This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue 2018.
Despite her family history, Ashley Fliehr — aka Charlotte Flair — never expected to be a wrestler. She spent her early years as a volleyball player and gymnast, following in her father’s footsteps only after she attended an event with her dad, wrestling legend Ric Flair, and a WWE executive asked her why she wasn’t participating. Seven championships later, Flair is a SmackDown Superstar. After her recent Body Issue photo shoot, ESPN caught up with Flair to talk about the challenges that face female wrestlers and what it’s like to be WWE royalty.
I wish I was more like my character. In character, I am the queen. I am strong. I am confident, sometimes cocky. I’m hard to beat. Out of character, I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a best friend and just the girl next door that likes Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
When I first started in the WWE, I had a really hard time because I didn’t look the part. I had the athleticism, but I didn’t have the extra swag and the glam — what my character Charlotte has become today. But when I’m in that ring, I want the audience and little girls and children and adults to see me as the athlete I am, not just a tall blonde that’s a WWE Superstar. No. I am all athlete, and that’s important, that my looks have nothing to do with what I do in the WWE.
I idolize my dad because he was such a hard worker. Yes, he has a larger-than-life character, and he is Ric Flair inside the ring and outside of the ring. But growing up, he was just Dad to me. He wouldn’t let me leave the table unless I finished my spaghetti.
I do want to carry on my dad’s legacy, but I also want to carve out my own path. I have to work harder, I think, just because I do have that last name. I don’t want people to think that’s why I am where I am in this industry. I put in the time, and I want to be just as good as my dad was.
The most challenging thing that female wrestlers face is time. Getting those segments on Raw, getting one, two, three, four segments on SmackDown, main-eventing a pay-per-view, being considered a face of the division. … And I have said it since day one, I want to be an attraction for the company. I want to be a Roman Reigns; I want to be a John Cena. And right now the women are stealing the show and working harder than we ever have. We have had a lot of firsts, and I think we’re on the right path.
For me, training is more mental. It’s envisioning the match — seeing the story play out in my mind and how it should play out in the ring. Unless it’s a really big event and you want to do something super high risk, that’s the only way to really train. Because we have four live events a week, and that’s where you get in the most practice, those matches in front of live audiences where it’s not televised. In WrestleMania, I just wrestled Asuka, and I actually came here to the WWE Performance Center and worked on a high-risk move off the top with her. We did it a couple of times in the crash pad. But once you get to the main roster, you should be polished. You should know your moves.
With injuries, every match varies. The black eyes are accidents. The broken noses are accidents. But the bumps from when we land on the mat, they’re hard. I think it looks easier, or the fans don’t really understand what’s happening, but it does take a toll. Every week I have some kind of mark on me. And that goes for all the girls. I think that’s what separates us from other people, we’re always walking around with our battle scars, and we’re proud of them.