The undisputed Queen anoints a successor.
On the January 29 episode of WWE Raw, Charlotte Flair, winner of the 2020 women's Royal Rumble match, came out to the ring to celebrate her victory. It was yet another feather in the cap of the most decorated WWE female wrestler in the company's history.
The only question remaining was whether Charlotte would challenge for the Raw WWE Championship (currently held by Becky Lynch) or the Smackdown WWE Championship (currently held by Bayley). The former is a great match-up with wonderful chemistry, but we've seen that pairing many, many times. The latter match-up has no emotional context that would make it worthy of a Wrestlemania feud.
It turned out, thankfully, that there was also an Option C.
Heavy metal blared through the speakers in the arena and out came NXT Champion Rhea Ripley. Ripley, for those who might be unfamiliar with her, is a particularly vicious competitor from Australia, with long limbs, rippling lats, and a coiled way of moving that makes her appear ready to pounce. In the same way that Charlotte is taller and more muscular than the other women on the main roster, the same is true for Rhea Ripley, who moves with a fluidity that belies her strength.
Ripley seized her moment. She got in the ring and challenged Charlotte to a match at Wrestlemania for the NXT Championship. Charlotte, in turn, responded like a classic heel. She walked past Rhea and exited without addressing the challenge; she will give her answer on February 5's episode of NXT on USA.
But no matter whether Charlotte says yes, or no, or maybe, the storyline will twist and turn its way to a Wrestlemania match; the writers wouldn't have floated the possibility of Charlotte vs. Rhea if they didn't intend to deliver it.
It solves a problem that the WWE writers have struggled with for the past two years: "What do we do with Charlotte?" She is the dominant centerpiece of the division--the product of wall-to-wall strong booking over a period of five years. She is a nine-time WWE champion; were she to retire today, her legacy would already be set in stone.
But in the process of building the division around her, WWE pushed her a little too hard. She beat Asuka, widely considered to be one of the best wrestlers in the company, multiple times. The roster of women grew in size and diversity, but despite this, Charlotte continued to dominate the upper card. And because there were so many talented women that equaled and exceeded her abilities, her title reigns began to feel forced. The belt always seemed to come back to her in the end; she only loaned it out on occasion, and to some, she felt like either a filler or transitional champion.
This overexposure reached a head at last year's Wrestlemania, where she was shoehorned into an already highly-anticipated main event match between Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch. It was almost as if she had to be there, for no other reason than because she was Charlotte Flair.
But this year, WWE has the right idea. They found a worthy role for Charlotte that would not clog up the main roster title picture, and instead, could elevate a younger talent on a massive stage. If Charlotte wins at Wrestlemania, all Rhea has to do is hang tough with her to raise her profile. And if Rhea wins at Wrestlemania, Charlotte wouldn't be hurt in the slightest. Rhea, meanwhile, would become an instant star.
Of course, The Queen will eventually find her way to the top again. There will be a 10th reign, an 11th reign, and a 12th reign. But for now, it's nice to see Charlotte taking a backseat and contesting for a less prestigious title, where she'll be able to elevate her competition rather than detract from it.
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