As many expected, Rhea Ripley made her Raw debut to challenge Asuka to a Raw Women's Championship match at WrestleMania. Ripley came to the ring after Asuka defeated Peyton Royce in a match. She said she recalls Charlotte Flair challenging Asuka to a WrestleMania match while Asuka was recovering from having her teeth kicked out, but now Charlotte is recovering from COVID. Rupley challenged Asuka to a match instead and while Asuka was sure to point out that Ripley isn't ready for her, she still accepted.
Ripley's promo marked the third time WWE has ever mentioned COVID on TV since the start of the pandemic: the first night they aired a show from the Performance Center, the Drew McIntyre caught it while WWE Champion, and now this. Flair revealed on Twitter just before Raw that she tested positive for COVID after speculation on her whereabouts had gotten out of control thanks to the irresponsible rumourmongering of certain disreputable gossip blogs.
Charlotte disappeared off Raw two weeks ago after issuing the challenge to Asuka. Within a week, Charlotte's boyfriend, Andrade, requested his release from the company. That request was initially denied, but was suddenly granted Sunday night after WWE Fastlane, leading to speculation things had broken down between Charlotte and WWE, but tonight's developments appear to dispel that line of thinking.
WWE made the match official with the following announcement on WWE.com:
Raw Women's Champion Asuka vs. Rhea Ripley
The Empress vs. The Nightmare on The Grandest Stage of Them All? Yes, please.
Following weeks of videos warning of her arrival to Monday nights, Rhea Ripley finally showed up on Raw to make a statement by challenging Asuka to a match for the Raw Women's Championship at WrestleMania.
Asuka's swift acceptance of the challenge sets the stage for an epic first-time matchup between two of the greatest champions in NXT history. The Empress has certainly racked up her fair share of accomplishments since her days on the black-and-yellow brand, but Ripley looks to win her very first Raw Women's Title, fittingly, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, where she was originally supposed to defend her NXT Women's Championship just one year ago against Charlotte Flair.
One question remains heading into this year's Show of Shows: Will Rhea Ripley be ready for Asuka?
Don't miss WrestleMania on Saturday, April 10 and Sunday, April 11, streaming live at 8 ET/5 PT exclusively on Peacock in the U.S. and on WWE Network everywhere else.
Watch a video of Rhea Ripley's debut and challenge here.