Charlotte Flair defends the NXT Women’s Championship Wednesday night against Io Shirai.
Flair is in the midst of an incredible run. She won the Royal Rumble in January, put on a breathtaking performance against Rhea Ripley at WrestleMania, and now is appearing on both Raw and NXT to defend the NXT Women’s Championship.
Wednesday night’s match stands for more than just the NXT Championship, as it is an opportunity for Shirai to showcase her ability as one of the best wrestlers in the world and for Flair to continue to elevate her title reign.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Flair went into detail on her role and responsibility as champion, the meaning behind her work at WrestleMania and the qualities that make the NXT women’s division so distinct.
Justin Barrasso: You are coming off an outstanding match this past Monday on Raw against Liv Morgan, who has the potential to be one of WWE’s top stars. I know some people were disappointed she lost as she continues to build momentum, but I felt like the match was an opportunity to further elevate herself against one of WWE’s top performers—and even tied back to a story that started last July between you and Liv. What was your take from the match, and are we right to think there is no limit on Liv’s potential?
Charlotte Flair: My take was, when I first found out about it, was we had three segs [television segments], with a promo and a match, that is a huge chunk of time. That’s an opportunity to highlight Liv, highlight myself, and it’s much more time than we were given before. I went out there thinking, ‘How can I give Liv the best performance knowing she is the next big thing?’
Having the promo and the two segs, I don’t think people realize how much goes into that. I’ve had those reps, she hasn’t. I know people were disappointed she lost but, at the same time, it makes you go, ‘I want more for her!’ Now you want more for Liv. Sometimes people forget this, but you can’t slay the dragon on the first night.
JB: Your performance against Rhea Ripley at WrestleMania was flawless, and I’d argue it was the match of the weekend—and it certainly lived up to the Flair standard at a WrestleMania in Orlando. Did it take time to get accustomed to an empty arena at a show of such magnitude? And was your plan always to have such a physical match? That must have been extremely painful without the adrenaline rush you’d feel from fans in the crowd.
CF: When you think of my dad and Shawn [Michaels] and their WrestleMania match, you normally don’t think of a great crossbody off the top or a moonsault. The one thing you remember from that match is Shawn going, ‘I love you, I’m sorry.’ With these empty arena shows, my first goal is to set myself apart from everyone else. How do I do that? How do I make the audience forget that there’s no crowd? And how do I do that with an opponent that’s never been on a WrestleMania?
I just tried to go in very calm and be more vocal trash-talking Rhea the whole time. To me, there has to be even more intensity without the audience. Normally, when you’re watching at home, you can feed off the crowd. Now you can only feed off the two talent in the ring.
Going into this match, I didn’t want to think, ‘Man, we don’t have an audience’ or ‘It’s too bad we’re not at the Buccaneers’ stadium.’ This was an opportunity to separate ourselves and bring intensity, emotion, and storytelling. Watching a movie, there is no audience. I wanted to do that as a performer, so that’s what I thought entering the match. Our match was all about two women physically telling that story, aggressively. That’s what I want people to take away from our match.
JB: You had the standout match with Rhea Ripley at WrestleMania, as well as worked with Liv Morgan this past Monday and Mia Yim last week on NXT. I know that you are your own star and you’re creating your own legacy, but you are Ric Flair’s daughter. He was notorious for bringing out the best in opponents, whether it was Sting, Kerry Von Erich, Barry Windham, even Carlito had his best match with him—and that is one of the many reasons your father was so special in the ring.
You have a unique opportunity to showcase the NXT roster, which includes Io Shirai, Chelsea Green, Dakota Kai, Tegan Nox, Candice LeRae, and Mercedes Martinez, just to name a few. Right now, with that division and only one title. Is it the most prestigious belt in all of wrestling?
CF: Well, I think so. And I meant what I said in the build-up package to the Mia Yim match. Raw and SmackDown have great divisions, but when you look at NXT’s women’s division as a whole and really look at the collective years and experience, that’s what makes this division so deep.
I’ll use the Four Horsewomen [Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley and Becky Lynch] as an example. I have no years of experience except for what you’ve seen on TV. I grew up before your eyes. But wrestling Io, she’s wrestled all over the world. This is a different kind of performance for her—WWE is different and the style is different, but that’s what makes NXT so special. It’s that level of experience.
JB: Pound for pound, Io is among the most elite talents in the world. This is another opportunity for her to show WWE, both on camera and behind the curtain, of her immense talent. What excites you most about the match with Io?
CF: I want people coming out of this match thinking, ‘Io is going to run this division.’
For me on a personal level, not that I’m comparing Io to Trish Stratus, but I’m feeling that same amount of pressure. I feel pressure before every match, but when Trish came back and wanted to wrestle me, all I could think was, ‘I hope I live up to her expectations. I hope I’m as good as she thinks I am.’
Multiple have told me I’m Io’s dream match, and she’s said that herself, so I hope I’m the same Charlotte Flair she sees me as in this competition. That’s the pressure I am feeling going into this.
JB: NXT runs at the same as AEW. So many different performers have thrived amidst competition. Has this brought an added element of excitement to working in NXT?
CF: I try not to get caught up in the business side. When I have that opportunity to highlight my opponent and myself, that’s what we’re here to do. Going into this match, we’re trying to raise the bar.
JB: Has wrestling during the coronavirus been stressful? Would it be better if WWE was not holding shows, or are you happier when working?
CF: I’m staying busy with Raw and NXT, but I miss live events and I miss the fans. This is the first time in my entire career I haven’t been traveling as much. My body feels rejuvenated, but I really miss the traveling, especially overseas. We were supposed to be in Africa, and I’ve never had the opportunity to perform there. I will be looking forward to getting back to a normal schedule, but right now, I’m looking at this as an opportunity.
JB: You turned 34 at WrestleMania. If you stopped tomorrow, you’d already be a future WWE Hall of Famer. At this point in your career, what motivates you to succeed?
CF: I’m a perfectionist, I want to be the best, but loving the business keeps me motivated. This business changed my life, and I still have so much more to learn.