On Oct. 28, when WWE holds its “Evolution” pay-per-view event, it will feature an unprecedented collection of female wrestlers from across several generations. Of the promised women on the card, there is one that nearly perfectly combines the trailblazing spirit of the historic event and serves as a throwback for the professional wrestling business as a whole.
Her name is Charlotte Flair.
Flair, a seven-time WWE women’s champion, is among the most decorated and recognizable female superstars in the company today and, despite having been wrestling for only six years, the perfect ambassador for the past, present, and future of sports entertainment.
The 32-year-old star is the daughter of two-time WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair, an iconic star who rose to fame in the NWA and – among other figures like Dusty Rhodes and Hulk Hogan – is responsible in many ways for the wrestling boon that took place in the 1980s.
While Flair rose to stardom by flaunting his “Limousine ridin’, jet flyin’” persona, his daughter has been decidedly more humble as a character. While she has adopted many of her father’s moves and mannerisms – including his signature flashy robes and “Woo” exclamation – her nearly unprecedented athletic ability has allowed her to become, in many ways, that same kind of inspirational figure for a new generation of wrestling fans.
“I think my inspiration is very different than my dad,” Flair told Yahoo Sports. “That’s being part of what the women have been doing the past few years, working collectively to keep having these first-ever moments and raising the bar.
“It is still opening the doors for women and little girls who say ‘I want to wrestle like Charlotte.’ I’m strong, I’m athletic and it’s more about being the athlete than the diva.”
Flair (real name Ashley Fliehr), a decorated competitive cheerleader and collegiate volleyball star, arrived at WWE in 2012 and has risen meteorically. Since being called up to the main roster in 2015, she has become the first female to take part in a main event on WWE’s “Raw,” “Smackdown Live,” and a pay-per-view event. In addition to that, she has held four separate titles across the company’s three brands, again becoming the only woman to accomplish that feat.
At “Evolution,” when she takes on longtime friend and on-screen rival Becky Lynch in a “Last Woman Standing” match, Flair has the opportunity to break a tie with Trish Stratus for the most WWE women’s title reigns ever. Should Flair win, she will be halfway to her father’s record of 16 world championship title reigns.
“When I hear it, I still don’t put myself anywhere near Trish as a performer or superstar,” Flair admitted. “There’s no way I can look at it that way because I don’t look at my status as anywhere near hers. I still feel like I have so much more to prove, so much more to learn, to overcome. I would be so mortified [if that were to be mentioned]. It’s a respect thing.”
Flair’s appreciation for the history of the professional wrestling business is astonishing. In an era where there is more access than ever to wrestling stars, Flair is notably private. While many of the female WWE stars have appeared on the reality television show “Total Divas,” Flair has yet to join the cast in a move aimed at protecting kayfabe more than anything else.
“For me, my character has always come first and foremost and how far I want to take the women’s division,” Flair said. “I’ve worked so hard on this character and I’m not sure lifting the curtain is the right move right now.
“Especially when I first started and was a bad guy, people believed I really fired my dad! I just don’t know how that would have helped with my storyline. I almost think there’s a mystique to not knowing everything about me.”
Flair’s real-life friends turned on-screen enemies
One aspect of Flair’s life that the wrestling world is well aware of, is her relationship with Lynch, Sasha Banks, and Bayley – the Four Horsewomen (a nod back to The Four Horsemen, the group her father was a part of for the majority of his career).
The relationship between the four stars has been documented throughout their careers, from NXT to the main WWE roster. Charlotte’s chemistry with Banks led to one of the best feuds of 2016 and the same can be said about the angle she’s currently involved in with Lynch.
“I really feel the difference in where I’m at as a talent, I’ve just learned so much,” Flair said. “When I go back to Sasha, I felt like I could fight her forever. The rivalry just kept getting better and better and that’s how I’ve been feeling with Becky. I never thought that I was going to have that again. It’s hard to up your game when you’ve wrestled so many times, I feel as if with Becky after every match it’s just getting better and better and that’s how it should be.”
On a card that will undoubtedly be filled with dream matches and surprise appearances from iconic figures, Flair and Lynch have the opportunity to steal the show and have the kind of match that may leave fans and critics talking for months and years to come.
“I just feel that this story right now is so organic and natural,” Flair said. “It’s the story of two best friends that’s very relatable.
“I do know the amount of pressure going into Evolution and I bet Becky is thinking the same thing. We want to show [what we can do]. We want to say ‘Follow that.’ We want to represent that we are the best female rivalry going today because our storyline is so heated.”
The lasting legacy of “Evolution”?
In addition to the parallels drawn between Flair and her legendary father, there’s the possibility that “Evolution” could become for WWE’s female stars what “Starrcade” was for the likes of Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes in the 1980s.
“Starrcade,” an event promoting NWA and WCW’s biggest stars, continued a long pro wrestling tradition of hosting a supercard on Thanksgiving Day (the event was later moved to December). While “Starrcade” occurred annually from 1983 to 2000, Flair openly wonders if “Evolution” should become a yearly occurrence.
“There’s a novelty to it now, but if it happens every year, is it as special?” Flair said. “I look at it as one night where we are bringing the past, present, and future together and any dream match that you can think of could happen. Would I love to have it every year? Yes, but it’s so special right now so I’m torn.”
Regardless of what comes after “Evolution” and what the future holds for the WWE women’s division, one thing is clear.
Charlotte is going to be doing it with Flair.