“I’ll fly out on Friday morning, go find a gym, go get some healthy food, go to the show, do the show, drive to next town. Wake up, find a gym, find some good healthy food, go to the show, drive to the next town. Again: gym, food, show. Monday you’ll wake up, find a gym, work out, we’ll have Raw all day. Tuesday’s the same: go to the gym, then the venue for SmackDown and main event all day Tuesday. Wednesday I’ll fly home, I’ll either chill out, talk to my friends, talk to as many people as I can from back home, it’s a rest day so I’ll do a little bit of yoga. Thursday I’ll wake up, do some yoga, chill out, talk to my ma, then I’ll work out later on in the day, run my errands, do laundry, pack my bag and get ready to go. Then off I go again on Friday. No time to get bored, I’ll tell you that!”
Speaking to Rebecca Quin, it’s clear that for all the accusations that professional wrestling isn’t a real sport, it’s definitely hard work. Officially billing itself as sports-entertainment, World Wrestling Entertainment is certainly more theatre than traditional sport, but it’s no less athletic for the distinction. Rebecca wrestles under her ring name, Becky Lynch, as part of WWE’s Diva championship, after moving up from the NXT developmental championship for new talent. Hailing from Baldoyle, Rebecca is one of very few Irish to make it in the WWE scene, and she’s keen to talk about where her interest in wrestling came from and how she finally made it.
Her brother Richy’s interest in wrestling was a big a part of what drew her to it when she was young. “Me and my brother used to watch it together for as long as I can remember. What particularly drew me in was Mick Foley and Lita. Lita because she was just so cool, such a badass, and she was the most relatable to me, just a little rock chick that did what she wanted, a tomboy. And then Mick Foley who’s just so sympathetic, any time he would come on the TV when my brother would be watching it I’d always want to know what was going on with Mick.”
Watching as a kid, as one of millions of fans, Rebecca didn’t initially harbour thoughts of wrestling when she grew up. “I never for a second even considered that I could be a wrestler. It was such an out-there dream. There was no wrestling school in Dublin, it didn’t even register as a thing I could do. Of course I looked at it and thought ‘that’s so cool, that’d be amazing’, but I didn’t think that I’d ever be doing it.”
When Rebecca was 15, her brother Richy was making moves to try and become a professional wrestler, and the realisation that this was a possibility for her began to grow. “I decided I wanted to change my life around, I wanted to get fit, and at the same time my brother was going to go over to England to try and be a wrestler. He found a school over there – NWA UK Hammerlock – but I didn’t think my mother was going to let me go over to England to train to be a wrestler. But then we found out that Fergal Devitt – a.k.a. Finn Bálor, NXT champion at the moment – was opening a school down in Bray. So I went along, and from the second I went down there I was just hooked, I absolutely loved it. And still it seemed like too much of a far-out-there dream, you know?”
At that time, Rebecca still had her mind on other things, and began following a more traditional route before she definitely decided that she wanted to throw herself into wrestling. “I was still going to college, studying to be a lawyer. I remember sitting backstage, it was in a hall in Kildare, me and my brother had just done a tag match and I remember looking at him and saying, ‘This is what I’m meant to do’.”
But even with that realisation at age 17 that this is what she wanted to do, the path to WWE still wasn’t a smooth one, and her first real attempt to break into professional wrestling ended with some disappointment. “I moved over to Canada when I was 18. I dropped out of college and I ended up wrestling around Japan and around America, Canada and Europe. Then I fell out of wrestling when I was 19, because I figured I needed to get a stable job. So I ended up working as an air hostess for Aer Lingus, I went back to college and I did every other job I could imagine. But throughout the whole time there was something in me saying, ‘I’m not doing what I’m meant to do’.”
Back in Ireland, Rebecca slowly drifted back towards wrestling, after putting both her athleticism and theatre degree to good use. “I started working as a stunt woman on Vikings. And I went down to training school at Main Stage Wrestling with my friend Joe Cabray, who was also hired in WWE for a little while. And he saw that I still had the passion and I had the footwork and said, ‘Would you ever think about going for a try-out?’ But I thought I had my life planned, I was going to move to New York at that stage.” However, Joe urged her to think about it, and eventually, seven years after quitting wrestling, Rebecca realised what looked like staying a childhood dream, and was accepted to WWE’s NXT development programme. “I wanted to start off as a blank canvas, my confidence wasn’t there. It was really an amazing growing process, trying to rediscover myself in the wrestling world, knowing that with everything that happened this was one hundred percent where I wanted to be.”
