”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.
If there was one thing that I learned from the Reality Era, it was that I really appreciate it when WWE pits someone that the diehard fans are fully behind against someone who represents that particular character’s natural foil. The CM Punk promo when he called out John Cena for having become what he hated – the franchise, “The New York Yankees” – puts clearly into context what I’m referencing. Cena was the Golden Boy and WWE leaned hard into his Hogan-esque status for a long time, but when The Second City Saint dropped “The Pipe Bomb” and rose to the level that he did, it gave everyone who was tired of Superman a Batman to get behind; and, ladies and gentlemen, that time was magical.
WWE has not been apt to very often go back to that well for whatever the reason may be. It has been brilliant whenever they have put their anointed Big Dog in the “chosen one” spot and positioned him opposite someone who represents the scratching and clawing mentality that Roman Reigns is at least perceived to lack. However, creative plans have felt the need to repeat a lesser version of Cena’s sprint up the historical hierarchy in the mid-to-late 2000s with the Roman Empire and have generally strayed away from those organic side choosing exercises that upped the emotional ante to the amazing extent that they did earlier this decade. That said, for the first time in a couple of years, rabid enthusiasts have an avatar through whom they can buck the WWE establishment: Becky Lynch.
The Irish Lass Kicker likely would not have been predicted to be in the spot that she is in ahead of Sunday’s Hell in a Cell pay-per-view if we rewound the clock to earlier in the summer. A downturn in her momentum over the past eighteen months coincided with a general downturn in momentum for main roster women’s wrestling in WWE at large. Plus, her peak, like most of her career, had largely taken place in the shadows during the peaks of her fellow Four Horsewomen when it hit the wall of Smackdown’s 2017/2018 season. So, it did not seem too terribly out of place when she found comparable struggles as Bayley and Sasha Banks in the spring of 2017 and beyond. Was it acknowledged by many that she was one of the better pure babyfaces in the company? Was there hope that she might emerge as the blue brand’s Women’s Champion again, renew her rivalry with Charlotte, and maybe even get in the ring with Asuka or Ronda Rousey? Yes and absolutely yes, but to think that she could equal and then vastly exceed the momentum that she had in 2016 seemed, respectfully, a gross exaggeration of her potential.
As these things tend to happen – and WWE would be wise to once again acknowledge this because being a diehard fan has not been made easy for the past couple of WrestleMania cycles – Becky’s recent Phoenix Saga has been completely organic. People were ready to see her become the Smackdown Women’s champ again. Knowingly or not – and it really does not matter which – WWE set-up Lynch to do one of the things that drives people madly in love with protagonists: lose. The beautiful thing about the performance art that is pro wrestling is that it is quite inconsequential why people feel deeply sympathetic to a character, so long as they deeply feel sympathetic. That the people were excited about and hopeful for Becky to win the title at Summerslam, only for Charlotte to swoop in and catch her and us at least partially by surprise, filled the environment with gas so that her heel turn could light a match and blow up the ensuing angle into something that kind of has a bit of an epic aura to it.
Lynch is no less of a babyface to the diehard audience today than she was before her personic pivot. Everything that she has been saying should resonate with anyone who has ever snapped after repeatedly being forced into the background when in possession of the talent to be much more than a member of the supporting cast. She is both wrong and right, and she is far more relatable for it. In many ways, Becky reminds me of Punk, who was always to varying degrees just CM Punk from Pipe Bomb to Lesnar feud no matter if facing Chris Jericho or The Rock or Cena or Alberto Del Rio. Lynch is being authentic right now and no largely antiquated label that we might want to try to apply to her recent actions can change the fact that she is who we want to win. So I ask you, ladies and gentlemen, why does it really matter if she is the antagonist in the fiction if how well she plays the part only makes us care more about her cause?
These situations do not come about without the yin to the yang, though, and the big picture intrigue that has some very intelligent pundits calling Becky the next Daniel Bryan would not be possible without her natural foil, Charlotte Flair. Several times since Summerslam, I have seen on social media the comparison of Flair to Roman Reigns, with the implication clearly being that WWE is forcing The Queen down our throats and with the more subtle implication being that she is less deserving than she is of her spot. Well, hold the phone. Charlotte is everything WWE wishes Roman could be.
The Queen is The Queen, developed from the word go as the lineage-bearer of arguably the greatest of all-time, one of the few athletes in the game today that can accomplish any physical task put in front of her, and a woman with enough elite bonafides that she could legitimately challenge for being the face of the company. Whether the Queen Bee or the fairer lady of the throne, Charlotte Flair is some variation of Charlotte Flair. With Roman, the problem is that he and his presentation are always changing, so you can never develop an appropriate, fiction-accepting emotional response to him. That is absolutely not the problem with Flair; she is Serena Williams, probably already the G.O.A.T., and that is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way and simultaneously make her “The Woman” to many others.
Sunday’s battle for the Smackdown Women’s Championship, then, is a return to form for a style of booking that laid dormant for way too long. The promos and presentation on television from Becky and Charlotte have been that all-too-familiar but absolutely missed form of fascinating, completely engrossing as they are on account of the truth on display – the truth that modern wrestling thrives in the shades of gray, the truth that both women have every reason to feel slighted in their own respective ways, the truth that Becky so badly needed this, probably wanted this, and is likely loving every second of this, and the truth that the dichotomy between their characters draws a thick line in the sand demanding that fans of all persuasions pick a side and bring their attention and emotions to the table when the bell rings at Hell in a Cell.