By Will Pruett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@itswilltime)
On Sunday night at WWE SummerSlam 2018, Becky Lynch attacked Charlotte Flair after Flair won the Smackdown Women’s Championship. This moment was the culmination of months of triumph and frustration for Lynch. Since then, the general opinion seems to be that WWE got this one wrong. Becky Lynch had a ton of organic fan support and should be the top babyface. While it could go wrong at any moment, a week into this heel turn I’d say WWE got it right. How do I know? I watched CM Punk in 2012.
Punk, in Summer 2012, was still close to, if not the, hottest babyface in wrestling. He wasn’t at his Money in the Bank 2011 peak, but fans had not forgotten the greatness of those few weeks a year before. Punk was exciting and had organic fan support in every arena in the world. John Cena would have killed for the reactions Punk was getting. Even with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hanging around WWE, Punk had a nice niche carved out.
Why then, at Raw 1000, did Punk turn into WWE’s lead antagonist? Punk was looking at a roster with both The Rock and John Cena as babyfaces. If Punk remained on the babyface side, a nice six man tag could have happened. When Punk turned, he created major matches for himself down the line. Rock, Cena, and eventually Undertaker all benefited from having Punk as a major antagonist.
Becky Lynch in 2018 is similar to CM Punk in 2012. Becky Lynch is a top babyface. Fans in every arena in the world can get behind her. She plays the plucky underdog perfectly. She is fun to cheer. Lynch is a great protagonist and could be the best protagonist on WWE’s roster. On the babyface side of Smackdown, Lynch is sharing time with Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Naomi, and possibly Nikki Bella. This is a lot to overcome, even for a great babyface.
While Smackdown’s women have a stacked babyface roster, look at the heels they have to tell stories with. Peyton Royce and Billie Kay are a fine duo, but neither feels like a top antagonist now. Carmella has been disappointing in the role of top heel. Tamina is hurt and limited in her abilities. Lana and Zelina Vega are tied to other acts. Mandy Rose and Sonja Deville need more time to develop. What is WWE supposed to do?
Even amongst the babyfaces, there are limited options. Asuka lacks the promo abilities WWE needs the top antagonist on Smackdown to possess. Naomi has been a heel recently and is a much better babyface. Nikki Bella is a part time wrestler unable to work a full schedule. Charlotte had a long heel run in 2016 and 2017. She needs more time before going back to the arrogant heel well.
Becky Lynch is the best option for WWE to get the most out of their women’s roster on Smackdown. Much like CM Punk was a better top antagonist than Big Show or Alberto Del Rio, Becky Lynch is a better top antagonist than anyone on Smackdown could be.
Look at Becky’s promo from Tuesday’s Smackdown. No really, watch it. I’ll wait.
Tell me another woman on WWE’s roster who would be able to deliver that promo with the conviction Lynch had. When Punk went from the most popular wrestler in the world to the top antagonist in 2012, it was his ability to talk that got him there. He was good enough to turn fans against him, even when they desperately wanted to cheer. Becky Lynch is that good of a performer.
Will it all work out in the end? Look, WWE does a lot of boneheaded things. They get it wrong, even when they get chapters one and two of a story right. That said, I do believe WWE is making the right move here.
Lynch now has fresh matches with Charlotte Flair, Naomi, Asuka, and maybe a Bella to take her through the Superstar Shakeup next April. After this, she can anchor Raw or Smackdown as the dominant and angry top heel. When has Becky Lynch gotten to sink her teeth into anything this good on the main roster? She’s a better performer than we have seen. Now is her chance to prove it.
I’m not going to tell you to play along when you go to shows. I’ve often argued that cheering babyfaces and booing heels is the best way to enjoy a wrestling show, but I’ve broken that rule plenty of times. I will advocate for enjoying a performer and giving their performance the desired response. The best actor in the world could be playing Gaston in your local production of Beauty and the Beast, but only an ass would chant for Gaston to end up with Belle. Gaston is begging you to boo him.
I’m personally excited to see one of WWE’s most serially underutilized performers get a chance to do something she has yet to do on a major stage. Becky Lynch is too talented not to knock this out of the park.
Will Pruett writes about wrestling and popular culture at prowrestling.net. Of interest to him are diversity in wrestling and wrestling as a theatrical art form. To see his video content subscribe to his YouTube channel. To contact, check him out on Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.