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Finding her own way: Becky Lynch, identity, and wrestling

Part one of why the Lasskicking heroine is WWE’s greatest character.

WWE Superstar Becky Lynch

There are a number of great questions that all humans struggle to answer at one time or another: Why am I here? What am I doing? What’s the point of it all? What happens after I’m gone?

But there’s one great question that stands above the rest:

Who am I?

This question of identity leads to a process that everyone undergoes throughout their lives. Indeed the act of trying to “find yourself” is a universal human experience in the fragmented, immense, confusing world of the 21st century.

Too frequently “identity” in terms of WWE characters is boiled down to two-dimensional gimmicks lacking nuance and depth. (A certain scene from GLOW definitely comes to mind.) Seemingly part of the impetus behind the “Reality Era” was an attempt to flesh out characters in relatable, human ways that could help better bond the audience with respective performers.

Ideally, all WWE characters would come equipped with substantial backstories that explain why the character acts a certain way in any given scenario. But the world is far from ideal, and many WWE Superstars flit in and out from one week to the next, used in service to whatever desired plot at the expense of actual character development and growth.

The old adage is that the best wrestlers are simply themselves turned up to 11. This no doubt is true, but a helpful corollary is copying a performer’s real life motivations into their kayfabe persona. As we’ll see, few wrestlers in WWE more accurately track the performer’s personality with their character’s narrative than Becky Lynch.

In this era of rewrites and last minute switches, consistent, linear character growth is all too rare. It is thus completely remarkable that Lynch has not merely managed to stay on the same arc for several straight years but also provide value-added depth on a weekly basis. This consistency and clarity in purpose make The Lasskicker WWE’s greatest character.

Core truths

In WWE’s developmental brand, a renewed emphasis on layered characters seemed to reemerge in recent years. And there are no better examples of this sort of depth than the Four Horsewomen of NXT: Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Becky Lynch.

What initially made the Four Horsewomen so beloved in NXT—long before Revolutions or Evolutions—was their portrayal of complicated, nuanced personas that were natural outgrowths of the performers themselves. But it also must be noted that the group meshed so well with each other because the roles each had filled were inherently complementary to the other three.

  • Legacied, pedigreed, and coldly ruthless Charlotte claiming superiority due to birthright—and trying to hide the fact that her drive was so strong because she feared people would believe she didn’t deserve the name.
  • Zealotous, righteous, chip-on-her-shoulder, chaotic good, “built on self-success” Sasha Banks shouting from the rooftops that she was the hero of destiny for a movement—a movement she believed could not and would not (and perhaps should not) exist without her at the vanguard.
  • Wholesome, determined, innocent Bayley, who was unprepared for the cutthroat world of WWE and only through repeated failures at the hands of the other three Horsewomen learned to toughen her spine and fulfill her lifelong dream.

And then there is Becky Lynch. At first glance, the clear coherency of the other three and their natural interplay with each other are undercut by Becky’s numerous and wildly different gimmicks. Is she a stereotypical Irish lass—complete with emerald green outfit and aggressively lame jig? Is she a headbanging punk rocker with a prickly, cynical edge? Is she a steampunk pun queen who adorably battles cans of pineapple? Is she a near-sociopathic purveyor of violence and destroyer of innocence? Is she a virtuous and loyal friend whose goodness is rewarded time and again with betrayal?

Who is Becky Lynch?

The answer, of course, is all of the above, and there’s a very simple reason for the seemingly incongruent whole. At her core, Lynch is someone who experienced great loss at a very young age, and is desperately trying to hold onto what she regained while remaining pure of heart.

Characters in the world of professional wrestling have forever been defined by two categories: babyface (good) and heel (evil). But for a long time now this view has been outdated. With the intention of making its characters seem whole and realistic, WWE long ago largely shifted the domain of good and evil from black-and-white personas to a body of actions. Though too often un- or underexplained in storyline, the idea is to present characters that are relatable, whether good or bad, via motivations that are common to viewers.

Each character in WWE struggles with the flaws of others. But in works of fiction, it is frequently the complex struggle of humans with their own flaws where narrative beauty is found. The same is true in WWE, and that sort of internal struggle (the classic Hero’s Quest) is something that best binds characters and performers with the audience.

