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‘It meant something’: Becky Lynch, identity, and wrestling

Why the main roster story of arguably WWE’s most developed character resonates.

Becky Lynch as SmackDown Women’s Champion wwe.com

Read the first part of “Becky Lynch, identity, and wrestling.”


Revolutions and betrayals

While TakeOver: Unstoppable was not Becky Lynch’s last match in NXT, it largely concluded her story arc. Eight weeks later, she was called up to WWE’s main roster along with Charlotte and Sasha Banks. There were an untold number of ways to handle the call ups that would make the trio of performers seem important, breathe new life into the main roster women’s division, and indeed legitimately advance women’s wrestling.

Somehow WWE chose none of them.

Placing the call ups in arbitrary, management-designed teams sapped the NXT trio of any agency (as well as Paige) and focusing on team warfare at the expense of the championship—one would think that these hotshot newcomers would immediately want a crack at Nikki Bella’s Divas Championship, and not take several months to realize it exists—led to a plethora of unoriginal tag matches sans stakes and zero character development. Unsurprisingly, treating big new arrivals as interchangeable balance sheet assets used to check a faux-progressive box to try to cash in on a societal trend didn’t work too well.

Regardless, the Divas Revolution finally started in earnest when Charlotte beat Nikki for the title in September 2015, and then retained the following month. But the next title feud was rather problematic, pitting a face crowds didn’t really want to cheer—Charlotte—against a heel they actually did—Paige.

Indeed, Paige’s promo bashing Charlotte and signaling her heel turn was well cheered, except for one little throwaway line thrown Becky’s way:

You’re never going to be a Divas Champion, you know why? Because you’re the least relevant of all of us.

Despite popping for basically every diss thrown Charlotte’s way, the crowd gave a much more mixed reaction for the shot at Becky. Even back in fall 2015 main roster fans started to feel a connection with The Lasskicker.

When Paige finally turned in full, she repeatedly attacked both Charlotte and Becky—with the fans mostly cheering her assaults against the former, yet treating the beatdowns of Becky with ambivalence. Becky was distressed that Paige, someone she had managed long ago on the indies, “showed her true colours,” but wasn’t hugely devastated. She still had her best friend Charlotte by her side, after all.

The “Revolution” reached a new low when heel Paige mocked face Charlotte’s brother, Reid—who died of a drug overdose—in a Nov. 18, 2015, contract signing. This was made worse by WWE realizing only a few weeks later that they needed to do a double-turn. At TLC Dec. 13, 2015, Charlotte used both interference from her father Ric and actively cheated on her own initiative to beat Paige.

Literally less than a month after the disgusting, scripted Reid shot, Charlotte was relying on interference and cheating to beat the very person that said the line.

If anything the use of Reid Flair’s death in such a vile way was a perfect encapsulation of the “Divas Revolution”—everything was wrong and bad, and at its worst, downright offensive.

To say that the “Revolution” was foundering as of late 2015 is an understatement.

But a savior was on the horizon. Someone whose philosophy on the high-concept “Revolution”—as she later noted in at least one memorable Comic-Con panel appearance—was smart and simple: show fans that women are capable of quality pro wrestling. Someone who finally, in her long wrestling journey, was in the right role at the right place at the right time.

Becky Lynch.

TLC was not, in fact, Charlotte’s first sign of villainy. On Nov. 30, 2015, she faced Becky in a “friendly” match. But Charlotte feigned an injury, and along with a slight distraction from Ric, rolled up Becky for the win. Lynch was understandably incensed, and despite Charlotte later claiming it was just “strategy,” “tough love,” and a “valuable lesson because I care about you,” Becky was less than convinced.

But Lynch had already lost a friend in Paige, and despite her obvious hesitations, accepted Charlotte’s non-apology. The trauma of one friend betraying her was enough, so she had no desire to rock the boat and lose an even closer friend.

What Lynch refused to realize was that Charlotte was already gone, as the next month would demonstrate.

Three days later on SmackDown, Charlotte, who claimed earlier in the night that she “had Becky’s back,” entered the ring to attack Brie Bella when Becky was on the verge of making Brie tap out. The disqualification understandably irked Becky, who said she was “a little bit perplexed, a little bit annoyed,” and wondered of Charlotte “what’s gotten into her, who’s gotten into her head?”

On Dec. 10, 2015, Becky forced Paige to submit due to a distraction from Charlotte—which Becky was seemingly OK with, understandably so, as she could interpret it as a gesture of goodwill from her friend that allowed her to get back at someone who had wronged her in a greater sense. At this point, Becky was more concerned about keeping Charlotte on her side than adhering to an absolute morality. But the actions of the Divas Champion and her father the following Sunday at TLC again pointed to Charlotte’s fall—which Becky still didn’t want to admit.

On Raw the night after TLC, Becky and Charlotte were victorious in a tag match over Team Bella after Ric—unbeknownst to Becky—tripped Alicia Fox, allowing Lynch to pounce on Fox for the win. Three days later on SmackDown, Becky forced Brie Bella to tap out. This time, however, Becky was keenly aware of Charlotte’s interference, but immediately recorded the victory anyway. Later that night, though, Becky told Charlotte off, and when the champion said “I just didn’t want you to lose,” Lynch took umbrage:

Becky: You think I can’t win on my own...

