WWE FANS INSIDE Barclays Center exploded from their seats at SummerSlam 2018. It was the epitome of real life striking the performance art of professional wrestling at just the right angle to create lightning in a bottle. Becky Lynch had turned on her longtime friend, Charlotte Flair, and in that moment -- one of shock and elation for wrestling fans -- "The Man" had finally arrived.
Lynch was the fans' choice who had been pushed aside one too many times. Even as WWE scrambled to figure out how best to harness her energy and momentum, Lynch was already well on her way to seizing the opportunity she long felt she deserved: a history-making match to close out the biggest wrestling show of the year.
WWE had stumbled into a generational star in this Irishwoman -- a former teenage prodigy whose immeasurable drive traces back to watching her childhood dreams slip away for seven years. Given the chance to reclaim them, Lynch fought with every fiber of her being and ultimately clawed her way to the top of the WWE.
"This girl that was failing P.E. at 15 years old has somehow become the best sports entertainer in the world," Lynch said. "So much so that they couldn't deny her the main event of WrestleMania."
LYNCH, BORN REBECCA Quin on Jan. 30, 1987, in Limerick, Ireland, and raised in Dublin, was a rambunctious child whose early memories include wrestling-inspired scraps with her brother. She can trace her love of wrestling to the WWE's meteoric rise in popularity during the "attitude era" and the underdog narrative of Mick Foley -- one that bears more than a passing resemblance to her own WWE journey.
At a time when everything else seemed to be going sideways, wrestling became a consistent joy in her life.
"I was completely out of shape. I had no drive. I was drinking. I was smoking things you shouldn't be smoking," Lynch recalled. "And I [thought], 'This is ridiculous. I'm 15 years old -- I need to get it together.'"
She and her older brother, Richy, who was also a lifelong fan with a deep connection to wrestling, talked about making pro wrestling more than just a passion and a hobby. When Richy considered attending a wrestling school based out of England, Becky was only 15 at the time.
Almost serendipitously, word spread that a couple of Irish wrestlers, who were students of that English wrestling school, were opening their own camp far closer to home. Becky knew she had to see it.
On an otherwise unremarkable day in 2002, two of the most popular stars in the WWE today met for the first time with little idea of everything that was to come.
"I show up to this little gymnasium in a school hall," Lynch recalled. "There's six blue padded mats on the ground. Finn [Balor], at the time, was skinny as a rake, big smiley head on him. 'How are you, lads?' And I walked in.
"That was my introduction to wrestling."
Lynch had expected to walk into a giant warehouse with WWE-ready stars battling for a chance at the big time, a la "Tough Enough," the reality show that debuted in 2001 and offered WWE hopefuls a chance to compete for a contract to become a wrestler. Instead, the small gym wouldn't even have a ring for the first three months. Regardless, Lynch was hooked.
"She wanted it so bad that she actually lied to join the school, because she was underage," Balor recalled. "I think she was 15 and she might have lied about her age and told us she was 16, because you had to be 16 to train at the time."
There was also the small matter of walking in off the street without a shred of physical fitness or a clue of how big a task lay ahead.
"I was terrible. It was so foreign to me," Lynch said. "I wasn't an athlete, and I was a chilled-out kid, you know? I was tough, I had never done anything like this but I just wanted to work. I remember at one stage crying to [Finn] and being like, 'I just want to be as good as any of the guys.' And he was like, 'Well, that's what I'm trying to make you do.'"
"We had something special in Becky -- even if she wasn't as aware of it as everyone else. She was the only girl out of about 40 guys, [and] she outworked every single one of them, every single day at training," Balor said. "I think Becky gives me too much credit. I think she says that I trained her, but really, Becky, in my opinion, trained herself. She just needed a little guidance and a little motivation with regards to where to go and what to do."
Lynch made her pro wrestling debut on Nov. 11, 2002, and in February 2004, at age 17, had her first one-on-one match. She spent as much time as she could working toward her wrestling goals while juggling her schoolwork and other responsibilities. She had limited wrestling opportunities and in an attempt to build her profile, she rebranded herself as Rebecca Knox as she expanded her reach to England and France.
"I was just like, 'Give me as much wrestling as I can, because I love this and I just want to get as good as possible,'" Lynch said. "There's nothing in my life that I've ever felt like that about."
