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    Friday, February 15, 2019

    The Critical: How to Address Your Becky Lynch Anxiety

    Merry Wrestling Christmas, everybody. It’s WrestleMania season.

    To some, WrestleMania is just another wrestling show, but bigger. To my wife, it’s pizza night. To many of us, it’s a pilgrimage, or a bucket list item (one which our Editor-at-Large is crossing off this year).

    To me, and, perhaps, to many of you, WrestleMania is (or is supposed to be) the logical and inevitable culmination of WWE’s larger narrative thread.

    Some years, this makes WrestleMania a wonderful experience that brings a community (or communities) together in joyous unison, like with Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 30, or Steve Austin at XIV, or Bret Hart at X. Other years, this makes WrestleMania an experience that just makes us roll our eyes, like with Roman Reigns at 32 and 33, or John Cena at 22, 23, 24, and 25, or Hulk Hogan at V, VII, and XI.

    But sometimes WWE subverts expectations and flips what was perceived as inevitable. This makes WrestleMania endings just ridiculous on those years, for better (like with Rollins at 31) or for worse (like with Hogan at IX, or Brock Lesnar at 34).

    The question of whether or not WWE will conclude a narrative thread logically has brought me, and many others, much anxiety over the years. There really is no way to be sure that any newsworthy or narrative event related to WWE, or even wrestling as a whole, is legitimate, reliable, or indicative of any predictable pattern. Sometimes it's caused by simply poor creative decisions (like the aforementioned Brock Lesnar victory at WrestleMania 34), or other times it's caused by matters outside the confines of the show (like how Rob Van Dam's arrest derailed what appeared to be a longer WWE and ECW Championship reign). The old adage "never say never in the WWE" has an equally true flipside: nothing is absolutely 100% certain in the WWE.

    Since nothing is ever certain, no fan can ever be sure about their desired outcome from a narrative, even if WWE gives you sign after sign that it is coming. This causes an anxiety that I'm sure many of you are familiar with—the same one triggered by the ending of this week's Monday Night RAW.

    This past year, the larger narrative thread leading up to WrestleMania has been among the most emotionally engaging ones in recent years, and at the center of it all is the rise of Becky Lynch. The thread weaves the following questions together:

    1. Given that women have main-evented the Royal Rumble, Hell in a Cell, and TLC events, and that they have normalized women’s matches as main events on RAW and SmackDown Live, will 2019 finally be the year that a women’s match becomes the main event of WrestleMania?
    2. Will Becky Lynch be "handed the ball," so to speak, and become the New Face of the Company?

    From around SummerSlam 2018 all the way up to the 95% through Monday Night RAW this past week, all signs indicated that both questions could be answered by a resounding “Yes!"—allowing the more anxious among us to be at rest.

    But then Vince McMahon showed up, and we lost our shit.

    Let’s recap:

    The Survivor Series 2018 champion vs. champion main event of Rousey vs. Lynch lit a fire in the collective belly of the wrestling fanbase, and satisfied nearly every aspect of wrestling fandom. Casuals were excited to see Rousey compete against the wrestler perceived as the best—or, The Man. Smarky types were excited to see The Man—their Superstar—compete against a legitimate mainstream celebrity Superstar fighter. And corporate WWE was happy because they could clear the way for the WrestleMania main event they planned all along (corporate “best” vs. “real world best”, or Charlotte vs. Ronda) without offending the fans of a Superstar who rose organically (who, historically, have an occasionally irritating way of voicing displeasure—see WrestleMania 22, One Night Stand 2006, Money in the Bank 2011, Royal Rumble 2015, and Roman Reigns’ entire singles career, pre-leukemia).

    It was great. I was resigned to the idea that Becky wouldn’t main event WrestleMania, but I was still glad that WWE still regarded her as a legitimate Superstar.

    And then Nia Jax broke Becky’s face.

    The ramifications were significant: not only would WWE’s plan-to-make-everybody-happy be derailed, but Becky Lynch immediately gained martyr vibes, elevating her to larger-than-life status. Bloody Becky Lynch, gloating over a broken Ronda Rousey (with the entire SmackDown Live women’s roster at her command, including Charlotte) drew immediate comparisons to bloody Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13. Austin lost that I Quit match, but he never quit. And his bloody face would capture the imagination of a generation, elevating him from Really Cool to Downright Inspirational. The image of Becky Lynch standing atop the entire goddamned arena spurred the same feelings and then, finding out that she had already been injured at that point took things over the top. “The Man” had become The Man.

    Now that plans had changed, the excitement for what the WrestleMania main event would be started to snowball. Charlotte vs. Rousey was now the match at Survivor Series—does this mean that Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey still has to be booked at a later date? Is it safe to have dreams of Becky Lynch main eventing WrestleMania?

    The ending of the Charlotte/Rousey match (which ended in a disqualification after Charlotte attacked Rousey illegally), as well as the ending of the TLC Triple Threat Match (in which Rousey attacked both Lynch and Charlotte, costing Lynch the championship) cast doubt that WWE would go all the way with a Lynch vs. Rousey singles match at WrestleMania. But then Becky Lynch entered herself into the Royal Rumble Match, won it, and announced that she wanted to choose Rousey as her opponent in a red-hot RAW segment that would seemingly prove that their rivalry had enough fire in it to not only stand on its own but actually be the final match on the WrestleMania card, not at all needing any Authority-led shenanigans, or Charlotte Flair.

    This was it. We could now safely dream of Becky Lynch main eventing WrestleMania.

