The Man came back around at SummerSlam—and reclaimed her title.
Becky Lynch returning, let alone winning a title, wasn't something anybody saw coming as WWE entered its second-biggest event of the year, especially for what felt like a throwaway match between Carmella and Bianca Belair for the SmackDown women's title.
But that's exactly what happened Saturday night.
After an odd build for a title match between Belair and Sasha Banks that looked like it was going to be outright canceled because of reasons WWE wasn't being forthright about, it looked like Carmella would serve as the spot-duty challenger.
Until Lynch showed up.
And as fun as it was, the execution was not so great.
Let's recap, because it can be done in a single sentence: Lynch came out, Belair accepted her challenge and Becky decked the champion during a handshake, hit a single move on her and got the pin to win the belt.
Call it shades of Brock Lesnar straight up doing Kofi Kingston dirty when SmackDown debuted on Fox in October 2019. It was clear Kingston's run was up and that it was squash time. Kingston never so much as made a comment about it again, and the big boys got to play in the main event scene again.
That sounds dramatic, but Belair didn't deserve to lose like that. And that should go without saying. Meanwhile, fans can't complain about WWE's inability to build up the next wave of Superstars and then cheer on a 26-second squash when a bigger name comes back.
There is an important silver lining, though: Belair and Lynch can make this work.
If Belair gets the Kingston treatment from here, then there's a big problem. He was blatantly told he wasn't allowed to even mention the fact that he got squashed and couldn't challenge Lesnar again despite everything we know about his character suggesting he would gun for him.
If WWE is smart, Lynch is the borderline heel in this feud. Live crowds adore her and will probably derail it, so maybe a tweener role is better. Either way, as long as Belair is allowed to air her grievances about how this went down and they make a fun feud of it, the execution of Saturday night's title change for cheap shock value will be forgiven.
Granted, if WWE hadn't done Kingston so dirty in the first place, we wouldn't even need to have this conversation. This is just a good embodiment of arguably the company's biggest problem: valuing a single moment over the long term. Lynch's return was cool and shocking, but it dashes all of the hard work put in by Belair and around Belair for the future of the women's division.
Better yet, it's not exactly fair to Lynch, either. WWE has tried to make her a heel in the past to miserable results. An extended match would have received a much better reaction. And if she wasn't 100 percent ready to have a longer match, why put a belt on her?
Mike Killam @MikeKillam
Poor camera work. Unnecessary fake Carmella switch. The 2021 WrestleMania main event losing in seconds to a move that got absolutely zero reaction. Hyped to WTF in an actual blink. How do you get something so ridiculously easy as BECKY LYNCH'S RETURN so, so wrong...? #SummerSlam
It raises the question why the title even needed to change hands or why they even needed to have a match. WWE adores ratings, so why not have Lynch just come out and challenge her on the next SmackDown episode—unless the plan is a long-term feud.
One could argue WWE was in a no-win position too. Hurt Belair's momentum by passing the title to Lynch or have Lynch look like a chump and lose? But this is the company that also loves disqualification non-finishes, so an angry Carmella or someone else could have helped the issue rather than derailing Belair.
It doesn't help that this mystery surrounding Banks hung over the event for the week leading up to it. Maybe Banks was going to win anyway or Belair needs some time off, but that's speculation and trying to rationalize a fun moment that suddenly turned awkward and sad. A potential future face of the company shouldn't be losing in 26 seconds to anybody.
As we get further from this weird sequence of events, it might go down as one of the strangest moments in WWE history. It goes from a near-historic pop for a beloved Superstar to an oh no rapidly, and the longer one thinks on it, the cheaper it feels. Why the company seemingly booked one of the most over Superstars of all time as a villain on the night of her big return is strange and will almost certainly backfire.
Not to dive too much into competitor comparisons, but roughly 24 hours prior to this oddity, CM Punk debuted with All Elite Wrestling, put over Britt Baker in his first wrestling sentence in seven years, talked up the locker room, challenged an up-and-coming star and left.
One would almost suggest this Lynch surprise is a reaction to that. And even if it's not, the contrast is striking.
Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful.com at Summerslam @SeanRossSapp
Very conflicted, but I will see how this plays out. I'd like to think Becky Lynch isn't going to come back to do a bunch of creatively unsatisfying stuff and understands the money, excitement and potential in a well built feud with Bianca Belair
Again, if there's a saving grace to it all, it's that Belair and Lynch are talented enough to dig out of this hole and make something special of it—if they are permitted to do so.
So while WWE fans should have left SummerSlam having delivered one of the biggest pops in recent memory and being ecstatic that Lynch is back, there's an uneasy feeling that somebody else was done dirty in the process, and we have seen this story before.
It's salvageable, and it's just plain nice to have Lynch back, but any time somebody watches the epic return replay, they might end up shuddering at what they know comes next. And that's not how anybody envisioned Lynch's big return or Belair's journey developing.