Rhea Ripley Reawakened on Raw

Rhea Ripley

Rhea Ripley’s last match on the NXT brand was a barnburner. The former NXT women’s champion was facing off against former best friend Raquel Gonzalez, after weeks of being taunted by Gonzalez that she no longer needed Ripley and was determined to displace her as the undisputed alpha female of NXT. In their last-woman-standing match, Gonzalez and Ripley matched each other pound for pound, destroying Capitol Wrestling Center property in the process. When Gonzalez’s tag team partner Dakota Kai tried to interfere, Ripley stuffed Kai into a locker. Though she lost the match, it was a fittingly brutal send-off for the Nightmare in her last encounter on the black and gold brand.

By contrast, her move to Monday Night Raw has not lived up to the high bar set by her run on NXT. Capturing the Raw women’s championship put her in the crosshairs of Charlotte Flair, who’d returned from a leave of absence hell-bent for the belt, herself. Their program has been a non-starter, hampered by gimmicky matches and uninspired backbiting.

Rhea Ripley Shows Glimpses Of A Reawakening

However, July 12’s broadcast of Raw, the show’s last from the Thunderdome at Amway Center, offered a glimmer of hope, and a glimpse at the old Ripley. The Raw women’s champion was paired off against WWE women’s tag team champion Natalya, and it was a welcome departure from both of their current storylines. Natalya, like Ripley, and her tag partner Tamina has also recently been in a lackluster feud with Mandy Rose and Dana Brooke, casting Natalya and Tamina as goal-oriented workhorses clashing with a Rose and Brooke reimagined as vapid glamour girls.

After another backstage clash with Rose and Brooke, Natalya met Ripley in the ring. The psychology between them cast Ripley as the cocky upstart, but Natalya’s champion confidence was not without its flecks of vulnerability. It was clear that Ripley struck her as formidable.

After this excellent emotional telegraphing, Ripley rushed straight for the offensive, and captured the champion’s arm in a punishing lock. Natalya craftily maneuvered her way out of it. Ripley was in her element, predatory and playful as she pursued Natalya while they both ran the ropes, mutually looking for an advantage to strike. The Thunderdome audience were, for once, genuinely animated. Though the applause and cheers were sometimes piped in, their intent gazes and collectively clapping hands were quite real as they watched the two women trade pins and cleverly escape each other, again and again, acrobatically trapping and evading each other.

Natalya attempted to entrap and hold Ripley down in the sharpshooter, numerous times, the submission finisher so heavily associated with her uncles Bret and Owen Hart, at one point managing a standing variation more like the move from which the sharpshooter has its genesis, the Scorpion Death Lock. At one point, it looked as if Natalya had prevailed, but Ripley escaped Natalya’s third and longest attempt to finish via submission. Ripley conquered with her riptide maneuver, defeating Natalya via pinfall.

The bout was spirited, allowing Ripley a chance to show both snotty playfulness and decisive aggression. Set free from the cartoonish storylines of Raw, the tweener Ripley who had brutalized her opponents and yet won the hearts of the crowd at NXT with equal ease finally shone through. Yet, it was a contextually rich match in its own right, Natalya and Rhea needing little more than body language to convey the seeds of a promising storyline: emboldened by her tag champ reign, Natalya wants the Raw title, too, but Ripley isn’t going to make it easy.

Possible Future Feud

Natalya’s social media teases just such a storyline pivot in the works. With Mandy Rose’s appearance on July 13’s NXT,  teasing a potential shift there for her, a reshuffling of Natalya’s current storyline may be in order. Plans are perpetually subject to change at World Wrestling Entertainment, and a Rhea Ripley vs. Natalya program would be a welcome one.

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