Charlotte: That’s not what I meant. That’s not what I meant.

Becky: That’s exactly what you meant.

When Becky walked off frustrated, Charlotte stared at her back with more than a hint of ice.

Clearly their relationship was strained, and the following week would make matters worse.

On Raw Dec. 21, 2015, Becky would make Brie tap out again—this time clean, proving Charlotte’s patronizing attitude from the prior week wrong. The following night on SmackDown, Becky was on commentary for Charlotte’s match with Brie. Team BAD came ringside, and Naomi immediately poured egg nog on Becky. Understandably, she was quite angered, and tried to take on Team BAD despite being outnumbered 3-on-1. Charlotte, seeing her friend viciously beaten mere feet away, thought for a brief second about going to help—but instead locked Brie in the Figure Eight and recorded the victory. Afterward, instead of showing any sort of remorse or sympathy, Charlotte laughed in Becky’s face.

After the turn of the New Year, things would come to a head. Becky and Charlotte were scheduled for a match on Raw Jan. 4, 2016, which Becky was excited for—with Charlotte far less enthused. She said she had already beaten Becky on Raw (Nov. 30), “fair and square”—an obvious lie, given that she’d feigned an injury to win. Becky shrugged the dishonesty off, but somehow failed to hear the obvious disingenuous in her friend’s voice throughout the rest of the discussion.

Charlotte agreed to take the match in the “spirit of competition,” and her father Ric appeared out of nowhere to offer his signature woo (startling Becky) and “endorse” the friendly ethos.

Foreshadowing, much?

After a quality back and forth match, Becky was tripped by Ric and Charlotte attempted a roll up. But Lynch wriggled free and turned the tables, pinning Charlotte with her own roll up—and a handful of tights, all the while purposefully staring at The Nature Boy. An incensed Ric threw his jacket at her, and as Becky jawed with him, failed to see Charlotte behind her preparing the shiv.

What Becky had denied for over a month finally proved itself true—her “friend” Charlotte was corrupted wholly by her father’s nefarious ways. Indeed, it was a classic case of tragic irony, as from the very first moment Charlotte feigned injury, the audience (being wrestling fans) was well aware it would eventually lead to a turn and betrayal of Becky. Yet Lynch refused to see the truth, and it played out over a month’s time, episode by episode. It was a tightly controlled narrative that the Revolution had entirely lacked until then, and featured a babyface in Becky that crowds were increasingly appreciating.

Lynch’s performance in this feud arguably saved the Revolution.

All the while, the viewer desperately wanted Becky to see what is clearly happening, but Lynch refused. Struck once by recent trauma—Paige’s betrayal—and carrying a legacy of isolation from her forced exile, she wanted to believe at all costs that Charlotte’s actions were excusable. They were not, and Becky paid the price for being unable to see what was in front of her.

Three days later on SmackDown she would get a shot at the Divas Championship, and at the end of the match seemingly forced Charlotte to tap out. But again Ric played the decisive part, having put Charlotte’s foot on the bottom rope seconds before the champion submitted. Immediately thereafter, Charlotte rolled up Becky—and put her feet on the ropes to get the win.

On Raw Jan. 11, 2016, Becky would strike back, ambushing Charlotte before the champion’s match with Brie Bella. Finally dragged away by officials, Lynch would offer a famous claim:

I’M TAKING YOUR CHAMPIONSHIP, AND I’M TAKING YOUR ARM.

On Jan. 18, Becky would beat Tamina with Charlotte and Ric looking on from ringside. While Charlotte rejected another title match, Becky worked her magic and manipulated Ric into granting a rematch at Royal Rumble the following Sunday. Later that night she would gleefully exclaim that she “outplayed the Dirtiest Player in the Game.”

Their bout at Royal Rumble 2016 was, in many eyes, the culmination of a brilliant feud and would surely end with the babyface triumphant. But it was not to be. Late in the match, Becky, who had fought off being sexually assaulted (a bit that was eventually edited out in the Network footage) by Ric earlier, had Charlotte locked in the Disarmer. The Nature Boy climbed onto the apron and threw his jacket on Becky, blinding and enraging her—again, she’d just been sexually assaulted by the man, so it’s plenty understandable that she would explode in anger and drop Charlotte’s arm to get at her assaulter.

(Ironically, the end of the match doesn’t actually work without the assault, as without it there’s no reason for Becky to do anything but simply shrug the jacket off and force Charlotte to quit.)

Inevitably, releasing the submission on the verge of victory led to Becky’s defeat. To make matters worse, as her former best friend beat her down and triumphantly stood over Lynch, her old mentor Sasha Banks returned after a several week absence. To add insult to Becky’s injury, Sasha, who had a storied rivalry with Charlotte as well, proceeded to initially walk past the champion and kick Becky out of the ring, proclaiming “My spotlight, Becky.” The crowd booed lightly before immediately beginning a thunderous “SASHA! SASHA! SASHA!” chant, which grew ever louder when Banks feigned a BFFs reunion with Charlotte before locking her in the Bank Statement.

Becky laid ringside for all of it, once again the afterthought. It wasn’t enough that she put Charlotte over in the match in humiliating fashion—she was made to suffer at the hands of Banks as well.

