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.
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Fourteen years ago during the first incarnation of the WWE draft, Ric Flair selected future Hall of Fame wrestler Lita with his last pick. He would go on to get mocked by his draft counterpart, Vince McMahon, who implied the only reason why Flair drafted Lita was so he “could get lucky” with her.
Needless to say, women’s wrestling has come a long way since 2002, and one of the key reasons for that change is thanks to a Flair.
Charlotte, the daughter of the 16-time world champion, has helped legitimize a women’s division that for the longest focused on sexuality instead of in-ring action.
“I didn’t even remember that,” Charlotte, who was 14 at the time, said about Flair’s selection of Lita in 2002.
Since getting called up from NXT one year ago, Charlotte has become the female face of the company and is currently the WWE Women’s Champion.
Her future will be determined during Tuesday’s live WWE draft where Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon, representing “Raw” and “SmackDown Live” respectively, will fill out their rosters in the latest version of the WWE brand split.
“I would be honored,” Charlotte said on getting selected as the first overall woman. “It would be awesome and I hope I am.”
On a personal level, how will the upcoming draft impact your friendships in the guys and gals in the locker room?
On a personal level, I obviously don’t want to get drafted away from my best friend, but on a professional level, I think it’s exciting. I think it’s an opportunity to create more competition. “Raw” wants to be better than “SmackDown.” “SmackDown” is going to want to be better than “Raw.” Everyone is just going to have to work that much harder to set the bar and have the better show. I know for me being a woman, I know it’s that much closer to me main eventing a pay-per-view. So, yeah, it’s exciting in general. I just have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow [on Tuesday]. Will I work both shows or be all women or just one show or will we be divided, I have no idea.
Looking back at your first year on the main roster, what’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
For me, I’m extremely competitive and super hard on myself, so because I’ve been on so many pay-per-views, I get so stressed out with each pay-per-view. How am I going to out do that one? How am I going to out do that one? How am I going to continue to be on my game? For me, I just don’t want to ever miss a beat and I want to continue to evolve so it’s just continuously trying to stay on top. It’s hard.
What was it like to have a storyline with Ric and what’s it been like not having him around every week with you on the road?
It’s a mixed blessing. He definitely was great to have but there was a time for him to leave … I did learn a lot having my dad on the road though. Personally, I learned a lot just with him critiquing me when we got back. And just the fact that Ric Flair, not my Dad, was out ringside and I wanted all the attention and I had to not let him overshadow me so I took it as I had to work that much harder while I’m out there, having him out there.
It’s no secret you are a Guns N’ Roses fan. If you could pick one Guns N’ Roses song as your entrance music, what would it be?
Oh man. Well, my favorite song is Patience but definitely not for an entrance. Civil War would be my entrance song. That’s such a strong song.
You attended the ESPYs last week. The show hasn’t had a female host in 24 years. Which female would you tap as the host if you were in charge?
I was actually thinking about that. I actually think Stephanie McMahon would do a fantastic job to be honest. She’s so powerful and dominant and such a huge face for women. I think she would do a tremendous job. I would love to do it but I’m not funny.
Who’s the one WWE wrestler most likely playing “Pokemon Go?”
Are you into it?
Do you want me to lie? I’m not into video games or anything like that. Don’t judge.
Interview by Yahoo Sports
WWE superstar Charlotte never dreamed of making a career out of body slams.
Though her father, sports entertainment legend Ric Flair, revolutionized the business during his 40-plus year career, it wasn’t of much interest to the “Nature Boy’s” daughter.
However, Charlotte, born Ashley Fliehr, had a change of heart while attending the 2012 WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Miami. It was there that her younger brother Reid and WWE employee John Laurinaitis began encouraging her to pursue a career in sports entertainment. Two months later, she took their advice and enrolled at a WWE developmental branch in Tampa, which later became WWE NXT.
Perhaps it was fate for the 29-year-old, who was already a lifelong athlete. Standing at 5-foot-10, Charlotte was billed by WWE as being “genetically superior,” which is hardly a gimmick. She quickly gained notoriety in NXT for her strength and unique Figure Eight leg lock, which is an homage to her father’s classic Figure Four submission move.
By July 2015, Charlotte was on the official WWE roster and in September she became WWE Divas (female) Champion, a title she’ll bring to Bridgestone Arena Monday when WWE Raw returns to downtown Nashville.
We talked to Charlotte about her father’s legacy, the Figure Eight leg lock and WWE’s changing landscape for female competitors.
Ric Flair, aka dad, acts as your manager at WWE. What is your relationship like at work?
My dad’s my biggest fan (laughs). It’s a mixed blessing because I don’t look at it like I’m working with dad. It just adds to the pressure. I’m walking onstage with Ric Flair every night. That’s kind of a lot to handle.
Do you feel like you’re living in his shadow because he’s such a legend?
No one will ever replace Ric Flair. I just want my dad to be proud of me, so every time I get the opportunity to step onstage with him, I just want to know that I’ve prepared for that moment and that I’m doing a good job. He’s the greatest of all time in my eyes, and just like any kid, I want to make my dad proud. … I know what he means to this business and now I have to deliver as well.
