It has been a tumultuous, and sometimes confounding, year for Rhea Ripley. The Aussie import has experienced all the highs and lows of this new era of NXT. On Tuesday night, she walked into the main event with something to prove and she succeeded.
Ripley came into the year on a high note after she ended Shayna Baszler’s dominant 416-day reign to become the new NXT Women’s Champion in December. It was the most effective babyface title win in recent memory. An occasion that may seem even more electric in hindsight because of the reaction from the live crowd at Full Sail. The celebration that followed felt pure and it heralded the emergence of the next big star in WWE’s women’s division.
In January, Ripley had a familiar obstacle in front of her. After all, her first challenger, Toni Storm, was the opponent who dethroned her at NXT UK TakeOver: Blackpool a year prior. The inaugural NXT UK Women’s Champion famously lost her title to Storm at the brand’s first WWE Network event, but a lot had changed since then. "The Nightmare" just had a breakout year in 2019 and she rode that wave of momentum to a win over her old rival at Worlds Collide during Royal Rumble weekend.
Rhea Ripley struggled to bounce back from Wrestlemania defeat
It seemed like the sky was the limit for Ripley. So, when the 23-year-old champion challenged the face of WWE’s current generation of women’s wrestling, Charlotte Flair, it looked like a great opportunity to pass the torch. Instead, she lost her title to Flair at WrestleMania 36 and she has stumbled along ever since.
Now, it’s easy to argue that WWE made a bad decision here and they probably did given the stature Ripley had accrued. However, Ripley was still the first woman ever to defend the NXT Women’s Championship at WrestleMania. The event wasn't steeped in its usual flair and pageantry, and it didn’t happen in front of her friends and family, but it was a career highlight nonetheless. In fact, Ripley vs. Charlotte was easily one of the best matches of the weekend and will go down as one of the best women’s wrestling matches of 2020.
Still, “The Nightmare” definitely lost some of the mystique that she initially brought to NXT. Once she finally returned to reclaim her title, Io Shirai had already emerged as the next challenger. “The Genius of the Sky” eventually won the Women’s Championship at NXT TakeOver: In Your House and surprisingly pinned Rhea Ripley to do so. Flair seemingly escaped from the triple-threat match without receiving comeuppance, and Ripley took another high profile loss.
As such, the Steel Cage Match in the main event of Super Tuesday II meant a lot more than just exacting revenge on The Robert Stone Brand. This was Ripley’s first big match in months and she faced an opponent in Mercedes Martinez, who is revered for her storied career as an indie wrestler. It was a huge test for Ripley and she excelled, entering the structure with a sense of urgency and surviving an extremely physical match.
In the end, Ripley vanquished Martinez with Super Riptide, sending her crashing through a table below. It was a much-needed win that could put her back on track after a frustrating few months. The juxtaposition between the visuals of Ripley celebrating in a mosh pit in the ring as the new champion in December and pulling herself out of the steel cage on Tuesday night is clear. Rhea Ripley has scratched and clawed to fight her way back and her future still looks just as bright.