Over the past four years, WWE’s women’s division has undeniably come lightyears from the dark ages it once knew. Gone are the days of bra and panties matches and thirty second “Divas” matches. No more was the championship belt shaped like a giant pink butterfly. In their place, we finally had competent, exciting action on par with almost anything the male superstars could roll out. Since that time, the women of the WWE have achieved countless firsts: first women’s money in the bank ladder match; first Women’s Royal Rumble match; first all-women’s PPV (Evolution); first women’s Hell in a Cell match; first women’s match to close out a PPV, and countless other accolades. As a result of this progress, the inevitable next and most impressive step occurred this past Wrestlemnia when a women’s match filled the main event spot for the first time in WWE’s illustrious history. Unfortunately, despite largely solid in-ring action, shoddy booking by the creative team has continually held the division back. Allow me to explain.
Back in January ahead of the Royal Rumble, a shot at either women’s championship (Raw or Smackdown) was up for grabs in the second ever Women’s Royal Rumble match. Becky Lynch, despite being white-hot in the months leading up to the event, was not slotted as one of the match’s thirty entrants due to her already having a championship rematch scheduled earlier in the night against the current champion, Asuka, who had defeated Lynch at the previous PPV thanks to an assist from Ronda Rousey. Although Lynch would lose that rematch, she would return later in the night to force her way into the Rumble match in place of an injured Lana and would go on to a title shot at Wrestlemania against a champion of her choosing.
On the surface this is all fine. At the time, more so than recent months, Lynch worked as a bit of an anti-hero, saying and doing whatever she pleased and not really caring if she had to bend rules at times to get her way. The problem came with the direction of her booking from that moment forward.
Realizing Becky’s soaring popularity among the WWE Universe, officials decided to lean into the comparisons between herself and Attitude Era megastar, Stone Cold Steve Austin. The best way to achieve this? By highlighting Lynch as a fearless, anti-authority figure who would stop at nothing to reach the top. This decision quickly pitted the Irish Lass Kicker against onscreen authority figures Triple H, Stephanie, and even Vince McMahon himself. A manufactured knee injury suffered during the Rumble match would be used as an excuse to suspend Lynch when in storyline she refused to let the WWE’s medical team conduct an examination on her. The result was a pair of physical altercations with Stephanie and Triple H, eventually leading to Lynch’s indefinite suspension. The problem with this booking is that it shifts focus away from Lynch’s forthcoming match with Rousey and instead makes it about the McMahon family -a common problem with WWE’s product over the years.
This angle would become the crux of Lynch’s two-month build toward the main event of Wrestlemania 35, with her being suspended, unsuspended, and re-suspended, continually “invading” Raw and Smackdown from the crowd in order to beat Rousey or Charlotte (Vince’s replacement of choice for Becky’s title shot due to her final suspension in the storyline) with crutches and occasionally suffer a beatdown of her own with the knee being repeatedly targeted. There is of course a lot more to this thread but all you need to know is that a convoluted mess eventually resulted in a triple threat match between Lynch, Rousey, and Charlotte Flair for Rousey’s Raw Women’s championship. Until the stakes raised suddenly.
Two weeks prior to ‘Mania, a shocking development occurred on Smackdown Live. Despite the tremendous momentum behind the three aforementioned women in the Raw women’s title scene, the Smackdown women’s division was struggling to find screen time in order for its champion Asuka to find a credible opponent. Plans had been drawn up for a battle royal to decide her challenger at Wrestlemania but were abruptly cast aside for the sake of time -this despite Wrestlemania 35 being more than 7 hours long.
In place the battle royal to determine Asuka’s challenger, the Empress of Tomorrow was thrown into a title match on the second-to-last Smackdown before Wrestlemania against Charlotte; a match Flair would win. With the victory, Flair not only cemented her record-tying 8th women’s championship reign (Trish Stratus), she also effectively turned the main event of Wrestlemania into a Winner Take All battle.
The problem with this development is that it wasn’t necessary. The Raw Women’s championship match had already earned the final slot on the ‘Mania card, and the hype, despite WWE’s poor booking, was reaching a fever-pitch. But, perhaps feeling the need to justify the match’s spot on the card, officials decided to unify the women’s championships, crowning an undisputed champion by the end of Wrestlemania.
