WWE's Charlotte Flair Talks Io Shirai Match: 'I Have High Hopes'
The queen of WWE is defending her proverbial throne! On May 6, reigning NXT women’s champion Charlotte Flair battles challenger Io Shirai, the so-called “Genius of the Sky,” who earned a title opportunity in a brutal, April 8 ladder match against Dakota Kai, Tegan Nox, Mia Yim, Chelsea Green and Candice LaRae.
Flair, the daughter of wrestling icon Ric Flair, is eager to face off against the Japanese athlete. “How I approach every opponent is different, but I always have the utmost respect for talent who come from overseas and don’t speak the language and move to a different country,” Flair tells TV Insider. “It blows my mind. But for Io, I think what makes this one different is we’ve never touched. We’ve never even been in the ring together. It’s completely fresh and something to build off of.”
As anticipation mounts, we sat down with Flair to talk about Shirai, wrestling amidst the Covid-19 crisis and social-distancing, and pulling brand double-duty working on Raw and NXT.
You’ve really adapted to wrestling in front of no crowd [with] little things you do, whether it’s being more verbally expressive or how you’re looking into the camera. Has anyone helped you along through the process?
Charlotte Flair: I’ve taken this opportunity [having] no crowd, just like the opportunity at WrestleMania before we knew how this was going to turn out, as a chance to stand out. We’re in this certain dilemma of, how can you pull in the audience [and] make them forget there is no crowd? How can you do that? That is my main focus every time I walk through the curtain. How can I captivate the viewer? I don’t know what everyone else’s process is, but I know I am a perfectionist.
Sometimes I’m never satisfied, and it’s never good enough. I really just wanted to take the time and say, “There is only one of me.” I feel like [not] having an audience can really rattle you as a performer. Usually with an audience, you can tell if they like it or they don’t. You get that instant gratification. With me, I don’t need that gratification as a performer. I feel like I’m comfortable enough and can do my best to stand out with this unusual circumstance.
You’ve also been having some of your best matches on TV right now. Last week you faced Mia Yim, someone you’ve met before years ago, on NXT. This week on Raw it was Liv Morgan. With these opponents, you can see how much they’ve grown in the ring. Do you see yourself as that ultimate test or measuring stick when it comes to elevating talent?
For Mia I just kind of thought to myself, “Wow, you never know what the future holds.” When I faced Mia for the first time [back in 2014], I can honestly say I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. Then coming full circle and coming back to NXT, was there an element of nervousness because NXT is their own entity now? One hundred percent. Now it’s coming back saying, “I’m not scared anymore. Let me show how much I’ve grown since it has been five years since we touched.” It was exciting to do that. With Liv, I had a match with her six month ago. Then given the opportunity to have that much time with her, I wanted to help bring out that spark. And I hope I did that.
In the case of Io Shirai, here is a match that has been building the last few weeks. It's a dream match considering the skill level both of you have. What’s your mindset going into it? Is there added pressure knowing there are such high expectations?
I have been told and heard in interviews that Io has said I was a dream match for her. So it kind of brought me back to Trish Stratus. I’m not comparing Io to her, but I’m comparing having that feeling I had facing Trish [at SummerSlam in 2019]. She had these expectations of me when coming out of retirement to wrestle me in this one last match. I had a nervousness about if I could live up to all this expectation and hype and what she saw in me as a performer.
Knowing how Io has wrestled all over the world and is extremely skilled....no, she is not in the same place as me in WWE. But she is saying Charlotte is her dream opponent. Then for me it’s about hoping to live up to that expectation. I’m her dream opponent and want to be as good as she thought I was. On a storyline note, this will be my first title defense after beating Rhea [Ripley]. I have high hopes. Defending the title in NXT, I’m looking forward to it.
You’re having these competitive matches on NXT and bringing name value to the brand. Despite that, there are those on social media who constantly say you are overshadowing this person or that person. Or she is taking up a space or time that could be used for someone else. What do you say to those detractors?
When I’m doing well or doing bad, when I’m winning or when I’m losing, nobody is ever happy. It’s easier to be negative. At this point in my career, I just block it out. If you look at me doing both brands, promoting both brands, wrestling on both brands, doing promos on both brands, I am busting my ass. And if people want to still be negative and say I’m hurting others, I don’t know.
I love what I do. I love the job and the people and the business. I’m willing to do it all, but it’s hard. I’m trying to give as much as I can. Can I be another body on NXT? I hope so. Can I add to the brand? I hope so. I’m just going to do the best I can. If being that bad guy is making people love another good guy, then I’m doing my job. That’s the best part of it is I hope you love that good guy even more because of me.
How would you say [fellow WWE superstar and husband-to-be Manny] Andrade has helped you better yourself as a performer and vice-versa?
I can’t help Manny with moves or wrestling or anything like that, but I can give my perspective in terms of how to carry yourself. The in-between. The character moments. I’m going to him saying, “I need this move. I need this move.” He’ll be like, “No, Mami. You need to be the queen.” It’s a completely opposite thing. I haven’t really added new moves. It’s just taking the moves I have and putting them in different places. He has definitely brought a certain calmness for me. It’s less about in the ring and more about time spent in between things and telling my story and relaxing because I’ve gotten here. Now it’s about staying here. With him, whether it’s his entrance or the character moments or the camera angles that I’ve had the experience with WWE in how they shoot. It has been extremely beneficial for both. Not to mention being able to travel with the one you love on the road.
Aside from the fact that you're Ric Flair's daughter, you’ve helped raise the bar for women’s wrestling in your own right. Do you feel Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s daughter Simone [who signed with the WWE in February] will have a harder time breaking through knowing the precedent the likes of you and others have set?
I think she’ll get as much out of this business as she wants to put into it. That’s with any generational wrestler. You have the legacy and making a name for yourself, so however far she wants to go is up to her. She has all the skills, and obviously with her dad being who he is, all of the knowledge she could want is accessible. I think she will be just fine.
We’ve seen so many of these cinematic matches taking place, opening the door for a wealth of possibilities. If you could pick, what would your ideal scenario be? Who would you want to face in this situation?
I would say maybe the Four Horsewomen. How we all started together and watching the cinematic journey and all have gone our own ways. How our paths have crossed, but will we all get together again? I feel that has the most depth to it.
I picture it similar to an epic Game of Thrones battle scene for the crown.
Totally. That would be something.
WWE NXT, Wednesdays, 8/7c, USA Network