(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley – WWE WrestleMania 39, Night One
I’ve heard people call this match between Charlotte Flair and Rhea Ripley the best women’s match in WWE history and possibly even the best women’s wrestling match in North America.
Both of those are incredibly bold statements. Then again, that’s one of the key things about pro-wrestling in general: everyone likes to talk a big game and make one grandiose claim after another. And more often than not, those that make said big claims don’t back it up.
But judging from the reaction over the past week or so, this match is looking like it’s one of the few cases in which all the praise was deserved. The general consensus has been that this match really did live up to the hype and really is that damn great. So now that the initial emotional high of the event has passed, we can look at this match from a more neutral perspective and see if it really is as good as so many people have said.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Rhea Ripley won the 2023 Women’s Royal Rumble match and soon afterwards set her sights on Charlotte. In doing so, Ripley hoped to undo years of coming up short against Charlotte, who has enjoyed several years at the top of WWE’s women’s division.
The history between these two women is quite notable. Since 2019, Charlotte and Ripley have been in 22 live or televised matches together, not including Royal Rumbles and other multi-woman matches. Of these 22 matches, eighteen were title matches on RAW, SmackDown, or NXT. Prior to WrestleMania 39, Ripley had only won one of these title matches and that one was a Triple Threat match that also included Asuka. In other words, Ripley has never managed to beat Charlotte one-on-one. Going as far back as WrestleMania 36 in 2020 during the COVID era, Charlotte managed to beat Ripley whenever they faced off in singles competition.
That fact irked Ripley, to the point that she lost her cool on one episode of SmackDown earlier this year and fought with Charlotte so long and so intensely that security had to separate the two women. Ripley had passion and determination on her side but Charlotte had experience and history on hers. Both women had their strengths and weaknesses, advantages and disadvantages going into this, so it was anyone’s guess who would come out on top here.
This match originally took place on April 1, 2023. It was rated ****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
They lock-up and actually look like they’re struggling and fighting for control for once. Charlotte takes control and paintbrushes Ripley’s head to get some early heat. Ripley bounces off the ropes and lands a shoulderblock. She blocks a hiptoss but then Charlotte ducks a clothesline and lands a shoulderblock of her own. Charlotte clotheslines Ripley to the floor but Ripley comes back and gets in Charlotte’s face. After some trash-talking, Charlotte lands a big chop but then Ripley powers her into a corner. Ripley hits some corner shoulder thrusts but Charlotte fights back. Ripley reverses a corner whip but Charlotte copies her father with a rope flip. And as she goes for the apron charge, she stops midway through and hits a big boot followed by a high crossbody press.
Charlotte hits some more stiff shots and goes to attack Ripley’s leg but Ripley counters with an electric chair facebuster into the top turnbuckle. Charlotte tries fighting back with elbows but Ripley throws her into a second turnbuckle with authority and covers for a two-count. Ripley applies a bodyscissor and does more trash-talking until Charlotte turns it around with mounted punches. Charlotte counters a big boot with a roll-up for a two-count but then Ripley turns things around again with forearms to the spine. And even though Ripley’s supposed to be the villain in this match, she’s starting to get plenty of cheers here.
Charlotte blocks a fourth forearm to the spine and goes for a chop but Ripley ducks and lands a German suplex for another two-count. Ripley follows with a short-range lariat but Charlotte counters a second one with a back elbow. Ripley rushes Charlotte but Charlotte counters with a knee backbreaker/turnbuckle facebuster combo followed by a pair of clotheslines. Charlotte lands a chop barrage and then starts working over Ripley’s leg. Ripley blocks a corner charge but Charlotte hits her from the apron and knocks her into another turnbuckle as the crowd becomes more divided. Charlotte goes for another crossbody. Ripley tries to do a John Cena-style power through counter but her leg gives her some issues. That split second of hesitation allows Charlotte to fight back with elbows. Ripley switches to her Riptide finisher. Charlotte counters with a gorgeous spiking DDT. One, two, Ripley kicks out.
Ripley blocks two Figure-4 attempts and counters a third with a small package for a two-count. Both women kick each other simultaneously as the crowd applauds them both. A strike exchange follows. Ripley hits a single-knee facebuster. Charlotte retaliates with an overhead Exploder suplex, then kips up and goes to the top rope. But she takes too much time. Ripley cuts her off and teases a throw. Charlotte knocks her down but Ripley gets right back up. High-angle German suplex! Good God! Charlotte lands almost like Okada in his first match with Omega from 2017! One, two, Charlotte kicks out.
Charlotte escapes a back suplex, clips Ripley’s bad leg, and lands her Natural Selection somersault neckbreaker, all for a two-count. Both women fall to ringside and Charlotte goes for a spear. But Ripley sidesteps and Charlotte hits the ringsteps instead. Back in the ring, Charlotte hits a wheelbarrow facebuster for a two-count. Ripley tries Riptide again. Charlotte counters with a German of her own. Ripley tries to hold onto the top rope but Charlotte pulls her back and lands a second German. Charlotte tries a third one but Ripley elbows out and spikes Charlotte with an exceptionally nasty German. Where was this Charlotte for all these years? Ripley tries yet another German but this time Charlotte fights out and lands another big boot. One, two, Ripley kicks out.