The dream was to find a way to get to the WWE, but there wasn't a clear path in that era. At the same time, wrestling outside of WWE was starting to grow in North America with a handful of all-women's promotions starting to pop up. It was worlds ahead of where European wrestling was at the time and so, at 18 years old with $2,000 in the bank and no real plan for what she'd do once she arrived, Lynch applied for a visa and then moved her entire life to western Canada -- searching for that big break.
BY MID-2005, LYNCH had started to make some serious waves within the industry. While wrestling in Vancouver and the United States, she was offered her first tour of Japan, an opportunity that included a solid payday and matches against a variety of up-and-coming stars, including a young Canadian named Natalya Neidhart.
Around that same time, an upstart women's wrestling company in Berwyn, Illinois, called SHIMMER Women Athletes started to gain momentum. Co-founder and promoter Dave Prazak was building up a roster of some of the most talented women in independent wrestling, which then included WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix and the current assistant head coach of the WWE Performance Center, Sara Amato (then Sara Del Rey), among other stars of the era.
Then Prazak heard the buzz surrounding Rebecca Knox.
"Lexie Fyfe, who has played a key role in the development of women's wrestling in the United States over the past 15 years, passed along a DVD of a few Rebecca Knox matches to me during late 2005," Prazak recalled. "One of the matches on the disc was a training match, in front of no audience, against Fergal Devitt [Finn Balor]. Even though Becky was still very new to wrestling at the time, I was immediately impressed with her skill level and wanted to make her a part of our events."
The two shows Lynch wrestled on for SHIMMER in May 2006 featured her in a pair of intense matches more than 25 minutes long. They were eye-openers for anyone paying attention, as they showcased Lynch's true potential.
They were also Lynch's last matches in the United States for 7½ years.
Lynch's visa expired shortly afterward and she returned to Europe. The wrestling paychecks were smaller and Lynch started to look for other career possibilities, which eventually saw her pursue competitive bodybuilding, as she told Brid Heffernan in a 2013 interview. The dramatic weight loss Lynch needed to get down to her leanest point altered her mood and her overall wellness, and she would ultimately identify those physical and mental changes as one of the primary factors that derailed her wrestling career.
IN SEPTEMBER 2006, Lynch was in Germany wrestling a Finnish woman named Kisu when a slip-up in the ring changed the course of her life.
"I just grabbed her and I German suplexed her but, I think it was out of a rush, I just landed her right on my head," Lynch told Maria Menounos in July 2018. "Busted my head open and gave myself a nice little concussion."
Lynch got stitched up and felt good enough for a short match the next day in England, facing Sweet Saraya Knight, Paige's mother, but in the days and weeks that followed, more serious complications emerged.
Lynch canceled all of her wrestling bookings, and for the first time since she was 15 she began to doubt her future in the ring. In a post on her website in October 2006, Lynch made her first public comments on the matter. She claimed headaches, buzzing in her ear, vision problems and a potential diagnosis of damage to her eighth cranial nerve. At that point, she didn't know if she'd be out of wrestling for months, years, or ever wrestle again, but it was the start of a downward spiral that began to carry her further and further away from her dream.
AS LYNCH SEARCHED for her next move, she returned to Dublin and found support from family. Lynch's mother, then a flight attendant for Aer Lingus, asked Becky if she would be interested in the same line of work. With limited options at the time, at least in her own mind, Lynch agreed. Becky spent the next 2½ years as a flight attendant.
Although she occasionally made plans to return to the world of wrestling, nothing seemed to line up right.
"I think that was some of the toughest years of my life," Lynch said. "It was humbling. I certainly went through spats of depression. I had known what it was to have a drive and have an ambition and a purpose, and an identity. I was, at the time, Rebecca Knox the wrestler. And then all of a sudden, well, now who am I?
"I went searching, and [it] turns out that the grass wasn't greener, that there was always that part of me. I would write in my journal, 'I'm not doing what I'm meant to do. I feel like I'm supposed to be in the WWE, but I don't know how to get there. I feel like I've burned bridges, and I feel like this time's passing and I just ... I need to get over it.'"
