THE RAW REVIEW
Since the summer of 2014, I have been watching a particular class of professional wrestlers ascend through the ranks of the WWE; Adrian Neville, Tyler Breeze, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Ms. Charlotte, Bayley, and Sasha Banks. It has been the most rewarding pro-wrestling viewing-experience of my life to “come up” with this group, to chronicle their exploits in The Raw Review, the former NXT Report, The Work of Wrestling podcast, and the occasional editorial dedicated to their excellence.
As I’ve staked my claim on developing a new form of pro-wrestling journalism, a form that aims to prove that professional wrestling is an art worthy of more than dirt-sheets, rumors, and top ten lists, so too have these pro-wrestlers staked their claim on the WWE, fostering incremental change.
Their work has made my work easier. Each of these wrestlers demonstrates, weekly, that pro-wrestlers are storytellers who move audiences to The Moment of Pop (catharsis) as effectively as any stage-actor, movie star, poet, painter, musician, sculptor, or writer.
But there is one particular professional wrestler in this class who occupies a very unique space as a performer.
Her name is Becky Lynch.
Behind the scenes, since her debut in NXT, Becky may have known exactly who she was and what she wanted to accomplish. But, on-screen, Becky Lynch’s character has transformed for the better, becoming a deeper reflection of herself. Viewers have been fortunate to watch this happen in real-time, and it has been a life-affirming, inspiring process to behold.
Where other members of this class began with clearly defined gimmicks or built-in rivalries, Becky Lynch is the one who started alone in NXT, chained to a “stereotypical Irish gimmick”. Her inherent talent was reduced to a one-dimensional perception of what made her unique. This often happens in creative fields, even those outside professional wrestling. A performer is judged on their look or their heritage and they are encouraged, if not forced, to behave accordingly. That restrictive cocoon stifles creativity.
Where the other women in NXT were booked to build deep bonds and deep rivalries with one another, Becky Lynch had to contend with jigs and ditties. It was a role that not only felt out of place in 2014 (especially in NXT), but a role that felt at odds with Becky Lynch the human being.
It felt like there was more there, and like we weren’t yet getting it.
I vividly recall the moment when Becky Lynch re-emerged as a rocker-chick, shrugging off that reductive nationality-gimmick. My eyes widened and I smiled, thinking, “Wow! She’s awesome.”
She suddenly seemed happier. Her smile was believable. Her ring-work became more focused and grounded in athletic realism. She was still alone, however. Although she had transformed into a character who seemed a bit closer to home, she had to work matches focused solely on getting her character over rather than working with a group or teammate or manager. No one was really helping get Becky Lynch over other than Becky Lynch. That made it that much harder for her to connect. She had to rely on creating a familiar set of moves and gestures (the devil horns and the three-leg-drops). She didn’t have the benefit of promo-time or an on-screen rival or an on-screen ally to help define her personality beyond these moves and these gestures.
She also had to contend with Corey Graves’ commentary constantly undermining her use of the devil horns and the rocker-girl image she was trying to create. Although Corey is an excellent heel commentator who ultimately helps get talent over, the way he initially mocked Becky Lynch’s new rocker-girl gimmick created the perception that this transformation was not entirely authentic (he’s since complimented her at various points during big matches). It cannot be stressed enough the importance commentary plays in shaping the viewers' perception of a talent.
Despite all of this, Becky Lynch stayed the course. She kept fighting, she kept developing her character and her move-set, and then eventually she found an on-screen friend in Bayley. It’s during these months that The Four Horsewomen of the WWE were born. At this time, through a series of superb matches, and constant growth on everyone’s part, the modern women’s wrestling movement began. The women warriors of NXT gradually became the primary draw of the promotion.
(Keep in mind, this is during a time where Sami Zayn, Adrian Neville, and then later Kevin Owens & Finn Balor, were also working some of the best programs of this generation. At a time when the best crop of male pro-wrestlers the WWE has had since the early days of The Attitude Era, these four women were the most captivating part of the show)
Charlotte and Sasha Banks eventually had a falling out.
A heel Charlotte, after her battles with Bayley, transformed into a proud, respected, babyface Women’s Champion. Sasha Banks, now desperate and alone, convinced Becky Lynch to turn heel and betray Bayley. This balance helped all of The Four Horsewomen define themselves; always two babyfaces, always two heels.
