The name Demi Bennett may not sound familiar to many Australians, but her World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) on-screen persona — Rhea Ripley — is known all around the world.
Meet the Aussie with the wrestling world in a headlock.
The black-clad, chain-wearing, loud-mouthed professional wrestler has come a long way from the day when she first stepped into Adelaide’s Riot City Wrestling 12 years ago, looking to try out.
Since then, Bennett/Ripley has gone on to dominate the wrestling world. Today, she’s the reigning Women’s World Champion, a constant, threatening presence on WWE’s flagship program Monday Night RAW, and a Wrestlemania main-eventer.
And this weekend, the 27-year-old will set another major milestone in her short yet accomplished career: she’ll perform in Australia for the first time as her larger-than-life persona.
Elimination Chamber, held in Perth this Saturday, is a big deal for Australian wrestling fans.
Not only is this the American professional wrestling promotion’s first live show on our shores since 2018, it is the last major event on the wrestling calendar before WWE’s massive Wrestlemania 40 in Philadelphia in April.
And even though she portrays the “villain”, Ripley will receive a rousing reception when she steps out at Optus Stadium to defend her championship against Nia Jax.
‘You could tell she was something a bit special’
Ripley was originally a fan attending Riot City Wrestling shows and lining up for autographs, waiting to be old enough to try out for a spot.
“As soon as she turned 15 [in 2011], she was straight through the doors,” head trainer Mat Basso said.
“Right from the start, you could tell she was something a bit special. She had a good personality. She was keen, she was hungry.”
Basso says Ripley, who was performing at the time under her real name, did “really well” during the tryout and went on to learn the tricks of the trade.
“Whether it was learning how to fall properly, learning how to protect yourself … no matter what we threw at her, she just kept absorbing it all, and come back the next day,” he says.
“She was probably her own worst enemy in that she’d be doubting herself all the time.”
Basso says she would train four to five days per week — building strength, working on techniques and putting together a match.
“She was essentially a toned-down version of what she is now. While she was with us, she was still finding her feet a little bit.
“She was maybe a little bit nervous about putting herself all out there, she was still just a metalhead from Adelaide; she’d come out in band shirts, heavy metal music blaring.
“As the best characters always [do], all she’s done is just dial it up and just let more and more of her personality shine.”
And shine she has.
Since signing with WWE in 2017, Ripley has become one of company’s most followed stars on social media, with 2.6M followers on TikTok and another 3.4M on Instagram.
Next month she’ll grace the cover of WWE’s annual video game.
Basso says it was always her goal to get to WWE, but they both knew the chances of making it to the big leagues were “very slim”.
“We always knew that there was a possibility for her because she had that special spark and that magic to her,” he says.
“Her rise through the ranks has been crazy and I just couldn’t be happier for her.
“She’s absolutely going to be a future Hall of Famer.”
When she comes home, Ripley visits the gym to meet new talent and help guide them.
“That’s one of my favourite things about her, she’s still a girl from Adelaide,” Basso says.
“She comes down, wears blue shorts, wants to get chips and gravy.”
Mat and members of the Riot City Wrestling (RCW) community will travel to see Ripley’s debut Australia performance.
Among them will be RCW trainee wrestler Bree Hooper — AKA Raven — who’s been inspired by Ripley’s goth character and muscly physique.
Another Aussie wrestler set to perform on the night is Grayson Waller, real name Matthew Farrelly.
He’s a loud-mouthed, swaggering frat-boy type, who trained at Sydney’s Pro Wrestling Academy and Newcastle Pro Wrestling (NPW) while working as a high school history teacher.
“He was very polite and humble … he has always been very very respectful; he’s a very hard worker,” NPW owner-operator Adam Hoffman says.
“He’s always the kind of guy that’ll give back, too; he’s done chats and Zoom sessions with all the students.
“He hasn’t forgotten where he came from.”
He will be hosting his interview segment, The Grayson Waller Effect, with special guests World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins and Cody Rhodes.
What else can we expect at Elimination Chamber?
There will be two Elimination Chamber matches: one each for the women and men.
The match begins with two wrestlers inside a ring within a steel structure.
Every so often, another wrestler is released into the fray from the designated pods that decorate the corners of the chamber.
Randy Orton, Drew McIntyre, LA Knight, Logan Paul, Bobby Lashley and Kevin Owens will compete in an Elimination Chamber match for the right to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania.
Becky Lynch, Bianca Belair, Liv Morgan Naomi, Tiffany Stratton and Raquel Rodriguez will compete for the right for challenge for the Women’s World Title — up against whoever wins between Ripley and Jax.
Tag team champions Finn Bálor and Damien Priest will defend their Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championships against Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate.
The event will be broadcast live to an estimated audience of up to one billion homes worldwide.
WWE Elimination Chamber streams on Binge this Saturday.
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