When people talk about the hottest feud in fighting, many assume it’s in boxing ring or The Octagon, but in 2018, it’s in the wrestling ring.
If punk music has taught us anything, it’s how much people gravitate to an anti-establishment figure especially in professional wrestling. To explain how WWE’s rivalry between Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey became such a force, we have to go back to explain certain top figures in the company’s history: Stone Cold Steve Austin and CM Punk and the curse of the hand-picked top babyface.
During WWE’s Attitude era, it was Stone Cold Steve Austin who spoke directly to the primary demographic of teenagers and the blue collar workers sick of how bureaucracy has kept them down despite their loyalty. That representation within WWE is owner and CEO Vince McMahon. His guy at the time was Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
As Austin relentlessly terrorized Hart, his rival unraveled and became unhinged adopting the hangman figure-four leglock to inflict devastating punishment, no long content in playing by the rules. The double-turn was surreal, but inevitable for both sides with Hart becoming an anti-American heel AND Austin maintaining his attitude and not changing his persona.
Since the Attitude era ended and WWE grew complacent due to the lack of competition with WCW and ECW going under, enter CM Punk, who reminded fans that it wasn’t hard work the company valued the most, but rather favoritism from being McMahon’s hand-picked guy with his infamous pipe bomb promo. Punk turned his ire against John Cena, the company’s top guy in the 2000s, but always suffered from mixed reactions.
While WWE approved Punk “shooting” about the truths about the company, it provided a rare opportunity for conventionalism to go on the way side, because there were quite a few discontented with WWE’s decision to go PG and ignoring fan reactions. Punk was allowed to be looser on the mic despite being in the middle of contract negotiations with the company. WWE smartly played off that Punk, the rebel who spoke his mind, would be willing to leave the company with the title, while behind the scenes re-signing in secret.
While it eventually blew up in Punk’s face having his push stunted to part-timers like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, an injury finally did sideline him. Later he would quit the company disgusted by what he felt was a complete disregard to his health and his ill-timed firing on his wedding day to AJ “Lee” Mendez, then the current top female talent of WWE.
Now fast forward to today. There are no Austins and no Punks to tell it like it is. Actions speak much louder than words in today’s WWE and with the Women’s Revolution, the female talent get the bigger slice of the pie than ever before. WWE today is still PG and not looking to change any time soon.
An unlikely new “tell-it-like-it-is” figure emerged in Becky Lynch. What was supposed to be a “heel turn” for Lynch following her loss in the Triple Threat Match. Charlotte Flair won the title against champion Carmella, which was supposed to be Lynch’s “spotlight.” What was once a primary complaint from heel to the face, became a point of empathy with fans as more got behind her in agreement that she was “screwed” out of the SmackDown Women’s title.
Instead of being chastised for her rambunctious and arrogant behavior, fans backed her with the grievances she had because her last name wasn’t Flair. Suddenly, wrestling royalty in Charlotte wasn’t so cut and dry, because fans agreed she was the hand-picked champion by the company who didn’t deserve the belt.
With Lynch’s rematch and title victory, “The Man” was born. For the uninitiated, “The Man” is direct reference to Charlotte’s father, Ric, whose signature phrase is, “To be The Man, you got the Beat The Man,” which was often followed by his trademark, “Woo!” Lynch turned that on its head and adopted “The Man” as her new WWE persona as the “Champ!”
Lynch became the new champion of the anti-establishment, but not only does she have the mic to back up her brazen attitude, she backs it up. Make no mistake, Lynch has been champion before, but never like this, where she emerged from an environment where so many wrestlers had similar non-invasive vanilla face gimmicks.
Not only has she took the ball and ran with it, she’s also become quite the fierce presence on Twitter. She’s as deadly tweeting as she is on a live mic. When Royal Rumble VIP Access went on sale, available spots for her sold out in record time.
They tell me that my Royal Rumble VIP Axxess, sold out in 90secs. I see and hear you all, all the tee shirts, the signs, the posts, the love. The Man sees you all. They didn’t expect us, but here we are pic.twitter.com/sg9Fu4Pd52
— The Man (@BeckyLynchWWE) December 5, 2018
Lynch’s even talking circles around the one-time female face of UFC and current WWE Raw Women’s Champion, Ronda Rousey.
U sure had alot of free time during #DrPaidVacation 2beg for my attention on Twitter-but Im busy promoting a PPV w/ an opponent whos actually going to show up.Leave it to #TheMillennialMan to still be on social media crying for a participation trophy for never showing up to fight
— Ronda Rousey (@RondaRousey) December 4, 2018
This is why Lynch and Rousey beats Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. With one fight that took months on end to set up, Mayweather and McGregor sparred words in the media in what seemed to take forever. They only fought once and it was on Mayweather’s terms on a boxing ring. Despite the two sides agreeing to terms and it turned into a semi-respectable bout, Mayweather expectedly won. Whether or not we’ll ever see Mayweather in the Octagon against McGregor remains to be seen. Will anybody care by then? McGregor fought on Mayweather’s terms and put up a respectable resistance, but we don’t know if Mayweather can ever adjust to the looseness of MMA.
With all this jockeying for alpha male status, fans have grown tired of all the waiting for part two, which seems like it will never come. At least WWE’s scheduling makes their bouts payoff without some excuse to delay the inevitable. Despite WWE being a planned sport, they’re fulfilling what fans want “at least on paper” the way the joke of a feud between boxer-MMA fighter never became.
WWE’s biggest acquisition vs their biggest star has WrestleMania written all over it and the biggest feud in combat sports.
How do you think WWE’s handled Lynch so far? Is she the company’s biggest star? What more could they do with her? Sound off in the comments below.