Raw Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley has revealed an unlikely phobia – and how her hero The Miz helped her overcome it.
At just 24 years of age, the tenacious, chaotic Ripley is enjoying life at the top of WWE after a landmark WrestleMania win over Asuka.
That – and a successful title defence against Asuka and Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania Backlash – capped a whirlwind few weeks for the former NXT Women's Champion, who herself admitted she hadn't even been expecting to wrestle the 2021 edition of WWE's biggest annual extravaganza.
Yet in a way that seems fitting for the athlete whose rapid ascent in wrestling's dominant company began barely four years ago when they labelled her when signing – effectively as a developmental talent – "a wrestling prodigy."
As such it is perfectly understandable that Ripley, real name Demi Bennett, finds herself reminded of the "shy kid" she was when watching wrestling as a youth.
Luckily for her, one figure she was quickly drawn to proved to be the inspiration she needed to find a level of confidence that had previously been missing.
The Miz, a former two-time WWE Champion is every bit the example of a wrestling fan turned sports entertainment megastar; his cocky demeanour on-screen helping drive him to the top of the industry and beyond – he's also now an established movie and television star.
Speaking exclusively to Daily Star Online, Ripley revealed it was the assuredness and confidence with which the man she now calls a colleague went about his work that has helped shape a major part of her own career.
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He, for instance, spoke with such a swagger that even picking up the phone became a less tortuous task for the Australian.
"The reason I liked The Miz so much growing up is because he just had that attitude where he was snarky," she said. "He didn't care. He was cheeky and he played games with people and, I don't know, something just drew me to him.
"I really liked watching his promos and his matches, and just watching him chicken out of his matches and run away from people – I just thought that was hilarious and I was like 'I would probably do that too!'
"It was just something that spoke to me about him, and the way he speaks on the microphone, that was definitely one of the main reasons why I enjoyed watching him so much.
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"He speaks so confidently, and it is something that I have never really been able to do.
I have always been a shy kid and I was always terrified of talking in front of people – even talking on the phone, it's a phobia of mine. I don't like talking on the phone, so I don't like talking on the microphone either!
"Watching him go out there and be so confident and fluent in everything he says – and bringing that snarky, cheeky attitude with him – I really felt drawn to that."
It seems that while Ripley has come a very, very long way in such a short space of time, there remains more than a shade or two of the bashful teenager who first started out in wrestling.
Some 18 months ago she detailed an incredibly awkward encounter with The Miz backstage, telling SportingNews: "I think I went bright red and was like 'I'm so sorry.' I just stepped out of the way and was like I can't do it."
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Ripley now has gold around her waist and wrestles on the same weekly show as The Miz – although he is now out of competitive in-ring action after what was reportedly a potentially serious ACL injury.
Surely, then, that brief encounter was laid to rest and she's managed to pluck up the courage to build a relationship with someone she so admires?
Not quite yet, it seems. With a laugh, she added: "So I haven't actually had too many conversations with him!
"I've only really said things in passing, or I've tried to say funny things and walk away, I'm [still] just like 'I can't do it!"
Catch Raw Women's Champion on WWE Monday Night Raw, airing in the UK on BT Sport each week. Visit wwe.com for more.
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