One of the benefits World Wrestling Entertainment have enjoyed in the decades since becoming the biggest company in professional wrestling has been the ability to shape narratives and in instances rewrite history.
That benefit has eroded since the advent of the internet and especially social media. The best example being the 2014 saga between WWE corporate, Daniel Bryan, and their fanbase that culminated in Bryan winning the unified WWE World Heavyweight Championship at the main event of WrestleMania XXX, a match he wasn’t supposed to be in. Four years later WWE may be finding themselves in a similar bind and look to be making that same mistakes in the women’s division.
Becky Lynch, the first woman drafted to the SmackDown Live following WWE’s second brand split and the show’s inaugural women’s champion, has in the last few months organically become the top female ‘babyface’ on SmackDown. Fans sing along to her steampunk themed entrance music whenever she shows up. The pops she gets get increasingly louder. Lynch’s video skits on both her Instagram account and WWE’s YouTube channel that revolve around the show have now created a crowd section for her quinoa.
With that build up it was clear that WWE fans were behind Lynch in her quest to reclaim the blue brand’s title at Summerslam on August 19. Even as her one one on one match with then champion Carmella became a triple threat with the addition of her best friend Charlotte Flair in the weeks before Summerslam the story seemed to be destined to end with Lynch holding the title.
Then on Summerslam Flair won the title hitting her Natural Selection on Lynch just as she was going to make Carmella submit to the Dis-Arm-Her to get the pinfall.
In the aftermath it looked like Lynch would congratulate her friend in victory. Then she threw a vicious right hand at Flair.
Normally this would be seen as Lynch turning ‘heel’ and in the wrestling tradition warrant immense boos from the crowd for her actions. That is not what happened though.
The Brooklyn crowd instead booed Flair as she was given her newly won title and cheered even louder as Lynch beat her down after the match. The ‘You Deserve It’ chant, usually reserved for faces after winning, was shouted at Flair after the beating as Lynch walked back up the ramp.
WWE tried to get the reaction they wanted in the August 21 episode of SmackDown Live by having Lynch cut a classic heel promo blaming the fans for not having her back.
The crowd cheered louder for her instead.
This has been the same outcome at house shows, polls WWE have put up on their website, and on social media. WWE’s reaction to this, whether it’s Brian ‘Road Dogg’ Armstrong’s defense of the storyline or having Lynch be paired with Carmella in house show tag matches, shows the company’s stubbornness. It may also show that WWE have not taken the lesson of the Bryan saga to heart, particularly since this is mirroring how the company handled him in the months after WrestleMania XXX.
Bryan was forced out of the ring due to injuries & the death of his father. When he back WWE did their best to book him into the midcard but he kept getting cheered. It all came to a head during the 2015 Royal Rumble in Philadelphia when Bryan came in tenth but was eliminated shortly after.
The visceral reaction of the crowd to Bryan’s elimination ultimately hurt the winner of the match, Roman Reigns. Even as WWE has anointed him as their top star the damage caused to Reigns has been so bad that it still is being felt today. It’s reached the point that events such the Shield reuniting is seen merely as the company trying to prevent Reigns being booed and he may never fully recover.
There are differences and similarities in the position Reigns was in 2015 and what Flair is facing now. Reigns at the time was still relatively green as a main event figure on the main roster and needed more time. Flair on the other hand is already well established as one of the best female workers in WWE with multiple title reigns across NXT, SmackDown Live, and Monday Night Raw.
What’s similar between Reigns and Flair is that their success can be seen as a result of nepotism since both come from families that are royalty in the wrestling world. In Flair’s case she also has a look that has been pushed heavily in front among the female main roster (and can be seperate discussion in itself.) It’s a factor that Lynch has overly pointed out in an interview with James Delow of Guerilla Position after Summerslam.
It’s no secret WWE hold Flair in high favor. She represents the company in mainstream media interviews and is featured in the first poster for the upcoming all women’s ‘Evolution’ Pay-Per-View alongside Rhonda Rousey and Alexa Bliss. She is even reportedly booked to face Rousey at WrestleMania 35 as the actual main event. If the company insists on not reading the room and staying the course with Flair as the face in the feud it will only succeed in turning her into Reigns in the eyes of the fans.
Tuesday’s episode of SmackDown Live might be a precursor of things to come. As Flair and Carmella had a Summerslam rematch the crowd in Toronto let their feelings be known.
‘We Want Becky, We Want Becky!’
‘Becky, Becky, Becky!’
‘Becky, Becky, Becky’ is starting to sound more like ‘Yes, Yes, Yes’