Becky Lynch can't stop smiling.
It is noon on Saturday at Brooklyn's Pier 12, where WWE's WrestleMania Axxess fan event will greet over 100,000 people from around the world who are all eager to peruse WWE memorabilia, watch live wrestling matches and wait in lines to meet their favorite WWE Superstars.
Lynch is one of the headliners. Where other stars are available for free to anyone who's willing to wait in line, the 300 or so fans waiting in her line each paid hundreds of dollars for the chance to get an autograph and take a photo with her.
For two hours, Lynch greets each of these VIP fans with a radiant smile and a warm hug, drawing them in as if she were seeing close friends for the first time in years. She takes a photo in every pose you can think of, including one or two prom-style photos that feel borderline inappropriate, and yet she never stops smiling. Never. It's a remarkable thing, especially considering that her schedule for the past few weeks could best be described as sunup to sundown. There have been hundreds of media appearances. Her time is no longer her own, at least for now, but she seems genuinely happy, if not a little tired.
"It's been crazy. I'm kinda running on adrenaline and coffee at this stage," the 32-year-old Lynch says. "But how could I not be smiling? You know what I mean? I get to main-event WrestleMania. I get to go in as Becky No-Belts and come out as Becky Two-Belts."
Sunday, she'll step into the WWE ring to face Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, in the culmination of a journey that began 18 years ago. She'll put the finishing touches on this chapter of her story—a story that caught fire last year and in the blaze that followed saw Lynch propelled to the top of this industry in a way not witnessed since the late 1990s, when a Texas boy named Steve Austin revolutionized pro wrestling.
None of this is a surprise for Lynch. She knew this would happen if she got the opportunity. So it's all worth it, because Sunday, Lynch makes her mark on history.
Sunday is WrestleMania.
But more importantly, it's The Man's WrestleMania.
Lynch was born Rebecca Quin on January 30, 1987, in Limerick, Ireland, an ancient city on the River Shannon most recently known (in some circles) for its underdog 2018 storybook capturing of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship. Her family moved to Dublin shortly after her birth. Lynch was a self-professed "chubby kid" who ate a lot of candy and spent time idling away days with the girls and boys in her neighborhood posse. They built forts from whatever materials they could scrounge up. They played kick the can and other games of the sort children dream up when left to their own devices.
Lynch absolutely adored her older brother, Richy, mimicking whatever he did in the way young kids with siblings usually do before they find their own habits and traits. She did what Richy did and went where he went (when he'd let her), serving as a tiny human shadow for her big brother as both of them figured out how to cope with the emotions of their parents' separation. One of the ways Richy whiled away the time was by watching professional wrestling, and so there was Becky, sitting by his side in the light blue glow of the television screen, glued to the pageantry and drama.
"We would have little wrestling matches on my mom's bed," Lynch says. "And we would make frickin' costumes up, and we would have these different characters. I just always remember it being around, you know?"
When Lynch was 15 years old, Richy announced his intention to start training for a career in wrestling. Though the siblings had watched wrestling together for the entirety of their lives, it was the first time Becky realized it was something she could do—not just something she could watch on television. Richy planned on going to England because there were no wrestling schools in Ireland.
"It sounded so cool. But I knew my mom was never going to let me go to England," she says.
But then she discovered a new wrestling school was opening in Bray, less than an hour's drive away. Fergal Devitt, known today as the wrestler Finn Balor, and a partner were opening Ireland's first training academy. Her mom still told her she couldn't go—not even when Richy changed his plans and bought a train ticket to Bray—so she did what any enterprising child does when one parent says no: She asked her dad, and of course he said yes. He even drove her to Bray at the same time Richy was boarding his train in Dublin; when Richy arrived at the school, there was Becky, sitting outside waiting for him.
"I think he was quite pissed off," Lynch says with a laugh. "He remembers it differently, but I remember him being pretty peeved. But that didn't last long."
Richy started wrestling as Gonzo de Mondo, and Becky had her first match as Rebecca Knox five months after she started training. For Richy, it was more of a hobby than a passion; he was an artist by trade. For Becky, wrestling was her calling. It was what she wanted to do with her life. A few years later, after graduating from the school, she told her brother she was moving to Canada to pursue a more serious career in pro wrestling; he opted against following her the way she followed him to Bray.
"Wrestling ain't ballet, so if anything happened to him—if he ever broke a wrist, an arm—he wasn't going to be able to do his art," she says. "For him that was the most important thing."
But wrestling also didn't pay the bills. By 2006, Lynch had already suffered multiple concussions. She was traveling the world, still determined to make it as a professional wrestler, but wasn't making enough money to live on. The WWE had no interest in her at the time—"They were looking for models, and I was anything but," she says—and she slowly began sinking into depression. She has always been an avid journal-keeper, detailing her daily endeavors, and the entries from that time reveal a young woman who believed she was going to make it but was at a loss for how to get there.