Sasha would split from Team Bad on Raw Feb. 1, 2016, but Becky was drawn into the fray as well. During a match between Lynch and Banks, Naomi and Tamina attacked their old stablemate. Becky, who couldn’t stand idly by and watch, intervened on Sasha’s behalf, and the former Team BAE duo reluctantly joined forces on the following SmackDown:

As Becky noted, “Unlike you who decided that giving me a cheap shot at Royal Rumble was the best way to make a statement, when I see someone in trouble, I help them out.” Left unstated by Becky is that Sasha, right or wrong, had been an important part of Becky’s WWE story, and Lynch could identify with the desire to “make it own her own” that Banks had announced upon her return.

The unlikely alliance would defeat Team BAD at Fastlane 2016, and then over the following weeks would square off with each other several times to determine who would challenge Charlotte for the Divas Championship at WrestleMania 32. But every match they ran was inconclusive, and without a clean finish, it was decided both Sasha and Becky would face Charlotte in a Triple Threat Match at WrestleMania. After an enthralling contest which stole the show, Becky tapped out to Charlotte’s Figure Eight—while Ric held Sasha back from getting into the ring—thus crowning “The Queen” as the new Women’s Champion.

Becky’s failure at WrestleMania, which ended her pursuit of the Women’s Championship, was a big setback. Soon after, a potential feud with Emma (what could have been...) after Mania was cut short due to the Aussie’s injury, leaving Becky adrift. She gained direction again May 30, 2016, coming to the aid of Natalya to fight off Charlotte and her new protege Dana Brooke. She passionately said later that night she would “always have” Natalya’s back.

Natalya, who had temporarily teamed up with Charlotte and Becky after Paige’s heel turn the year prior, was a suitable face partnership for Becky. Their camaraderie was not quite on the level of Becky and Charlotte, but Natalya’s role as sort of a mentoring figure made sense as the pair battled Women’s Champion Charlotte and Dana.

Yeah... about that.

At Money in the Bank 2016, Becky Lynch was attacked by someone she considered a friend for the third time on the main roster. Her fallout promo that night showed a despondent Becky, trying to claim that a miscommunication in the match caused Natalya’s actions, before stammering that she’d “known her for 10 years” and walking off.

The very next night, amid a burst of anger, Becky seemed to show a sign of maturation.

Renee Young: How are you handling this betrayal?

Becky Lynch: I don’t know Renee, it’s like I’m cursed or something. First, Paige, then Charlotte, and now Natalya. It doesn’t add up. But the way I’m looking at is if I am the last woman in this entire division with any sort of integrity or sense of sportsmanship then I’m doing a lot better off than the rest of them. I am done trying to figure out why these girls do what they do, ya know, why did Natalya attack me? I don’t know. I have no idea. But I’m not making excuses for anybody anymore. I’m gonna take this knife out of my back, no apologies, no second chances with me, from now on, it’s one strike and you’re out, I’m sick of ...

Natalya then again attacked her, and the two would feud for the following month. A blowoff match was scheduled for Battleground July 24, 2016. Unfortunately, the bout immediately followed a Match of the Year candidate in Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, and the crowd was largely listless. Becky—despite being SmackDown Live’s first female chosen in the brand split draft one week before—again lost on pay-per-view when she tapped to Natalya. This was a peculiar decision and certainly wasn’t made any clearer when Becky got her win back only two days later, on the first post-brand split episode of SmackDown Live.

Interestingly, Paige, Charlotte, and Natalya all turned on Becky for varying reasons:

  • Paige: Frustration that the Horsewomen were being placed front and center at her expense.
  • Charlotte: The nefarious influence of her father, Ric, who was guiding Charlotte toward the dark arts.
  • Natalya: Anger that she continuously came up short against Charlotte, and unwilling to admit that her failures were her own responsibility.

There’s no one common thread other than Becky being the target (in Paige’s case, along with Charlotte). She is the scapegoat, the one that others look to blame when things go bad.

But what makes Becky’s pre-brand split run on the main roster particularly ironic is that a trio of women she considered friends betrayed her in order to better their careers at her expense.

When pressed by interviewers as to just why the three did so, Becky was frequently at a loss for words—simply unable to comprehend why someone would do such a thing to a person they called a friend.

Cough, cough.

NXT continuity is not always perfectly kept on the main roster, but there’s a good reason why Becky’s turn on Bayley in October 2014 has never been brought up on the big stage: aside from a brief exchange at Survivor Series 2016, the two have not interacted on the main roster whatsoever. However it seems a bit of karmic justice—and so very “Becky Lynch”—that multiple women have turned on her to improve their lot, while the woman she turned on ended up arguably the biggest star in NXT history and someone who both walked into and out of a WrestleMania as Women’s Champion.

Oh yeah, and beat Becky to become number one contender for the NXT Women’s Champion headed into TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015.

Always the runner up, no matter what she does. Be good? Friends stab you in the back to get ahead. Be bad? The friends you stab in the back become mega stars—and go over you on the way.

Since Unstoppable Lynch has certainly become a pure babyface. Indeed, one could make the claim that her constant refusal to admit that being a bit ruthless can lead to success is an overcorrection from her experience of betraying Bayley. Despite consistent evidence that perhaps “the other way” could lead to more immediate results, the character remains steadfastly decent.