This move led to another period of growth for Becky. She became a henchwoman, but she wasn’t without depth. By that time, she had earned the love of the NXT crowd. They didn’t want to boo her, and so she didn’t feel like a full heel. She seemed more like a good kid who fell in with the wrong crowd, the goal being to eventually ascend to the NXT Women’s Championship.
The strife among these four women eventually led to the pivotal Fatal Four Way match for the NXT Women’s Championship at NXT Take Over Rival in February of 2015. In carefully crafted vignettes, each of these women asserted that they were gunning for Charlotte’s title.
The desire to be champion led to the destruction of Sasha and Becky's alliance. When Sasha won that match, becoming the NXT Women’s Champion, Becky finally had her first natural rival.
After months of intensely hard work, fighting through stories and situations that painted her as a “sidekick” or as “less important”, Becky’s focus on the NXT Women's Championship would lead to one of the best matches of the year.
In May 20th 2015, at NXT Take Over: Unstoppable, Becky Lynch, at long last, arrived.
She had shed the skin of “Irish Dancer”. She had shed the skin of “Lita-like rocker chick”.
And she transformed into her most compelling, honest self yet; a Steam Punk pro-wrestling goddess full of piss and vinegar and ready to beat the hell out of the world.
Watching her race through a cloud of smoke, welder-goggles lost in a stream of flaming orange hair, trench-coattails flowing in her wake, I felt as though I was watching a miraculous rebirth.
The confidence in her eyes, the absolute certainty she had in herself, was a revelation.
Suddenly, Becky Lynch was mythological.
Just a year prior, I was cringing along with Becky through those jigs, certain that someday she’d escape that cocoon. Not only did she escape it, she ripped it shreds.
Becky inevitably lost to Sasha, but she’d earned the admiration of all, and her capacity for reinvention is what set her apart from a pack of incredibly talented wrestlers.
Finn Balor’s rise to NXT Champion also helped Becky Lynch define herself as a strong, sympathetic babyface. It’s important to note that in a 3-part documentary about Finn Balor that led into The Beast In The East Network Special (where Finn defeated Kevin Owens for the title), Becky Lynch was featured in very raw, sincere talking-head segments. In tearful interviews, she described her friendship with Fergal (Finn Balor), how he trained her and wouldn’t give up on her. Becky Lynch actually helped get Finn over with statements like, “Of all the people here, no one is more deserving than him”. That kind of emotional reality stays with viewers, even though those scenes aren’t specifically about Becky. Where before she had been alone in a world of characters cast as more important than her, here she now was a woman with a deep pro-wrestling history, rivalries and friendships that stretched beyond the realm of NXT. No one else could talk about the future NXT Champion the way she could. This revealed her to have a degree of knowledge and experience that no one else in NXT had.
That’s right around the time when Becky, Charlotte, and Sasha got called up to RAW for the rocky #DivaRevolution angle. The following months relegated Becky back to the role of supporting character. All the work that had been done in NXT to transform her into one of the organization's most interesting, inspiring characters was ignored, forgotten, or never known by the RAW booker.
She had a friend in Charlotte and Paige for a while, but she was mostly a silent observer, and she rarely wrestled matches (and especially the kind of matches she was free to create in NXT).
A series of Miz TV segments and odd, scripted promos that attempted to redefine all of these women for a "general audience" plagued the Diva’s Division for months during this transitional period. It remained unclear who the babyfaces were and who the heels were.
Everyone became a collection of destructive tropes; catty, untrustworthy, vain, mean-girls.
Here Monday Night Raw had an influx of brilliant talents, but RAW’s perspective on women didn’t allow any of these performers to really shine as they had in NXT. They were grouped together according to their race or their hairstyle or their vapidity rather than the relationships and rivalries they had already established in NXT. RAW attempted to reduce Sasha, Becky, and Charlotte to “Divas”, a role that is fundamentally at odds with what got them over in the first place.
And so the division languished for the remainder of the year, quality coming in stops and starts, the writers and the bookers unable to understand what makes these women marketable and what people of all creeds, colors, genders, sexual orientations, and political affiliations actually want from the WWE in 2016.
Hopeful fans thought the arrival of Becky, Charlotte, and Sasha would instantly usher in an era of positive change on the main roster. Fans wanted to see a contemporary WWE that represented women as honorable athletes motivated by more than jealousy, vanity, or insanity. Fans of all genders wanted (and still want) a WWE where a woman is more than a pair of tits.