"I got very confused. But you have to understand that I was 19 years old. My mom was begging me to quit. I hadn't got any money; I was travelin' around and didn't really have any direction or guidance," she says. "And so with great sadness and great confusion and great depression, I stepped away and spent seven years trying to find something that filled that hole in my stomach and in my soul the way wrestling did. And I couldn't find it."
She tried doing some personal training and even gave mixed martial arts a half-hearted attempt. But nothing gave her the purpose or fulfillment that wrestling did. She spent seven years searching for a way out of the pit and never found one until one day, seemingly out of nowhere, the WWE called in 2013. The company had been reconsidering its philosophy of women's wrestling—what types of athletes it was looking for—and wanted her to audition.
And just like that, the fire was back.
When she showed up at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, it was a blast from the past. There was Sami Zayn, whom she'd wrestled alongside before she departed the sport seven years earlier. There was Kevin Owens, another frequent participant on cards on which Lynch wrestled. It was a family reunion of sorts, but it was also a brief source of shame.
"They had worked the whole time. I felt like I turned my back on this thing that I lost, and I felt very ashamed," Lynch says. "It took years and years to get over that. But I did. Thank God I did."
Lynch has been a fan favorite from the moment she debuted on the WWE's developmental NXT roster in 2014.
She dodged a metaphorical bullet in her earliest WWE days. Her first character was something of a misfire. WWE's ideas for the character were of the stereotypical, lazy archetype the promotion had pushed in the 1980s and early 1990s before Austin came along and helped usher in a new era of characters with nuance and believability.
When Lynch made her first appearance on NXT, she was portrayed as a stereotypical Irish character. She smiled and did a dance to a rocked-up Irish jig. She did the Fighting Irish pose, and she wore green and yellow. It was groan-inducing. But she was constantly on the verge of being cut from the roster, and she was willing to try anything they wanted her to in order to get just one more chance to stick around.
That willingness to work and adapt and do whatever it took was noticed by WWE executives, and she did it with a smile.
"I think half the time, that's all that matters, is just pushing it forward and just working it and making the best out of anything that you're given," she says. "Anybody can sit around and complain and b---h and moan and say, 'Oh, I should be doing this,' or, 'I should be doing that.' It takes a different kind of person to say 'OK, I've been given this. Let me run with it.'"
The fans cheered Lynch through her NXT run and into her main-roster debut, but they weren't invested in her.
The top level of pro wrestling stars are the ones with whom fans feel a connection—a responsibility to support the performer and the character. Those are the athletes who end up in the main event of WrestleMania. Maybe more than once. Austin's rise in the late 1990s was helped along by his immense talent, but it was his character that connected him to fans: an everyman battling against his overbearing boss.
Lynch didn't have that kind of connection with the audience. The fans liked her, maybe even liked her a lot, but it ended there. And she was handled mercurially; she was the first SmackDown women's champion, which was quite an achievement. But WWE's penchant for ensuring most of its characters lose nearly as often as they win kept her in the middle of the pack, which is where she remained even as WWE signed Rousey in early 2018 and pushed her as a star multiple levels beyond any of the other women on the roster.
All the while, Lynch knew she had what it took to be the same kind of meteoric star as Rousey, the former UFC champion and lifelong pro wrestling fan who'd immediately displayed a deftness in the ring.
Lynch just needed the chance.
"I knew I had it in me. I just needed the platform," she says. "I needed the opportunity."
And then, last summer, she got it.
Lynch went on a winning streak—a rare feat in modern WWE—and earned a title match against then-champion Carmella at SummerSlam. The fans, sensing they might be getting a new reason to cheer her on, gathered behind Lynch in a way they had not yet done. But then—and this next part might seem familiar—Flair was added to the match and pinned Lynch to win the title. It was a deflating moment for an audience who believed Lynch was finally getting a push up the ladder, only to find out that it was seemingly all to help build Flair.
The outcome was crafted with good reason: Vince McMahon was starting to build toward a historic WrestleMania main event. It would be Flair—the genetic marvel, skilled wrestler and daughter of perhaps the greatest in-ring performer in the history of the business—and Rousey. It would be the first-ever WrestleMania main event between two female athletes, a historic moment. That night at SummerSlam, getting Flair ready was the whole point.
After the match, Lynch turned on Flair. The intent was to create a new hated heel and bolster Flair's babyface credentials. But then a funny thing happened. The fans didn't boo; they cheered. They rejected McMahon's plan, just as they had with so many of his carefully laid efforts to make Roman Reigns the top star in the company.
As Lynch beat Flair down, they cheered louder. That week on SmackDown, Lynch went to the ring and berated the fans—told them she knew they never really supported her, that they denied her the opportunities given to Flair. It's what a newly turned heel does. But the fans weren't having it. They cheered louder.
