Three and half years ago, Ashley Fliehr worked as a personal trainer in Ballantyne. Sunday she’ll carry the Divas Belt to the ring at WWE’s Live Holiday Tour at Time Warner Cable Arena as the current Divas champion Charlotte.
And yes, her ring name is a tribute to her hometown.
As the daughter of 16-time world champion Ric Flair (his given name is Richard Fliehr), Fliehr grew up around the world of wrestling. The Providence High School grad recalls family vacations with the Andersons – the family of Flair’s Four Horsemen cohort Arn Anderson – and watching her father preening and bleeding in the ring.
But even though her brothers David and Reid followed their dad into the family business, Fliehr, 29. never even imagined getting in the ring, despite her background as a competitive athlete.
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It was during her father’s second induction into the WWE Hall of Fame with the Four Horsemen in 2012 that she began to consider it. A few months later she was training at WWE’s NXT training facility in Florida. She made her televised debut on WWE NXT in July 2013 and became the NXT Women’s champ a year later.
Her ascent to the top of the women’s division on WWE’s main roster came even quicker. She debuted on “WWE Raw” in July 2015. By the end of September she’d won the title.
“It’s amazing. It’s hard to think I only debuted in July. I haven’t had a chance to sit back and really grasp all that’s happened,” she says calling from her home in Florida Thursday.
Charlotte now has her own action figure, appears on the upcoming cover of “Muscle & Fitness” magazine, and young fans post photos of themselves trying the “bridge” from her Figure 8. That’s her version of her dad’s famous finisher, the Figure Four. She has yet to come up with her own signature call, like Flair’s Woooooo!
She’s also stirring controversy for pulling from her dad’s “heel” (wrestling lingo for a villain) playbook. Fans were appalled that her brother Reid’s 2013 death – attributed to a toxic combination of heroin and prescription drugs – was used as fodder in her current feud with wrestler Paige.
“It’s not the first time people’s real lives have come into play,” says Fliehr, who has openly discussed her younger brother – only two years her junior – as an inspiration in her pursuing a pro-wrestling career.
Since her father’s larger-than-life persona wasn’t that far off from the real deal, she’s prepared for the line between fiction and reality to blur.
“Having my dad in the business and using a lot of what’s been real life…most of Charlotte’s character is really who she is. A lot of who Ashley is is Charlotte and the same with my dad. It’s not like I’m the Joker,” she says.
Charlotte’s rise is actually a bigger deal than your average second generation wrestler joining the family business, of who there are many. She’s part of a move toward actual wrestling. Instead of lingerie-clad models pulling hair during a pajama pillow match (yes, that’s a real thing), the Diva’s division matches are drawing nearly as much praise as the main events.
“That’s probably the main focus – to be a role model for younger girls and send positive messages to never give up and be who they want to be,” Fliehr explains. “That’s a really big part of the job where you talk to kids at (places like) Make a Wish and have that opportunity to interact.”
For most fans the shift in focus is refreshing.
“It’s just a change in time, in what people want to see,” she says citing mixed martial artist, Rhonda Rousey, Serena Williams and the U.S. women’s soccer team as examples. “It’s the year of women and it happened to catch on in wrestling.”
She doesn’t see anything holding her back.
“I’m not 21 anymore and I’ve got a good head on my shoulders,” she says. “I’m on cloud nine. I want to be the female Rock. Honestly I can’t believe I’m here today. Where I’m going to be in three years, I’m sure I’ll be blown away.”