When Paul Heyman took over Monday Night Raw last month, one of his reported goals was to make the show edgier. “Edgier” is a catch-all for many different storylines and actions, including intergender matches. Heyman is a veteran of the Attitude Era, where men hitting women was commonplace, often to the detrimental effect of the show. So, though it was shocking to see Baron Corbin hit his End of Days finisher on Becky Lynch at Sunday’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view, it fell in line with this new creative direction:
(It’s notable that WWE’s official account did not tweet out the End of Days GIF, as it does most major spots; whether that was to entice people to seek it out on the WWE Network or because of the sensitivity of the spot will be in the eye of the beholder.)
To clarify, having the top female star in the company be so tough that she can’t be put down (and out) of an extreme rules match—essentially, anything goes, weapons, cheating, etc.—until she gets hit with the most protected finisher in the company (no one has ever kicked out of Corbin’s End of Days, a rarity in today’s WWE) is a positive. Lynch has been on a tear since last summer, and her needing to receive such a powerful finisher by a guy who is billed 14 inches taller than her makes The Man look super strong, which is what you want from an intergender spot: to make it so that men and women aren’t a joke when attacking each other.
It was similar to the Nia Jax spot back at the Royal Rumble in that way; Jax was such a force that it took three finishing moves from three top stars to eliminate her from the match. That’s good! Lynch doesn’t have Jax’s physical presence, but through both her in-ring ability and her storyline toughness, she’s been built up as the top challenge in the women’s division. She mostly got the better of Lacey Evans—her female counterpart on Corbin’s team—throughout (though Lynch did get hit with an accidental chair to the head early in the match, which is worrying for real-life health reasons more than anything else).
The Royal Rumble is where WWE usually pulls out its biggest surprises of the year, with debuts and…
And Corbin being the one to snap and lay her out with his finisher is perfect for his character, too. He was the most hated man in WWE before the spot (fans despise him for his combination of smarminess and lack of top-end in-ring ability), and he certainly is more hated after this one well-timed move. Intergender wrestling should be used sparingly, and with purpose, and the spot on Sunday night accomplished both of those things in spades, for both of the wrestlers.
It wasn’t perfect, though. Since Lynch’s real-life romantic relationship with tag-team partner Seth Rollins is now part of the show, WWE couldn’t resist working in an angle about their relationship. The match ended with Rollins getting into the ring and beating Corbin with a stick, acting out the role of an enraged man rescuing his girlfriend:
The best way to look at intergender wrestling is to question whether everything would go similarly if it was just traditional same-gender violence. Would Rollins have flipped the fuck out if Corbin had hit, say, Roman Reigns with his finisher there? No, almost certainly not. The relationship aspect has been terribly handled by WWE, with Lynch and Rollins losing their individual characters in service of that story. To have the ending of a better-than-expected match go this way is disappointing. It would have been better (and more telling of their relationship, which was billed as an advantage in the match, as they have more natural chemistry than Evans and Corbin) to have Lynch and Rollins team up to win the match together, rather than to have her get taken out only for him to go haywire.
There was also an opportunity for Lynch to help Rollins out after the match, which would have helped equalize that discrepancy somewhat: Brock Lesnar cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase for an immediate title shot against Rollins after the match. That seemed to be a good opportunity for Lynch to interfere in some way in order to help her boyfriend retain his Universal championship. Instead, she continued selling the End of Days outside the ring, and Lesnar became the new champ. (The most Lynch did to come in Rollins’s defense on Sunday was whale on Evans after the, ugh, Sassy Southern Belle tried to flirt with her boyfriend; it’s a very PG angle, but it worked fine enough.)
The circumstances of the relationship angle made it too easy for WWE to default to its own regressive booking, at a time when smaller companies are pushing the boundaries of intergender wrestling. Just last week, Impact Wrestling had their biggest show of the year (Slammiversary, their answer to WrestleMania) main evented by an intergender, one-on-one match between Sami Callahan and Tessa Blanchard. It was portrayed as an even contest, and though Blanchard lost, Callahan showed respect to her after, and everyone left looking much stronger.
That doesn’t mean WWE should do a Corbin-Lynch match any time soon, though they might. The context for the biggest company in the world is different than that of Impact, or the plethora of indie companies putting out intergender wrestling on a regular basis. But for a spot that worked so well in the moment, to have the fallout be all about a male protector and avenger felt off.
So let’s grade this on a curve, and give WWE a passing grade for Sunday’s big spot. If intergender wrestling is going to be used on a semi-regular basis under Heyman (and Eric Bischoff, who will be taking over SmackDown Live starting this week), using it as a fitting storyline move, rather than just for shock value, will be the way to go. They’re 2-for-2 so far this year in that regard, but there are still reasons to worry going forward.
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