Since her debut in NXT’s inaugural Mae Young Classic, Rhea Ripley has transformed into one of WWE’s most brutal superstars. This year, she’s set to make her Wrestlemania debut against the future Hall of Famer Charlotte Flair.

We got on the phone with the Australian brutalizer to talk about growing up a metalhead, how Papa Roach introduced her to heavy music, incorporating the Mitch Lucker stomp into her entrance, how she’s slowly morphed into a female version of Chris Motionless and more.

Check out our exclusive chat with NXT Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley below.

You and I have something in common. Besides being metalheads, we both grew up in Australia. I went to a very strict school where being a metalhead, or just being countercultural wasn’t well looked upon. What was your experience like?

Aww man, growing up listening to the sort of music that I listen to, there were a lot of times in class — mostly art class — where I’d sit in there and unknowingly headbang to the music and sing along to it. My friends would record it and send it to me, like, ‘Ugh, of course.’ [laughs]

People just didn’t understand how I liked metal and screamo and stuff like that. They just didn’t get it, you know? Everyone was listening to pop and whatever festival music. I wasn’t into that. Even going to the Soundwave festival, it was really hard for me to find people to go with. It was 2013, the first one I went to. All I had was my sister and our family friend, we were the only ones who listened to that sort of music. I was the oldest one, so no one could join me in the mosh pits. I had to try and find a safe place up front for them and then I had to run off into the mosh pit. [Laughs] Soundwave was my favorite. I miss it so much.

Do you remember the first time you heard something heavy and realized it was the music for you?

The way I got into it was because of wrestling. WWE had Papa Roach as their RAW opening song. I thought Papa Roach was amazing, so I listened to them on YouTube, and you know how YouTube is, especially when you’re scrolling through random stuff, you just end up finding more and more and I found all these bands that I fell in love with.

It’s funny, because wrestling is my one love and it introduced me to my other love. It’s awesome to see how everything fits together. It’s weird, but it’s super cool at the same time.

Let’s talk about the growth of your character. Back in the Mae Young Classic days, it wasn’t so obvious that you were a metalhead. Now you’re this brutal competitor, decked out in black with chains and spikes.

With the first Mae Young Classic, I was very young. I was 20. If you do back and watch my stuff from Australia, I was pretty much what I am now. I was definitely green and I didn’t really know exactly what I was doing, but I was definitely more the style that I am now.

At the first Mae Young Classic, I was just trying to make everyone happy, I was just trying to do my job and I was listening to too many people at once. It made me into something I didn’t want to be and that’s why when it came to the second Mae Young Classic, I had already spent a year at the Performance Center. I found out a lot about myself in that year and decided, yes I want to please people, but I want to do it in my own way. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, but it’s at least me.

At the second Mae Young Classic, I came out sporting my new look, everything that I wanted to do. I had the new aggression that I knew I always had, because I’ve always been, like, a brutal child. [Laughs] I can’t even get into those stories. Music does help me a lot with my character, with the fact that I have to have a really good theme song, something that I can get into while I’m walking down the ramp. It puts me into that mindset that I’m going into a mosh pit.

With the first Mae Young Classic, I didn’t really enjoy my song too much, so I couldn’t really get into things. I had ‘Final Straw’ for the second Mae Young Classic, absolutely loved it, and now I have ‘Brutality’ by Ash Costello from New Year’s Day. I listen to that band anyway, I think Ash is absolutely amazing. Being able to hear that when I’m coming out, it really does put me into the mindset that I’m going into a mosh pit and I’m ready to rock out and beat people up.

With Ash Costello singing your song and you having shirts at Hot Topic, did you ever anticipate that you would, through wrestling, become a part of the rock and metal culture?

No, I had no idea at all. I just found out about that Hot Topic thing, because I saw fans posting it on my social media. I didn’t even know! That’s so cool to me. I love Hot Topic, it’s like my No. 1 store.

When did you decide that you wanted to incorporate the Mitch Lucker stomp into your entrance?

Oh man, I came to a road bump where I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my entrance, because back home in Australia, I’d come out and start headbanging. I used to come out to Of Mice & Men, ‘Second and Sebring.’ I absolutely love that song and I love that band. I ended up doing the Nakamura back bend on the apron while headbanging, so I had to change it all up.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to do, but then I remembered Mitch always doing his stomp and how impactful it was to everyone in the pit, just how cool it looks. After I worked out the stomp in my entrance for ‘Final Straw,’ they ended up changing my song. I was in cahoots with the music people, trying to get them to put a scream in a certain place so I could get the stomp in.

When I was younger, Suicide Silence and Mitch Lucker were a big part of my life. I listened to them all the time. I cried when Mitch died, so I wanted something in there that reminds me of everything. It even reminds me of school and everything that I’ve been through and now I’m walking down the ramp to a WWE ring to go do my job. Some of the fans even put my photo and his photo together and I think that’s super super cool.

I saw in another interview that your goal growing up was to be ‘the most tattooed human ever.’ I saw you’ve got some really cool, demonic ink on your leg.

[Laughs] I could try to be the most tattooed person ever, but I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen. I would love to be covered in tattoos. My left leg, it’s got a bunch of random things on it that symbolize certain things to me, but my right leg has a bunch of supernatural things, because I watch the TV series Supernatural and I absolutely love demons and I love monsters and everything supernatural.

On my shin, I’ve got a demon getting stabbed through the head with the demon-killing blade from Supernatural. On my knee, I’ve got the purgatory symbol from Supernatural. It’s funny, because everyone always asks me what it is, but I like to keep it a secret. I’ve got some creepy bugs and stuff, like a centipede, I just got a Wendigo. It’s all monsters and I absolutely love it.

What kind of music is pumping you up leading up to your title match at Wrestlemania?

Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Motionless in White. Dude, I absolutely love them, I think they’re amazing. Chris Motionless is so good at what he does and likewise with the band. It’s quite funny because I’ve realized over the last two years, I’ve been morphing myself into Chris Motionless and I never realized it. We’ve got the same haircut, we wear practically the same makeup. I’m like, ‘This is terrifying.’ They’ve definitely been pumping me up in my workouts.

Guilty pleasure — I love Falling in Reverse. Ronnie Radke is just amazing. They’re the two bands I keep going back and forth on.

Is there anyone in the locker room that you have really good conversations about music with?

Not really, actually. I don’t think I talk to anyone about music. If Ruby Riott was still in NXT, I feel like I’d talk to her a lot about it. I’m stuck in the locker room listening to country music, normally. That’s what everyone else plays. [Laughs] Either that or R&B. I’m like, ugh, I’m just gonna sit in the corner and be quiet.

Rhea Ripley will defend her NXT Women's Championship against Charlotte Flair this weekend (April 4 + 5) at Wrestlemania. Fans can watch the special two-day event on the WWE Network.

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