    (I mean, seriously, watch it, and feel your spine tingle at the thought of a Rousey-Lynch one-on-one match.)

    Meanwhile, Charlotte tried to keep herself in the scene by attempting to co-opt Lynch’s rise. However, this was limited to SmackDown Live, and not at all featured on RAW—thereby assuring us that Charlotte was, thankfully, no longer involved in the larger narrative thread. In one of those segments, Triple H flat out declares it: “Charlotte, this does not involve you. Get out of here.”

    We’re safe. No need to be anxious. They won’t take our dreams of Becky away from us.

    Finally, we come to this week’s RAW.

    Becky Lynch hems and haws all evening about whether or not to apologize to Triple H and Stephanie. The dynamics of the characters involved were a little confusing, but everyone treated it as just another step towards the Rousey match. We were assured that larger narrative questions 1 and 2 were answered, and there were no take-backsies—all that was left was 55 days of storytelling. Whether or not the storytelling was any good didn’t really matter. We’ve been through clumsy WrestleMania builds before, after all. But at least there was nothing to be anxious about, right?

    And then Vince comes out and takes our dreams of Becky away from us.

    Deep down, though, we all knew this was all silly—of course Becky Lynch is still involved in the match with Rousey at WrestleMania. And having the top star yanked from (or simply not booked in) the main event weeks before WrestleMania is not unprecedented: see Steve Austin during the build to XV (friggin’ VINCE won the Rumble that year, but nobody believed that WrestleMania would feature The Rock vs. Mr. McMahon), and the B+ Player Daniel Bryan on the road to WrestleMania XXX (dude wasn’t even in the Royal Rumble at all, and they seriously thought the returning Pitbull-lookalike Dave Bautista would capture fans’ imaginations—understandable, as this was before the first Guardians of the Galaxy came out). But still. We lost our shit.

    Why is that?

    I would suggest that it is because the segment made us feel that those who make creative decisions in WWE ask the same larger narrative questions as we do—and the choice to replace Becky with Charlotte shows that they only pretended to answer question two in the affirmative, but really their answer is No. Charlotte’s confirmation as heel only serves to increase the anxiety this caused, and Rousey’s position as a babyface only seems to confirm this. Sure, Becky’s great, but Charlotte is our chosen homegrown talent, and Ronda Rousey is the babyface you should cheer. So no, Becky is not the True Face of WWE. And no, we don’t care that you’re sad because we know you won’t cancel your WWE Network subscription.

    Ta-da. Anxiety unraveled. Instant anger, triggered by WWE’s trolling.

    This was followed by righteous disbelief: how could WWE be so stupid? Why do the McMahons always have to make it about them? Haven’t they learned their lessons from CM Punk and Daniel Bryan and all of the times they booed pre-leukemia Roman Reigns?

    And then the echo chamber of the internet, as well as all the Smarky-types who always seem to know better than you, as well as the goddamn condescending actual on-screen wrestling performers on Twitter, just made things a little worse.

    Of course, as with everything that people respond emotionally to on the internet, people calmed down and moved on, with a shrugging resignation that this is all a work, and Becky will be part of the match anyway, I just didn’t think Charlotte needed to be involved anymore, and ugh the McMahons are involved again, but, fine, whatever, Becky still better win that match.

    I, however, propose a different perspective. I offer this not from a position of superiority, but as a person who just got as angry as many did, but, with the support of a small circle of thinking wrestling fans, was able to come back down to the ground, think things through, and actually end up happier.

    Our anxiety stemmed from the idea that WWE (or Vince McMahon) was answering narrative questions in a piss-poor, counterintuitive way—and we would be justified in it because they have totally done this way too many times before. But—hear me out here—what if those were actually not the questions they were trying to answer?

    What if their questions were not about Becky Lynch’s narrative, but about the even larger, industry-affecting status of Becky Lynch’s Superstardom?

    What if the question wasn’t “What is the best and most logical way to get Becky to the main event of WrestleMania?” but, rather, “What can we do to make Becky Lynch an even bigger star leading up to WrestleMania and beyond?”

    If that is the question, then does it not make sense that Vince McMahon—the person that nearly every kind of wrestling fan has reason to hate—himself would tame the wildfire of Becky Lynch’s rise? Does it not make sense that Charlotte is now placed in the tradition of Kayfabe Chosen One, in the tradition of 1998 Rock, and (gasp) 2003 Triple H—as opposed to Actual Chosen One, like 2005-2015 John Cena and pre-leukemia Roman Reigns? Does it not make sense that all of this narrative attention is placed on Becky Lynch’s absence rather than Charlotte’s, and even Ronda frickin’ Rousey’s presence?

    And would this not bring about a more substantial and sustained sense of happiness when Becky Lynch ultimately conquers Charlotte Flair, Ronda Rousey, Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, Triple H, and the entire idea that the Women’s Evolution is a movement rather than just the way things should be?

    I know it would for me.

    (But if Becky loses I swear I would lose my shit for real.)

    Photos from WWE


    Mikey Llorin (@mikeyllorinis a Consulting Editor of Smark Henry, as well as a teacher, performer, events host, and critic. Mikey writes The Critical, which covers aspects of wrestling through the lens of literary/cultural criticism. He enjoys WWE, NXT, and Lucha Underground, and he has set his critical eye on the Philippine wrestling scene.

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    Item Reviewed: The Critical: How to Address Your Becky Lynch Anxiety Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Mikey Llorin
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