It’s WrestleMania week, with the ‘Show of Shows’ set to take place tonight. Every day this week, Tom Beasley has taken a look at a different element of the build-up. With just hours to go until the big show gets started, it’s time to examine the first women’s main event in Mania history…
Tonight, WWE is doing something it has never done before. More than three decades after Vince McMahon first created the professional wrestling showcase of WrestleMania, its main event slot is set to feature a women’s match. SmackDown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair, RAW Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey and the beloved babyface Becky ‘The Man’ Lynch will go to battle in a contest that, as per Stephanie McMahon’s announcement this week, is now ‘winner takes all’ with two titles up for grabs. To say it’s a big match would be a massive understatement. But might there be a little bit too much going on?
This story has been brewing for months, ever since Lynch turned heel at SummerSlam back in August. The crowd quickly chose to back her over Charlotte Flair, who has always been more natural as a heel. WWE chose to lean into the fan backlash and fashioned Lynch into a rebel figure in the style of Stone Cold Steve Austin, winning the SmackDown Women’s Championship and preparing for an interbrand war against Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series. The moment Rousey entered Lynch’s orbit, she too began to receive massively negative crowd reactions, which seemed to genuinely shake her.
Everything changed when Lynch was legitimately injured just before Survivor Series – creating one of the most memorable images of defiance in this whole storyline – and she hand-picked Flair to take over from her. After Asuka managed to nab the SmackDown Women’s Championship from under the noses of the warring Lynch and Flair, Lynch turned her attention to Rousey – who had cost her the title at TLC – and wasted no time in booking a clash with the former UFC star after she won the Royal Rumble. Vince McMahon got involved shortly after, shunting Lynch out of the match in the wake of a storyline knee injury and replacing her with Flair – now a clear heel.
Lynch earned her way back into the match by playing mind games with Rousey and generally raising hell, in such a way that Rousey got involved in a bout between Flair and Lynch at Fastlane, booking the Irish Lass Kicker a place in the WrestleMania match. Flair would then win the SmackDown Women’s Championship back from Asuka, adding yet more gold to the contest. In recent weeks, the three women have brawled, battled and scrapped, culminating in a genuinely brutal pull-apart scuffle on RAW that set the stage for chaos come Sunday.
The previous few paragraphs are by no means an exhaustive summary of what has transpired over the past year or so of storytelling that has paved the way for this match. This is a story that has had peaks and troughs. It has had moments that were clearly mapped out in advance, but it has also had moments that have felt like frantic improvisation. Nonetheless, the final point that has been reached is absolutely the right one. This triple threat match was always a smart bit of booking in terms of making the contest feel as big as possible, featuring the three biggest female stars in the company.
There’s an argument to be made, however, that WWE has thrown a little too much at this match. It has gone from a grudge singles match for a title to a triple threat contest featuring two belts and all three competitors have switched their face-heel alignment at least once since the story began. It’s as if the company didn’t have the confidence to let the women strut their stuff in the main event slot unless they over-booked the thing into oblivion.
It’s this over-booking that has led to the aforementioned peaks and troughs in the storytelling. The match was effectively set months ago, but rather than simply allow animosity to develop and grow organically, WWE has thrown in seemingly dozens of half-baked twists and details to over-complicate both the build-up and the match itself. At times, the build-up has been maddening, with every exciting moment undercut by something strange. Rousey and Lynch in particular have been doing great work on social media to build the feud, with Ronda’s YouTube in particular a true, fan-baiting joy to experience. It didn’t need all of the booking chaos.
The go-home angle for this match, however, was terrific. The brawl hit hard and the hatred between the three women spilled over in delightful fashion. As an in-ring spectacle, the WrestleMania main event will likely be excellent, and there’s a great deal of goodwill behind the notion of the women getting the chance to close the show for the first time ever, bringing the Women’s Evolution to its logical crescendo. However, the dual title issue sets up a potential hubbub of a finish that could end things on a sour note.
The fans want to see The Man get her moment and, if there’s any justice, she’ll be standing tall with two belts à la Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX by the end of the night. But, given the months of bizarre swerves and unforced errors we’ve seen from WWE in getting to this point, there’s just as much chance that Nikki Bella turns up and wins somehow, or Vince McMahon wears a wig and crowns himself champion. After all, anything can happen at WrestleMania.
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.