In between flights, Lynch chased anything she thought might alleviate the giant hole that wrestling had left in her life. She got involved in martial arts and gymnastics, and even got a diving license. Lynch eventually tired of work as a flight attendant and elected to go back to school. She pursued an acting degree at the Dublin Institute of Technology to try to tap into some of the same skills she utilized as a wrestler.
Lynch eventually took advantage of DIT's relationship with Columbia College in Chicago, which facilitated her return to the United States. Despite feeling as far away from wrestling as she'd been in her adult life, living in Chicago placed her directly onto her former SHIMMER stomping grounds.
Prazak offered her the chance to manage Paige and her mother Saraya on a few SHIMMER shows in 2011, and after thinking it through, Lynch accepted. A few awkward moments aside, it allowed Lynch an opportunity to dip her toe back into the world of wrestling.
"It was just like, 'Oh, OK -- maybe I can be welcomed back in here.'"
IN THE SUMMER of 2012, Lynch met up with Balor, who had since become a superstar in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Lynch, despite being out of wrestling for six years at this point, was still only 25 years old.
"[Finn and I] sat down," Lynch recalled. "We had lunch on Wicklow Street, off Grafton Street in Dublin, and I said to him, 'I feel like I should go back to wrestling, but I don't know -- I'm doing this acting thing.' And he was like, 'Well, go back now, because I'm not sitting here with you in 10 years and you're going to be wishing that you had."
Weighing two potential futures in her head, Lynch got one final push that sent her back into wrestling. Lynch submitted her résumé to "Vikings" -- which was filming in Ireland in 2012 -- hoping to pick up her first big acting job. With one look at her work and life experience, they said they had a role they thought she'd be perfect for -- stuntwoman.
With no previous experience in stunts, Lynch decided she should practice throwing people around and taking some hard landings to prepare. Conveniently enough, the stunt job was located in Wicklow, in close proximity to where her wrestling training had begun a decade prior.
The moment she stepped into the ring, the final barrier between Lynch and a return to wrestling had fallen.
"The guy who was teaching the class, Joe Cabray, had just gotten signed to NXT," she said. "He was like, 'Dude, you still have it. Would you think about going for a tryout? ... You know, I think you'd get it.'"
That validation was the last piece of the puzzle. Lynch was ultimately credited for stunt work on one episode of "Vikings," but that was it. She reached out to WWE trainer Robbie Brookside and, before she knew it, she had a tryout scheduled in Florida.
Lynch was done denying she was a wrestler.
"I KNEW THERE was no way I wasn't getting it," Lynch said of her thoughts heading into her WWE tryout. "I knew everything that happened, everything that had led me to that moment, all the jobs that I had done in between -- the degree in acting, the stunt work, just everything -- was going to bring me back to this. It was too meant to be.
"It didn't matter if you had the world's most elite athletes and freaking Victoria Secret models, or whatever they were looking for at the time -- I was getting in."
Putting aside all of the other obstacles in her way, Lynch left it all on the mat in the tryout, convinced she'd done enough to make it.
In April 2013, Lynch signed her WWE contract and reported to Florida to begin her training in NXT. As the adrenaline that came with her sudden charge from seven years out of wrestling to a job in WWE wore off, the reality of the task at hand brought Lynch back down to earth.
Wrestling did not come back as naturally as she'd hoped, and the effort to regain her previous form became a daunting task. Gone was the effortless confidence from early in her career; instead, she got lost in trying to conform to what she thought WWE wanted.
"When I first came over to WWE, I mean, just so full of hopes and dreams, but I also had to build myself up again from scratch, right?" Lynch said. "I didn't want to come in acting like I was full of bravado, because I hadn't wrestled in seven years. I really downplayed myself, to a fault. I acted like I didn't know anything -- it was a complete mind game. I had messed with my own head so much that I could barely do a lockup anymore. ... It was just me versus me, really."
By late 2013 Lynch had shaped up enough to start having matches again on the NXT live touring circuit in Florida, in front of small crowds. Before she ever made her NXT TV debut in May 2014, however, Lynch felt like her job was on the line. "I know I was on the chopping block a lot, and I know that if it wasn't for Dusty Rhodes really believing in me, and encouraging me and my wild promos that I would do on Wednesdays, then I don't know that I'd still be here," Lynch admitted.