By the next week's episode of SmackDown, Lynch was acting less like a heel and more like someone with a justifiable grudge. The catchphrase Flair's famous father, Ric, used in his heyday was, "To be the man, you've gotta beat the man." And Lynch had beaten the proverbial "man," but she'd still been tossed aside. She was fighting back, though. Fighting against those trying to keep her down.
She would show them who "The Man" really was.
By fall of last year, it was clear Lynch wasn't just the fan's top choice for WWE's next big star; she was experiencing the same sort of career surge that propelled Austin to the top.
She'd always been good on the microphone, but now she had an edge to her character that resonated with the audience. Week after week, she went on television and buried Flair, leading to a prime match on Evolution, the first all-women pay-per-view for WWE. Lynch powerbombed Flair through a table that night to score the biggest win of her career.
But the most memorable highlight of 2018 came two weeks earlier, just before Survivor Series, when Lynch led her SmackDown female cohorts in an invasion of Raw. Lynch beat Rousey senseless backstage and then ran to the ring to join the other women who were attacking Raw's women. In a punch gone wrong between Lynch and Nia Jax, Lynch's nose was broken and she was concussed—and yet she stood triumphantly as the show closed, standing in the audience with blood streaming down her face. It was unforgettable, and it sent Lynch skyrocketing to even greater heights.
This was roughly the same time she started referring to herself as "The Man."
And around the same time, McMahon began to tell others backstage that Lynch and Austin were the same—and began giving Lynch directives, tips and tricks he'd learned from working with Austin. Fans at home started to get the feeling that Lynch was being overlooked in favor of Flair and Rousey, the corporate choices, which of course was the intention. McMahon started taking an active role in crafting Lynch's appearances and story, and the fans bought it.
People like to talk about how McMahon changes his mind constantly, and with good reason, but from late last year onward, there was never any doubt that Lynch would represent the main event of WrestleMania and be the biggest star in the company.
There was an even greater shift in her attitude and character, and not just on television. Lynch began using social media as an extension of her gimmick, eviscerating Flair, Rousey and anyone else unfortunate enough to find themselves in her crosshairs. Whereas other WWE stars tend to break character, posting Instagram shots of themselves hanging out with the people they're supposedly feuding with on television, Lynch went the other direction.
She is Becky Lynch, The Man, and it is 24/7. She says she spends hours each day obsessing over her next tweet or Instagram post. The results are the sort of Oh my gosh, I can't believe she said that moments that make you wonder if Lynch has run the post by anyone at WWE to make sure it was OK. Most of the time, she hasn't; in fact, she says she does everything in her power to avoid running her ideas past McMahon or anyone else in charge of WWE Creative.
And the thing is, it's worked. Because Lynch is a sort of new-school pro wrestler with an old-school mentality. She's in character at all hours of the day, a unique case in today's WWE. Alexis Kaufman, who portrays the delightfully devious Alexa Bliss on WWE television, says she has to turn off her character as soon as the cameras go dark.
"Because otherwise I risk becoming Alexa Bliss, and that's not me," Kaufman says. "But Becky is Becky Lynch 24 hours a day, because that's just her with the volume turned way up. And honestly, I love her social media, because she's just savage. I think it's hilarious."
And if you try to get Lynch to reveal anything about her real relationship with Flair and Rousey behind the scenes—the trio, like nearly all of the women on WWE's roster, are close when the television cameras go dark—you're going to come away disappointed.
Even when asked about the comparisons with Austin, and how she might feel about them, Lynch stays in character.
"I hate being compared to one of the greatest of all time," she replies, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "It's never been my intention to be anyone other than myself. I think that you just don't know who to draw a comparison to. So Stone Cold Steve Austin, one of the greatest of all time, is the highest of compliments."
In January, after Lynch won the women's Royal Rumble to earn a title match at WrestleMania, it was crystal clear the heights she was destined for. McMahon rarely appears on television these days, but he personally inserted himself into her storyline in the same way he did Austin's during the Attitude Era: He was the corporate menace doing everything he could to keep the choice of the people from getting to the top of the ladder.
Lynch isn't keen on opening up or reflecting on the moment, but even when she's cutting a promo on Rousey and Flair in character, you can hear a hint of truth behind the bravado. She might be playing a character, but Rebecca Quin believes every word she's saying.
"They didn't have to scrape and claw for this. Yeah, Ronda did in a different industry, but never in my industry," she says. "They don't know what it's like to have to start from people's backyards and earn $30 a night working somewhere in the outback of West Virginia, having driven for freaking 12 hours to get there. They don't know what that's like. They don't have a clue what that's like."
Truth masked by fiction. Belief hiding in bravado's shadow.
To Lynch, this is what she deserves—what she's rightfully earned. To Rebecca Quin, this is what she knew she could do when she started all those years ago.
And it's only the beginning. The first of many crowning events.
The Man still has plenty left to do. And she couldn't be happier about it.