Dublin: 12°C Thursday 26 May 2022

How a former Aer Lingus flight attendant became one of the most famous Irish athletes on the planet

Becky Lynch chats to The42 about her remarkable rise to the top of WWE.

Becky Lynch has become one of WWE's top stars.
Becky Lynch has become one of WWE's top stars.
Image: MjtAdmedia

IT HAS NOT been an easy road to the top, but at 32, Ireland’s Becky Lynch is a genuine star of the wrestling world.

In 2018 alone, she was named the CBS Wrestler of the Year, Sports Illustrated’s Women’s Wrestler of the Year, WWE’s Female Superstar of the Year, Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Woman of the Year in addition to being involved in the Match of the Year according to both WWE and CBS, for respective bouts against Charlotte Flair at Evolution and Asuka and Flair at TLC.

Recently, in The Ringer’s preview of the Royal Rumble, esteemed wrestling critic David Shoemaker wrote of Lynch: “In the past six months, she’s built herself into potentially the biggest star the company’s seen in ages. Once a grinning, kid-friendly babyface, she jackknifed into a sneering, undeniable electromagnet of charisma and ring work. There’s a real chance that she and Rousey will headline WrestleMania, and she’s earned the spot. No wrestler has captured the imaginations of fans as dramatically as she has since Daniel Bryan five years ago—and if the upward trajectory continues, we might have to start dusting off the “Stone Cold” comparisons.”

Similarly, earlier in the week, Jimmy Traina of Sports Illustrated wrote: “The WWE has the hottest act in wrestling since Daniel Bryan and his “YES movement” in 2014 in Becky Lynch a.k.a, “The Man.” The crowd cannot get enough of her, she’s more over (wrestling term) than any wrestler in the company and she’s in a storyline with Ronda Rousey, who the WWE paid millions to bring in despite zero wrestling experience.”

If Lynch does headline Wrestlemania with former MMA star Rousey, they would be the first females ever to do so — a trailblazing moment in the company’s history. She would also be the first non-North American athlete to headline the event since France-born André the Giant did so in 1987 — the year she was born. 

Wrestling legend Stone Cold Steve Austin also recently spoke of his admiration for Lynch, saying in relation to her character: “It’s an awesome gimmick and it’s money.”

Lynch, meanwhile, is a curious rare example of an Irish athlete who is more well-known outside of her birth country. Social media is by no means a perfect measure, but certainly gives a sense of her popularity — she has 1.53 million followers on Twitter and 3.5 million followers on Instagram. Compare that, for example, to Brian O’Driscoll (974k on Twitter and 291k on Instagram) or Katie Taylor (151k on Twitter and 182k on Instagram). Of course, if you were to ask the average Irish person, they would be more likely to be able to pick out Taylor or O’Driscoll from a crowd, but the same would not necessarily be true elsewhere.

So how exactly did Lynch get here? She was born in Limerick, but grew up in Baldoyle, a coastal suburb of Dublin’s northside.

Her parents separated at a young age and Lynch immersed herself in a number of sports, including swimming and basketball.

Along with her brother Richy, she slowly became obsessed with wrestling — Mick Foley and Lita were two of her favourites.

However, the prospect of actually joining the company seemed a distant dream, and there were a couple of false starts along the way. 

At 15, she fell in with a bad crowd and became acquainted with alcohol among other excesses. In university, her sense of disillusionment continued, as she studied philosophy, history and politics. Her original ultimate goal was simply to own a gym.

“When I went to college it was only to go to work out in the gym,” she later told Ladysports.

In 2002, Lynch took her interest in wrestling to another level. Fergal Devitt, who is now himself enjoying considerable WWE success under the name Finn Bálor, had set up a wrestling school with fellow aspiring star Paul Tracey. Lynch was the only female participant involved at the time.

