower to (deservedly) earn a nickname like The Eradicator.

"It's been very wonderful to watch and to see how much effort all the women put in and how hard we push ourselves to prove that we are on the same level as the guys. It's incredible to see how far it's come," Ripley says of taking to the ring alongside her cohorts. "The women here in the WWE, they deserve the absolute world. They deserve all the gratitude and all the acknowledgement for everything that they put into this business. And I think that it's finally shining and I'm very excited to see where it goes."

There's No Stopping Rhea Ripley

Courtesy of WWE

It's not just the temporary face tattoos and dark eye makeup that give Ripley her edge. Among her peers, there's one major reason to keep an eye on her: She's not afraid to get a little dirty and get involved with the men of the WWE. As leader of the Judgement Day faction, she's often throwing punches alongside her teammates Finn Bálor, Damian Priest, and on-screen boyfriend Dominik Mysterio. Leading up to this year's big event, she and Mysterio have cultivated their Mami and Dom Dom storyline, something that gives fans another reason to root for her.

"Going out there with my family, the Judgment Day, and being able to step to the guys and take them down, pick them up, throw them on the mat — this is the next step for the women's division," she says. "And I can only see it growing more and more in the next few months, the next few years. I'm really excited to see how far we can go."

That inter-gender wrestling is something that hasn't been seen since the WWE's Attitude Era, when the late, great Chyna would get in the ring and brawl with her male counterparts, even going as far as earning the coveted Intercontinental Championship in '99. Ripley doesn't name her directly (she's been quoted as saying, "I can't be the next Chyna. I'm the first Rhea Ripley.), but it's because she's not trying to be the next Chyna, she's ensuring that everything that Rhea Ripley does is to forge a distinct direction for herself. 

"I see a lot of things on the internet that are like, 'It's not fair. They need to hit Rhea back,'" she says of going toe-to-toe with wrestlers like WWE Hall of Famer Edge and Raw's Akira Tozawa, who found himself on the wrong end of her signature finisher, a pumphandle powerbomb that she's branded the Riptide. "I invite them, I'm constantly telling them to hit me. It's not my fault if they don't hit me. That's them and what they want to do. That's not my decision. But me going out there and doing whatever the hell I want and sticking up for my boys and protecting my boys, I'm loving every second of it. I have no complaints here."

The women here in the WWE, they deserve the absolute world.

She's not humble about the fact that she can out-wrestle just about anyone on the roster. And she shouldn't have to be. It's clear that she can handle herself whether the person in the ring with her is male or female.

"When I first started wrestling, I was the only girl to go to training for the longest time, and it was just me and all the boys. So, I do live for this stuff," she adds. "And I think I've caught a few guys off with my attitude and the things that I do. I don't think they expect me to be able to pick them up. But I mean, I'm here. Mami's here to stay and Mami's here to prove a point. And that's stronger than most of the guys here in the WWE."

It's not just the moves, however. Ripley's one-of-a-kind persona has endeared her to an audience that was accustomed to seeing female wrestlers with long hair, decked out in rhinestone-studded unitards, and using sex appeal as a gimmick. It's a far, far cry from the temporary face tattoos that she wears (a scale or "JD" for the Judgement Day one week, a simple R for Ripley the next) and her dark lipstick.

"My lipstick is the Sephora brand liquid lipstick. It's just the normal black one," she shares, just in case anyone wants to replicate the sinister look. "Sometimes it does smudge, but I normally put it on early in the day. And because I'm filming so much stuff and running around sweating, I put so many layers on. By the time I go out on TV, it doesn't move too much." As for her eyes? It's the same stuff, literally: "I put liquid purple lipstick on my eyes and I sort of just blend it in with a brush and then go over with a light purple eyeshadow that I got off Amazon. I'm not very good with brands and stuff, I just sort of buy things off Amazon and use them," she admits, noting the off-label use just works. "But then I also put the black Sephora lipstick on my eyes and blend it out into the purple. Black Moon Cosmetics is the highlighter on the inside of my eye and they're the absolute best."

Makeup is just part of that punk persona, which Ripley says isn't so much of a character as it is a reflection of her own tastes. She cites Of Mice & Men, Suicide Silence, Falling In Reverse, and Motionless in White as her favorite bands and the culture around them as the influence for her wrestling looks, which include everything from leather harnesses and band merch-inspired T-shirts ripped into custom halter tops to spiked boots and embellished moto vests. Her tattoos peek through fishnets and she brandishes her tongue ring every time she stomps into the ring.

"The Rhea Ripley that you see today is pretty much just me as a human, but it's the side of me that would probably get arrested in everyday life," she jokes. "With the spikes and the grungy sort of look, the punk look, the gothic look, it just stems from the music that I listen to. I've always wanted to wear the big spiky jackets, but I'd never really had the chance until I came here to the WWE."