Like most others, the character of Becky Lynch has an overriding tragic flaw: she has experienced immense heartbreak, and is forever afraid of any relapse into despair and apathy.

In fact, the seesawing nature of Becky’s path is perhaps the journey of any of the Horsewomen that best fits with Reality Era use of the performer’s real-life backstory. It’s well known that WWE appropriates their performers’ real lives to add to their characters. But few characters in WWE are as finely tuned with their actual life as Lynch. As previously noted, her disparate gimmicks seem, on their own, incongruous with each other.

But this reading fails to see a larger truth: the story of Becky Lynch is the story of someone trying, and struggling, to find their way in the world—and for very good reason.

Origin stories

Becky’s story did not begin in July 2015 when her, Charlotte, and Sasha Banks were called up to the WWE main roster. Hell, her story did not even begin with the infamous jig she did during her NXT debut in June 2014. The story of Becky Lynch began long ago, when the then-Rebecca Knox was barnstorming around the world as a legitimate wrestling prodigy. She began her training to be a wrestler at the very young age (especially for a woman) of 15 and made waves worldwide—but stepped away from the business due to a head injury before she even turned 20.

Adrift for years after her ostensible retirement, she got an acting degree and landed more than a few parts; she studied to be a clown; she worked as a personal trainer; she was a flight attendant for over two years. Becky wanted to do anything possible to find herself after seemingly losing her true passion. But her heart forever remained with wrestling. Despite denying the truth for so long, she couldn’t shake the bug of the squared circle.

She was always a wrestler, even when she wasn’t.

Every part of who Becky Lynch is today—the resilience, the fear of isolation and loneliness, the desire to make it her own way, stems from the apparent heartbreak of her far-too-early retirement. The intensely emotional character we know today, who wears her heart on her sleeves at all times, is a combination of this exodus and her inherent manic, quirky energy. When it seems that misfortune has ended your dreams at 20, even the slightest hint of a second chance compels one to pour everything in their heart into the endeavor—and to do everything possible to make sure this resurrection does not go to waste.

It’s entirely understandable—coming-of-age struggles in our teenage years stick with us for the rest of our lives, regardless of what context we stumble into. Our formative experiences are buried deep inside our subconscious, guiding our motivations and informing our reactions to the world around us.

Becky Lynch’s journey is the story of an identity crisis—following your dreams, only to have them torn from you in seemingly definitive fashion to the point of resignation. What follows is the road back—the expanse of which forever after defines your very self. It is a narrative about remembering and fighting for who and what you are.

While it’s mostly a positive story, there’s more than a hint of melancholy in the idea. It is unrealistic to pretend that Lynch’s saga of continuous betrayal and trauma has not weighed a heavy toll on her mind, and furthermore it is doubly unrealistic to imagine that a natural human response to that backstory is always doubling down on being innocent and good. As seen on SmackDown Live in recent months, her frustration at times appears to be on the verge of boiling over.

Moreover, this wistful nostalgia can also easily be used against Becky—either by manipulating her into becoming a tool to be used for the nefarious purposes of others, or by blinding her from the truth of those around her.

The Becky Lynch we currently see on SmackDown Live is undeniably a fiery ball of positive energy. But just how “good” is The Lasskicker, though? Surely her run since the call up in July 2015 has been universally on the side of light, and frequently she has come across as the most pure character on all of WWE television. The sadly online-only promo she cut after Mickie James interfered in Becky’s steel cage title match with Alexa Bliss last January is almost certainly the most heartfelt and best babyface promo in the entire company for a number of years—but also hints at an eternal inner struggle.

Mind-blowing that this clip was not broadcasted over and over on the blue brand. Moreover, it’s a strange fact that some of Becky Lynch’s greatest work has been in online exclusive interviews. Presumably the creative direction should stress including those moments on WWE’s actual television programing, but even here we see the interplay between character and performer.

It makes sense that a character/performer like Lynch would hustle and grind in literally any way possible to make herself more whole, more coherent, to better round and ground herself. TV, online exclusives, social media—the platform doesn’t matter. Becky Lynch is going to do whatever it takes to present her character in a way that gets across the truth of her soul. She simply needs to do this—not just for the audience, but herself as well.