“I’ve seen it progress,” she tells The42. “I’ve seen it change. And it’s awesome to see where it is now. When I came back [to Ireland] for Christmas, the very first thing I did when I got there was I went down to the fight factory to see where I used to train and to see what the talent was like. To see who the up-and-comers were.

When I was down there, I was the only girl maybe the entire time I was there — we’re talkin’ three or four years. But when I went down [at Christmas], there was almost an even number of females to males. That made me happy, that me excited. There are people gunning for it. There’s a lot of talent that I saw down there. So I think we put Irish wrestling on the map and it’s up to the up-and-comers to make sure it stays there.”

In addition to her Irish exploits, Lynch also spent time with the now-defunct Kent-based British wrestling promotion NWA UK Hammerlock. At 18, she left home to wrestle in Canada and Japan, before her visa expired and she was forced to return home to Ireland.

Her desire to make it in WWE was as strong as ever though, and prompted an interest in bodybuilding. 

“That was my downward spiral,” she told Lilian Garcia in a revealing interview. “I started eating far too little. I remember going off to Japan — every bump hurt, I had no protection. I didn’t have the energy. It messes with your mind and everything. I ended up getting hurt. I suplexed a girl and she landed on my head. I came back and my mom was worried about me emaciating myself with dieting.”

Lynch, whose real name is Rebecca Quin, subsequently travelled to Orlando, Florida in America to do a personal training course, knowing no one and living in a “little grey apartment”. 

“It was the same cycle — eat too much and get rid of it… I’ve kept journals my entire life and I remember just writing down ‘keep smiling and nobody will notice.’”

As Lynch exited her teens, she was depressed and seeing guidance counsellors. She finally listened to her mother’s advice and resolved to give up on her wrestling dream. It was time to get ‘a real job’. 

Deciding against pursuing work as a personal trainer, Lynch instead joined Aer Lingus as a flight attendant, the same job her mother had, and spent two-and-a-half years there.

Eventually though, Lynch had to listen to the natural performer within her. She returned to college, studying acting at the Dublin Institute of Technology and Columbia College Chicago, as well as spending time at the Gaiety School of Acting.

But when it seemed as if she was set to follow a different path, wrestling came back into her life. Her reputation was not good in the industry. She had no-showed events during that aforementioned difficult period and felt as if she had let people down.

After completing her acting degree, she worked briefly as a stuntwoman and had returned to the Irish wrestling circuit, when the 25-year-old was encouraged to take a try-out with WWE in Birmingham, England.

Respected wrestling figures, including Jim Ross and Gerry Brisco, assessed Lynch and ultimately, she signed a two-year developmental deal with NXT — essentially a farm system for WWE’s main roster.

She was raw and inexperienced at the time, and felt guilty at having left wrestling behind before coming back, as if her sudden success was somehow undeserved. Gradually though, her self-belief grew.

A little under six years on and Lynch’s popularity has exploded. She cites her match with Charlotte Flair and Carmella at SummerSlam last year as the moment of realisation she had truly made it big.

To be fair, I’ve always had a connection with the audience,” she says. “They’ve always rooted for me through the hard times and the good times. I knew they were always behind me, but I wanted to breakout and I think they wanted to see me breakout. So it was just perfect that that was able to happen.”

Having come through bullying, body image issues, depression and a generally turbulent upbringing, Lynch says she has used the pain from these problems to drive her to superstardom.

“It’s almost that fight-or-flight thing where you’ve got something to prove. There’s always been something in me where I’ve always wanted more. I remember my ma would always say to me: ‘Why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you be like everyone else?’ She was always [saying it], it was a real Irish mammy type thing.

“It just wasn’t in me [to be normal]. I wanted more. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something bigger. I wanted to do something that nobody has ever done before. Luckily, WWE gave me the platform to do it.”

WWE And Kidzania London Launch New Fan Experience Lynch was there in 2002, when fellow future WWE superstar Finn Bálor set up a wrestling school in Dublin. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Despite all Lynch has achieved, outside of wrestling fans, she remains relatively under the radar in Ireland. She hopes to change that issue soon.