Who created your Figure Eight submission move?
I was in the ring and my coach, Sara Del Rey, showed me how to put on the Figure Four and she was laughing about it like, “I can’t believe I’m showing Flair’s daughter how to put on the Figure Four.” Then I just wanted to see if I could bridge and I could, so (WWE superstar) Simon Gotch, one of the Vaudevillians, actually came up with the name. He said, “It’s twice as good as your dad’s. Why don’t you call it the Figure Eight?”
The quality of Divas matches have drastically improved in recent years. What has changed at WWE?
I think everything is in waves and right now the audience is looking at females in WWE more as women wrestlers than divas. It’s kind of been the year of women with Ronda Rousey, Serena Williams and the U.S. women’s soccer team. The fans don’t want eye candy. They want athletes. The talent for the last 15 years here has been amazing. I just think there is a greater demand for it now.
Do you think it’s more difficult for a woman to win over a crowd and “get over” in WWE than a male?
I do think a female can have just as much success when given the opportunity, but it is twice as hard. … I think we do have to work harder for our spot and slowly but surely, the more we produce, the more the fans want to see us. The more they react to us, the harder we work, the more they get invested in characters like Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks. … They can relate to us and once you relate, you get invested in the characters. I think the hardest part about being a woman is finding who you are and being able to let the fans in and feel a connection with you. And to do that you need storylines and you need time and that’s what we’re getting right now.
Three and a half years ago, Ashley Fliehr worked as a personal trainer in Ballantyne. Sunday she’ll carry the Divas Belt to the ring at WWE’s Live Holiday Tour at Time Warner Cable Arena as the current Divas champion Charlotte.
And yes, her ring name is a tribute to her hometown.
As the daughter of 16-time world champion Ric Flair (his given name is Richard Fliehr), Fliehr grew up around the world of wrestling. The Providence High School grad recalls family vacations with the Andersons – the family of Flair’s Four Horsemen cohort Arn Anderson – and watching her father preening and bleeding in the ring.
But even though her brothers David and Reid followed their dad into the family business, Fliehr, 29. never even imagined getting in the ring, despite her background as a competitive athlete.
It was during her father’s second induction into the WWE Hall of Fame with the Four Horsemen in 2012 that she began to consider it. A few months later she was training at WWE’s NXT training facility in Florida. She made her televised debut on WWE NXT in July 2013 and became the NXT Women’s champ a year later.
Her ascent to the top of the women’s division on WWE’s main roster came even quicker. She debuted on “WWE Raw” in July 2015. By the end of September she’d won the title.
“It’s amazing. It’s hard to think I only debuted in July. I haven’t had a chance to sit back and really grasp all that’s happened,” she says calling from her home in Florida Thursday.
Charlotte now has her own action figure, appears on the upcoming cover of “Muscle & Fitness” magazine, and young fans post photos of themselves trying the “bridge” from her Figure 8. That’s her version of her dad’s famous finisher, the Figure Four. She has yet to come up with her own signature call, like Flair’s Woooooo!
She’s also stirring controversy for pulling from her dad’s “heel” (wrestling lingo for a villain) playbook. Fans were appalled that her brother Reid’s 2013 death – attributed to a toxic combination of heroin and prescription drugs – was used as fodder in her current feud with wrestler Paige.
“It’s not the first time people’s real lives have come into play,” says Fliehr, who has openly discussed her younger brother – only two years her junior – as an inspiration in her pursuing a pro-wrestling career.
Since her father’s larger-than-life persona wasn’t that far off from the real deal, she’s prepared for the line between fiction and reality to blur.
“Having my dad in the business and using a lot of what’s been real life…most of Charlotte’s character is really who she is. A lot of who Ashley is is Charlotte and the same with my dad. It’s not like I’m the Joker,” she says.
Charlotte’s rise is actually a bigger deal than your average second generation wrestler joining the family business, of who there are many. She’s part of a move toward actual wrestling. Instead of lingerie-clad models pulling hair during a pajama pillow match (yes, that’s a real thing), the Diva’s division matches are drawing nearly as much praise as the main events.
“That’s probably the main focus – to be a role model for younger girls and send positive messages to never give up and be who they want to be,” Fliehr explains. “That’s a really big part of the job where you talk to kids at (places like) Make a Wish and have that opportunity to interact.”
For most fans the shift in focus is refreshing.
“It’s just a change in time, in what people want to see,” she says citing mixed martial artist, Rhonda Rousey, Serena Williams and the U.S. women’s soccer team as examples. “It’s the year of women and it happened to catch on in wrestling.”
She doesn’t see anything holding her back.
“I’m not 21 anymore and I’ve got a good head on my shoulders,” she says. “I’m on cloud nine. I want to be the female Rock. Honestly I can’t believe I’m here today. Where I’m going to be in three years, I’m sure I’ll be blown away.”
Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/entertainment/article47970990.html#storylink=cpy
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