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In the world of professional wrestling, Ric Flair is unlike any other with a record 21 world titles. Flair's daughter, Ashley, whose character name is Charlotte, has been doing her father and her family proud with her accomplishments since she was signed to a WWE contract in 2012. She's won the Divas women's championship in the WWE's developmental company, NXT, in 2014, and last fall she became the Divas champion in the WWE, ending the 301-day reign of Nikki Bella.
In Charlotte's rapid ascent, the 29-year-old native of North Carolina has demonstrated an athletic ability with her lithe 5'10" body, something that goes back to her background playing volleyball in university and later as a personal trainer. On April 3 in Dallas, Texas, at Wrestlemania 32, Charlotte will defend her Divas title in a triple-threat match against Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, with whom she has both teamed up with and feuded against in NXT and WWE.
We recently chatted with Charlotte about performing for the first time in Wrestlemania, her rapid rise in pro wrestling, having her father become part of her character's storyline, dedicating her career to her late brother Reid, and her entrance music—which is a synthesized beat of her father's famous entrance music.
VICE Sports: What are your thoughts about going into Wrestlemania for the first time?
Charlotte Flair: I'm more excited that it's the three of us. We debuted together and the three of us are walking into Wrestlemania as first-timers. We do really well under pressure and we just want to steal the show, to be honest. We're not even thinking it's Wrestlemania. We're just thinking this is an opportunity on the grandest stage of all to show the world what the three of us can do. I picture it every day when I'm working out, driving down the road, what it's going to feel like.
How do you feel about the way your career has taken off?
I guess when you're in it you really don't think about it. I really haven't taken the chance to really sit back and digest everything. For me, it's just going, going, going. After Wrestlemania, we have Raw the next night and Smackdown on Tuesday and I get home on Wednesday and I'm going to celebrate my birthday and try to soak in everything. I really don't think it's hit me. You just go with the flow. I want to be better every Monday. I just keep wanting more. But NXT, Divas Champion, the cover of Muscle & Fitness Magazine, Wrestlemania with two girls I debuted with... maybe it will hit me, but right now it kind of hasn't.
What's the experience like doing this with your father, who has been accompanying you to the ring as a de-facto manager on a regular basis and has become part of your storyline?
I don't look at it as I get to share the stage with my dad. Obviously that's cool, but for me as a performer when I first heard they were going to put my dad with me, I kind of panned it because I was thinking 'Well, great, I'm being paired with one of the greatest of all time on the mic, so there goes my mic time. He's going to be my mouthpiece, and then I'm going to have to share the stage with him when it's me trying to win the spotlight.' But I took it as an opportunity to get better—to want to be better. Not to outshine my dad, but really show we can do this together and I'm just going to get better. People ask what's it like walking out with your dad? I'm not walking out with my dad; I'm walking out with one of the greatest of all time and I want to be one of the greatest of all time.
A couple years ago your father said all his achievements and accomplishments meant nothing compared to what you've done. Are you surprised he said that?
My dad is my biggest fan, so it means a lot that he'd say that. I think he just knows how much pressure I put on myself being his kid. Yes, it opens up a lot of doors, but it also closed a lot of them and he knows what it's like behind the scenes for me.
He also said you would have been a champion a long time ago, but when your brother died in 2013 it took the wind out of your sails. Is it true that your career is a tribute to Reid?
It is 100 percent. I didn't get into wrestling because of my dad. I never thought about being a wrestler. I never really followed the product. I went to the shows because my dad would take us on family vacation, but it was not until 2012 when I was at the WWE Hall of Fame for the induction of the Four Horsemen (her father, Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson and Tully Blanchard) that my brother said, 'You aren't doing anything. You'd be great (as a wrestler). Let's do this.' We were sitting at dinner with Johnny Laurinaitis (former wrestler, now WWE executive) and he said, 'Yeah, why don't you do it, kid?' I didn't really view myself as a Diva. But my brother just pushed and pushed and pushed and three months later I reported to NXT and the rest is history.
When you won the WWE Championship, you pointed upward. Were you doing that because of Reid?
It's hard for people to know I'm living my brother's dream and he never got to see me wrestle and I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for him saying, 'You'd be great.' I dedicate my entire career to him.
You mentioned the fitness magazine, and anyone who has followed your career and sees you perform is taken aback by your fitness and athleticism. What does it mean to you to not just be a Diva, but to be an athletic performer?
It means a lot. My only background was sports and when I (began wrestling), I didn't know how to put on eyelashes, I didn't wear makeup. I was a tomboy growing up. Hopefully I'm able to represent a strong, athletic, intellectual woman to prepare (women) going into the business (to think of themselves) as an equal. That's an important message. I want to empower women that way. It's not what you look like. Be who you are. Being strong and confident as a female is important, and to know that I can try to represent that means a lot.
What do you enjoy more as a character, being a face or a heel?
It's really funny, but I feel more comfortable being a heel because of my size and in the world of wrestling so many people already have a preconception of me being Ric Flair's daughter—the genetic superior, athlete, the blonde—it's just easier to play to that. When they paired me with my dad first as a babyface, I think people thought it was father/daughter and could relate to that. But people weren't relating to Ric Flair and Charlotte. I enjoy being a heel because I can play somebody else. As a babyface, I was just trying to play myself. Playing a different character is more fun because you can really get into it and develop layers, and I feel I'm stronger in the ring as a heel.
What's it like hearing the entrance music that is essentially your father's but with an electronic beat?
When I first heard it in NXT, they literally gave it to me the day I was wrestling for the championship. I was thinking, 'It's my dad's music, we'll see where it goes.' But I feel like I had to grow into it and figure out how to own it because it is different. And I'm coming out to Ric Flair's music, and that's weird.
Your dad has said he never gets tired of people saying 'Wooo,' which he has made famous. Now the fans are saying 'Woo' to you. You had it in your outfit at one time and you're doing the 'Woo' as well.
I feel that's another thing I had to grow into. I did it a couple matches before the NXT championship match, then it kind of stopped and then it came back. Now I want people to hate me and I'm going to 'Woo' in their face as much as I can.
All photos courtesy WWE