“I’m very proud of where I came from and I love Ireland to bits. I don’t know why that [situation exists]. Maybe it’s less of a following. But when I go to Ireland — the support from the audience in [the 3Arena], there’s nothing like it. It’s absolutely incredible. So maybe [increasing my popularity in Ireland] needs to be my next goal, my next target to hit. I need to get on the Late Late Show to show my ma that I really made it.

“OTT [Over the Top Wrestling] is doing fantastic right now and that makes me happy. Maybe it’s because we’re not there that often [that I'm not as big]. We might come once a year, we might not. We’re not there as much as we might be in other places. Maybe that’s it, or maybe because it’s not on RTÉ.” 

Asked about WWE CEO Vince McMahon, who she is currently feuding with onscreen, she reverts to her in-ring character, referring to a recent storyline in which the unpopular chairman suspended Lynch for 60 days and replaced her with Charlotte Flair in the Wrestlemania main event.

“He took me out of the main event of Wrestlemania on Monday night, so I can’t say I’m going to say a bunch of good things about him. He’s a businessman. That’s what I found surprising — that he would take me out of the match when it’s the thing that everybody wants to see. They’re always talking about what’s best for business — put me in the first-ever women’s main event at Wrestlemania.” 

Reflecting on her current status as one of the company’s most valuable assets, Lynch simply says hard work elevated her to a position which so many people dream of reaching.

I worked for it — that’s the difference. And I obsessed about it and I think about it non-stop. Anyone can say ‘I want to do this or that,’ but I was obsessing about it.

“Are they obsessing about it? Are they watching it as much as they can? Are they keeping an eye on absolutely everybody to know they’re one step ahead all the time? Are they in the gym as much? Are they working as hard on their craft as much?

“I’m just diligent about getting people to care about this. I think that’s the difference. Anybody can do it if they want to put in the work. The thing is people don’t want to put in that level of work.

“It’s much easier to go on Instagram or whatever and post a frickin’ selfie of yourself than to sit down and think: what can I put out there to get people talking? What can I put out there to get people caring? Do I just want to put a picture of myself with a nice cleavage shot so I can just get a bunch of likes? That’s what people resort to as opposed to actually putting out something that will entertain people. And that will get people talking. And that will get people engaged. That’s the difference.”

mcmahon-vince-usnews-getty-ftr_1bpcscsatbnzw1oj566c04trzr-390x285 Lynch is currently feuding onscreen with WWE CEO Vince McMahon.

In recent years, women’s wrestling has been elevated to a different level. Effectively relegated to a sideshow in the past, it now rivals the men’s equivalent matches both for athleticism and gripping storylines. And Lynch hopes one of her lasting legacies will be inspiring other Irish women to follow a similar path to hers.

It’s the same with MMA, if you look at Conor McGregor,” she adds. “He showed people you could be a huge star in MMA coming from Ireland, so I think you saw a huge increase in people training in MMA in Ireland. So we’ve shown people just how good women’s wrestling can be and how much investment we can get from the audience, and gender be damned. It doesn’t matter. You’re not confined to doing freakin’ mud matches and bikini matches and all that jazz. You can go and have an all-out slugfest as a woman. You can main event as a woman. You can main event Wrestlemania as ‘The Man’ — that’s me.”

She continues: “Me and my brother started at the same time, and we watched wrestling [growing up]. But even when I started wrestling, for years, I wouldn’t have been so brazen in my dreams that I thought I could actually be in WWE. It’s just progression and love and hard work. Then after doing it for a while, I was like: ‘Actually, I could do this. I could be in WWE.’ It wasn’t what I set off to do. But I loved it. I was driven and then there was no doubt in my mind that this was what I was meant to do.”

Subscribe to our new podcast, The42 Rugby Weekly, here:

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel