“The Man” Is Taking WWE Back To The Pop Cultural Mountaintop
The idea of a performer using the sobriquet of “The Man” in professional wrestling is a fascinating case of self-aggrandizement in an already quite self-aggrandizing, and largely male-dominated industry. Calling oneself “the man” advances an idea that, as an all-around performer, they’re more intimidating, more proficient at the art of grappling, more virile as an object of sexual affection from adoring fans, or just, in general, the one performer that every other performer looks up to as the standard of excellence in the industry. All that being said, intriguingly, as of October, 2018, there’s no longer a man who’s “the man” in pro wrestling anymore.
Once you realize that the person calling themselves “The Man” is a cisgendered woman named Rebecca Quin — who performs as Becky Lynch — it’s a uniquely exciting moment worthy of celebration. When a woman states that she is unequivocally “The Man” in an industry that has been dominated for an eternity by bold men and their aggressive male energy, it’s worth immediately stopping everything and re-assessing everything. Just like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin did nearly a quarter-century ago, “The Man” Becky Lynch could be the star that negative publicity-hit, yet historically massively pop culturally impacting WWE needs to reascend to the top of the worldwide zeitgeist. When the world is in desperate need of a universally beloved and heralding female presence that can disarm the sociopolitical pressure of sexist demagoguery, let’s all be glad that “The Man’s” finishing manuever is an armbar that’s humorously enough for the self-admitted pun-lover, called “The Dis-arm-her.”
In the past fifty years, there have been two other occasions in which an athlete in pro wrestling has been memorably referred to as “The Man.” In the 1980s and 1990s, it was Ric Flair, the “kiss stealing, wheeling dealing, jet-flying son of a gun,” and sixteen-time World Heavyweight Champion who stated that, “to be the man,” you had to beat, the man.” In 2015, Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around” was used to add an outlaw roughneck gravitas to an appearance by seven-foot tall, 300-pound, and iconic seven-time World Champion The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 31.
But, when Becky Lynch — who’s also the Women’s Champion of World Wrestling Entertainment’s Smackdown brand — defeated the previously mentioned Ric Flair’s daughter Charlotte in a Last Woman Standing match at WWE’s just-held, and groundbreaking, all-women’s Evolution event, she stated, as she boldly had all month, “I’m the man, I’m the champ. I’m going to stay that way.” This occured in the same press cycle as when a record-smashing 117 women were elected in elections across America. As well, it’s in the same era where empowered women worldwide are having a pop cultural moment. This is a time where a movement needs an eye-popping and headline-grabbing bellwether. Thankfully, via World Wrestling Entertainment, “the man,” — meaning, in this case, a person ideally and very demonstrably representing, with no question from man, woman, or child, the standard of overall excellence in any industry, in all ways — has indeed, “come around.”
Portending what Lynch’s success and proclamation could, and hopefully should, mean for global culture requires a marriage of pro wrestling history and logic-driven pop cultural spit-balling. If what is suggested forthcoming all occurred, it would be wonderful for wrestling, women, feminism, and the world at-large.
The most amazing moments in any creative gambit typically occur by accident. On June 23, 1996, Steve Austin was just warming up to his tough guy “Stone Cold” persona. After a match at the King of the Ring Pay-Per-View against the then “born-again” Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Austin, in a nod to Roberts’ religiosity, noted in an off the cuff manner, “[T]alk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16 — Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass.” It spurred a moment, that kick-started a rise in popularity for WWE that eventually led to the company becoming a publicly traded corporation worth $1 billion a mere five years later.
Becky Lynch calling herself “The Man” likely emanates from somewhere and something that showcases a bit more forethought than Austin’s brash statement, though. Between January-June 2016, Charlotte and Ric Flair were paired as a evil-doing tandem on WWE television. When not on television, and travelling from town to town, Flair the senior would travel with Flair the younger, and Lynch. In the lore of professional wrestling, the time spent in cars between live events is as important in artistic development as spending time in the gym is to physical improvement, and perfecting maneuvers is to competitive growth. Oftentimes, spending time with veteran performers — and at that point, Ric Flair had 40 years in the business — allows for the seasoned talent to impart the trade secrets to those who are not as established (Charlotte has eight years of experience, Becky, 15). Thus, at some point, “The Man” more than likely imparted to both his daughter and to Lynch, what allowed him to gain, and keep, that moniker.