The inclusive world of wrestling, where the women can play on superhero-themed costumes and Harley Quinn hair, make their grand entrances in shimmering capes, or simply come ready to fight in leggings and sports bras, offered a way for Ripley to not only find herself, but express herself in a way that she always wanted to — and take it to the extreme.

"The first year that I was here, I was very sheltered and shy and I didn't want to be too different, even though it was who I was. After a year of being here in America, I was like, 'You know what? I got to stop caring what everyone thinks,'" she says. "I got to embrace the real me and wear what I want to wear, take inspiration from the bands that I listen to and the people that I follow and look up to. That's where Rhea Ripley came from."

There's No Stopping Rhea Ripley

Courtesy of WWE

Ripley, who has been open about struggling with body image in the past, commends the WWE for championing individuality and encouraging each athlete to express themselves. That means the women all have different hair and makeup looks and different body shapes in addition to their own unique arsenal of in-ring moves.

"I never thought that I would fit in the WWE, because I was never that petite, skinny woman," she says of the company's push toward inclusion in its Evolution Era, which can be traced back to 2007. "I always had the broad shoulders, I always had the muscle. I was always more of a tomboy sort of thing. Growing up watching Beth Phoenix, she was one of the big ones that inspired me to just be myself and accept me for me and show off my physique that I have. And it's cool to see the women's division now, because there's a variety of different body shapes and different colors and everything."

It doesn't go unnoticed by Ripley or viewers. Ripley has a very special place on the villain-hero spectrum, or in professional wrestling terms, heels and faces. With as many supporters as detractors, she says that when it comes down to the foundation of why she's wrestling, it's because she's out there having a good time and showing everyone watching that they can be part of the fun.

"I go out there and I'm just having fun. I'm doing whatever the hell it is that I want to do, and I'm acting however I want to act," she says of how she toes the line between bad behavior and showcasing the storylines of chosen family and support that mark the Judgement Day's rise to prominence. "Yes, the things that I'm doing are very questionable and they're probably not the best decisions to be a good person, but I think people will just realize that I'm out there having the time of my life. And that sort of makes them happy in a really, really sick way."

Winning this weekend's showdown against Charlotte Flair — as the daughter of legendary wrestler Ric Flair, Charlotte is squarely a WWE nepo baby — would make Ripley the fifth woman in WWE history to claim the distinction of holding the Raw, Tag Team, NXT, and SmackDown titles (Flair was the last to do it). The spectacle of it all isn't lost on Ripley, who made her first appearance at WrestleMania in 2020, when there was no audience in attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, there were monitors around the arena and fans Zoomed into the show as part of a virtual audience. Ripley recalls how special that moment was, even without the sound of the live cheers (and jeers) coming from the stands. — though she's unquestionably excited to be in L.A. with an in-person audience this time around.

"Being a part of the first Mania with zero fans in attendance and then going on to winning the Raw championship the next year at WrestleMania, it was a very special night," she says of her experiences on the Show of Shows. "It's such a huge opportunity and everything about it just ... It's just amazing."

It definitely does feel like the biggest event of the year. Nothing really comes close to it.

Having to work 300 days of the year, crisscrossing America (and sometimes stopping in Europe and the Middle East for special events), it would be safe to assume that Ripley's grown accustomed to the pressure of appearing on the WWE's twice-weekly broadcasts and almost-monthly pay-per-view specials. But she shares that every time she comes out, ready to stomp her big-booted foot down and deliver a signature headbutt or her trademark submission, the Prism Trapit's still as exciting and nerve-racking as it was the first time.

"They're all huge opportunities and you can't take it for granted. And if you don't get nervous, it means that you don't care and you don't love the business. So, I'm constantly nervous every time I go out," she says of her Raw and SmackDown matches. "But with WrestleMania, because it's just been hyped up for a couple of months, it really does bring a different sort of buzz to it. It definitely does feel like the biggest event of the year. Nothing really comes close to it. It's absolutely incredible to walk out."

When WrestleMania airs on Apr. 1 and 2 (it's been a two-night extravaganza since 2020), Ripley will be walking out to face Charlotte Flair for a straightforward one-on-one match, but there's no doubt that she won't really be alone in her efforts to make history and add another accolade to her in-ring résumé. Not only will she have the fans rallying behind her, but she'll also be there with her Judgment Day boys and whether she wins or loses, Ripley is sure to keep on with her brand of bedlam.

"The boys are exactly the same as me. We go out there and we just have fun. We cause havoc, we cause chaos. We go out there and we just want to ruin people's days," she says. "But for some reason, people find that very entertaining, which I mean, I can't blame them. It is obviously entertaining us."

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