Friday Night SmackDown women’s champion Becky Lynch was sorely missed by her avid fanbase during her year and a half absence from the ring. When Lynch returned to action at SummerSlam on August 21, crashing Carmella’s match against Bianca Belair for the women’s title, what followed was no less than baffling. Lynch claimed the title for the fourth time after besting Belair in a mere 26 seconds, and for the ensuing month has been trying to make her new heel character-as inconsistent as it is-work in a feud with Belair. Crowds still vehemently love both performers, and both the fans’ ardor and both performers’ considerable talents were well rewarded by their match for the SmackDown women’s title at Extreme Rules on September 26.
Lynch has been hesitant to face Belair in the ring, but finally met her fate. As the match got underway, Lynch and Belair were both distracted by vociferous chants of “EST” in Belair’s honor. They were alternated by chants of “Let’s go, Becky” as the two popular performers pitted their very different skill sets against each other: Belair’s prodigious strength and agile athleticism, vs. Lynch’s scrappy determination as she survives her opponent’s best and worst, and does whatever she has to do to get them into her submission finisher.
The tenor of the match changed when Lynch targeted Belair’s signature, exaggeratedly long braid, and from there began to cruelly dominate her, hitting a snapmare and sliding knee strike on Belair to continue to wear her down, once again painfully pulling her hair and covering for the win. Belair kicked out; Lynch kicked Belair and worked her against the ropes, demanding that the crowd “cheer for the champ”.
Belair rallied, lifting Lynch overhead, but Lynch landed on her feet and attempted the “dis-arm-her”; Belair evaded, and sought to climb the post, but Lynch caught her and accomplished a suplex.
In the weeks since SummerSlam, Lynch has confronted but avoided a proper match with Bianca Belair. In the same way, she’s flirted with but avoided being a true heel until now. WWE’s previous attempt to turn her heel unexpectedly catapulted her into a space of popularity that perhaps no female pro wrestling performer has inhabited since Chyna, a space where persona, and how fans perceive and receive that persona, trumps gender conventions. Just as Chyna’s theme once intoned, “Don’t treat me like a woman/don’t treat me like a man/…treat me for exactly who I am,” appealing for a gender-irrespective appraisal of her talents, Lynch’s proclamation “I’m the Man” created a nonbinary bar of excellence that parlayed her financial and cultural impact into uncharted territory for WWE’s women. She didn’t become the villain she was written to be, but a beloved antihero.
This time out, Lynch is a heel, and loving it. As Lynch leaned into a newfound sadistic streak, Belair looked visibly exhausted and distraught, a textbook imperiled babyface. She managed to find her momentum once again, leading Lynch a merry chase as she evaded her attempts to close in. As this pursuit winded Lynch, Belair managed to lift the champion into a standing vertical suplex, or, as Pat McAfee has named it, “the Davey Boy Delight” in honor of Davey Boy Smith. Lynch recovered from hitting mat on the end of Belair’s suplex, and gave chase to Belair once again that led the two to the ropes. Belair managed to isolate Lynch against the post and deliver several blows to her from the second rope.
Twice Lynch attempted to get the better of Belair with flying leg drops, which certainly took their tool but didn’t prove to be the ‘moves of doom’ she hoped for. She also attempted to lock in the “dis-arm-her” various times, but Belair fought out desperately several times, as the two traded attempts to cover each other any which way they could. On Lynch’s last shot at the “dis-arm-her”, Belair lifted her over her shoulder and was seeking to plant Lynch to the canvas when Sasha Banks interrupted, attacking and rendering the match a disqualification. The coming weeks on SmackDown will sort out the motives and alliance, such as they are between the three women. The inconclusive end doesn’t cheapen at all a match where Lynch and Belair both grew into their roles opposite each other, and gave the crowd that loves them both so much the match they were denied upon their first meeting at SummerSlam.