To see the company not really get that and inevitably misuse Becky, Charlotte, and Sasha in the process has been one of the most frustrating viewing experiences of the past year.
But, last night, on the January 11th, 2016 episode of Monday Night Raw, Becky Lynch finally arrived on the main roster.
Over the past month, following a program between Charlotte and Paige, a potentially great rivalry has been quietly brewing on Monday Night Raw. Every week, little by little, Charlotte and Becky Lynch have been telling a story. It’s not about boys and it’s not about girls and it’s not about attention and it’s not about sex and it’s not about teams and it’s not about being pretty.
Becky Lynch and Charlotte are telling a professional wrestling story about how conflict changes people. It’s a story about how the desire to be Champion corrupts the easily-corrupted and strengthens the not-so-easily discouraged.
Charlotte and Becky are the perfect players in these parts, at an incredibly important time in women's wrestling that might finally represent a harbinger of true change. The fact that it's happening quietly, in brief moments on the show where the women are able to drop hints of authenticity here and there, is working in their favor more than lengthy Miz TV segments or big introductions from Stephanie McMahon ever could.
Either by accident (due to bad booking) or on purpose, Becky Lynch is the only televised babyface in the Diva’s Division. The other women are either heels, or they are constantly changing from one week to the next, the implication being that women are fickle idiots whose morality is entirely unreliable.
Becky Lynch is the only character who hasn’t strayed from the righteous path.
For her trouble, she is, once again, alone. But she’s not complacent. Even with Ric Flair helping Charlotte, even with Charlotte talking down to Becky, even with Paige having painted Becky as “the least relevant” of all the Divas, Becky Lynch has only grown more determined.
She charged the ring last night and broke up Charlotte’s match with Brie before it even began. What could have been yet another forgettable, bathroom-break match reminiscent of a bygone era, transformed into the best segment of the entire three hour broadcast.
At a time when Vince McMahon is blatantly desperate to get Roman Reigns over, on an episode where Brock Lesnar took everyone to Suplex City, it was Becky Lynch who shined. It was Becky Lynch, with just a few minutes to work with, who actually got over.
She didn’t need to overcome any odds or defy any heel authority figure or fight the entire roster.
All Becky needed was enough time to speak her truth and assert herself as a championship contender. No amount of “overcoming the odds” propaganda and no amount of suplexes can match the quality of unfiltered intensity.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a woman, on RAW, say anything like “I’m gonna take yer arm!” Women aren’t typically booked in situations where such a statement is even possible, let alone convincing. Women aren’t permitted to exist in a believable, competitive world on RAW where passion isn’t confused for insanity and confidence isn’t derived from one’s cup-size.
Women, on RAW, haven't been portrayed as athletes...perhaps ever.
Almost every female character on RAW has been a valet who eventually decided to wrestle or a model who occasionally wrestled.
Few have ever been wrestlers who wrestled because they were wrestlers.
Charlotte and Becky are slowly but surely building a new kind of RAW where women aren’t defined by their bodies or their reductive psyches, but rather their ambition, their athletic ability, and their morality.
Now that Charlotte is a pure heel, a role she plays to perfection, Becky is justified in her vengeful pursuit of the title. It is essential that commentary support this idea, that instead of saying phrases like “turnabout is fair play” or insinuating that "all women" behave in a particular way, the commentary team must emphasize the despicable nature of Charlotte’s actions and the virtue of Becky’s determination. It's too easy for the crowd to "Woo!" along with Ric Flair; the crowd needs to be convinced that Charlotte is in the wrong, that Ric is vile, and that Becky is in the right. Charlotte and Becky can be as talented as they want to be. If their talent isn't supported by the organization in an effort to clearly define and promote their rivalry, then the WWE will fail to adequately capitalize on years of hard, good work (and money waiting to be scooped up by intelligent, industrious promoters cognizant of the year we all live in).
Following her attack on Charlotte, Becky was approached by JoJo for a backstage interview.
JoJo began by asking if Becky’s “emotions were getting the best of her”. Not only is this question in keeping with the WWE’s antiquated approach to female-characterization (she’s not a betrayed friend whose actions are justified, she’s simply an erratic Irish red-head!), it’s indicative of how the WWE always tries to depict women’s emotions as the result of insanity or stupidity (she’s not an athlete motivated by a sense of self-worth, she’s just a crazy broad whose thinking with her ovaries!).
