The biggest story coming out of SummerSlam on August 19 wasn’t the Roman Reigns title win or Dean Ambrose’s return. It was Becky Lynch’s “heel turn” after the three way Smackdown women’s title match, between Lynch, Charlotte, and Carmella.
Heel turn is in quotation marks because in no way was it a successful turn. When she attacked Charlotte after the match for, first, inserting herself into what was supposed to be a singles match between her and Carmella, then jumping her from behind and pinning her, it felt totally justified. Here was Becky Lynch, the purest babyface on the roster, getting her shot at one of WWE’s big four pay-per-views of the year, against the (deliberately) grating Carmella. And there was Charlotte Flair, pushed since day one, six time women’s champion, for once an interloper, intruding on the possibility of a great moment.
Crucially, the fans had none of it. Charlotte mugged for the camera after her win, Lynch hugged her (the fans booed), nodded her head, and then struck Charlotte in the face. Then Lynch kept beating her. The fans went nuts, giving the turn the biggest pop of the night. Chants of “Becky, Becky” thundered as she stood over a cowering Charlotte.
It continued last week, through Smackdown Live and onto social media. Lynch gamely tried to make the heel turn stick by trotting out that hoary heel standby, talking shit to the fans for not backing her. It didn’t work, because it’s absurd to think that the fans aren’t behind her. We all heard the cheers, the stadium felt the ground shake when she hit Charlotte. We aren’t dumb.
Lynch went further in a kayfabe audio interview, talking about how maybe she wasn’t blonde enough, maybe her look didn’t have enough “enhancements” (Charlotte had surgery for a ruptured breast implant prior to SummerSlam). All of which hints at dark things we already know about why certain women get pushed the hardest and most often in WWE, things that make Lynch seem completely, thoroughly justified in her actions.
So what gives? The odds are that WWE is going to play this off like they planned for this dissonance between what Lynch claims to be and what her reactions determine she is. Becky Lynch becomes Daniel Bryan, the wrestler WWE didn’t believe in and only pushed to the greatest WrestleMania moment of all time—when he won the WWE and World titles at WrestleMania 30—after a fan revolt. They wink that Daniel Bryan was a master plan; it wasn’t. It was purely accidental, the sort of lightning in a bottle you only get a couple times a decade.
It’s as impossible to root against Lynch as it is to root against Daniel Bryan. She’s paid her dues, working her way up from training as a teenager through Ireland’s local wrestling scene to WWE. You can sense how thrilled she is to have made it—the hosts of Irish pro wrestling history/comedy podcast, OSW Review, knew her as a kid, relating that it was a real lifelong dream for her to be a pro wrestler and that she was mercilessly taunted because of it.
That realness and imperfection comes across. She feels genuine and, well, kind of goofy. Her social media is peppered with bad puns, videos of her struggling to open cans, and riding toy horses in malls. In a world of irony and social collapse, it’s pure and earnest. She seems like she’s you or someone you know, not an international star wrestler and one of the most over women on WWE’s roster.
She even came through one of the worst gimmicks imaginable. On her NXT debut, she was dressed in all green and kept doing a terrible Irish jig between moves. She won, but it was legitimately awful, the sort of thing which only makes sense in a writer’s room that heard an Irish accent and reached for the nearest stereotype. She got through it, shedding the gimmick like you’d shed any other bad job for better things.
The touchstone is, again, Daniel Bryan. He’s the relateable, genuine everyman, who just happens to be a world class pro wrestler. There’s a lack of guile in both of them, where the gimmick is that they’re just normal people, with normal motivations outside the ring and a burning desire to be the best inside it.
Seriously, listen to the pops Lynch is getting. They’re as big or bigger than the top stars on the men’s roster, the top of pops you get on unexpected debuts. This is a big deal, a can’t screw-up situation.
Except, of course, that this is WWE and they absolutely can screw it up. They’ll make a chase of it, just as they did with Bryan. They’ll toy with the idea of what heels and babyfaces mean, which is fine. But past may be prelude, and we don’t live in Daniel Bryan’s WWE anymore—we live in Roman Reigns’ WWE, which means they may very well build to a white hot match down the line and sacrifice all of this to feed Charlotte, who they seem very intent on backing no matter what. And Charlotte is good, but Lynch is on the cusp of greatness.
That would be a shame, and a further indication of just how corrosive WWE’s power can be. Becky Lynch can be a star of groundbreaking popularity. The groundwork is there and she has all the tools. All WWE has to do is the obvious.