A soap opera for men, ballet for blokes; whatever you want to call it, pro wrestling is unique as a storytelling medium. It blends theatrical performance, sport and narrative in a way that no other form of entertainment manages, telling ongoing, sometimes multi-year stories involving multiple characters across a number of weekly shows.
The year is drawing to a close and as it winds up I want to revisit and reflect on the five in ring-stories that I feel defined pro wrestling in 2018. It was a roller coaster year of some great highs and low lows but I have chosen to focus on the five wrestling stories that I believe define the year in a positive light.
I’ll be posting one up each Monday throughout December, so make sure you keep checking back. To start the series off we’ll be looking at one of the most unexpected but explosive stories of the year, the rise of The Man, Becky Lynch.
One of the most visceral, emotive and enduring images of 2018 has to be Becky Lynch on the 12th of November, standing on the steps of Monday Night Raw, blood splattered across her face, arms outstretched and having just led a raid on the rival brand daring anyone in the world to come at her. It hardly matters what happened in the days afterwards, the image itself was immediately iconic. It was the kind of picture that quickly trended on twitter, flashed around news sites globally, was memorialised in fan art, made into bootleg t-shirts and will be splashed across WWE video packages for years to come. It is also an image that speaks thousands of words about the explosive transformation over the closing months of 2018 by the woman who claimed for herself the nickname ‘The Man’.
This was Becky Lynch at the start of this year. What comes to mind when you think of her character? Nice hair? She has some cool goggles? You might charitably call her a ‘fighter’ but in the world of wrestling what does that description even mean when every wrestler on the roster ultimately earns their paycheck through fighting?
Truthfully since her Smackdown Women’s title run in 2016 at the start of the brand split Becky Lynch seemed to have fallen into that same hole so many of the WWE’s main roster faces do. She was popular but not vital. A worker management knew they could rely on to put together a solid match and someone the crowd seemed to enjoy but not someone to build giant stories or moments around. It is the hole Bayley and Sasha Banks have been in since their respective feuds with Charlotte and it is where Finn Balor has existed for almost the entirety of his main roster career.
It isn’t a terrible place to be by any means. As a trusted hand Becky would receive featured spots in the first women’s Money In The Bank, be the second entrant into the first women’s Royal Rumble and make three consecutive Wrestlemania appearances. Many wrestlers are happy to take that paycheck to the bank every week of the year and would be happy with that kind of legacy at the end of their career.
From the outside it seemed like Becky Lynch was happy to be in that position too. She went out every night, put everything into her matches and based on her promos she knew that if she kept diligently working away, her time would come back around. After stringing together a nice unbeaten run on Smackdown across the summer months that time did come, a title match at Summer Slam against the Smackdown Women’s Champion Carmella.
What we didn’t know though was that behind the happy facade, Becky Lynch was growing increasingly discontent at simply being a ‘trusted hand’. She had already gambled everything to pursue her dream at least twice in her life: when she dropped out of university to pursue wrestling full time in the early 2000s well before women’s wrestling in the WWE had any kind of evolution and again when she came back to pro wrestling in 2012 after taking four years off due to a damaged her cranial nerve and saying pro wrestling was not the right career for her.
The position of ‘support player’ was never going to be enough for someone who had been on that journey and through those trials Becky had built an immense amount of self confidence to back herself when the time came. When her ‘best friend’ Charlotte was inserted into the match and ultimately won it, the fairness of the decision or Charlotte’s win didn’t matter. In Lynch’s mind she had paid her dues and rightly or wrongly deserved the championship.
So for the third time in her career Becky went all in, attacking her best friend and declaring herself for herself and no one else. She believed she was the best and she deserved to be recognised as it.
There have only been a few universe altering eruptions in fan support in the last decade. Not just the kind of universal good will someone like Seth Rollins has grown over the last two years or even the one-sided popularity of Johnny Gargano in his feud with Tommaso Ciampa earlier this year but I’m talking about a seemingly overnight obsession of the crowd that blurs out all other story lines and gets a performer cheered on a show they aren’t even on. Punk’s Pipebomb is absolutely the first, Daniel Bryan and the Yes Movement is the obvious sequel and the quintessential example of crowd’s taking over and driving a story. I don’t think it is exaggerating to say that Becky Lynch acting upon her basest instincts, attacking Charlotte and imposing herself on the Smackdown Women’s Title scene ranks up there with those two hallowed stories in how it exploded in controversy and eventual popularity for Lynch.
The popularity was helped along by two huge factors, firstly how relatable Lynch’s character is in today’s world and how she has been able to back that character up with in ring action.
We live in an incredibly divided society. Many countries in the west will boast of the growth of their GDP, multi-national company profits or the creation of wealth for the highest earners yet everyday citizens haven’t seen true wage growth in years. At work (if you are able to get it) too many people have their hard work ignored as career promotions, bonuses and recognition are given to the select few favourites that get handed success after success.
