WWE's Charlotte Flair on Being Crowned NXT Champion at 'WrestleMania 36'
Charlotte Flair has experienced her share of WrestleMania moments over the years. It began as a spectator standing ringside witnessing dad “Nature Boy” Ric Flair retire from in-ring action in 2008. Since then the “Queen” of WWE built an impressive career paved in gold and marked by history-making milestones like being part of the first women’s match to headline WrestleMania.
This year was different for a number of reasons. The coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench in the company’s plans for WrestleMania 36, dividing the “Show of Shows” up into two nights from a closed set at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando. Flair kicked off the second card defeating Rhea Ripley in a hard-hitting match to become a two-time NXT women’s champion.
“In the time leading up to WrestleMania, I usually keep to myself, not a lot of socializing. I try to stay as focused as possible. This year was no different,” she said, reflecting on the night. “I didn’t really think about it being at the PC versus the Buccaneers stadium. I see it as an opportunity to prove to the world I’m one of the greatest WWE superstars of all-time.
“In my opinion, I knew it had the potential of being the most-watched Mania with people wanting content, and it ended up being two nights. I just looked at it more as an opportunity to show you don’t need a live audience to bring that intensity.”
Hours after the 2020 Royal Rumble winner added another accolade to her impressive resume, Flair reflects on what winning the NXT women’s championship and what it means for her future.
A lot of people were skeptical about what they would be seeing with WrestleMania this year, but your match with Rhea Ripley was among those most praised. Does it feel like mission accomplished?
Charlotte Flair: I think people tend to be more negative than positive. But as a whole, the company did everything they could and worked to keep the talent safe. We also wanted to put on a good show and keep the show going, and they did that. I thought it was incredible.
You're usually one to make every WrestleMania presentation special, and one way is through your many robes. What was the story behind the one we saw last night?
My favorite color is purple. A new person made my robe for WrestleMania, so I was a little nervous. I wanted to look like the evil queen with my favorite color, and they did that. It was by far my best robe, I think.
You kicked off night two of WrestleMania, and told a great story with Rhea Ripley by working on her leg. You were given a good amount of time and made the most of it. How did this match compare to the others you’ve been a part of on the big show?
I think I felt a little more pressure because, one, this is her first Mania. This is my fifth. She really had nothing to lose. I wanted to go out there and elevate the NXT women’s championship because it was the first time it was ever being defended on WrestleMania. I wanted to do it justice. I never faced Rhea before, other than a couple minutes on SmackDown without a storyline build. I thought, 'How do I want to take this audience on a roller coaster and make people believe Charlotte Flair was going to win the NXT women’s championship?'
You started in NXT and now return with so much success at a time when it has grown exponentially. Did you see it as a full-circle moment?
I didn’t really go into it thinking I could be wearing the NXT women’s championship, and what does that mean for my future. It was more taking this newcomer that’s going to be the next big thing and stringing the story that nobody thought was possible. Seeing people in NXT face Raw and SmackDown talent, how can I steal the show? I always say it’s not the title that makes the woman, it’s the woman that makes the title. What that could mean moving forward? Paying it back.
You’ve gotten a chance to be backstage and work at some NXT events already. Were there any differences you felt in the atmosphere of the locker room? How do you feel your win will change the landscape of the brand?
It’s very much different now than when I was first there. Now the girls come to me for advice because I pretty much have done it all. When you’ve been there, it’s different than when you’re on the rise. [But] I need to push myself as well. The girls are going to push themselves for the opportunities.
NXT arguably has the most competitive women’s division going right now. The roster is so deep with talent. Who are you looking forward to competing against?
Mia Yim, Candice LeRae, and I’m sure Bianca Belair wants a rematch. I haven’t really thought about that yet. It’s crazy, a whole new group of girls. Everyone knows that I’m probably the most competitive person in the locker room, so I’m going to want to have the best division.
What's keeping you motivated, knowing you’ve accomplished so much? What keeps the fire alive?
I think it’s ingrained in me. I don’t ever not want to be on a pay-per-view or in a featured storyline or at the top or getting better or being considered one of the best. I think that’s either something you’re born with or not. I feel like there is so much more to be done. I’ve never opened a WrestleMania before. The NXT title was defended for the first time at WrestleMania. I’m a two-time NXT women’s champion. You continue to work hard, you open more doors. I’m naturally hungry, I guess.
Is there anything you do to mark the occasion of a big win?
It was definitely different being able to eat cake on my birthday. I did enjoy my birthday while watching WrestleMania. We work the entire year up until WrestleMania, then it’s like a restart. So it’s about taking those few days to soak it all in, and now the work starts all over. I’m excited for the future.
Are you going to be working on Raw and NXT moving forward?
I guess that is up for debate. Do I need to be drafted to NXT? [Laughs] How is this going to work? I hope I get to work at all three brands.
There are many people who'd like to see another all-women’s pay-per-view, though the playing field has been leveled quite a bit since then. Would you like to see an Evolution II?
I love being on Evolution, but for me personally, I want to be on a card where the entire company is on there, so it’s not man or female. If it does happen, great. If it doesn’t happen, I’m not going to be disappointed. It's fun to see the women from the past, present, and future all on one show for one night. But to me, it’s great either way.
We are in such an interesting time right now. What has been helping you stay positive? I’m sure it’s quite an adjustment for someone like yourself to be home since you normally live out of a suitcase.
I think this has been the longest I’ve been home. Manny [Andrade, her fiancé and WWE superstar] and I have just moved. We’re working on the house, we’re building a gym in the garage, we’re just enjoying each other’s time without traveling. I just pray for everyone that they are staying home, staying safe. It’s almost a privilege to stay home so it’s not like, “Oh, I’m bored to be at home.” Just enjoying the time. WrestleMania I think made everyone step outside the box to be more creative. Hopefully, it will produce more storylines and more creativity because when you take things for granted like a live audience. You don’t see how far you have to go and what you have to do. I’m looking forward to seeing how we as a company can adapt to this and move forward.
You've won another championship and now you're forth an empowered female character on television in the new Quibi series, Fight Like a Girl, with women who are inspired by superstars like yourself. What does it mean to you to have this platform to do that?
I found so much in myself and how I was. I built up my confidence. I love volleyball, but never have been passionate about something until I started in this business. I started late. I turned 34 yesterday and am in the best shape. The most athletic I’ve ever been. I continue to get better every day. It’s about being strong, confident, and independent in a male-dominated world, which isn’t male-dominated anymore. I see how much I’ve evolved as a person, and I want to spread that message to people that they can be anything they want to be if they believe in themselves. I have a great circle around me. It has been a great journey. I’m very blessed.
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