Friday 23 August 2019

Failing PE, beating depression and conquering the wrestling world: meet the Dublin woman taking on Wrestlemania

Becky Lynch
Becky Lynch
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

It won't attract the national attention that its significance warrants, but in the early hours of Monday morning Dubliner Becky Lynch will do something few, aside from 'The Man' herself, ever thought possible.

In the rich history of World Wrestling Entertainment's Wrestlemania extravaganza, only one superstar from outside of America or Canada has closed the show on their biggest event of the year and that was the iconic Andre The Giant, who was of French origin, at Wrestlemania 3 in 1987.

Lynch will rewrite the record books before 82,500 fans in the first women’s main event match against former UFC champion Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

But who is Lynch? And how did a humble Baldoyle girl wind up being arguably the biggest star in the wrestling world right now? Therein lies the true beauty of her remarkable story.

Lynch, real name Rebecca Quin, was born in Limerick but her family based themselves in Dublin's northside. Wrestling certainly isn't the typical pursuit of an Irish teenage girl but it caught Lynch's attention. You might even say it saved her.

Family issues saw her go down the road of alcohol and marijuana abuse from age 13 but "wrestling turned all that around" and acted as her "little escape" from the real world after her older brother Richy opened her eyes to sports entertainment.

"We grew up watching wrestling and he was going to go over to England to train as wrestler and I was like 15 at the time and I was like 'Damn, my mom's never gonna let me go'," Lynch told ESPN's Ariel Helwani earlier this week.

"Then he found out that Finn Balor (Irish wrestler and current WWE superstar) was opening a school in Bray which is like an hour and a half away from me and I was like 'I wanna go down'.

"He was like 'You're not going down, this is my thing'. I was like 'alright, okay' and then behind his back I went to dad and asked could he give me a lift. My dad drove me, my brother took the train down and I think I arrived 20 minutes before he did.

"He picked it up instantly but I was terrible. I wasn't athletic at all but I loved it. He was teaching classes within nine months and he really helped me. he was watching everything I was doing and would give me pointers. We would watch matches together."

Despite looking at the flame-haired Lynch dazzling in the ring and on the microphone today, wrestling didn't come easy to her. She detested physical education and even flunked it school.

"I failed PE," she recalled. "I would just stand in the corner with my hockey stick in my hand. I didn't care and I felt embarrassed to run because I was a chubby kid and I used to get made fun of.

"I had become this aloof, didn't care about anything kid. I just wouldn't do anything and wrestling really turned everything around for me. It made me a better person and focused me. The focus I had for wrestling applied to everything."

It's tough to make a mark in the wrestling industry with long hours on the road and late-night shows in dingy arenas for little or no pay, far removed from the bright lights of the Vince McMahon-owned WWE.

Despite its scripted nature, wrestling is also physically punishing discipline. That didn't deter Lynch, however, and her Eureka moment came in pretty inauspicious surroundings as a 17-year-old.

"I realised this was the career for me. I was sitting back stage after a match in Kilkenny, it was in this little school gym. I even remember the little benches, they were this horrible green colour," the 32-year-old recalled.

"I remember sitting afterwards with my head down and then looking up at my brother and saying 'I think I want to do this. I think I can do this, I think I can make it' and he never doubted me for a second."

A law degree in UCD was quickly aborted as Lynch opted to head to Vancouver instead to hone her wrestling craft under the moniker Rebecca Knox despite her mother's disapproval.

It was far from elegant as she mixed wrestling with jobs as a telemarketer and a babysitter to make ends meet while also sleeping on the floors of people's houses. All of this while just 18.

She would later wrestle across Japan, North America and Europe but this was at a time when women's wrestlers were traditionally seen as valets accompanying the male talent to the ring. Her frustrations with the glass ceiling quickly grew.

After suffering a head injury a year later, she stepped away from the business for seven years as she tried to figure out an alternative career and hopscotched from one job to the next having left her dream behind.