Becky’s unwillingness to succumb to the dark side definitely has narrative justification: She did just that in NXT and didn’t exactly light the world on fire. Rather her passion was manipulated by someone else—Sasha Banks—to get ahead. It was only when she was in the process of shedding off Banks’ influence that Lynch made progress. That the character’s best match (by a wild degree) was one in which she was amid a self-realization process fighting against an erstwhile mentor makes a ton of sense.

There’s another potential reason for Becky’s continued adversity in the face of rampant cheating and dishonesty. Perhaps being a prized call up, the first woman drafted to SmackDown Live, and the blue brand’s inaugural champion has allowed the character a level of comfort that has in turn sapped some of her elan. Becky is a fighter, a struggler, and to bring out her best requires scenarios in which she is actively unsure of her place in life. Instead, she has now settled into routine.

The benefit of falling into such a routine is that it tempers the passions that could bring out too much “straight fire” and cause her to lash out—but it’s a drawback as well. Without that uncertainty and confusion, she’s yet to come close to replicating the career-defining performance at Unstoppable. Indeed her matches since the Charlotte feud tend to have a feeling of going through the motions, which would further suggest that Lynch is keeping herself in check emotionally so as to not overheat, break down, and fall into a nihilistic trap as she did in NXT.

True blue

During the 2016 brand split draft, Lynch was taken by SmackDown Live as its first female pick. With both Charlotte Flair and Sasha Banks on Raw, it was clear (despite the bizarre loss at Battleground) Becky was positioned as the cornerstone and leader of the blue brand’s division. It quickly proved a natural fit. Long seen by fans as deserving something greater, and indeed the only Horsewoman to never win a title to that point, Becky’s underdog “can do” attitude meshed well with SmackDown Live’s branding. In many ways Lynch perfectly encapsulated “The Land of Opportunity.”

The blue brand’s Women’s Division didn’t truly get going until after SummerSlam, when Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan unveiled both the SmackDown Women’s Championship and Tag Team Championships. It came as no surprise on Aug. 23, 2016, that the crowd verbally anointed their choice for standard bearer: “BECKY! BECKY! BECKY!” Though the WWE Universe made its choice clear, still Lynch had to actually win the title—something she’d never done in either NXT or on the main roster.

At Backlash on Sept. 11, 2016, she did rise to the occasion by forcing Carmella to last submit in the Six-Pack Challenge Elimination Match to win the gold. At first glance one could argue that the lack of a true babyface chase hurt Lynch’s first title win—it should have “meant more.” But this reasoning neglects a few crucial things.

As noted Becky had prior storyline title chases against both Charlotte and Sasha Banks, and came up short both times. But Lynch’s real journey was her comeback from retirement, a far grander tale than either of her big WWE feuds. Lynch was of course unfazed by such a notion of needing her first championship to “mean more”—the title and what it represented meant everything in the world to her. It represented more than just a championship; it was vindication of the long, hard road back. It was vindication for all those flights on Aer Lingus, serving tea and biscuits while silently harboring a long-lost dream:

It just makes everything worthwhile. There were so many times when I doubted myself, and a lot of other people did, ya know. I was told I wasn’t going to make it, this, that, and whatever.

Yet there she was backstage at the Richmond Coliseum, displaying the title on her “boulder shoulders.”

Again we see the synergy between Lynch’s life and her character’s narrative, and again we see why Lynch’s run is so connected: WWE successfully integrated reality into storyline with Lynch in a way not unlike the arcs of Daniel Bryan or The Miz. Becky was beyond chuffed with the title win, claiming she would take the title to bed with her, because she knew that there were no guarantees in life. She knew that in many ways she wasn’t supposed to be there that night in Richmond—that many times throughout life all signs seemed to point to no, and yet here she was, emphatically saying yes.

Either someone in creative really gets Becky’s life story, or Lynch herself plays an extremely active role in the presentation of her character.

But she couldn’t enjoy her championship win for very long, as only two days later a new number one contender was crowned. Someone who would relentlessly mock the notion of Lynch’s story and overtly reject any worth it had: Alexa Bliss.

Bliss was perhaps the perfect rival for Lynch. The polar opposite ways that each character thought of themselves was perfectly noted during their first SmackDown Women’s Championship contract signing on Sept. 20, 2016.

Alexa Bliss: You don’t fit the role as a champion... I’m talking about your role in life, Becky. Your role in life is not to be a champion. Your role in life is to be the woman that succeeds, then fails miserably...

Becky’s reaction tells us that shot hit a little close to home:

WWE Superstar Becky Lynch WWE Network

AB: And then afterwards, you go back to doing what you do best: being the lovable Superstar that never quite gets it. That’s your life story, Bex. And honestly, subconsciously, you know that. I know that. And you know you’re gonna lose your title. Because you weren’t born to be a champion, Becky. You were born to be a loser.

