Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Becky Lynch Showed What Could Happen When Vince And WWE Simply Get Out Of Their Own Way

Illustration for article titled Becky Lynch Showed What Could Happen When Vince And WWE Simply Get Out Of Their Own Way

Last night on “Monday Night Raw,” Becky Lynch announced she is pregnant and would be taking a prolonged leave from WWE. The company and fans will be without perhaps its most galvanizing star for a while as she cedes her title to Asuka. But what she also takes with her is being a symbol of what WWE stars can become if they’re simply allowed to tell their own story in a logical sense. That might sound self-explanatory, but if you haven’t watched WWE in a while, or ever, believe fans when they tell you it’s something like the lost city of El Dorado.

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Lynch’s list of accomplishments certainly is a long one. Champion on both shows, the first women’s match to main-event Wrestlemania, essentially chosen to anchor Monday Night Raw after Smackdown moved to Fox, and perhaps soon to be crossover star with a guest appearance on Showtime’s “Billions” and a reported role in a Marvel movie. While women wrestlers had headlined PPVs before and been a story for a short time, none have come close to the length of Lynch’s run at the top of the company.

It makes it hard to remember when she was barely registering on TV just two years ago.

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Lynch was hardly an unknown, starring in the company’s developmental division NXT along with the other “Horsewomen,” (Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, and Bayley). She was promoted to the main roster alongside Flair and Banks, and starred with both of them in unquestionably the best match of Wrestlemania 32. She was the first Smackdown women’s champion after the company’s brand split.

But it was from there that Lynch’s profile began to sink. While she was champion on the “blue brand,” it took a backseat in attention from both the company and fans to Banks and Flair’s feud on “Raw” that spanned several months and saw them either main event or simply steal a couple PPVs.

Lynch’s run with the title only lasted a couple months, losing it to Alexa Bliss, which at the time seemed awfully strange (Bliss’s in-ring work wasn’t near the quality it is now and she was seen as a much better talker and personality than worker then). It was especially strange as Lynch hadn’t gotten to do much of anything at all with the title.

And from there, Lynch struggled to even be on TV. When she did appear it was part of six-woman tags or larger matches. She was in the first women’s Money In The Bank match, but didn’t win it. She captained a Survivor Series team, but was the first one eliminated. She was part of the Women’s Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 34, but that was on the pre-show and she was eliminated early. If she wasn’t an afterthought, she was in the neighborhood.

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But maybe due to her history that the knowledgeable fans had never forgotten, or her charisma-dripping personality, or the fact that she was still a dynamite worker, or some combination thereof, Lynch remained a fan favorite. Perhaps she caught a break in that being down the card somewhat made her less susceptible to meddling from the company’s writers or Vince McMahon himself. Either way, Lynch was able to start her remarkable run simply by saying what everyone in the crowd had been thinking for a while: Why was Becky not being used?

“The Man” era for Lynch started with her simply winning a streak of matches while pointing out how she’d been under- or misused for the previous year or two. She cut promos about being ignored or undervalued, most of which fans would tell you didn’t contain one incorrect syllable. She was speaking their truth.

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Normally, when WWE wants to push a performer to the top of the card, they’re simply shotgunned into a feud with the current champion, and they wrestle the same match multiple times until everyone gets bored. They never show their work. One day they’re not on TV, and the next suddenly they’re all over TV. It’s why fans never took to Roman Reigns. Or why they turned on Ronda Rousey (among other reasons). Fans want the journey almost as much or more than the destination. Otherwise shit just “happens.” As Matt Stone and Trey Parker might say, with WWE there’s a whole bunch of “and then” and barely any “therefore.” In the women’s division, most stories beyond this are some jealousy/conniving/backstabbing/high school angle to achieve the same thing.

Becky was just allowed to be Becky. She just kept winning matches on TV, and because she was, and still is, one of the company’s best performers, most or all of them were good. She built momentum organically. Suddenly you couldn’t help but notice Lynch every week, and it became obvious she needed to be at the top of the card. Not because the writers or Vince simply told us.

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Even when WWE tried to fuck it up, Lynch’s natural force couldn’t be swayed.

