Have you ever had a friend upon whom every advantage falls? Maybe they never studied and always aced the test. Or they flit from one happy relationship to the next while your soul slowly dies on Tinder. Or they always gets the extra shot, flight upgrade, or concert tickets for free, because for them everything seems to come easy.
World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar Becky Lynch has.
Ever since the flame-haired Irish lasskicker Lynch landed in WWE’s developmental brand NXT in 2013 shortly after her best friend Charlotte Flair — heiress to one of the most iconic wrestling legacies in the Flair family — Lynch has constantly felt like she’s been in Flair’s shadow.
“There’s folks here that are grinding and scratching and clawing, but she’s always gonna get it, always gonna get the big matches, the press opportunities, the things that I have begged for for years,” Lynch tells me via phone of her in-story frenemy and IRL close friend. “And of course she was fine with me being in the background and me not getting all those things, and then when I broke out, when I said enough is enough, then she had a huge problem with it, and then everything changed.”
The Year of Becky Lynch
It was at SummerSlam last August that Lynch finally did say “enough is enough” and was written in the bad guy, turning on her best friend. What WWE didn’t anticipate, though, was its fans gravitating towards Lynch’s underdog rising up to take the alpha position rather than the perfect blonde who’d dominated the women’s title scene for the past several years and, again, when she won her eighth championship in a shock victory on SmackDown last week. “I think everybody has that one friend, or that one person, who’s just leeching, just taking everything they get, just leave you the scraps and expect you to be grateful.”
Via a series of hellacious matches against Flair throughout the latter half of 2018, Lynch solidified her place at the top of sports entertainment, winning the SmackDown women’s championship from her rival after a two year period of sitting on the sidelines without a title. The real lightning in a bottle moment, though, came when Lynch led the SmackDown women’s roster in an invasion of Raw in the lead up to Survivor Series in November. Lynch took a stiff punch to the face from Nia Jax, breaking her nose and suffering a concussion that put her match with Raw women’s champion Ronda Rousey —she’s a wrestler now! — on hold.
Almost immediately, rumors swirled that the much anticipated match would take place on the grandest stage of them all, at WrestleMania this coming weekend, and that it would be the main event — the first time a women’s wrestling match would close the show in the event’s 35-year history.
Lynch thinks she would be in that position, in that match, regardless. “I was gonna find a way to get myself in the main event of WrestleMania one way or another,” she says. “I’m out here making people actually care, actually give a damn [about wrestling].”
Making Women’s Wrestling Cool
Indeed she is. Lynch’s bloody exit from the arena in a pose echoing Gladiator’s “Are you not entertained” moment launched a thousand memes and, more importantly, an iconic wrestling moment. It was official: Becky Lynch was making wrestling, and women’s wrestling, cool again.
“Thank you very much, I appreciate it,” Lynch says when I compliment her thusly, as if she doesn’t already know. “When I came over [to NXT from Ireland], that’s what I said, I said I wanted to make women’s wrestling cool. I love this business, I love it so freaking much, I just want people to love it the way I love it, and if I can be entertaining to people, if I can get people to feel something about it—that means everything to me.
“This is the industry I love more than anything. This is the reason why I left [home] when I was freaking 15 and slept on couches and lived on $30 a show, you know?”
The Battle of Two Armbars
Lynch’s long and arduous journey to the top of the industry — which began 17 years ago and halted with a head injury before starting up again in NXT in 2013 — is a cornerstone of her feud with Rousey.
“While she was learning the alphabet, I was learning armbars. While she was learning how to juggle, I was learning armbars. While she was learning that the exit is sometimes behind you, I was learning armbars,” Rousey said, making fun of Lynch’s various career paths while on a break from wrestling, not realizing the touchstone they provide for legions of wrestling fans who are constantly grinding in their own lives.
Something else Rousey enjoys making fun of? Lynch’s “The Man” moniker, and gender more broadly. Rousey’s transphobia in MMA is well-documented, and she’s weirdly brought her obsession with genitals into WWE.
Lynch’s nickname is in fact a reference to Flair’s father’s catchphrase, “To be The Man you’ve gotta beat The Man”, adding yet another layer to the three women’s triple threat match at WrestleMania.
“[It] makes people’s minds explode. Which is hilarious…” Lynch says. “It does get a few people backed up, which is good in itself. [But] it’s not about gender and it’s not about belittling women,” she says. “I’ve been an advocate for women’s wrestling since I started. I’ve always wanted to change the game, that’s what I’ve been trying to do, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Lynch sees her meteoric rise as not just hers alone. Lynch, together with her Four Horsewomen comrades in WWE — Flair, and the current women’s tag team champions Sasha Banks and Bayley — have been emblematic of the women’s wrestling evolution.
“With the Four Horsewomen when we started to break out, everybody wanted to see better from the other, instead of being competitive, you know, everyone wanted to step up their game,” Lynch says. “Everybody wanted to have the best match, everybody wanted to have the best reactions, and that helps everybody step up because nobody wants to be left behind. I think for a long time I used to dumb myself down because I didn’t want to outshine anyone or make anybody feel uncomfortable. And then once I stopped doing that and was like, no, you wanna get on my level, come meet me up here, I think it sparked a bit of a fire in everyone.”
What’s so special about Lynch’s success is that it aligns with so many other people’s journeys. We can all relate to having taken a backseat to a friend or colleague, and being so fed up that your turn hasn’t come around yet that you just want to snatch it, whether or not we actually do in reality.
“I guess it’s more about being yourself and being relentless in chasing your dreams,” Lynch says, summing things up. “Don’t let anybody be the reason you’re dumbing yourself down and making yourself small, and go after what you want with no apologies.”