On a bitterly cold November day, Monday Night Raw, the flagship program of pro-wrestling juggernaut World Wrestling Entertainment, rolled through Albany, NY.
Demi Bennett, patient, humble and down-to-earth beyond her years, navigates poor connection issues during her one-on-one with Metal Injection. But then patient, humble and down-to-earth are traits that Bennett, the Aussie export who has taken the sports entertainment world by storm in recent years, exhibits in spades.
Just hours removed from our interview, the kind, reserved and respectful woman at the heart of our interactions morphs into Rhea Ripley, a spike and fishnet clad berserker whose arrogance, attitude and pure disdain for her opponent – in stark contrast to her real-life demeanor – have made her a household name inside of five years across the globe's largest pro-wrestling promotion.
Bennett, as the fearsome firehouse of the villainous Judgment Day faction, would take down perennial ass-kicker and fan favorite Asuka in the night's main event, earning the man advantage for her team at this Saturday's Survivor Series pay-per-view.
There, she and the team of Bailey, Iyo Sky, Dakota Kai and Nikki Cross will collide with Raw Women's Champion Bianca Belair, Alexa Bliss, Michin, the aforementioned Asuka and a mystery partner to be named in the returning WarGames, a brutal team-based cage encounter first conceived in Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s, and one Ripley is all too familiar with.
"For me, this Survivor Series show, it just feels bigger and it feels different to me in a way because it's WarGames as well," she shares with a grin caked with anticipation. "Being in NXT (WWE's developmental brand), being a part of the first ever women's WarGames match and then being a part of the second one, I hold that really close to my heart and it's like one of my favorite things to do. It's my favorite match, my favorite pay-per-view sort of thing. So to know that it's like combined with the Survivor Series now, for me personally, I feel like it's a bigger deal and I'm getting more amped up for it and more excited because I know that I'm going to be stepping into the double cage, into the double ring, and I get to do the one thing that I love most."
As echoed in her riotous walkout music ‘this is my brutality.' Fitting, as Rhea Ripley is no stranger to carnage and mayhem.
The jacked, poised and polished former Women's World Champion has been at the heart of major milestones in women's wrestling since her arrival in World Wrestling Entertainment in 2017, though for the 26-year-old Adelaide native, the path to the top required blood, sweat, tears and a good dose of angst heavy rock and metal to fuel it all.
"So my earliest memory is Papa Roach, of course, because of wrestling, it ('…To Be Loved') being the Raw theme song. They were like the first band that I really listened to and got into and started to love," Bennett shared of her earliest encounters with hard rock and metal.
"And then of course, I would go to YouTube and listen to their songs over and over again because it was the time that you did that and you didn't really have an iPod per say or you couldn't download things as easily. So I would just go to YouTube and once it goes through a Papa Roach song it starts going to other bands that are similar. It sort of just keeps trickling in. I remember stumbling across Suicide Silence and Of Mice & Men, and I was like, ‘Yo, these guys are sick!' At the start I couldn't understand what the hell they were singing, especially like being that young guy. I didn't pick up on everything, but I knew that I liked the sound of it.
"I really fell in love with Of Mice & Men, and I remember listening to them over and over again. I would be in art class, I would be in gym class, and I'd just be listening to them. And I remember people would be laughing at me and pointing the finger at me because I was in the corner like headbanging to their songs, but they're the memories that I really remember from listening to music. And then having Of Mice & Men's 'Second & Sebring' song as my theme song in Riot City Wrestling growing up, that was my all time favorite. And every time I would come out to it, it would just get me fired up and so emotional and like I'd come out singing along to it. They are my earliest memories for sure."
The symbiotic marriage between rock and wrestling dates back to the 1980s with, naturally, the Rock ‘n' Wrestling Connection, which saw megastar Cyndi Lauper rub shoulders with the immortal one Hulk Hogan and then Women's Champion Wendi Richter, coinciding with a global wrestling boom.
Metal legends Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper would appear in WWE programming throughout the 80s, cementing the relationship between the fringe outsider culture of music and the showcase of the immortals.
From there a who's who of talented performers have laid claim to rock and metal status, from future Hall of Famer (and current head-honcho of WWE creative) Paul "HHH" Levesque's collaborations with Motörhead, to curated superstar theme songs and live performances from the likes of KISS, Drowning Pool, Kid Rock, Saliva, Fozzy, Alter Bridge, Limp Bizkit, and more recently Nita Strauss, Poppy and Code Orange. The bonds between the heavy side of music and pro-wrestling have been intertwined for decades.
"Being a wrestling fan definitely did turn me into the metalhead that I am today," Bennett admits, laughing at her whirlwind journey. "It's crazy and it's wild that like two things that are sort of completely different just meshed so well together. And it's not just WWE and like listening to the bands and the music that they would have on the pay-per-views and for Raw and Smackdown. Yes, that was where it all stemmed from. But then also going to Riot City Wrestling in Adelaide, South Australia.