In this way, it is easy to see how Rebecca Quin’s real-life Bexile bleeds into the character’s motivations—and it’s yet another reason why Becky Lynch is WWE’s most honest character today.

This never-say-die fighting spirit has contributed a great deal to her positivity so readily displayed these days. But the memories of the years of heartbreak, and the desperate grasping of this second chance, could also potentially be fostering a darker, more cynically destructive side:

I don’t know what it’s going to take... but I’m willing to do it.

In that quote, we see Lynch’s frustrations bubbling up, but still she remains righteous. If (and when) she does eventually fall from the heavens, it will be wholly understandable given everything the character has gone through.

And it would not be the first time she has fallen from grace in WWE.

Despite her debut victory over Summer Rae on June 26, 2014—a match that is more remembered for her aforementioned jig, and Sasha Banks and Charlotte utterly taking the piss out of said jig in the background—Lynch struggled early on, falling short several times to then-NXT Women’s Champion Charlotte. In the process, she had formed a bit of kinship with another “lovable loser,” Bayley.

But it was Banks, who soon broke away from Charlotte, that saw an opening in the impressionable mind of Lynch. In an iconic piece of NXT continuity, Becky approached Sasha in the locker room on October 16, 2014, to criticize The Boss for attacking Bayley. But it was Lynch who ended up getting a parting piece of advice from Banks: “Maybe you need to look in the mirror and ask yourself, what you need to do, to make it to the top.” Just as Banks had looked forlornly into the mirror over a year prior when Summer Rae gave her very similar advice, the troubled Lynch purposefully stared at her own reflection.

Only one week later, when Banks continued to assault Bayley after defeating her in a match, Lynch ostensibly came to The Hugger’s aid. The Boss scurried out of the ring, and Becky helped Bayley up, even giving her a slight hug. But when Bayley stepped forward to challenge Sasha, Lynch revealed her true intentions.

After attacking Bayley from behind, Becky raised the arm of her new “mentor” before sneeringly looking back at her naive former friend.

Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks in NXT WWE Network

Imagine this. You are a prodigious talent that has your dream crushed due to circumstance at age 20. Finally, finally, a full eight years later, you get a second chance and begin to make good on your promise—only to find that the game has become “more fierce,” the competition that much stronger.

You’ve made it after such a long road back, but then you begin to discover that you are not as good as you once were and that others are better. You fail, repeatedly.

Enter a charismatic figure, who once maintained a similar overly-sunny disposition as yourself, preaching an “alternate” route to the glory that you surely deserve after all your trials and tribulations. The notion that your dream is once again slipping away from you, but if you only changed just a little bit, you could truly have it all—it’s a ripe cauldron for manipulation.

Becky Lynch, who told Alexa Bliss two years later that she “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,” is and always will be a believer—someone motivated by halcyon ideals and righteous passion. It is why she can inspire such loyalty among the WWE Universe—despite subpar booking and narrative drift, the chants of “BECKY! BECKY! BECKY!” remain as strong (frankly, stronger) as ever.

But that strong sense of belief can manifest itself in different ways. As noted, she has experienced true heartbreak and immense struggle, meaning that her intense passion is forever at danger of bubbling over into fear, despair, and anger.

Becky Lynch WWE Network

In that moment, looking into the infamous Full Sail mirror, with failure weighing heavy on her mind, she wanted to believe the truth that Sasha Banks claimed to offer her. She wanted to believe that it would end her struggles and bring her the greatness for which she was always destined.

The decision to attack Bayley doesn’t make Becky a bad person. Yes, it made her a heel for the time being, but it’s ultimately wholly consistent with her core self. Sasha simply knew what buttons to push to chip at Becky’s soul. With Becky suffering consistent setbacks, Sasha’s manipulation was well crafted in order to succeed. And succeed it did, to the point where Becky was so twisted that by December 18, 2014, she would cheerily state she was going to end Bayley’s career like a downright sociopath:

The only thing that's changed, is my ability to see what's in front of me. Yeah? Sasha Banks opened my eyes to what it takes to get to the next level of NXT. Yeah? My eyes were opened, to the fact that smiling, and having the fans cheer, doesn't mean anything when I am losing week, after week, after week. My eyes were open to the fact that, if I want to get anywhere, the only person I can rely on—besides myself of course—is Sasha Banks. And so I hope Bayley's little starry eyes are open, so that way she can look into my big brown eyes and see the person that's gonna end her career—permanently. Cheers Devin!