Becky Lynch was having none of that. Perhaps JoJo’s question was a purposeful set up to Becky’s response (which would actually make me more encouraged about the company’s booking than if Becky’s response was completely off the cuff), but Becky, with convincing passion, declared herself the only woman deserving of the title.
Repeatedly, she referred to herself as a woman, not a "Diva". She emphasized that she was alone, that she didn’t let her career get in the way of their friendship, that it was Charlotte who betrayed their pact, that Charlotte was the one relying on her name rather than her ability to get ahead on the main roster.
At no point during this promo did she whine, however. She succinctly "told it like it is". She accepted that she was alone, and decided that she would forge ahead regardless.
The world is telling Becky Lynch that she’s wrong to care about friendship, honor, and respect. The world is telling her that she’s the “least relevant” of the Divas, because she cared about “friendly competition” instead of reality television.
The world is telling her that “her emotions are getting the best of her” and that she’s just another crazy Diva who needs to step in line if she ever wants to succeed.
How does Becky Lynch respond?
“My emotions are exactly where they need to be”.
Given the context of everything that has happened to Becky over the course of the past year, given the way the main roster portrays women as hapless, erratic idiots who aren’t worth anything other than their boobs, that single statement from Becky Lynch is as good as “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass”.
This is the first time a woman has truly asserted herself on main roster television without needlessly throwing the entire Divas Division under the bus. This is the first time a woman has declared herself on RAW, without any help and without any caveats or qualifications, without insulting family members, and without pulling hair.
The Becky Lynch character is now the first woman wrestler on Monday Night Raw to be portrayed as right. There is no greater power a character can possess than being right. Rightness gives performers the freedom to defy destructive norms, to call out others in their wrong-thinking, and to fight for a new reality that reflects the virtues they espouse.
Becky is doing the right thing, and she’s willing to continue doing the right thing even if that means being ostracized and forsaken.
That’s a babyface. That’s a hero.
It was a quick promo. It was backstage. It was not presented with the benefit of grandeur and spectacle. You can’t find it on WWE’s YouTube channel. You can’t even find it in the HuluPlus version of this episode of RAW. All we have to work with is the memory of that moment. That's why it should be chronicled here. It is the single most important moment of the show, and the single most important moment for a woman on RAW since the main roster debut of the NXT hopefuls.
From Irish-gimmick to rocker-chick to steam-punker to woman fighting for what’s right, Becky Lynch has evolved into one of the WWE’s most inspiring performers.
And the company would be incredibly wise to continue doing right by her and right by Charlotte.
Don’t just “let” these women go to work, encourage them to go to work and shine the brightest spotlight you have on everything Charlotte and Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks have to offer.
The WWE has been trying to fabricate replacements for The Rock, Steve Austin, and Mick Foley for over a decade. Nothing has worked. Nothing has come close to matching the sustained excellence of that time. And anything that could have exceeded The Atttude Era was stifled.
Today, in Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Becky Lynch, the WWE has the means of not just recreating the magic that defined The Attitude Era, but the means of creating something entirely new for an entirely new age. In this modern, female-wrestling trinity, the WWE has the opportunity to rediscover relevance in a world that is becoming increasingly disinterested.
These women should not have to work against the commentary team, the presentation, and the book. Commentary, presentation, and the book should be working for these women, to get them over in the hearts and minds of viewers. Only then, can the talent they possess be fully comprehended by the audience. The audience should be convinced of their excellence on a daily basis through lengthy matches, pertinent vignettes, and deeply personal rivalries founded on the desire to be the absolute best.
The audience must be conditioned, every episode of RAW, to believe that the Diva’s Division means something, that the championship means something, and that what happens on RAW is not somehow less important than what happens on Total Divas.
The excellence of Becky’s work on this night must not be forgotten next week.
At the very least, it will not be forgotten by me.
For over a year I’ve had the privilege of watching one of the best pro-wrestlers of this generation find herself, and make the promotion better for it. I can think of no other art that provides this kind of consistent exposure, that open window into the heart of a passionate, evolving talent. No matter what the book does with Becky Lynch, she has already told an incredible story; the story of how talent finds a way…no matter what.
There's a reason I haven't written about anything other than Becky Lynch in this RAW REVIEW.
Where the rest of the show lulled me to sleep, Becky woke me up.
Becky Lynch inspired me.
Becky Lynch gave me a reason to write.
Becky Lynch gave me a reason to believe.
And that's why I'll tune in next week.