Even though things weren't going well in those days, having an advocate like wrestling legend Rhodes was enough to carry her through for the time being. Although her character started out as a jarringly one-dimensional, Irish-dancing, bright-green-wearing caricature, change was on its way. Lynch ultimately found her stride in teaming with and opposing a trio of other hopefuls training to become WWE stars -- Sasha Banks, Bayley and Charlotte Flair.
The "Four Horsewomen," as they'd come to call themselves, would ultimately become the backbone of the landscape-shifting women's movement in WWE. In this era, they proved themselves often enough on a growing platform away from the brightest lights of WWE that Paul "Triple H" Levesque -- the WWE Hall of Famer who became the guiding creative force behind NXT -- soon realized the potential he had on his hands with women's wrestling.
Their Fatal 4-Way match at NXT TakeOver: Rival in February 2015 was an eye-opening moment that elevated Lynch to the same tier as her Four Horsewomen compatriots. Lynch's one-on-one NXT women's title shot against Banks that followed in May at TakeOver: Unstoppable was the first moment she got the chance to stand on her own as she continued her upward trajectory.
It was the first time Lynch wore steampunk-inspired gear, and had bright orange hair -- imagery that would become synonymous with her character -- but she was still working her way up. At that moment, Banks, Bayley and Flair all had well-defined characters and established relationships with the crowd, while Lynch was more like an underground rock band -- showing flashes of limitless potential, but still building up her following through the grassroots.
With Banks and Flair set to make a move to Raw and SmackDown that summer, Levesque was looking forward to what he had with Lynch and Bayley as his anchors for a new era in NXT. After a long stretch with Flair and Banks as the focal points of their women's division, Lynch would finally get a chance to grow as a featured star before making her move to the "big time" of the main roster.
Then Lynch got the news that she, too, would be making her debut on "Monday Night Raw."
"She got called up in a period where I was thinking she was going to stay for a minute, and I was going to really have the hands-on time to make her something more," Levesque said. "That's one of the ones where I go, 'Oh man.' She got called up as well, and I never got the chance to do those developmental things with her that I wanted to. Then you see her on the main roster, and it gets started one way, and then it goes in a different direction."
Being dropped into one of the most chaotic transition periods in women's wrestling was as daunting a task as Lynch could've been faced with. With fans clamoring for WWE to #GiveDivasAChance, Lynch was paired with Flair and her old friend Paige as Team PCB. Lynch was the clear third wheel during the early portion of her main roster tenure -- a trend that, despite her growing connection with the WWE audience, would repeat itself several times over the next few years.
The first spike in Lynch's WWE career that made people stand up and notice was, appropriately enough, her rivalry with Flair in late 2015 into early 2016. That rolled right into Lynch's first WrestleMania match, in Dallas, in a triple-threat match for the newly reinvented WWE women's championship. Lynch didn't get the win on that night either, once again ceding the spotlight to Flair.
There were successes along the way, like the night Lynch became the first SmackDown women's champion. That title reign didn't last, though, and from there it was a long, slow slide down the pecking order.
THERE WERE MORE downs than ups over the year and a half that followed, and as fans became more vocal with their frustration over Lynch's positioning and lack of opportunities, she began to tap into that energy.
Crowd reactions got louder with every near-miss, like when Lynch narrowly missed out on winning the Money in the Bank briefcase in June 2018. Lynch stoked the flames by putting in extra work and showcasing her creativity through social media posts.
In the lead-up to SummerSlam 2018, it seemed as though Lynch had finally harnessed enough of the groundswell of fan support for WWE to recognize the momentum and once again make her the SmackDown women's champion. Fans inside Barclays Center were on the edge of their seats as Lynch nearly defeated Flair and Carmella on several occasions. Finally, with Carmella locked in Lynch's finishing submission, the Dis-Arm-Her, and victory nearly achieved, Flair charged back into the ring, slammed Lynch's head to the mat and once again swooped in to claim a moment most WWE fans believed Lynch had earned.
In the immediate aftermath, it felt like the air was let out of a balloon. Now a seven-time WWE women's champion, Flair stood in the center of the ring after the match and stared at her friend Lynch for a long moment. The crowd began to boo, and as faint "Becky" chants began to break out, they embraced in a hug in the middle of the ring. The boos grew louder, and in a shrewd, knowing moment, Lynch and Flair hugged a second time to further rile up the crowd.
