WWE: Strategically Rogue by Marc Madison

You might think that the volume of Marvel movies coming out, and the past success of the X-Men series, inspired the title for this piece, but it is in fact simply a coincidence. Over the past few months, one of the hottest feuds leading to Wrestlemania has been the one between Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch. No matter who else is booked for the card or talked about, this is the one that has the most buzz around it. This is in large part due to the rise of Becky Lynch, and also the transition of sorts that has been made by Ronda Rousey. Looking at this feud, it has taken a number of twists and turns. While respect could be one way to describe their feud, it is easier to see some layer of reality to it, making it all the more compelling to watch…by going rogue?

Their animosity towards one another began, as many may know, in the lead up to Survivor Series when it was to be one of the many champion versus champion matchups at the event. During that lead-up, Lynch led a Smackdown Live invasion of Raw. During this invasion, Lynch left a beaten Rousey in the dressing room, but unfortunately caught a straight right to the nose from Nia Jax and wasn’t cleared to compete at Survivor Series. It was as though all the work put into making the match happen would be for naught, even if the banter between the two suggested that wouldn’t be the case. Charlotte Flair would replace Lynch, and the result was the seven-time Women’s Champion caning Rousey until she was disqualified.

Becky Lynch leads a SmackDown Women's invasion: Raw, Nov. 12, 2018

The sting coming out of that altercation, and the potential of a match-up between Lynch and Rousey seemed to sit idle while other challengers came and went. Lynch had a triple threat championship defense involving Charlotte Flair and Asuka at the TLC pay per view event, and lost the title to the Empress of Tomorrow, due to interference by Rousey. When that happened, the wheels began to spin as to what the next steps would ultimately be. Early on, the decision was for a number one contender’s match to take place, with the winner of Becky Lynch and Charlotte to face Asuka at the Royal Rumble. Becky won the match, and as many know she faced Asuka for the Smackdown Live women’s championship. The result was unfavorable for Lynch as she lost by submission.

The problem with Becky being booked to face Asuka was that she wouldn’t be part of the all-women Royal Rumble match. However,  as the evening progressed, an opportunity did present itself as Lynch came out to replace an injured Lana. In the process, she was put into the match. Despite suffering a knee injury, Lynch came out victorious, eliminating Flair last and earning a main event opportunity at Wrestlemania. The next night on Monday Night Raw, Becky Lynch made clear who she wanted to face at Wrestlemania, that being Rousey.

Though Lynch was wounded, she wasn’t going to allow her injury to be the reason she didn’t compete. However, Stephanie McMahon and Triple H wanted her to have a medical examination of her knee. She refused and then attacked McMahon, and a few days later on Smackdown Live slapped Triple H. Next, after having had the examination, she had to apologize for striking both Stephanie and Triple H. Lynch had become a lightning rod that was collecting all the attention. When Charlotte was announced to be “replacing” her in the Raw title match, it was impossible to ignore the public outcry at her not being in the match. She showed up on Raw, at a pay per view, and on Smackdown Live, each time mercilessly beating down Ronda or Charlotte. It was clear that ‘The Man‘ was not going to take being removed from the match sitting down.

Ronda Rousey wants Becky Lynch at WrestleMania: Raw, Feb. 25, 2019

Meanwhile, what has quietly taken place is a slow change in direction for the Raw Women’s champion. For months Rousey was referred to as ‘Rowdy,’ but it wasn’t until she fought to get Becky Lynch reinstated did that true rowdy nature come out. She has needed a sense of motivation to prove that she is the ‘Baddest Woman on the Planet,’ and to prove that is more than a catchphrase. She had to come across as fierce, intimidating and genuine. Over the course of the week that followed Rousey’s laying down the Raw Women’s Title at the feet of Stephanie McMahon, the slow build to a change started accelerating.

Fans weren’t connecting to Rousey like they initially were. It had nothing to do with her ability in the ring; she always had a skill set that made her among the most feared fighters in the world. The issue was that it felt as though something didn’t seem quite right. She was the ‘Baddest Woman on the Planet,’ but her appreciation for wrestling and respect for what came before her took away from that moniker. Her constant smiling on the way to the ring, while nice, was often a reminder that WWE has a tendency to try and use females’ sex appeal, and it didn’t quite fit her nickname.