Becky’s turn at the top of the card started with WWE mistakenly trying to turn her heel, which thankfully failed miserably. Becky earned a title-shot at SummerSlam against Carmella, but Charlotte was simply shoe-horned in at the last minute. Becky had spent months trying to get back to where she was, and Charlotte merely had to show up. Somehow, WWE thought they could portray Charlotte as the hero of this (funny how a billionaire could think that someone just bestowed elite status would be the hero, no?).

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The heel-turn was supposed to be Becky turning on Charlotte after Charlotte had won the match, but it was the loudest pop of the night and by some distance. Everyone was on Becky’s side, because she had shown her work. Charlotte was the intruder. After one more half-attempt at a heel-promo two nights later on Smackdown, again the company simply rode the wave Becky was creating. She wasn’t a heel. She wasn’t a face. She was just the biggest force in the company. Get out of her way.

From then, it was simply a previously unseen run from a woman in the company. Becky claimed back the belt from Charlotte, and the two of them brought the house down at the first, and still infuriatingly only, all-women’s PPV Evolution. This is when Lynch started calling herself “The Man,” simply because she was.

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Luck plays its part, too. Lynch obviously wasn’t supposed to have her nose broken by Nia Jax in the build-up to her Survivor’s Series match against Rousey. But her using that to create one of the more iconic images in the company’s history — Lynch amongst the crowd, blood strewn all over her face, mocking Rousey with a the-fuck-you-gonna-do-about-it swagger — confirmed her place in the stratosphere. The fact that she wasn’t cleared to face Rousey later in the week at Survivor Series only made fans salivate for the match more. Which meant it could only be at Wrestlemania, and it could only be the main-event.

It was the perfect juxtaposition of how fans see storytelling and how the company does. Here was Lynch, who had fallen off the card entirely, methodically worked her way back up and simply brought everyone to her side and made everyone take notice simply by being the same Becky Lynch everyone had fallen in love with in NXT; against Rousey who had been pitched straight to the top due to name-recognition. That’s not totally fair to Rousey, whose in-ring work was more than acceptable and at times great, but her mic-work and personality lagged far behind. One had made the journey, one was there just because.

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In the meantime, Becky had two great matches with Asuka (arguably their first Royal Rumble match was the best of Lynch’s career). She won the Rumble, while Rousey was railing against the fans for not warming up to her. It was meant as something of a heel-turn for Rousey, but just came off as McMahon’s petulant whining through Rousey at fans for not following his plan accordingly. Fans were just supposed to take Vince and Rousey’s word for it, like always.

While Vince wasn’t secure enough to just let Rousey and Lynch headline the industry’s biggest event, as Mania simply has to burst through the seams with everything it does, and once again crowbarred Charlotte into the match (nerfing Asuka in the process), it was because of Lynch that the match was in that slot in the first place. While her win was something of a foregone conclusion, it was a coronation nearly a year in the making with which everyone got to ride along.

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Sadly for Lynch, remaining that much of a force requires rivals anywhere near the same level, and she’d run out of them. Sasha Banks, with whom Lynch could have had an epic story given their history, disappeared from the company for months. Everyone was sick of Charlotte, who also stopped trying a lot of the time. Lynch had to do her best with the utterly helpless Lacey Evans or underwhelming veteran Natalya before getting a short run with a returning Banks. A resumption of hostilities with Asuka fell flat in a tag-match when Kairi Sane — now one of the more underutilized talents in the company — was concussed in the middle of the match and essentially staggered through it like the lyrics to “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Becky’s second match with Asuka at this past Rumble was close but never hit the heights of their first.

Her last feud before her absence was with Shayna Bazler, which should have been a banger. But WWE goofed Shayna’s introduction to the main roster from jump, turning an all-conquering badass into a confusing vampire/monster amalgamation. The Wrestlemania match was fine-to-good, but not what it should have been.

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Pregnancy is just a pause, of course. Becky will be back. Safe bet is SummerSlam 2021, the ballsy one is the Raw after Wrestlemania next April. Whenever it is, she can look forward to one of the largest pops in recent history, if not ever. WWE will have all that time to get a few women performers near the level Becky vacated. Asuka, Banks, Charlotte, Rhea Ripley, Io Shirai, others are candidates.

But none of them will be the first to simply grab the whole industry by the throat. Becky takes that with her. As well as the prime example of what can happen when the WWE keeps its stories simple and logical. Sadly, that’s one lesson they can never seem to repeat.

Have you ever looked at a dollar bill, man?

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