To say that Becky Lynch's return at SummerSlam was less successful at creating goodwill among fans than imagined would be an understatement.
The Man hit the ring for the first time in over a year following maternity leave to a thunderous ovation at Allegiant Stadium, popping the fans in Las Vegas in the way only the top stars in the sport can do. Unfortunately, that is where the positive ends.
From there, she proceeded to defeat Bianca Belair in 26 seconds to win the SmackDown Women's Championship in what can only be described as dishearteningly disrespectful to a young woman who has spent 2021 not only proving she belonged but also carrying women's wrestling on her back.
With fans (and Hall of Famer Nikki Bella) understandably annoyed and irritated by WWE's self-defeating creative process, the company finds itself wondering how it can fix things to best benefit the talent involved.
However, a Lynch heel turn, as reported by Mike Johnson of PWInsider.com, is not the answer.
History Will Repeat Itself
In the summer of 2018, WWE attempted to turn Lynch heel. Sympathetic to her struggle to get television time and frustrated over the constant overexposure of Charlotte Flair, the fans refused to boo The Man and turned her into an uber-popular antihero instead.
Turning The Man heel again, after a momentous comeback and taking into consideration the undeniable connection she has with the audience, will result in a similar situation.
Instead, she should have come back, challenged Belair and lost. Imagine the impact that beating Lynch right off of this magical return, doing it clean in the middle of the ring in a hard-fought championship clash, would have done for The EST of WWE.
From there, if the desire was to still move ahead with the heel turn, WWE could have done a slow burn that saw the former champ growing increasingly frustrated by her inability to beat Belair before turning.
It would have better prepared fans for the shift in character rather than creating palpable excitement surrounding one of the industry's biggest stars, then asking them to jeer her right away.
WWE history tells us that dictating to the audience who to cheer and boo for rarely turns out well. Trying to position The Man as a heel to cover up its own booking mistake, even if it is a request Lynch made, will only create resentment among fans and detrimentally affect Belair, who is the babyface you're trying to elevate in all of this.
So how can WWE get itself out of this booking conundrum?
Rip The Band-Aid Off
The company's writing team has painted itself into a corner, almost ensuring there will be negative feedback from fans no matter which direction it heads. So why not just rip the Band-Aid off and deal with the momentary discomfort?
Present Lynch as a full-on heel Friday on SmackDown. Bring her to the ring, let her make fun of the fans for begging her to come back for months. Bring up the social media posts, the rampant speculation and how much the audience needs her.
Let her denounce Belair, brushing off her success and claiming she had to come back to save the women's division from mediocrity. "Women's wrestling only thrives when The Man comes around," she can insist.
Go full-fledged villain, with no opportunity to confuse confidence for arrogance. Fans need to know this isn't "Stone Cold" Steve Austin or The Rock trash-talking. This is hateable 1997-era Shawn Michaels getting under their skin and touting his own excellence at the expense of everyone else.
Belair then becomes the sympathetic figure whose reign as champion ended under controversial and unfair means.
To really hammer home the roles, Lynch needs to deny The EST a rematch. "You lost, now get to the back of the line," she can say, knowing full well she took advantage of a situation in the same way she did in the 2019 women's Royal Rumble match.
Will that scenario stop the cheers for the former WrestleMania main eventer? No, not when fan anticipation for her return was what it was. Enough of it, though, will get most of the crowd to play along with the narrative and, if nothing else, will create an electric atmosphere for their first real contest.
If WWE plays it right, it can deny fans and the characters of a rematch between the two all the way to Survivor Series in November, elevating the significance of such a championship encounter.
Considering the botched experiment and a subpar creative team at play within the company, this feels like the best available option.