At Wrestlemania, Becky Lynch would overcome Charlotte Flair and steal a controversial pinfall against the previously unbeaten Ronda Rousey to make herself the Raw and Smackdown Women’s champion, thus creating “Becky Two Belts.” While Becky Lynch was the right choice moving forward, the interesting choice was made was made to keep both championships separate rather than creating one single championship belt. This meant that in addition to “floating” between Raw and Smackdown Live each week, Lynch also had to build feuds and storylines with two opponents simultaneously before pulling double duty at PPVs to defend her two titles. For any superstar, this would be a daunting task but one management would only bestow upon its greatest talents. At least in theory.
This past Sunday at Money in the Bank, Becky Lynch entered into her first Pay Per View as Raw and Smackdown’s Women’s champion with matches scheduled against Raw’s hot new prospect, Lacey Evans and Smackdown’s Charlotte Flair -the rival Becky could never quite distance herself from despite multiple victories over the past few months.
The build to these matches had been all about how Becky couldn’t possibly keep both of her titles, and how she was clearly out of her mind to even consider such a challenge possible. We’ve seen this line of storytelling from WWE before. You tell the fighting champion babyface they can’t do something and then they go out and do it. Only this time they didn’t.
After a somewhat botched (perhaps intentionally so for the sake of storytelling) ending to her match with Lacey Evans, Becky managed to retain her Raw Women’s championship with the Disarm Her submission. Before she could even reach the rampway, however, Charlotte Flair would hit the ring and goad the champion into immediately defending her Smackdown Women’s championship then and there. Like the first match, this was a somewhat condensed affair that was more about trying to tell a story than the actual action. Becky, clearly battle-worn from the previous match, mostly played defense until Evans would interfere on Charlotte’s behalf and ultimately cost Lynch her title.
In the post-match theatrics, Evans and Flair would continue their beatdown of Lynch until Bayley, the winner of the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match earlier in the evening hit the ring. With Charlotte knocked out, Bayley would cash in her championship opportunity and proceed to pin “The Queen” to capture her first Smackdown Women’s championship. It was a sudden and shocking reversal but one that raised many questions.
First, with the theme and storytelling about Lynch being built around her having this target on her back and being foolish in accepting both challenges at Money in the Bank, it’s bizarre to have her fall short in her quest to remain “Becky Two Belts.” This issue is further compounded by WWE’s pushing on the moniker, including rolling out merchandise on Shop.WWE.com. There’s also the fact that her behind the scenes WWE Network special, The Man was announced earlier in the night. The special, which chronicles Lynch’s rise to the main event of Wrestlemania and becoming the first woman to ever hold the Raw and Smackdown Women’s championships simultaneously, is scheduled to air this week -only now she no longer has both belts.
It would’ve made more sense for Lynch to have kept the two titles for at least a couple of months, having her pull double duty and use her star power to build up challengers in both sides of the women’s division. Instead, she fell in her first attempt, confirming she was in over her head, and dropped the belt back to Charlotte, a tired champion fans have long-since grown tired of watching in the championship scene. The win marked Charlotte’s record-breaking 9th championship reign, but even that was spoiled by the fact that she dropped the title mere minutes after winning it.
What this all boils down to is that the women’s division, despite its impressive talent along its top-tier and developing middle-tier is being to some extent derailed by poor booking. With the momentum behind Lynch, a new star should’ve been created in her place on Smackdown before they transitioned her over to only appearing on Raw. This same outcome could’ve been effectively achieved by having her retain against Charlotte and then having Bayley, after saving her from the ensuing beatdown, quietly cash in behind her. Bell rings, a confused Becky turns, and Bayley hits her with the Bayley to Belly for the win. Becky looks strong in defeat, having achieved her improbable double-defense, Bayley still gets her championship ultimately despite acting in a morally gray manner, which frankly would only strengthen her character overall, and Charlotte can now chase a proper record-breaking reign against The Hugger over on Smackdown in peace with Lynch gone.
Subverting expectation doesn’t automatically mean something is good. Yes, most fans expected Becky to retain both titles but having her lose via under-handed means and then turning around and giving the championship to another babyface immediately doesn’t make that “smart” or effective storytelling. The writing team has routinely misused and under utilized its talent on both brands in the women’s division throughout 2019, burying Asuka and her planned Wrestlemania opponent, Mandy Rose, and then undercutting -at least partially- Becky Lynch as soon as she reached a mountaintop never before reached by a woman in the industry. Taking down Lynch should’ve been a monumental achievement in the career of an up-and-coming talent, or at the very least someone who had yet to stand upon that plateau. Instead, lazy booking brought us another blink and you’ll miss it Charlotte Flair reign. History be damned.