Becky Lynch: Yeah, you’re right. I was not born to be a champion. You’re right Alexa, I was not born to be a champion. I was born to live in a small house by the side of the road in Dublin. I was born to work a job I didn’t like and barely make ends meet. You’re right, I was not born to be a champion. But I watched far too much TV and I listened when they told me, that if I believed in myself, I could be anything that I wanted to be. And I wanted to be champion, I wanted to be champion real bad. That’s right, Alexa. I was not born to be champion, but just like every other Superstar that has walked down that aisle, I have poured my heart and my soul into this, so that I can raise this above my head. No, no, Alexa, I was not born to be a champion, but I want this, and I want this a whole lot more than you do, and if you think you are going to take this from me at No Mercy, I will rip your head off. I was not born to be a champion, I fought to be a champion.

Lynch’s monologue is scarily on point and perfectly explains her character motivations. But Bliss sought to immediately undercut its value:

AB: (sarcastic) Oh my God. I mean, that was so inspirational. Puhlease, Becky. The difference, here’s the thing, between you and me, you’re always destined for second place, because I was born to be a champion, Becky. And to be honest, at No Mercy, I’m gonna take that title from you and expose you for what you are: a one-hit wonder.

Alexa hit Becky with the binder and then flipped the table onto her, but the champion eventually chased off the challenger and held her title aloft to close.

The segment was memorable and helped catapult Bliss into stardom, but Lynch’s promo required the crowd to truly invest for Alexa’s distaste to work. Becky most definitely accomplished that goal.

It is truly hard to encapsulate a feud better than that contract signing did.

But their match at No Mercy would not take place, as Lynch suffered an undisclosed medical issue that put her out of action for a month. Alexa, convinced that Becky was ducking her, welcomed the champ back Oct. 25, 2016, by mocking her once more, laying her out, and spraying a yellow stripe down her back.

If there is any one insult that could most offend Becky Lynch, after everything she has gone through in her career, surely it’s calling her a coward. Yet that’s exactly what that yellow stripe was meant to suggest. But on Nov. 8, 2016, in Glasgow, Lynch made Bliss tap out to the Disarmer. The referee, however, missed that Bliss’ foot was on the rope, which gave the Spiteful Sprite another opportunity at TLC on Dec. 4, 2016.

Five days before the title match, Lynch and Bliss had another contract signing. The mutual hatred between the two was palpable with the exchange of insults, but it was not until Lynch was shoved off the top rope through a table that it reached the next level. The match at TLC was quickly turned into a Tables Match, which Becky reacted to later that night:

(You have to love the video’s title.)

“Bitch” is a word tossed around every so often in WWE to signify a feud is serious. It’s used to pop the crowd, which it always does, but it was different when Becky used the word. Becky is a paragon of virtue, and her resorting to the language was a clear sign that Alexa was thoroughly in Bex’ head. Becky was, as they say, gotten to.

Unfortunately for The Lasskicker, she was gotten to again five days later in Dallas. When the pair were on the ring apron, Alexa first poked Becky in the eye, then tripped her feet up in the ring apron, before finally powerbombing her through a table on the outside to win the title.

Everything Alexa had said in their feud was, ostensibly, proven accurate. One line in particular from their September 2016 contract signing stood out in hindsight. We can see in the picture above the chilling effect it had on Bex—because she does indeed wonder if it is her lot in life:

Your role in life is to be the woman that succeeds, then fails miserably... And then afterwards, you go back to doing what you do best: being the lovable Superstar that never quite gets it. That’s your life story, Bex. And honestly, subconsciously, you know that. I know that. And you know you’re gonna lose your title. Because you weren’t born to be a champion, Becky. You were born to be a loser.

After everything she has experienced, Becky harbors no illusions that she is a warrior of fate. There’s no pie in the sky, and certainly no guarantee that she would ever win the championship again. One could claim it’s a cynical way of approaching life, but in truth it’s simply realist. Success can be earned, yes, but oftentimes people toil without reward.

Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it.”

Most importantly, meaning is not found in triumph—it’s found in struggle. To struggle and fight and claw and resist is to be human. Becky Lynch is perhaps the most relatable character in WWE because, if there is one word to describe her career and her character, it’s this: struggle. Everyone on the planet can understand this, because we all struggle with an untold amount of things. It’s what makes Becky a great and true hero, and what will make any future turn so tragic.

Unfortunately for Lynch, over the following month Alexa would retain the title despite Becky’s best efforts—including defeating Alexa Dec. 20 in a non-title match while wearing a mask and wrestling as “La Luchadora”:

But Becky’s nom de guerre turned out to have a life of its own, as a new La Luchadora began to continuously harass Lynch in the coming weeks. At times it was Bliss herself, but it was usually Mickie James (technically Deonna Purrazzo, but it was James in storyline) filling the role. Finally, when Bliss and Lynch squared off once and for all in a cage match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship on Jan. 17, 2017, James interfered once more to cost Becky the title. In the aftermath, Lynch pulled off the mask before eating a beatdown from both James and Bliss. Later that night, Becky would cut her greatest ever promo:

I’m not disappointed, I’m disgusted. I’m disgusted that my championship is on this little Harley Quinn-wannabe that doesn’t have a single ounce of integrity. That has robbed her way, and cheated her way, into the history books. Tonight we were supposed to make history , we did make history, we were the first women to main event SmackDown Live, the first women to have a steel cage match on SmackDown Live.

That championship is supposed to mean something.

When I had it, it meant something.

It meant something.