"We were all massive wrestling fans and we would listen to the songs that WWE would choose of course, and then we would listen to them. And then it's funny how YouTube works and like the algorithm. More just pop up and we'd use them for recaps of the shows. We would use them for our upcoming shows and theme songs as well. So it's just like all been trickling and man, it's crazy. And I've found a lot of fantastic bands. And now to think that I'm here, I work for WWE and we're using bands that I've been listening to for the past, I want to say ten years, that I've been absolutely obsessed with.
"Other people think of metalheads and wrestling as like two different outcast groups. So when the outcast groups sort of come together and we're one and we all get along and we all love each other, it's really cool," she adds with a warm smile.
Naturally, following her WWE debut in 2017 at the inaugural Mae Young Classic, Bennett, then sporting the name Rhea Ripley, would undergo a stark personality change.
Gone were the plucky "babyface" mannerisms and in its place the cold, calculated attitude of an ass-kicker and heavy metal rebel.
Sporting all-black-everything and studs and ushered to the ring with metalcore blaring, Ripley was a contrast to the perhaps more easily defined women's wrestler of the era. Her ascension to superstardom came quickly.
Adopting the Mitch Lucker stomp (an obvious nod to the late Suicide Silence frontman) to coincide with her dynamic entrance and embracing an us-against-them outsider attitude, Ripley became a fast fan favorite, becoming a multi-time champion in the space of five years. And through it all, her links to the genre that fueled her teenage years remains close to her heart.
At the grandest stage of them all, Wrestlemania 37 in Tampa, Florida, Ripley was played to the ring by New Year's Day's own Ash Costello, a fiery performance that buoyed Ripley to her first world title on the main roster.
More recently, Bennett herself enlisted Motionless in White frontman Chris Motionless to tackle her new theme song, the cutting and brutal "Demon In Your Dreams," which perfectly pairs with Ripley's darker, more sinister persona.
"I fought for the Motionless in White one. The New Year's Day one, I don't know. They were like ‘we've got this rad chick that's going to sing your song.' And I was like, cool. Like, who is it? Like, are you going to tell me? And they finally told me, Ash Costello. I was like no way! Like, I've been listening to her for so long. I had the half head hairstyle as well when I was younger because I got inspiration from her. I was like, this is bloody wild! So I guess because my aesthetic and like the way that I am is so different to what they're used to, especially in the women's division, they were like, ‘Right, we sort of have to go above and beyond and find someone that suits her well.' So it's cool that Ash Costello was the one that they picked.
"And then for the Motionless in White one, l texted Chris and I was like, ‘Would you be down to do it? I want to change my song up.' And he's like, ‘Oh my God. Like, Yes, I would definitely do it.' So I was like alright! I texted the music guys like, ‘get ready for this. I'm changing my song and the person singing it and you guys have absolutely no say in it. I've already got the okay from him, so make it work, please' (laughs). So I was like, ‘It's got to work. If you can't get Chris and you won't let me have Chris, I'm not changing my song.'"
The life of a world traveling athlete and entertainer leaves little time for frivolities, much less a night off to take in a metal show.
Bennett laments missing out on the recent Trinity of Terror tour, though assures us that, if and when she returns to the show floor, she'll be planted firmly in the center of the mosh pit.
"I'm definitely in the middle of the mosh pit. Even when I was younger and I was a lot smaller, I had a lot less muscle, we would go to like Soundwave Festival and man, I would be in that mosh pit for hours. Like, I'd be headbanging in it, I'd be doing the wall of death, I'd be doing the circle pits, I'd be fly kicking everyone in the face and then helping them up. I did absolutely everything. I loved being in the middle of it all and being squashed and just like thrown around. That's the funnest part to me. Like, you'd go to the concert or the festival nice and clean and you would leave a sweaty, disgusting mess. And that was just part of it."
Until that time, though, Bennett, and her wicked alter-ego Rhea Ripley, will continue to terrorize WWE's women's division.
A far cry from the reserved and shy youth who emerged from Australia's wrestling scene to jump head-on into the wrestling's biggest shark tank, Rhea Ripley is confidence personified. And Demi Bennet is having the absolute time of her life.
"I'm definitely a lot more confident these days. When I first started WWE I was a timid, scared girl. But doing this Judgment Day stuff with my boys, I am just going out there and I'm having the time of my life. Like most of the time I don't really know what's going on. I'm just organically reacting to things and organically just being a menace to society and acting the way that I want to act, which I think is the best way to do it, because you're not focused on hitting specific things, you're just focused on the then and the now and the moment and just having fun with it.
"And that's all I've been doing. I've just been going out there, laughing my ass off, supporting my boys and just having the time of my life. And it makes me happy knowing that people are seeing that and they're picking up on it and they're gravitating to it as well, in a way, because that's what wrestling is. It's fun. And if people can see that I'm just out there having fun, then people enjoy it more as well. But yeah, it's been a wild ride. And we're just getting started."