During a series of Twitter and Instagram exchanges between Rousey and Lynch, the two women set the internet wrestling community ablaze. It began as Lynch telling Rousey to pick up the title and Rousey telling her ‘That’s what I was trying to do, dumbass,‘ and escalated to Rousey denigrating Lynch‘s finishing move, followed by ‘The Man‘ insulting Rousey’s spouse, resulting in the champion breaking the fourth wall and referring to Lynch by her real name. It seemed as though the gloves had come off, and all bets were off. The reaction by fans publicly was mixed. Fans recognized this wasn’t typical, and that using Becky’s real name and non-PG words like ‘dick’ in their Twitter exchange suggested that they were going in a different direction. Not only did it throw off a number of wrestling fans, but some also reacted with anger and outrage! How could Ronda Rousey call wrestling ‘fake!?!’ Why would we possibly care about wrestling if the response to everything Becky Lynch has said and done is ‘Your sport isn’t real if what you do is fake and what I do is real’? However, other fans have embraced this direction and the authenticity incorporated into the rivalry.

Did Ronda Rousey go rogue? As football fans would say, did she call an audible? It’s likely somewhere in the middle between yes and no, as there was no doubt some support and guidance. Without trying to do too much to dispel fact from fiction, it is likely Rousey had the freedom to bring in some originality to what she was going to say publicly, but as many know when you are a WWE performer you are that character all the time. The line between fact and fantasy is blurred. For as much criticism as WWE receives for a lack of originality and how out of touch they are with the current wrestling climate, they created a scenario that crossed boundaries and built a feud that captured the attention of the audience in a way not seen before. It should also be noted that a recent report revealed that FOX has requested an edgier product from WWE when Smackdown Live moves to that network this October. If that is indeed the case, this certainly shows an early attempt to move in that direction.

Whether fans have liked or disliked the direction of this feud, we can’t help, but continue to watch as Rousey continues to lash out publicly about what is and isn’t real. Where this feud faces a challenge is taking Rousey’s comments on social media are seen by one group of fans and transferring their impact to fans that typically aren’t on social media. Fans in attendance at WWE events include a lot of families, and the demographic of children 5 to 14 is still clearly evident on-screen when watching WWE programming. These young fans don’t generally visit the personal pages of these athletes, and thus don’t see some of the exchanges that are taking place. When those young fans get exposed to these aspects of the feud that element of reality helps convince them that there is more to this than simply entertainment. That hint at reality makes the younger fan think that the animosity that is felt between these characters on-screen runs deeper than they had originally known.

At Fastlane, the stipulation for the Lynch and Flair matchup was that if Lynch lost she wouldn’t be included in the Wrestlemania Raw Women’s Championship Match. A wounded and nearly broken Lynch fought gallantly but appeared destined for defeat as Flair locked in her finishing hold. However, that was when Rousey ran down to the ring and punched a prone Lynch, leaving Flair and referee Charles Robinson dumbfounded, while the champion rested on the ring ropes proud of what she had done. Was she going down there and striking Lynch part of the script? Certainly. However, if we call back to their Twitter exchanges we see that Rousey wanted Lynch in the ring, and the only sure way to do that was to get her into the main event at Wrestlemania. Though the result is, she had lost her champion’s advantage, it was better to lose it fighting for what she believed in than never fighting at all. If this is the end for Rousey and she goes out on her sword it was all worth it.

 

Mixing fact with fiction can be scary, but shaking the public’s perception of what is shared out there in a script is in fact not a bad thing. Rousey didn’t say anything than non-wrestling fans already believe. The non-believers will continue to not believe, so if this brings attention from mainstream media, then there’s nothing wrong with it. This feud is as much about breaking conventional booking and conventional female wrestling boundaries as it is about creating matches.

Follow me on Twitter @TheMarcMadison or @ProWrestlingPST

Follow me on Instagram @prowrestlingpost

Feel Free to like my Facebook page Pro Wrestling Post

Check out my site ProWrestlingPost.com including interviews with current rising Ring of Honor star Flip Gordon, Lucha Underground’s Ivelisse and Madman Fulton (former WWE NXT superstar Sawyer Fulton), Pepper Parks, Chris Sabin, CZW’s DJ Hyde, and podcast ProWrestlingPost Podcast.