Leave it to WWE to get Becky Lynch’s return so right — and then so wrong at the same time.
After over a year away from WWE, “The Man” made her long-awaited return Saturday night during the SummerSlam pay-per-view at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
At first, it had the making of a “break-glass” moment after Sasha Banks was deemed unable to compete in her SmackDown women’s championship match against Belair.
The old booker’s rule is to deliver something equal to, or greater than, the wrestler or match that was lost on the card.
WWE certainly did that in bringing back Lynch.
The setup was great. WWE waited until only after Belair got into the ring to announce Banks’ absence, then said she would be facing Carmella instead. That left the Vegas faithful very, very unhappy for a few moments, but then Lynch’s music hit and the crowd – and every wrestling fan watching – lost its mind.
Lynch had been away from WWE since May of 2020 because she and husband Seth Rollins had a baby girl.
The 34-year-old Lynch took out Carmella, then talked her way into a match with Belair that lasted seconds. She shook the champion’s hand, pulled her in for a punch and delivered a Manhandle Slam to get the stunning 1-2-3 pin and the SmackDown women’s championship back around her waist. Lynch beating Belair wasn’t the problem – it was almost expected. But how it happened was wrong on so many levels. This felt like Brock Lesnar, who also returned Saturday, squashing Kofi Kingston on the debut episode of “Friday Night SmackDown.”
What WWE gave its fans Saturday turned a moment that was supposed to be filled with pure joy into something less than.
So, where did this all go array?
First, Belair and Banks had maybe the best match at WrestleMania 37, so fans were expecting something special again. Then, Lynch asked Belair to “blow the roof” off with her, further heightening fans’ expectations. But they didn’t meet them. So now, WWE has over-delivered and under-delivered at the same time. Fifty-fifty booking at its WWE best.
Fans want to see Lynch win, but only by using less-than-aboveboard-tactics against the biggest of heels. So while her being slick and catching Belair off-guard may fit her character, it should have never been used against a performer WWE has built as a pure babyface.
Sure, one can argue WWE is protecting Belair from taking a clean pin, so to preserve another match between the two that WWE has more time to advertise it. But if done right Saturday, Belair could have left a bigger star had she showed she was on Lynch’s level in an even, five-minute match. She then still could have played the “you-caught-me-off-guard” card for a rematch she now has anyway. This is just how you build and prop up your stars. Plus, Lynch didn’t need a squash win. Her credentials speak for themselves. If WWE needed time for their match at SummerSlam, it should have cut the Shinsuke Nakamura jam session or the pointless Xavier Woods vs. The Miz and John Morrison water fight.
WWE could have had Belair squash Carmella and then have Lynch’s music hit. Pure joy hits the crowd. The two of them could have just stared down or Lynch could have eventually shook her hand and then decked her. That would have been better and you then set up a real first-time match between Belair and Lynch.
WWE has poured a lot of time and effort into building Belair as a main-event player the women’s division needs. It was succeeding in a way they never allowed Rhea Ripley to do on Raw. Bayley and Banks helped, too, as Belair’s opponents over the past year. WWE had itself a brand new athletic, intelligent and charismatic women’s star. What does it have now? Belair spent months proving she was Bayley and Banks’ equal. Does she need to start over again with Lynch now?
WWE’s women’s division continues to be The Four Horsemen and everyone else. Charlotte Flair is again Raw women’s champion, potentially setting up a Raw vs. SmackDown match versus Lynch at Survivor Series. These two don’t need the belts or that stage for that match to mean something
Perhaps Banks returns to provide the heel in this SmackDown title triangle? Maybe WWE has backed itself into a corner and Belair needs to turn heel to provide a proper opponent for Lynch, who likely isn’t becoming the bad guy anytime soon. Will Belair fall back into the mid-card or tag team pitcher with Lynch having a long reign. None of these options sounds great compared to what Belair was before Saturday.
Maybe, just maybe. Belair’s boatloads of talent allows her to overcome WWE’s questionable booking. Her facial expressions throughout the whole ordeal were everything all of us watching at home were feeling: Disappointment when Carmella was announced, shock and excitement when Lynch arrived and stunned disbelief when she lost the title. Belair is talented enough to pull through this if given the chance.
It didn’t have to be this way. But only WWE can find a way to dampen one of its biggest star’s return, and potentially damage another one in the process.