Charlotte Flair & Becky Lynch's SmackDown Scuffle Was Just The Latest Indictment Of WWE's Creative Neglect
What aired on TV tells just a fraction of the backstage story...
Even before the backstage reports were released, something seemed off about SmackDown’s final segment last Friday - and not just because it involved an arbitrary title exchange.
WWE promo segments usually feel overproduced. Sometimes you can practically see the script reflected in the wrestlers’ eyes, but this was quite the opposite.
We saw Charlotte Flair dangling the SmackDown Women’s belt out of Becky Lynch’s grasp and dropping it on the canvas. We saw Sonya Deville, off mic, tell her to pick it up. We saw Becky throw her own belt into Charlotte’s chest and, later in the segment, slam her microphone down before leaving.
It was heated, and not in the fun wrestling way.
When Mike Johnson’s PWInsider report confirmed that these tensions were real, and even that ‘There was a backstage confrontation between Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair following last night's Friday Night Smackdown taping’, the Twitter knives were immediately sharpened.
I know it sounds shocking, but wrestling fans can be a little reactionary at times, and this was somehow the perfect storm. The hero standing up to the villain. The Superstar we got behind and pushed through the glass ceiling, versus the office favourite never far from her next title reign.
To many of us reading Johnson’s report, Becky and Charlotte have represented their in-ring personas so accurately it almost doesn’t feel real.
Perhaps that explains the vitriol aimed at Charlotte online ever since. It’s easy to spew hate when you don’t know the people involved, and even easier when they seem like a television character.
We’ve all said or done things in the heat of the moment, and upset people we wished we hadn’t. We’re just fortunate enough that our mistakes aren’t broadcast around the world. But without meaning to turn this into an attack, PWInsider’s follow-up articles seem to indicate that this was indeed Charlotte’s fault, born out of a desire to appear dominant, make her rival look bad, protest the nature of the segment, or some combination of the three.
Becky was reportedly seen as a hero backstage for her actions, while Sonya Deville was said to have angrily confronted Flair afterwards as well.
However, even in the black and white world of modern social media, two differing opinions can be held at once. It’s possible to disapprove of Charlotte’s actions and sympathise with her at the same time. It may not be a popular take in the aftermath of Friday’s controversy, but I think she’s deserving of such sympathy - especially if reports of making herself an isolated figure backstage are true.
There are other reasons too. In a different era (or perhaps if Charlotte was a male wrestler) we simply wouldn’t care. Some of the same people attacking her over the past few days will have stood by the likes of Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels for ‘protecting their spot’ in the past. What’s the difference?
Well, you could argue that there actually is a difference, because the context has changed.
WWE talent find themselves in a vastly more cooperative era, and while it’s impossible to know for sure, social media certainly gives the impression of a more fun, more inclusive backstage environment. In the ‘90s and 2000s, Charlotte’s transgression would barely have registered, because - let’s have some perspective for a second - she only dropped a belt on the canvas instead of handing it to her rival. She didn’t attack Becky or try to get her fired, or any of the far more sordid things we’ve heard Superstars do in the past.
From a certain angle, the backstage response to Charlotte could even be seen as a good thing (to an extent), because it shows how the locker room culture of WWE has developed over the years. That behaviour won’t fly anymore.
Another key difference between the likes of Hogan and Michaels ‘protecting their spot’ and Charlotte doing the same, is that the older names actually had spots to protect. In a promotion where the booking of women’s wrestling has massively regressed in recent times, what is Flair actually protecting?
With that in mind, Charlotte’s behaviour becomes a little more understandable; I can’t even begin to imagine her frustration. A few years ago she was a key figure in the best ever period of women’s wrestling for WWE. She was winning multiple titles and partaking in exciting feuds, all while being held up as the movement’s main long-term antagonist.
Suddenly, her division means a fraction of what it did only a short while ago, and therefore, so does Charlotte’s standing in WWE. Of course it would eventually lead to an incident like this, if not courtesy of Charlotte Flair, then surely somebody else.
The same should be said of the rest of the Four Horsewomen, the central members of the revolution, now looking back upon that period as a trend rather than a turning point. With the re-hiring of Bruce Pritchard in 2019 and John Laurinaitis earlier this year, and subsequent reports of old faces bringing an outdated mentality to WWE, it’s difficult to see the women’s division recovering.
If things seem bad for the Horsewomen, they’re even more desperate further down the ladder. Aside from Bayley, currently recovering from injury, the others are certainly in a more fortunate position than their peers. They occupy the higher of two distinct tiers, populated by only themselves, Bianca Belair, and occasionally Alexa Bliss. They actually get a decent amount of TV time, while every other woman on the main roster is trapped in the same infinite pattern.
Tag teams are formed and broken apart without rhyme or reason. Occasionally, two wrestlers will find themselves stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day scenario, unable to ever feud with anybody else (currently Carmella and Liv Morgan.) Two minute matches are had on TV, again and again. On Twitter, it was recently pointed out by Denise Salcedo that the entire Queen’s Crown tournament clocked in at under 20 minutes. That’s seven bouts, including the final at Crown Jewel.
Compare the state of WWE’s women’s division to how it was in the build to WrestleMania 35. Yes, there was the weird tangent where Becky Lynch had to apologise to the McMahons, but that was happening to Kofi Kingston too. That aside, she, Charlotte and Ronda Rousey were stealing the show every week, brawling in squad cars and cutting savage promos en route to their history-making main event.
Charlotte’s actions last week may well have been motivated by selfishness, but the pervading atmosphere of frustration happened for a reason. I’m honestly surprised similar scenes don’t happen more across the women’s roster - who could realistically blame them?
Even by my standards, this has been a particularly ‘doom and gloom’ piece, so here’s a note of hope.
It’s important to remember that we’re six months removed from the phenomenal Night 1 main event of WrestleMania 37: Sasha Banks vs. Bianca Belair. It stands out as an exception to WWE’s recent neglect of the women’s division, but it at least reminds us that the talent is still very much there, and very much deserving of more.
In the aftermath of Crown Jewel, where she shared the ring with both of those wrestlers, Becky Lynch took to Instagram to thank several people. One was TJ Wilson, or Tyson Kidd, about whom she said: ‘And thank you to @tjwilson711 for being one of the greatest minds the wrestling business has and collaborating with us to make magic.’
Wilson was listed as the producer of their ambitious, unique triple threat match, and hopefully proves that there are still people backstage who care about the women’s division, and about making it as good as it can be. Unfortunately, while some do care, they’re not necessarily the ones in power.
As a whole entity, WWE may not completely see women’s wrestling as a fad again, but those with the most influence certainly seem to. With the exception of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and a small handful of others, it risks once again becoming a complete sideshow.