‘I Still Have My Mitch Lucker Memorial Shirt’: Why Rhea Ripley Is The Most Metal Wrestler On The Planet Right Now

“I have always been a brutal child. I liked football, I liked netball, I liked rugby, I liked karate. I liked everything, especially the contact sports. Watching wrestling and how brutal it was at times really appealed to me. I love weapons, all that kind of stuff…”

You love violence, deep down.

“Violence, yeah,” comes the response, followed by a guilty laugh. “I am a very violent person! »

metal hammer is rarely the toughest person in the room, but it’s safe to say that Rhea Ripley could give us an absolute kick. Luckily, she doesn’t seem to have such intentions; she is actually one of the friendliest people you could ever share an interview with. Plus, she’s thousands of miles away, beaming via video link from sunny Florida as we sit in the comfort of a miserable rainy spring evening here in the UK. Wearing a Blackcraft hoodie, spiky blonde hair shaved to the sides and black nail polish, piercings and dark makeup, Rhea looks like many of the faces you’ll see in this magazine each month. The big difference? Rhea is not in a metal band. She’s a wrestler – in fact, that’s the biggest thing in women’s wrestling in recent years. As of press time, she is the reigning WWE Raw Women’s Champion. So make no mistake: Rhea Ripley may not be a musician, but she is a total rockstar.

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Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1996, Rhea – real name Demi Bennett – felt like a weird kid from the start. A naturally taller girl than most of her peers, she was treated differently by her classmates and school was often a mixed experience.

“I [was] always a bulkier child,” she tells us. “I’ve always had muscle, I’ve always had broad shoulders, I’ve never really fitted in that way and I’ve always been bullied for it. I’ve always felt a bit like an outsider.

Nonetheless, Rhea says her childhood was, for the most part, “fantastic”, describing herself as a “very outdoorsy kid” who went camping all the time and played “every sport possible”. It was this raw, ready physical side of her personality that ultimately drew her to professional wrestling – a world where larger-than-life characters are celebrated, not ostracized, and physicality is the name of the game.

“[WWE legend] Triple H is the reason I started watching wrestling,” she explains. “I watched a game with him and Ric Flair, and just the amount of brutality in that game alone… I was like, ‘OK, I have to try this, I really want to do this.'”

This interest would soon spark a passion that would eventually lead to a career. But wrestling brought him another passion: heavy metal. As a young fan in the late 2000s, Rhea would tune into WWE’s flagship show, Raw, every Monday evening. The theme of the series at this time? …To be loved by Papa Roach.

“I was a big Papa Roach fan after that,” she smiles. “The song was so catchyI was like, ‘I need to listen to this more.'”

Rhea took to Youtube to find more Papa Roach songs, eventually falling into the heavy music wormhole that would make her a lifelong dedicated metaller.

“You know how you go on Youtube and listen to a band, and then it’s a random playlist?” She adds. “The next song comes along and you’re like, ‘Ooh, this band is cool…’ It was kind of like that. I was listening to all these cool new bands and writing the names and uploading the songs. Eventually, my love grew up for her; I was in class in high school listening to metal when no one else was listening to the same music. But Papa Roach was definitely the start, and I’m glad wrestling could introduce me to that.

Rhea would become obsessed with bands like Of Mice & Men, Suicide Silence, and Motionless In White, leaning into their videos, sticking posters of them on her bedroom walls, and confusing the hell out of schoolmates who had no idea. no idea what she saw there. This only fueled her growing belief that she just wasn’t like most people.

“It’s funny, because at the time, I wasn’t defending myself at all,” she admits. “I would sit in class and listen to my music, and I would get carried away and start doing headbangs and singing along, having a little fun in class…then I would watch and my friends would laugh at me and filming myself, all that. I didn’t listen to the same music as them. I was out of place.”

Rhea Ripley

(Image credit: Press)

Like metal, wrestling has often provided a home for strangers. It’s another industry with millions of passionate followers around the world, and yet, for those interested in it, it remains a curious oddity, radically misunderstood by anyone who doesn’t. You understand. Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence then, as Rhea started meeting and hanging out with wrestlers from her local scene, metal was still part of the package.

“All the ‘outsiders’ got together and formed our own little group,” she says now. “I definitely felt more normal being with my wrestling team; we all listened to the same music, which was fantastic. Every time we went to the gym and practiced before wrestling practice, my coach would blast heavy metal, and that made the environment so good. I think that’s what made my love for heavy metal grow even more.

Rhea spent her last teenage years on the Australian independent wrestling circuit before signing with WWE in 2017. Since then, she has become a trailblazer in the business, becoming the first Australian world champion in the history of WWE at Wrestlemania 37 in April 2021. The further she has come in her wrestling career, the more her love of metal has influenced her public persona; his theme music is sung by New Years Day Ash Costello, his wrestling outfit looks like it was designed by Rob Halford fresh out of the Pain killer video and its entry is marked by a tribute to former Suicide Silence frontman Mitch Lucker, courtesy of an unmistakable deathcore stomp.

“Yeah, that’s Lucker’s stomp,” Rhea laughs. “I still have my Mitch Lucker memorial shirt that came out a long time ago, and it’s still my favorite shirt. I wear it at least twice a week.

Rhea was only 16 when Mitch died after a motorcycle accident in 2012. It was a moment that marked her deeply as a young metal fan.

“It was horrible,” she recalls. “The way he went, too, was absolutely awful. I remember going to my friend’s house – we had family friends and they were the people I watched wrestling with and listened to music with, and their daughter also liked Mitch. I found out and went straight to them; we just cried for a good few hours in his room until we calmed down. It was such a sad day. It’s always sad to think about it. This should never have happened. »

The fact that Rhea chooses to honor Mitch on such an important and mainstream platform as WWE is one of the many reasons why she has become an icon for metalheads and misfits everywhere. In a wrestling ring, she’s a real-life superheroine: larger than life, charismatic, and absolute power, throwing her opponents around the ring like rag dolls. In real life, however, she’s still just one of us: that same alien child who never really belonged.

“I think it’s always best to be yourself in wrestling, but a 10x version,” she reflects. “So the only difference between ‘Rhea Ripley’ and me is that Rhea Ripley is super confident! Ha ha! I don’t know where all that confidence comes from when I go there, but it is. .In my normal life, I’m a quiet, shy person. I’ll just sit in the corner by myself. But at work, I’m a whole different animal. It’s like the real me that I wish I could present in everyday life.

On the one hand, it seems impossible to connect the Rhea Ripley we see tearing up WWE with the calm, easy-going young woman at the end of this video call. On the other hand… isn’t that exactly what heavy metal is? This allows us for the spaces to be the loudest, proudest, the truest versions of ourselves. For some, it’s on stage. For others, it’s in the crowd at a festival. For the woman born Demi Bennett, it’s stepping into a wrestling ring. And in her case, it also inspires millions of other people to be the truest versions of themselves.

“I’m so grateful that I can be that person for everyone,” she smiles as our call comes to an end. “The amount of messages I get on Instagram about how people are so happy I’m in WWE, because it makes them confident in themselves and accepting themselves for who they are…it’s so special This makes me so happy. This is the one thing I really want everyone to understand, be themselves and love themselves. People like to judge others, unfortunately, but let people judge you. So much that you love yourself for who you are and present yourself as the real you, you can’t really go wrong.

When all is said and done, what could be more metal than that?

“I feel like I’m more metal,” Rhea concedes with another chuckle. Who are we to discuss? No seriously, who are we to discuss? She could give us an absolute kick.

Posted in Metal Hammer #350

Elizabeth J. Harless