And then to have a veteran, Mickie James comes back and then gets involved and steals me of my championship, again, what’s it gonna take? There was a steel cage. There was a steel cage out there, to make sure nobody could interfere. I don’t know what it’s gonna take. But I’m willing to do it.

But just what did the title mean while Becky held it?

The concept of “meaning” is rarely so overt in WWE, but by this time it was well known for what Lynch was fighting. She fought not for personal glory as an end of its own. Instead, her constant desire was to validate her struggle—to prove that it was all worth it. As long as the title was around her waist, Becky could point to it and claim that her saga had value. It’s a very personal idea with universal implications.

After an extended feud, Lynch would eventually go over James in the end, but the damage was done. Becky was no longer in conversation for the Women’s Championship—which Bliss lost to Naomi at Elimination Chamber on Feb. 12, 2017, won again (by beating Becky) when Naomi vacated due to injury, and finally lost once more to Naomi at WrestleMania 33. Lynch was also in the Mania match, a Fatal Five-Way for the title, but was not involved in the finish. Becky was seemingly out of the picture.

After WrestleMania, an old friend and rival would once again feature in Becky’s life.

All shook up

SmackDown Live’s addition of Charlotte Flair during the “Superstar Shake-Up” massively altered the the structure of its Women’s Division.

Indeed, her immediate demand of a title opportunity—conditionally granted to her by Commissioner Shane McMahon—caused a spontaneous reaction on the part of Natalya, Carmella, and Tamina, that ultimately led to their alliance of the “Welcoming Committee.”

The champion of the division, Naomi, was eager to prove her status as top dog and as a fighting champion by accepting Charlotte’s request. Though she lost the “play-in” match that ultimately gave Charlotte a shot at the championship, Naomi seemed on the way to retaining when they squared off for the title—before the Welcoming Committee made its presence felt.

After Naomi got her knees up on an attempted moonsault by Charlotte, the Welcoming Committee struck the pair, laying out both with an extended beatdown. The Des Moines crowd, eager for a savior, desperately chanted, “BECKY! BECKY! BECKY!” Surely Bex would save the day.

Despite Charlotte’s arrival it was Becky who was initially most in the narrative spotlight following the Superstar Shake-Up. This is only natural: as aforementioned Becky was SmackDown Live’s first female draft pick and inaugural Women’s Champion, and has a long, storied relationship with Flair.

But “Celtic Invasion” did not play that night in Iowa. Even more worryingly, Lynch’s appearance that night on Talking Smack showed considerable frustration:

Renee Young: So what’s your disposition tonight, how are you feeling with what went on with basically the entire SmackDown women’s locker room?

Becky Lynch: OK, so earlier, I was having a nice conversation with Dasha and they [the Welcoming Committee] came up and they came up and they surrounded me and they said basically either I’m with them, or against them. So we’ve got the New Wench Order, apparently now here in WWE. And I am not going to stand with them, they’re all a bunch of snakes, they’ve all attacked me individually. There’s no way I’m standing with them.

JBL: Maybe it’s you. Maybe if everybody attacks you, maybe you’re the problem.

RY: She’s always had the target on her back, she was the number one female draft pick on SmackDown, the first SmackDown Women’s Champion …

JBL: Maybe the whole world’s not at fault, maybe, I don’t know, I think Becky’s very nice, but maybe it’s Becky’s fault.

BL: Maybe it is. Maybe it’s my fault that I’m so good so they think that I’m a threat. Look, let’s take a look at what happened. Everybody that’s attacked me has always gotten rewarded. They’ve always gotten rewarded, they’ve gotten pushes, they’ve gotten top spots, they’ve gotten title opportunities... They’ve gotten pushes, they’ve gotten put on posters, in commercials, whatever. And it seems like they’re rewarded for their bad behavior.

There’s a bit of genius in her answer above, and it very much plays into Max Landis’ notion of WWE programming not being a “wrestling show” but instead a “television show about a wrestling show.” Here Lynch is responding to in-world events by referencing the notion that her attackers have gotten pushes—indeed, that those attacks were in fact very much part of said pushes. But being pushed by WWE is not, ostensibly, storyline—it’s an actual decision the company makes for its product. (Unless, of course, Landis is right and what fans think of as “reality” very much remains kayfabe.)

The idea is that the character of Becky Lynch is rightly aggrieved because despite whatever crowd reaction she can garner, regardless of her performances, for her entire time in WWE she’s been utilized as a character that builds up others, rather than being built up herself. She put over Sasha in NXT; she put over the trio of women who betrayed her—Paige, Charlotte, and Natalya—and most especially Alexa on the main roster. Through it all, she never got a truly big “moment” over a rival.

She very much has a legitimate claim of being underpushed relative to her reactions. This in fact proved itself true yet again, when it seemed as if the Welcoming Committee angle was opening up a lot of potential directions for Lynch:

  • She could turn and be revealed as the mastermind behind the group—wary of Charlotte, the best friend who gutted her, coming over from Raw.
  • She could remain a neutral party, ala “Crow Becky.”
  • She could unite two opponents in Charlotte and Naomi and lead them to victory over the dastardly heels.

Becky even teased a turn, shaking the hands of the Welcoming Committee in the ring before feigning a hug to Ellsworth before tossing him into the group and fighting the trio. Her fire was well appreciated by the audience, but the numbers game caught up to her and she ended up catching a beatdown as well.