Her tone of voice is utterly consistent with everything the character has done and said before and after. That she scoffs when Devin calls it a “change of attitude” is telling: to Lynch, her frame of reference remains the absolute same as always. Sasha Banks didn’t “change” Becky Lynch in any fundamental manner; she merely persuaded her to view her place in life differently.

Can’t stop, won’t stop

Becky’s time as Sasha’s sidekick could easily be viewed as nothing more than a continuation of her kayfabe failings, but this ignores a crucial bit of context. Before coming under Sasha’s wing, Lynch was a featured player but clearly below Banks, Charlotte, and Bayley in NXT’s Women’s Division. But once she joined with The Boss, she was forever cemented as the final Horsewomen of NXT—regardless of wins or losses in storyline.

(It’s the sort of worked-shoot notion that makes most of Becky’s programs so compelling—she was elevated in storyline and in reality. She’s very much like The Miz in this constant ability to blur the lines.)

Indeed, this growth in stature eventually put Lynch in a position to famously shed off her skin as Sasha’s lackey during the Fatal Four-Way NXT Women’s Championship match at TakeOver: Rival on February 11, 2015. But unfortunately for Lynch, she did not came away with the gold—her former mentor did instead.

Now adrift from Banks, it would not have been a surprise to see Lynch once again founder. Instead, she won a number one contender’s match for Banks’ title April 22, 2015 by fortuitously pinning Bayley while she was locked in Charlotte’s Figure Eight. Her exasperation upon winning the match seems innocent enough, but when placed in the context of the character, Lynch’s reaction to the idea of gaining an opportunity through what can be charitably acknowledged as a fluke victory is brilliant: utter shock and delight at getting a chance she never expected to have, both in the larger storyline and the match itself.

She would face Sasha Banks at TakeOver: Unstoppable on May 20, 2015—and though she did not win the match, she accomplished something far greater during her performance of a lifetime. (Based on ringwork alone, Banks-Lynch from Unstoppable is almost certainly the greatest women’s match in WWE history and easily one of the company’s greatest matches this decade.)

Becky uncovered a certain truth during the Unstoppable match that to this day still guides the character’s arc: life is, well, unstoppable. We can be aware of how we came to be in a certain spot, but getting lost in the past and how things seemed destined to be at one time is an easy way to lose the present and future. Instead, life is “the shit that happens while you wait for moments that never come.”

Venerating yourself and the idea of what should be yours at the expense of reality is more than appetizing, and it’s what led to Becky falling under Sasha’s wing. But it’s this trait that Lynch cast off during her performance that night in Full Sail. This realization, this understanding, prompted the character to undergo an evolution of sorts, from the arrogant cynic to the unabashed dreamer.

When the final chapter of Becky Lynch the character is closed, that May 2015 night in Full Sail will forever remain her most defining moment. But why?

In that night, in that match, Becky finally accepted the power of her journey. She accepted the path of her life. She accepted who she was. She accepted her exodus, and what’s more accepted that despite getting a second chance, things would not come to her because of some vague destiny—she would have to work endlessly for every little thing in her career. She finally accepted the beauty in her struggle and pain.

Sitting in the ring, crying, the NXT Universe serenading her with her theme song—those tremendous few seconds were a cathartic moment for the character and quite probably the performer as well. While nursing the left arm that Banks had thoroughly worked over, she washed out the remaining pangs of exile with her tears and entered a new chapter in life.

Becky knew there was no guarantee she’d ever have another title match in WWE. She vowed that night to make sure that would not be the case.

There are few better demonstrations of genuine emotion in wrestling history.

But it would be far from the last time that Lynch captured the hearts and minds of an audience through her struggles.

Bext: Betrayals and opportunities on the main roster

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