After they separated, Lynch paused for just a moment, and then wound up and unleashed a mighty slap across Flair's face. The sound echoing through the arena might as well have been a lightning strike, because the uproarious celebration that followed was a fitting thunderclap. Lynch unleashed more than five years of frustrations in that moment, and the fans were eating it up by the spoonful.
Never mind the fact that Lynch was positioned as the villain in this scenario, in a wild miscalculation by WWE. Even as the commentary team tried to vilify Lynch for the viewing audience at home, Lynch tossed Flair all over the ring and, eventually, over that very same commentary table. She soaked in every ounce of that moment, and as fans continued to chant her name, it was clear that it would be a moment that would come to define Lynch's career -- and there was no turning back.
As WWE reshuffled its plans, Lynch won the SmackDown women's title back from Flair in September 2018. Then, in October, Flair and Lynch took center stage leading into the WWE's first ever all-women's pay-per-view event, "Evolution."
The tides had turned by that point, and WWE fully bought into Lynch and "The Man" as a character. Given almost 30 minutes to prove what she and Flair were capable of in a Last Woman Standing match, Lynch was as locked in as she'd ever been as a wrestler -- and it showed.
"I think Evolution, the Last Woman Standing match -- probably my favorite match of my career -- it's probably the most fun I've ever had in the ring," Lynch said. "I've never been more present, more aware and in every second of it."
Even moments when Lynch's ascent could have crumbled into dust became iconic. An intensely built Survivor Series match against Ronda Rousey was scuttled by a stray punch from Nia Jax on "Monday Night Raw" (which concussed Lynch), but that night gave us a singular image of Lynch at her very best -- her face covered in blood, towering over Rousey in victory.
Irish war paint. pic.twitter.com/AmW4ufsbUW
- The Man (@BeckyLynchWWE) November 13, 2018
It also made fans hungrier for Lynch and Rousey to meet in a WrestleMania main event. Despite being on different shows, they fanned the flames via social media as Lynch flexed her creative muscles in a different way.
She stumbled through TLC, when Rousey reappeared to cost both Lynch and Flair the SmackDown women's championship, and then failed to regain the title in another stunning outing against Asuka to open up the "Royal Rumble" pay-per-view in January. Lynch returned later in the show and triumphantly brought the WWE audience to its feet in celebration once more by winning the women's Royal Rumble, guaranteeing her a title match at WrestleMania.
It was the moment when everything she had worked for as a teenager, and reclaimed since joining WWE, became real as she let the postmatch reaction wash over her.
"It is the biggest night of my life, and what this means going forward is not wasted on me for a single second," Lynch said in the immediate aftermath.
Some of the in-between has been a little harder to follow, and Flair was ultimately added to the mix to make the match a triple threat, but along every step of the way, Lynch's ability to tap into something deep within herself has allowed her to connect with fans around the world in a variety of meaningful ways.
Lynch is a vital part of why women are main-eventing WrestleMania this year, and she has come this far because the joy of wrestling has returned to her life over the past six years in the WWE -- permeating every aspect of what she does in the ring.
"She was able to create that aura and ride the wave, and then the company comes in and just gets behind that and goes with it," Levesque said. "And that's when it's the most magic. It's been awesome to watch her evolve as a performer, and a character, a human being. Then to see her, every now and then, come back through that curtain and to still see the same girl that looks at you laughing and goes, 'Is this life real?'"
Balor, who signed with WWE a year after Lynch and has enjoyed tremendous success in his own right, is in awe of how far they've come. But he insists neither takes the opportunity for granted.
"We're just two kids from Ireland along for the ride, and having a good time while we do it," Balor said. "Sometimes we'll cross in the corridor at Raw, or backstage at a pay per view, and we'll just [have] a little wink and a nod and kind of like a giggle as to how did we get here? Sometimes I think both of us feel like one of the security guards left the back door open and [we] snuck into the show."
Seventeen years after Becky Lynch first stepped through door of his wrestling school in Ireland, she has made all of her wildest dreams come true.
"It is the most incredible, humbling feeling in the entire world," Lynch said. "Because on one end, what happens after you achieve all your life goals? Have to come up with some new ones."
Lynch rolls the thought around in her mind.
"But in the meantime," she said, "I am about to main event WrestleMania."