Meanwhile, in America, where WWE is headquartered and where most of the company’s live shows are held, there’s a “wheelin’, dealin’ sonofagun” who’s currently the President, and thus “The Man.” However, he’s not exactly “The Man” in a way that has, as it has in the case of Ric Flair, made him a pop cultural icon that grown men across the board idolize and hip-hop superstars eagerly spotlight in song titles, vocal ad libs, and in music videos. Instead, he’s “The Man” in a way that, for as many revolutionary acts that WWE has held in the past five years to highlight the intellect, grace, and talent of their female performers, still continues to reign with unchecked impunity.
When Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, many believed this to be the harbinger of rough times and plentiful protests for women. While yes, it’s 2018 and both these notions hold true, America’s mid-term political election cycle has seen a cadre of women emerge as superstar leaders for not just America’s future, but the world’s as well.
However, New York’s recently elected first-term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is 29 years old. Conversely, much better established, already-beloved, and three-decade long Congresswoman representing California’s 43rd District, Maxine Waters is 80 years old. As far as popular culture is concerned, Cortez and her 116 other neophytes are easy to attack because of their inexperience. As for Waters? Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly once accused the senior-most African-American member of congress that she wore a “James Brown wig.”
Becky Lynch is Irish, thus outside of many of the domestic slings and arrows of conservative male blowhards. Though only 31, Lynch has spent half as much time in wrestling rings and touring the world as Maxine Waters has spent walking the halls of Congress. Plus, in calling herself “The Man” on multiple occasions already — including not backing down from established male superstar Seth Rollins’ claim to the nickname — she’s already well along the way to proving herself as not the heroine we thought we wanted, but the hero we most assuredly need.
Of the many reasons why World Wrestling Entertainment soared in popularity between 1996–2001, one of the most most significant is that blue collar and beer-swilling “Stone Cold” Steve Austin fighting against the authoritative, corporate, and white-collar TV story-mirroring-real-life control of WWE Chairman Vince McMahon resonated quite nicely with WWE’s 18–34, middle-class male demographic. There is, of course, a doppelganger of this creative direction that, if WWE wanted to prove that everything old is new again, they would strongly consider indoctrinating into their on-screen product.
Ronda Rousey now walks into WWE’s rings, as she did as the poster-child of UFC’s women’s division from 2012–2016, to the strains of Joan Jett’s punkish, 1980-released pop-rock anthem “Bad Reputation.” However, as a pro wrestler, she could possibly be portrayed one day as anything but the “Baddest Woman on The Planet.” She’s also an author, model, actress, and brand spokeswoman. When she takes off the sports bra and striking gloves, then slips into an evening gown, the comparison between her and Stephanie McMahon — the real-life chief brand officer of WWE and on-screen “commissioner” of WWE’s Raw program — could be seamless. Though McMahon and Rousey have had matches against each other and plentiful on-screen run-ins for the past two years, there’s definitely a space for Stephanie sliding into the role of her father, and Ronda, sliding into the 1998-held role of antagonist by “The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment,” The Rock, and making for very entertaining, and real-life mirroring, sports entertainment.
In the past three years, WWE’s made a significant push towards satiating its rapidly growing female fanbase. Nielsen noted in 2017 that for WWE Smackdown, where “The Man” is Women’s champ, women comprise 38% of the fanbase. Previously, in 2015, the company, when realizing that women who watch their broadcasting found scantily clad fitness models wrestling each other in bikinis, mud pits, and in other potentially misconstrued as wholly sexist, degrading, and yes, not-so-athletic contests, engaged in a “Divas Revolution.” Wrestlers like Lynch and Charlotte Flair were part of this “revolution.” In the past three years, WWE’s women have main evented pay-per views, fought in brutal cage matches, had massive battle royals, exchanged mixed martial arts-style submission holds in 30-minute long contests, and also had last woman standing matches on events featuring only female talent.
Could the company basing its most significant money-maker and interest-grabber of a storyline around a blue collar “Irish Lasskicker” who’s unequivocally, gender regardless, “The Man,” be too far of a stretch? Certainly not.
Currently, the global pop cultural imagination needs its most iconic figure to be a no-nonsense woman who could care nary a whit about what a man thinks, says, or does. Moreover, said woman should be the kind of person who, without a protest, or raising a threatening hand or voice to man, grabs all of their bravado and strength and embodies it best as hers and hers alone. The best creative moments require minimal planning, but maximum, and unquestionably great execution. If a creation is executed to its maximum potential, it ingratiates both creator and creation to the universe at-large, forever.
Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the man comes around
- Johnny Cash, “When The Man Comes Around”
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The Man deserves our support.