It was easy for anyone who has been passed up in that manner to sympathise with Becky Lynch wanting to stick it to the ‘chosen one’ in her field. Even if Charlotte may have earned her way into that Summer Slam match fairly and won it fairly. The fact Becky may have technically been in the wrong in how she enacted her own justice pales in comparison to the larger injustice in how she was ultimately treated. The story reeks of the kind of protest politics that have swept the western world and seen extremist ideals and candidates win offices that ten years ago they would have been laughed out of. The silent masses felt neglected and ignored, so forced those in power to hear their voice even if they didn’t like what they had to say. While Charlotte was chosen, Becky chose that it was her turn instead and made that feeling a reality.
It would also be foolish to ignore the more meta elements of the story that mesh very well with the in-universe narrative. Much like society, the WWE claims it is a land of meritocracy where with enough hard work anyone can succeed. However fans too often see glass ceilings placed on wrestlers such as Becky Lynch, while a select few superstars benefit from a privileged existence of constant opportunities at the top of the card, whether they are perceived to have earnt it or not. It is the conflict that has gripped Roman Reign’s entire singles career and this sense of injustice exploded into the women’s division when Lynch’s opportunity was seen to be usurped by Charlotte, the woman who has been made into the crown jewel of the women’s division. Once again the means Becky used to achieve her ultimate goal of winning the Smackdown Women’s Championship were secondary to the ultimate injustice she was fighting and the crowd chose to cheer her, negative character traits and all.
The second reason the story blew up so phenomenally is that Becky was able to back up her words in the ring. Too many great stories are ruined when performers say one thing but are never able to back it up. However when Becky declared she was the best and blindsided Charlotte, she was also able to prove she had in fact been unfairly treated when she out-wrestled, out-fought and out-survived her blue chip opponent. Across a series of matches that went from pure wrestling to chaotic violence Becky claimed the title of ‘The Man’ when she beat Ric Flair’s daughter in a Last Man Standing Match and her match or segment became the most anticipated part of on any show she was on.
At that point the fact she went on to completely own Ronda Rousey at every step of the build up to their Survivor Series match only added to the mythos of The Man. Here was the highest profile celebrity recruit the WWE has had in years, a women who had a gifted run in the company up to that point, getting taken down a peg by a pro wrestling veteran. To die hard fans it felt like one of their own was finally sticking it to the WWE’s corporate machine. The fact their match never happened only made the audience want it more.
The very selection of the nickname ‘The Man’ is an interesting thing in itself in the context of the Women’s Evolution. It certainly raised the eyebrow of my wife who isn’t a wrestling fan but has written for a few feminist media outlets. Why is it that a woman has to pick a masculine name to be seen as badass, can’t ‘The Queen’ or ‘The Goddess’ be equally competent and evocative?
However in the world of wrestling Becky Lynch taking that nickname is symbolic of something else: perhaps for the first time ever in the WWE, it is a female that is the most popular and anticipated wrestler on the card. Throughout the Women’s Evolution there have been some very significant matches and moments but have a woman believably declare herself The Man in the WWE is a huge step forward. As she said herself on Twitter – ‘After decades of (awesome) men being The Man, what’s more empowering than saying to both female & male locker rooms, “I am The Man now, what are you going to do about it?”’
The emergence of ‘The Man’ has seen Lynch go from also ran to potential Wrestlemania Main Eventer and everyone else in the women’s locker room is benefiting from Becky breaking away from the pack and daring anyone to follow. At Survivor Series Charlotte and Ronda both upped their games to new levels, Asuka has now been thrown back into the Smackdown main event mix, ready to step her game back up and the ‘Facebreaker’ Nia Jax has absolutely nuclear heat that will no doubt explode when she comes face to face with Becky down the line.
Which brings us back around to that iconic image.
In a world where even the most dangerous women are offset with bright coloured hair, shiny costumes, sequins and makeup there is something unapologetically unpretty about it. Lynch’s presentation that night and since Summer Slam has had no pretence at all, no wrapping things up in acceptable feminine niceties. She is not a high school brat who can be dismissed and she is not a shrill stereotype of a female boss. She is competent, she is bold and she does whatever the hell she wants.
With blood in her mouth, her nose bent out of shape, a scowl on her face and exuding confidence bordering on arrogance, the woman who is now The Man in the WWE has ushered in a new chapter of the Women’s Evolution and leaves 2018 with one of the most explosive stories in recent WWE lore.
Thanks for reading LOP, what did you think of Becky Lynch’s journey in 2018 and where it fits within the context of the Women’s Evolution? Let me know in the comments below, on twitter @Sir_Samuel or you could even write about it yourself in the LOP Columns Forum where we are always looking for new writers. If you want to register just let me know so I can make sure your registration goes through smoothly (we are currently under siege from Russian bots).
Also make sure you come back next Monday for Part 2 of my series where I will be venturing beyond the walls of the WWE and looking at the journey of Kenny Omega.