The Downward Spiral
Becky Lynch hitting rock bottom may be the best work of her career.
One of the traits that made me a huge Becky Lynch fan a few years ago was her ability to portray desperation. From 2015-2018, she was the honorable “white meat” babyface who did everything the right way and rarely got rewarded for it. Every time a heel cheated her out of something or she came up short in a match, Becky would have some promo or segment that created empathy in the audience, including someone like me who is emotionally detached at almost all times. The one I always point to (and maybe I already have on here; I don’t remember) was a seemingly minor backstage segment after the first women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, which had a controversial finish where Carmella’s toady James Ellsworth grabbed the briefcase for her. Becky made an earnest plea to then-GM Daniel Bryan that to this day I consider the single most effective promo I’ve seen on WWE television.
It doesn’t exactly fit the mold of what most consider “great promos.” There aren’t any “holy shit” lines or insults, and Becky doesn’t get fired up in a traditional sense like Dusty Rhodes in his canonized “hard times” promo or Stone Cold in his “Austin 3:16” promo. It also isn’t building up a specific match or conflict. But what’s there is an incredibly authentic performance (especially for WWE standards), where the real person and the character are intertwined and putting forth a message that resonates with anyone who feels like they work hard and don’t get their fair shake (so almost everyone, at least in the working class). In particular, Becky’s line about how she knows the cheating is going to happen and she can’t stop it frames her as someone who is intelligent and wants to win the right way rather than as a bumbling idiot who gets duped by everyone. It’s hard to imagine anyone watching this and not being sympathetic towards Becky, and that leads to them wanting to see her win matches, which should be the goal of any babyface talking segment. This promo, and the other moments like it, is the seed Becky planted that eventually bloomed and made her into a top star in a way that WWE didn’t plan for, but was happy to go along with once it became evident what was going on.
Five years later, WWE is building to another Money in the Bank ladder match, and Becky is losing matches again. But it’s fascinating how different everything else is, and it really shows how Becky is the wrestling version of musicians like PJ Harvey who are able to reinvent themselves and have such distinct phases of their career. Big Time Becks lost a title for the first time in three years at Wrestlemania to Bianca Belair and is now in a downward spiral storyline as she loses her mind without having a belt (recall that in her promo before the match, Becky said she sold her soul for that title). First, her old rival Asuka returned from injury and began trolling Becky in her own eccentric way, including spraying Becky in the face with green mist to beat her in a match. Then Becky failed to regain the title in a triple-threat match against Belair and Asuka. Possibly the lowest moment so far was when Becky challenged perennial jobber Dana Brooke for the 24/7 title that is portrayed as being beneath any wrestler with integrity, only to come up short when Asuka interfered. Last Monday, Becky had a chance to qualify for the Money in the Bank match and lost clean as a whistle to Asuka, leading to a temper tantrum and crying at ringside.
Before, Becky wanted fans to feel bad and empathize with her, but now she wants viewers to be gleeful at watching her downfall. It’s working because watching Becky spiral beyond rock bottom is good TV. There are a lot of takes over what makes an effective heel in today’s wrestling, but the simplest answer may be the ability to make viewers happy when you lose, even if it’s not necessarily borne out of complete hatred for the person or character. When Becky comes out now with her increasingly outlandish Bladerunner outfits and her delusions of grandeur, it’s easy to want to see her get knocked down a few pegs. And due to Becky’s relentless commitment to everything she does, her wild post-match tantrums are hilarious and memorable.
Like the best wrestling storylines, this is working for me on both levels of viewing: Becky’s in-universe character is fascinating right now, because she’s clearly reaching a breaking point and it’s hard to guess what she’ll do next. And watching analytically as a performance, it’s fun to see her walk this tightrope of portraying that desperation while still being a heel, but at the same time possibly planting those seeds she did back in 2017 for a babyface turn by showing signs of the humanity that used to define her character. If the plan is for Becky to become a babyface again (which seems likely), winning back the crowd and redeeming the character after some of her actions in the last year would be the toughest challenge for Becky yet.
There is also the inherent difficulty from a booking standpoint of maintaining Lynch’s star power while also portraying her as someone who is losing a lot. While typical wrestling theory is to book your top stars strong because people like and respect winners, Lynch has already defied that concept once in her career, as she was mostly a loser/afterthought for years and still got the entire crowd to erupt for her at Summerslam 2018 directly after losing a match. Asking her to do that again may be like hoping lightning strikes twice, but at this point I’ve learned not to doubt Becky. This is a generational wrestling talent at the peak of her ability, and it’s better to simply go along wherever this ride is taking us.