What did it all lead to? The Welcoming Committee beating Becky, Charlotte, and Naomi at Backlash on May 22, 2017. Quelle surprise, Becky tapped out to the Sharpshooter. Clean. Once more, someone—or a group of someones—was elevated by going over Becky.

Since then, the division has been somewhat mired in a directionless purgatory. The Welcoming Committee faded out; the blue brand made its own “history” with the first, and second, Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match—Becky, of course, being screwed out of victories on both occasions; and now a new, overly-ineffectual partnership of Tamina and Lana seem to be the primary narrative focus.

It’s certainly not that there are no avenues to explore. Becky accepted Charlotte back into her good graces with open arms, a development which leaned heavily on their real-life bond and not any storyline events. Becky never once demanded an apology, or even some sort of contrition, from her once-again bestie, which is rather incongruous with the moral compass of the character and the centrality of the Charlotte feud in Becky’s arc.

As we’re currently seeing in Monday Night Raw’s storyline pairing Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, a broken friendship doesn’t heal automatically—it’s a process, and really something that needs to be shown on camera. What makes it more aggravating is that the sort of character work the story would require is exactly Lynch’s forte.

You see, Becky took Charlotte back because, as aforementioned, she knows and fears the pain of isolation. Jetsetting around the world as a teenager had to be a bit isolating for one of the few women on the independent scene in the aughts—a feeling of isolation which was certainly exacerbated when she then lost her dream due to injury. So when Charlotte appeared on the blue brand, Becky was naturally inclined to remember the good times and forget the bad—because as crushing as Charlotte’s betrayal was, it paled in comparison to the constant longing she felt during her years away from wrestling. But Becky’s story was not a priority, and this potential goldmine was not (yet) fleshed out.

We’ve seen that much of the meta reality has served to hamper Lynch’s starpower (a truth that does, however, play into her character’s role of being underappreciated) and yet she’s still managed to overcome the odds and be a favorite of the WWE Universe.

Two recent pieces of content—an internet-exclusive promo and a backstage segment from an episode of SmackDown Live—get to the heart of what makes Becky such a beloved babyface.

The week prior to Money in the Bank 2017 she cut said promo, once more affirming the importance of her time away from wrestling—her journey, if you will. When asked if being in a Money in the Bank ladder match was something she ever envisioned, she responded:

Becky Lynch: So yes, it is something that I envisioned myself participating in, but there was times that I didn’t think that this was possible. I left this business for seven years because I thought that there was no point, that there was no way this was gonna happen. But there was something in me that always said, ‘You have to do this, and you are meant to do this,’ and I feel, as corny as this might sound, that this is my calling. And to be in yet another historical women’s match is just, it’s everything that I envisioned since the moment I first stepped foot into a ring back in this tiny little school hall in Bray County, Wicklow, Ireland, and to be able to do that now in St. Louis and have the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match is just incredible, it’s incredible. And I’m so happy to be a part of it, but beyond happy to be a part of it, I need to win it. I need to win it.

Interviewer: Whether it’s the female Superstars on Raw, or legends who have commented on social media, all eyes will be on you on Sunday. Does that put pressure on you and the other women to perform at your very highest this Sunday?

BL: You know what, yes it does, but I love it. I love the pressure. Whether it’s this match or any other match that I do, I always put that amount of pressure...

She then went on to coin a hashtag, #BeckyGotBank (which actually made the interviewer laugh), and made a dreadful pun about banks, which inevitably popped herself. But the key idea here is that Becky thrives in high stake scenarios—and left unsaid is that despite thriving, she still fails because others cheat.

Unfortunately on June 18, 2017, James Ellsworth won the first Money in the Bank contract for Carmella, physically unlatching the briefcase himself before dropping it to her. He did so after tipping over the ladder when Becky was on the verge of unhooking the contract for herself, making the insult doubly painful to her.

That night, as was now her custom, Becky cut a terrific fallout promo.

Becky Lynch: What do you want me to say, you know? It’s like Groundhog Day. Tonight we’re making history and then James Ellsworth comes in and tips the ladder over and climbs up there, he’s not part of the match, and is able to just hand it to Carmella—yeah that seems like a metaphor for a lot of people get handed a lot of things around here, and that’s just what happened tonight. And yeah, it’s a bit of a disappointing outcome, I would say that.

Interviewer: Becky where do you take it from here, now that Carmella is holding the Money in the Bank contract?

BL: I don’t know, where do I take it from here? Where do I take it from here, because no matter what I do, how hard I train, how good I am in that ring, if I’m the best there is, there is going to be somebody, with somebody on their side, that’s gonna come in whether it’s in a Luchadora mask or whether it’s in a big stupid, freakin’ money sweatsuit or whatever the hell that (indecipherable) was wearing and take it from under me. I don’t know, I don’t know, what do I do? What do I do now? What do I do? Do I just have to bring somebody along with me, like freaking Tweedledum over here, and TweedleDiva? That little partnership that’s going on, and now she gets to walk around as Ms. Money in the Bank, as the first Ms. Money in the Bank—because he climbed that ladder and just handed it to her? Just handed it to her. What am I supposed to do?

