Empty-Arena ‘WrestleMania’ Doesn’t Diminish Becky Lynch’s Feud With Shayna Baszler

After headlining last year’s event in front of 80,000 fans, this year’s WrestleMania will be a vastly different experience for Becky Lynch—though important in its own way.
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Becky Lynch will not be main-eventing WrestleMania for the second straight year.

Lynch starred in last year’s main event, closing out WrestleMania 35 by defeating Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair to win both the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championship titles. Though it ended in a disputed finish, the 20-minute match elevated Lynch’s status in the world of pro wrestling, as she will forever be the first woman in WWE history to have her hand raised in the main event of WrestleMania.

This is clearly a different year, however, and viewers will not see Lynch in the main event of WrestleMania 36. Though Lynch’s whirlwind has continued into the new year—she is rapidly approaching the one-year mark as Raw Women’s Champion, a lengthy reign rarely seen in today’s wrestling landscape—the privilege of closing out WrestleMania will likely belong to Bill Goldberg, or Brock Lesnar and Drew McIntyre.

“Am I disappointed?” Lynch says. “No, I’m not disappointed. Sometimes you’re going to be the main event, sometimes you’re not. I’m somebody that went from the pre-show of WrestleMania to the main event. It’s all about how you react, respond, and keep moving forward.

“This is also not the last WrestleMania. I’m not retiring tomorrow, there are so many years ahead of me. I’m always thinking about how I can get to the main event. It has to be the right place for it, but that’s always the goal in my mind.”

Lynch does have a meaningful match on the horizon for this year’s two-night WrestleMania event, defending her title against Shayna Baszler.

Baszler is something of an overnight success, though it took her 14 years to achieve that distinction. A former mixed martial artist with a long career inside the cage, Baszler brings that authenticity and legitimacy into her work in WWE. There are not many pro wrestlers with a legitimate MMA background who were also trained by Josh Barnett and the late Billy Robinson, but Baszler is familiar with standing out for being different.

“There is no denying what Shayna has done,” Lynch says. “She’s put in the work, she was a pioneer in women’s MMA, long before Ronda came along. She’s someone who went to the independents. She loves wrestling, I know she does. She’s not somebody who said, ‘Oh, that’s an easy way for me to be on TV. Let me try that because my other sport didn’t work out.’ She actually went and trained, did her time on the independent circuit, went to NXT, trained her ass off there, and she was the longest combined NXT Women’s Champion. She has put in the work, and there is no doubt about that.”

Baszler is the exact opponent Lynch has needed. Despite her massive popularity, Lynch has struggled since last year’s WrestleMania to find the right chemistry with an opponent. She was put in an especially tough spot last April, moving directly from a heated program with Rousey to wrestling a talented-but-inexperienced Lacey Evans. Charlotte Flair had the marquee match at SummerSlam against Trish Stratus, while Lynch wrestled the opener against Natalya Neidhart. She had instant chemistry when she worked with Sasha Banks in the fall, but the feud would have been enhanced had Banks defeated Lynch for the Raw title during that stretch, which never occurred.

Lynch worked a triple threat match in November against Baszler and Bayley, which served as the main event of Survivor Series. Baszler won the match by forcing Bayley to tap out, but Lynch stood tall as the show went off the air after Baszler turned her back on Lynch during her post-match celebration.

“I’m not underestimating her for a second—I think she’s underestimating me,” Lynch says. “I won’t underestimate the danger of Shayna. She has proven herself in many disciplines, and in NXT. She’s a worthy competitor for the Raw Women’s Championship. I’m going out there to prove I’m better.”

Lynch admitted that the triple threat match did not meet the standards for a main event, though in her defense, it was placed in a difficult spot as four of the seven matches on the main card were triple threats. Women also face unique pressure when wrestling in the main event, and Lynch was asked if there is a smaller margin for women closing a show

“It shouldn’t be about women—people shouldn’t use it as a chance to say, ‘That’s why women shouldn’t be main-eventing,’” Lynch says. “You can’t wipe out an entire gender based on your opinion to a match.

“No excuses, I’m open to criticism. Give me your opinion, I’ll take it. This is what anyone in the main event, male or female, has to deal with. If you ever have a bad night or a match that people don’t agree with, you’re the one out there that has to change and adjust. It makes you better in the long run.”

The feud between Lynch and Baszler has started to click in the past few weeks, and the story has left viewers wondering whether we will see a hungry challenger usurp the reigning champ at WrestleMania.

“There is no doubt she’s hungry,” Lynch says. “This is the time for me to prove myself as champion. It will be a day short of one year for me as champion. A lot of people would be comfortable. I’m not.”

Despite the storyline tension between the two, Lynch shared that she holds immense respect for Baszler, particularly in the way she performs in such an authentic manner. Baszler does not present herself in a similar fashion to WWE’s female stars during the majority of the Divas era, and she would never be in this position had she not kept her character true to herself.

“When you look back at the past, did Dusty Rhodes look like he could be a WWE superstar?” asked Lynch. “You know what I mean? It’s not about looks. Yes, you need to have a unique look, and, of course, Shayna has that. And you have to have something about you—and Shayna has that, too. There is not a mold to fit into. Maybe that happened for a period of time in wrestling, but hiring people on how they looked was an unsuccessful period of time in wrestling.

“It’s about the energy you can bring and the heart you have for this energy, male or female. Otherwise, dare I say, you have people who are empty vessels. You need a very specific love and a very specific passion. As to whatever package that comes in, it’s almost irrelevant.”

The crowd’s role in pro wrestling cannot be understated. Losing the crowd also means the loss of energy, adrenaline, and decibel level in a venue. Lynch’s showdown with Baszler will take place in an empty arena, a setting that seems foreign to Lynch after her transcendent rise atop the company was in large part due to the demands of her passionate fan base.

“I cannot wait to have people back in the stands,” Lynch says. “It’s really different without them. You have to really focus on your message, what you want the people at home to understand, and you have to forget about that clarification you get from the audience being there. Having them respond to you is really gratifying, and you know they appreciate what you’re saying. But all of that is gone.

“I was worried that, without that adrenaline from them being there, I wouldn’t be able to have that same type of intensity. It’s a different thing now, and it forces your brain to think differently.”

Lynch is genuine in her praise of her fan base, and the sincerity in her voice was clear as she stated that she cannot wait for wrestling fans to enjoy her match at WrestleMania despite all of the ongoing concerns of the Coronavirus around the world.

“We’re all taking such precautions,” Lynch says. “We isolate at the shows and people are taking the precautions seriously. But people need a distraction, they need hope, they need to know everything is going to be OK.

“Times like this show us the importance of relationships, especially your family, and how you need to love and support and encourage them. I encourage anyone with the means to do so to help anyone who is not in a good position. Even supporting local businesses, tipping more if you have the means, and I hope that the human race all will band together to support those people that aren’t in such privileged positions.”

Even without the distinction of being in the main event, Lynch wants her match at WrestleMania to stand out as one of the most unforgettable on the entire card.

“Shayna is a whole different entity,” Lynch says. “There is going to be a whole other energy to this match, and you’re going to see someone looking to make a name off me. And you’re going to see a determined champion looking to prove, once again, why she is the greatest of all-time.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.