"I left for seven years at 19 because it was just like 'where are we going? What's going to be the next step?' My mom doesn't want me doing this. I'm sleeping on floors, I'm sleeping on couches," she said.

"I don't know how to get recognised. My visas ran out and I just got so lost and confused. It was out of an obsession of getting to the top and I kind of lost the run of myself."

She worked as a flight attendant with Aer Lingus, completed a drama degree in DIT having followed her aunt Eunice McMenamin – best known as Fidelma from Glenroe fame – into the acting field.

Lynch was a stunt woman on the TV show 'Vikings' while she also enrolled in clown college – something she completed her thesis on – but while she kept busy, it was a difficult period filled with serious doubts.

"For years I struggled with letting it go. I couldn't let it go, it was this dark depression. Feeling like I had this purpose and this goal and this drive and vision and all of a sudden I didn't have it," Lynch said.

"It sounds dramatic to say it was like a death but it was because I think part of myself had died. I kept writing in my journal that I need to get back there, 'I know I'm meant to be in the WWE, I just don't know how to get there'.

"It got pretty dark, there was some serious depression. I had to go to guidance counsellors constantly and I just really lost myself and I didn't know who I was anymore."

The sense of unfulfilled potential never left Lynch and she returned to the squared circle in late 2012 and having never missed a beat, she went Stateside for a WWE tryout the following year.

"Everything fell into place and it felt like fate" when she signed with NXT, WWE's developmental brand, before making an instant impact – adopting the name of Becky Lynch – and becoming a fan favourite with her "Irish Lass Kicker" gimmick.

She arrived on WWE's main roster two years later – July 2015 – and was crowned SmackDown Women's Champion on two occasions but it was at last year's Summerslam pay-per-view where her stock went into orbit.

Railing against what she perceived as being an unfairly-treated underdog, fans saw a new and more aggressive side of Lynch as she turned on "best friend" Flair, daughter of legendary 16-time world champion Ric.

Initially, the crowd weren't supposed to cheer but they loved every second of Lynch's new badass character as she referred to herself as 'The Man' and exhibited a no-nonsense, trash talking, ass kicking attitude akin to a female Stone Cold Steve Austin.

As she says herself, 'The Man' isn't about gender, "it's about being the top dog” and her 3.7 million followers on Instagram – as well as 1.6million on Twitter – are treated to smart, witty and cut throat barbs aimed at her various foes.

'The Man' is more than a clever marketing campaign, it represents the enormous strides which Lynch has helped the women's division make and on Monday morning she will go where no female wrestler has gone before.

She was never supposed to be the main event, but mere mid-card filler. She refused to take no for an answer and her tireless self promotion has won the hearts and minds of fans the world over.

"They all talk about the sacrifices. To me there was just something so romantic about that. There was something so awesome about paying your dues. That struggle never really felt like a struggle," she said.

"You knew that it was going to pay off and that it was going to be worth it. It was suffering then but I enjoyed every step of it because one day it'll be a good story to tell and it is."

A year ago she was in the pre-show and the story of Becky Balboa – a reference to her career mirroring the Rocky movies – culminates this weekend for something which "has been 17 years in the making".

With the Smackdown and Raw Women's championships on the line, she has #Becky2Belts trending online with a legion of young girls, and grown men, hanging on her every word and action.

If she locks Rousey – who she hilariously refers to as 'Ronnie' – or Flair in her submission hold the Disarmer then it's all she wrote and a history-making moment she has been preparing for her whole life will become reality.

"They were heading for that main event of the two golden girls, Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair, but I think that's a fight with no substance. They needed some soul in there," Lynch said.

"Me running my mouth and getting people excited about this match has been the reason that it's undeniable. Ronda is there with her name, Charlotte is there with her name.

"I come in full of soul and heart and that's what people can relate to. I keep picturing winning the titles and it's hard to put into words. It's a warm fuzzy feeling and I think the tears will be flowing."

A nation holds it breath as 'The Man' bids to ascend her throne.

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