Once again we see Becky referencing past travails (La Luchadora) in order to connect her narrative thread for the viewer.

Two days later on SmackDown Live, the women in the match approached General Manager Daniel Bryan separately, all arguing that Carmella winning in such a fashion was unjust and wrong.

Becky was the last to do so, coming up to Bryan when he was conversing with Sami Zayn on a different matter. The whole thing should be watched, as it’s perhaps the purest babyface exchange in recent memory:

Sami Zayn: Oh, Becky!

Becky Lynch: Hi, Sami. (wearingly)

SZ: Hey, perfect, I kind of wanted to talk to you actually. Listen I saw the Women’s Money in the Bank match and uh, man you went through hell. Honestly I kind of feel like you got robbed a bit, I’m sorry it ended the way it did, I was really pulling for you.

BL: Thanks man, I was pulling for you too.

SZ: No problem. Hang in there, all right?

BL: Yeah you too, thank you. (Exit Zayn)

BL: Look, Daniel, I know everybody has come up to you today, but I keep thinking about the match and the worst part of it is that I physically had the briefcase in my hands. Like, I physically had it, and then Ellsworth just slithers in like the snake that he is and topples over the ladder, and just climbs it and hands it to Carmella. He just hands it to her. And we keep talking about how SmackDown is ‘The Land of Opportunity’ but it’s not, it’s not feeling like that. It feels like it’s The Land of Handouts. It doesn’t matter how hard I train, how hard I work, how good I am, there is just always somebody willing to come in and cut in front of me and take shortcuts and weasel their way to the top, the saddest part about it is that I’m prepared for it, I’m prepared for it, I know it’s going to happen and there’s nothing that I can do, Daniel, help me out, what can I do?

Daniel Bryan: I’m sorry Becky, it’s complicated.

BL: (scoffs) Is doing the right thing really that complicated?

Bryan’s decision later that night to strip Carmella of the contract—”the right thing”—is clearly influenced by Becky’s words (having her talk to Bryan last was very deliberate). He knows that she’s right, and having him reach the conclusion he does because of her words puts over her virtuousness in a huge way.

It’s not going over in a classic match of the year candidate. What it is, though, is affirmation of the character’s righteousness. These 108 seconds are arguably far more important for the success of Becky Lynch than any given match—win or loss. (Just would be nice to combine the two!)

In this segment, one indeed is wholly convinced that WWE is offering more than just a “wrestling show”—that its programming is indeed a legitimate “television show.” It appears so simple and mundane, but the interaction between Zayn and Lynch is so seemingly off-the-cuff, impromptu, and utterly believable that it convinces the viewer they’re watching something other than wrestling. To then flow seamlessly into Becky’s conversation with Bryan makes it feel like a real universe populated by real people.

What’s more, it’s zero accident that it involves Zayn, Bryan, and especially Lynch, all of whom have an immense grasp of their characters and how they would react to any given situation. It’s worth watching a second time just to see how Becky reacts to Sami’s words, slipping pointed glances at Bryan all the while maintaining her appreciation for Zayn’s words.

There have been and will be more “exciting” or “better” WWE moments in 2017, but this two minute clip has a case as the most sincerely babyface segment of the year. It demonstrated in full how WWE programming can and should be—a holistic, coherent, and believable art.

The neverending story

Becky Lynch’s WWE tenure is so fleshed out and steady due to the successful integration of the performer’s real-life backstory into the character. What’s more, playing so closely on things that actually happened have allowed Lynch to consistently present the truest version of herself on camera—it’s barely an act at all, but rather simply herself.

While many other performers stumble due to a creative process that doesn’t get them or their character, Becky has proven resilient to any such pratfalls. This teflon-like resistance to bad booking or storytelling is rare and will undoubtedly serve The Lasskicker well for the remainder of her career.

Yet there remains something beyond all that. There are plenty of performers who have and will overcome bad booking or storytelling. It’s WWE, after all. There’s a lot of bad booking and storytelling. (Which, admittedly, is kind of understandable when the program runs five hours a week, 52 weeks a year, year after year.)

But somehow, dramatically more than most, Becky Lynch’s segments form a tight, consistent narrative that builds on itself weekly. (This article left out many examples, but we’re already way over an ideal word count.) It’s honestly a remarkable clarity in vision and performance that’s difficult to find in any fictional medium, let alone the “last minute changes” world of WWE.

There’s no legitimate complaints of being “told” her story instead of being “shown” her story. Is it her actual acting background that gives Lynch a preternatural ability to present her character? Probably in part.

What it most points to, though, is her exile from the thing she loved most, and how that “wandering in the desert” shaped her early adult life. Every little detail is important to Becky Lynch—”all the pieces matter,” if you will—because of what she overcame to get to WWE. Without the struggle and pain and loss, she is not the character she is today.

And the character she is today is someone very hard to “not care” about. Her journey, her discovery process, is universal—it may not be wrestling, but there’s something in everyone’s life that they’ve fought, and fought hard, to keep. Some innate part of ourselves that no matter what, we can’t quite give up. Some driving force for which we can remember all the little details, all the successes and all the failures, because they all play a small part in shaping the way we view our desire.

All the pieces matter, and they help us answer one great question: Who is Becky Lynch?

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