Nude pic slam ignites Aussie rivalry
The fiery Aussie rivalry between Rhea Ripley and Toni Storm may have hit an explosive new level in the UK this weekend - but there's more than meets the eye when it comes to their simmering on-screen feud.
Gold Coast's Storm stripped South Australian superstar Ripley of her NXT UK Women's title in a sold out Takeover clash in England's northwest after a horror couple of weeks for the Queenslander.
As the on-air rivalry intensified, wrestling superstars allied around Storm after she was driven off social media by hackers who spread naked pictures of her without consent.
In a whole new level of trash talk, Ripley called those who supported Storm, using the hashtag #WeSupportToni, "pathetic" in a savage tweet before this weekend's clash - which appeared to blur the line between the scripted rivalry and real life.
Despite a seemingly genuine feud that seems to be playing out, Ripley told news.com.au her relationship with Storm was complex.
The 22-year-old South Australian believes she may have even been a fan in the crowd watching to Gold Coast superstar at a local Aussie show when she was in her early teens.
"To share this moment with Toni is just incredible," she said. "We've worked so, so hard to get here so to be able to share this with a fellow Aussie and show everyone what Australia has in store is just mind-blowing."
The pair met properly when Ripley was just 16 in Sydney and they hit it off straight away - they even have matching tattoos.
They both have 10/28 in Roman numerals on their wrists to mark the date of the WWE Evolution event which marked a major breakthrough in their wrestling careers.
"I've always bonded with her, so to have this feud now is just insane," she said.
"It's funny because the date of Evolution was the six-year anniversary of when I had my wrestling tryout back home.
"And then to be able to share that moment with someone like Toni was just insane to me. We've all been brought up in the same place pretty much."
As Storm was based in Queensland and Ripley was making a name for herself in the local Adelaide scene, the pair didn't meet until they did a PWWA all-women's show in Sydney.
Storm was then invited down to Adelaide for three local Riot City Wrestling shows and the friendship really took off.
"We bonded straight away, she's funny and bubbly. I love her," she said. "She's one of those people you can't hate until they try and steal your NXT UK Women's Title and then you're like 'no buddy!'"
It has been a tough, but meteoric rise to the top for Ripley who first fell in love with wrestling when her family friends showed her a match between Triple H and Rick Flair. She knew right then that she wanted to be a wrestler.
From there, the soccer and netball playing 16-year-old became obsessed with the local wrestling scene and ducked into every show she could.
"I was just a shy little fangirl," she said. "But then the people I used to fangirl for ended up being great role models for me in the wrestling world.
"They really brought me up and taught me how to give it all to get where I want - and I owe it to them.
"I had a dream and I just want to see how far I can get - if that means WWE, it means WWE, if that means WrestleMania, that means WrestleMania.
"I think I'm doing pretty well so far, because I'm the first NXT UK Women's champion and I'm competing in the first ever NXT UK Takeover event in Blackpool. I feel like I'm killing it."
However, she admits the journey has been tough - and she's just talking about taking a few heavy blows inside the square circle.
She told news.com.au she's slowly learning how to deal with abuse from the haters on social media.
"I'm OK with the physical stuff, but when it comes to the mental side of things, I lack a little bit," she said. "But I'm definitely a lot stronger now then I used to be.
"You see posts online and feel like you're not ever good enough. But now I make sure I see every little thing online because I love seeing people telling me that I can't do stuff.
"I have to prove to the doubters that I'm better than them. If someone says I can't do something, even if it's the hardest thing to accomplish, I'll make sure I do it just to rub it in their face."
She pointed to an early example of this "prove them wrong" mentality in her early teens when she was camping in the blistering heat of the South Australia bush.
It was around 40C and Ripley's worried mum spotted her climbing up a massive tube.
"She was like: 'You're not going to be able to do that. It's too hot, you're going to burn yourself and you're too small. Just stop.'" said Ripley.
But that just spurred the never-say-die teen on and she burned all her fingers, her hands and knees as she dragged herself to the top.
It was this determination that got her through the mentally-draining years of her early career - when her high school peers mocked her for wanting to be a wrestler.
"There was a lot of people back home that said I shouldn't wrestle, I shouldn't be in this business and I couldn't make it anywhere in wrestling," she said. "The kids in high school would pick on me. But the more doubt, the harder I work."
Now she is flying the flag for Aussie wrestling on a global stage through NXT UK on the WWE Network which is broadcast across 180 countries and she says Australia is only just starting to make its mark.
On Friday, Triple H - WWE legend and the founder and senior producer of the WWE's talent scouting brand, NXT - outlined a bold ambition for Australia.
He said we could have our own NXT brand and training centre for superstars in the next four to five years.
Reading the news, Ripley said it made her excited for the future of professional wrestling in Australia.
"There are so many great athletes down there that I know deserve this chance," she said. "And, if we open up a performance centre in Australia, I promise you that we will not disappoint because they are scratching and crawling for that opportunity. They are ready, they just need a little guidance along the way."
WWE airs RAW & SmackDown weekly LIVE on Foxtel's Fox8 and Fox Sports, WWE UK airs each Thursday Morning on WWE Network.