Charlotte tries another Figure-4 but Ripley blocks it once again. Charlotte boots Ripley to the floor and the camera zooms in on Charlotte’s face to show the mark on her nose from hitting the canvas face-first on that German. You don’t see that very often. Then Charlotte goes to the top turnbuckle. Moonsault body block to the floor!
Back in the ring, Ripley counters the Figure-4 once again and then dodges a spear at the last second. Charlotte narrowly avoids hitting the referee but that hesitation allows Ripley to land a nasty head-butt followed by her Riptide finisher! The referee counts one, two, and – Charlotte kicks out! Ripley lifts charlotte up. Charlotte counters with a small package for another close two-count. Ripley locks in an inverted cloverleaf. Charlotte gets a ropebreak and musters enough strength to push Ripley into the corner and brush the referee. Ripley backs off and turns around into a spear from Charlotte. Another pin and another kick-out. Charlotte is crying at this point.
Frustrated and angry, Charlotte initiates a yay/boo forearm exchange but it’s Ripley who is the clear babyface here. Charlotte drops Ripley with another boot and locks in the Figure-4 but Ripley gets an immediate ropebreak. Charlotte’s forced to release the hold. Charlotte drives Ripley into a turnbuckle and goes for an avalanche Exploder suplex. But Ripley’s not done. Ripley elbows out and smashes Charlotte’s face into the top of the ringpost. Avalanche Riptide Pumphandle Powerbomb. One, two, and three! Rhea Ripley wins!
Winner and NEW WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion after 23:34: Rhea Ripley
Post-match, the camera pans back-and-forth between both Ripley and Charlotte. Ripley’s celebrating her big win while Charlotte has a big grin on her face after having such a match. Can’t say I blame her for being happy despite losing.
It has been a long, long, LONG time since I’ve seen a women’s wrestling match this great. Chronologically, there hasn’t been a women’s match on this level in the United States in decades, possibly ever. It was terrific. It was on a completely different level compared to everything to have come before it in WWE. It was the kind of match that made the competitors actually look like competitors and not performers or generic athletes. I can see why some people have even argued that this match was superior to the main-event that followed it.
I’ve said this before but there’s too much of an emphasis on “spectacle” and “performance” in modern wrestling, so this match going in the opposite direction and focusing on struggle made it a much-needed breath of fresh air. This match came across as stiff, painful, and competitive. It wasn’t smooth or polished; instead, both women had to earn each bit of control or advantage. Very little came across as performative or cooperative. And when Rhea spiked Charlotte with those two nasty German suplexes, I got a flashback to 1990s AJW when the women went to the extreme to push themselves to the limit (and trust me when I say that is the highest praise possible when it comes to women’s wrestling). This brought a much-needed sense of danger and desperation to the match. Charlotte took exceptional bumps here and Ripley came across as an absolute beast on offense.
But there was more to the match than just those few spots. All throughout the match there was this sense of brutality to it. It felt like a fight and not a see-saw chain of moves. It was hard to guess what was going to happen. Even with Charlotte’s usually-mechanical performance this match had some much-needed spontaneity and unpredictability to it. There was a mini-story of Charlotte trying to lock in the Figure-4/Figure-8 but failing. And once she finally did apply it Ripley was already at the ropes so Charlotte couldn’t get any real mileage out of that move. From there Charlotte was largely out of options whereas Ripley wasn’t. Ripley was the better wrestler here as she managed to build towards her biggest moves better than Charlotte. Her first Riptide only got a two-count so she started ragdolling Charlotte whenever possible. Then she tried taking Charlotte’s back and legs out with the inverted cloverleaf but didn’t get as much out of it. And instead of going to the same well once again with a second Riptide, Ripley upped the ante with a stronger avalanche version to end the match emphatically and with authority.
Final Rating: ****3/4
It goes without saying that this is the best American women’s wrestling match in decades. This match surpassed expectations. I didn’t think this match would deliver given Charlotte Flair’s track record of ranging from bland and clunky on one extreme to fantastic and polished gifted wrestler on the other. But I was proven wrong thanks to Ripley out-wrestling Charlotte and overall doing a better job in the ring than the champion.
The only thing somewhat “wrong” with this match was the somewhat slow start. The match was good but not great at first, but as soon as Charlotte landed that DDT to counter the Riptide the match kicked into high gear. It was almost like a bait-and-switch: it looked like this was going to be the bog-standard Charlotte match that had been seen many times since 2014 but then out of nowhere she pulled off her mask and showed she actually knew how to deliver on what was promised.
This match is much better than Charlotte’s Last Woman Standing match with Becky Lynch, it’s better than Sasha Banks vs. Bayley from NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, and in all honesty, every other WWE women’s wrestling match in modern history. This match sold the idea that these two women were tough, determined competitors and not simple “performers”. You can’t really ask for more than that.
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