For the first 26 years of her life, Charlotte Flair was never interested in professional wrestling despite her father, Ric Flair, being the most decorated world heavyweight champion in the history of the business.
Five years after accepting a WWE developmental contract, Charlotte is already on her own track to becoming the most-decorated woman in the company's history. The 31-year-old is already tied for the third-most championships of all time with four major title reigns, earning all those championships within two years of debuting on WWE's main roster – faster than any woman in WWE ever has.
On Sunday, October 8th, Charlotte has the chance to earn her fifth major title against Natalya at Hell in a Cell, inside the show's namesake structure.
Reflecting on her opportunities – and her relationship with her father, who recently spent two days in a medically induced coma after being admitted to the hospital with heart issues – are some of the driving narratives in her new book, Second Nature, which she co-authored with Ric Flair. While promoting her new book, Charlotte gives Rolling Stone an update on her father's help, discusses her long-time rivalry with Natalya, and explains why she wants to fight Ronda Rousey at Wrestlemania.
How's your father doing?
My dad's doing well. He went home last week and I believe he has his first appearance next week, so he's recovering well. He's putting on weight, and he's doing great.
Having reflected on your relationship with your father while writing Second Nature, and given his recent health, have any of the stories you wrote about taken on new meaning in recent weeks?
Probably my dad managing me on the main roster. Having that time with him and traveling the world, bonding and being in the same career as him. Sharing what we do is so special and knowing that I'm the only one in the family that can really relate. With him being sick, that really put a whole new perspective on how much I'm so thankful for that time with him.
NXT trainer Sara Amato said your match with Natalya at the first NXT Takeover was a turning point for women's wrestling. You're facing Natalya again this Sunday, but is that match in NXT still one of your favorites to look back on?
Oh, 100-percent. That particular match gave me the platform for people to look at me not just as Ric Flair's daughter and also it gave me the confidence to know that I was doing the right thing because before then I really hadn't had that many matches on NXT programming. We went more than 20 minutes, which was unheard of. I truly believe it catapulted my career.
You were in the first Hell in a Cell with Sasha Banks, and you're the first WWE Women's Champion of the title's new era: What other "firsts" do you want to accomplish?
It's funny, because I have had the opportunity and privilege to be a part of so many firsts, but I still feel there's so much more for me to do and learn. The ultimate first would be to main event Wrestlemania.
You've said you want to face Ronda Rousey at Wrestlemania. Why?
Here's the thing: With Ronda being part of the division, or her having whatever interest, whether it to be part of the division or as just a fan, it brings more eyes to the women's division, which I'm all for. Especially with a crossover star like she is. But I mean, would I want to have another fatal four-way with the four horsewomen? That would be at the top of my list. It's not that she's my dream opponent, it's just I want to main event Wrestlemania – and with the proper storyline. I can think me vs. Ronda Rousey has a Wrestlemania feel to it.
Do you think she'd be able to handle the transition from the UFC to the WWE?
Absolutely, but perfecting her craft is another story. Whether she can handle being in the ring? 100-percent. She's a UFC fighter. But it's one thing to step in the ring and have one match than to call yourself a WWE superstar.
What do you mean?
It took me five years to understand the psychology. You just don't have one match and say, "Hey, I can do this." Yeah, she can get in the ring and do it, but to really understand what we do and what makes the greats the great, that takes years. It's not just one match.
What did you have to learn in the ring that you couldn't just pick up from your dad growing up?
I spent 26 years watching my dad, and I didn't know anything about the business until I started myself. It's a live performance. You have roles and [you must learn] what makes the audience react. That's something that you can't teach someone, because every audience is different. It's a matter of skill; it's a matter of confidence; it's a matter of knowing your character inside and out and knowing your role. "How am I going to get the crowd to react at a certain time and take them on the roller coaster?" That's not something you just pick up on day one. You learn over time and listen to people. For my generation, John Cena, AJ Styles, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns – those are the guys that you go to that have had the experience and can walk out there and just know. It takes years.
You've already earned four WWE women's championships. What do you want your legacy to be?
Nothing is more important in our industry than respect. Just having the respect of my peers at the end of the day and arguably going down as one of the greatest of all time in my own way.
Coming into the WWE with no wrestling experience, I imagine that was difficult at first. How challenging was it to earn the respect of your peers in the ring?
It was extremely hard, because I had no prior experience and I didn't have to try out. I was able to basically be a part of the program because I knew somebody. I had to earn my place and earn my respect right off the bat.
Did you have a wake-up call early on in your career?
Yeah, there were a couple different points throughout my career. The very first one was when we were in Tampa at the [NXT training] facility, they were taping Axxess [an annual WWE fan event] for the first time and they called out four girls' names and I wasn't one of them. I wasn't used to not getting picked because I've played sports my whole life and I was like, "Well, this means I'm not ready to be part of this." Another time was we'd have these things called a showcase where higher-ups on the main roster would come down and take a look at the talent to see any prospects to be pulled up – this was really when NXT was taking off and hadn't even had its first pay-per view yet – and the girls had a tag match, and I'm just sitting in the audience in a dress watching my fellow talent and I was like, "I really don't like sitting in the stands. How am I not part of this?" But obviously I was looking at them and going, "How am I ever going to learn that?" and, "How am I going to catch up?"