In developing the character of Becky Lynch, Rebecca tried out countless characters, but none seemed right for her. “Really it’s been about stripping it back, and finding a certain element of my own personality then turning that up a bit. She’s a firecracker, you know? She just wants to get down to business, just wants to fight, has struggled against a lot for a long time. She’s defeated the odds and battled a lot of the demons whether they come in the form of Charlotte, Ric Flair or Sasha Banks, or whether the come from her own head. And now she’s just determined on where she wants to go and what she wants to stand for.”
The Becky Lynch character has long orange-red hair, and dresses in a long leather coat with steampunk welding goggles perched on her head. Though she looks more like she could have stepped out of a Final Fantasy game, her nickname “Lass Kicker” is usually emblazoned in a tartan typeface – possibly due to an American confusion of all things Irish and Scottish. Rebecca is very aware of playing up the ‘fighting Irish’ stereotype, and how it can work to her advantage with different audiences.
“The red hair is less about Irish, and more because I always wanted orange hair ever since I saw The Fifth Element, and there’s a bit of steampunk in there. But obviously it is synonymous with Ireland and I’m so proud of where I came from. And I think that’s unique in itself, because there’s never been another Irish woman in WWE. And being Irish is the new in thing at the moment! With Conor McGregor, with Sheamus who’s just been the heavyweight champ, and then we’ve got Finn Bálor as the NXT champ. Now it’s just time for me to win the Diva’s championship!”
The Becky Lynch character does seem to have grabbed fans’ imaginations, and Rebecca’s Twitter and Instagram feeds are full of reposts of fan art she’s been sent. They range, as you might expect, from excellent likenesses to scrawled children’s drawings of their hero. But they also include manga versions, a clay model and I spotted My Little Pony and The Grinch cross-over drawings – My Little Becky and How the Lynch Stole Christmas, maybe? Add to this the constant pictures of cosplayers dressed as her, and the explosion of Becky Lynch costumes at Hallowe’en, and all this attention on her image could be daunting.
“It’s surreal and it’s the best thing in the world. And I’m just such a huge fan of any sort of creativity, so when I see the fan art that they do, it blows my mind. I’m just so grateful that they would pick me as their subject to draw. And then dressing up as me for Hallowe’en – I remember dressing up as Lita!” The next objective is to feature in one of the videogames. “Hopefully the next one, 2017. That was always the goal, to be in a video game and to have an action figure!”
WWE, obviously, isn’t devoid of gender and sexuality problems, and the issue of the sexualisation of the female performers is one that’s linked to the costumes and fan art. There are also accusations that female wrestlers are often used for storyline purposes as reasons for the men to fight each other, and rarely the other way around. Openly gay, lesbian or bisexual pro wrestlers appear to be a rarity, and the storylines have remained heteronormative, although WWE was praised for its vocal support of Darren Young after he came out.
Rebecca is extremely positive about women’s involvement, however. “When I watched in the Attitude era, there were women that were kicking ass like nobody’s business, so the role of women in WWE has always been really important. I think we’re taking that and we’re building onto it, and we’re getting more and more attention.” There was a scandal last year when AJ Lee publicly called the WWE CEO out on the fraction of screen time and pay that female wrestlers get compared to their male counterparts, and that seems to be improving. “The way our matches are going, we don’t want them to be good just for women’s matches, we just want them to be great, stand-alone matches regardless of gender,” Rebecca tells me. “I think the only way we’re going is up – we were a semi-main event on the Royal Rumble, myself and Charlotte, Sasha Banks and Bayley have main-evented down in NXT. The future is just so unbelievably bright for women in the sport. We’re going to have a huge influx of female talent in the next few years.”
Supporting newer female talent is something that Rebecca is very proud of. “It’s also a huge motivational factor, and it reminds you that you have to keep working,” she says. “We’ve got to work together to make sure that one day we’re main-eventing WrestleMania, that’s the ultimate goal. And not just as a gimmick, but because we deserve it.” This support is important for Rebecca, as she feels she was well looked after as she was coming up. “William Regal has always been great to me, I owe him a lot. Lita and Mick Foley, too. They say never meet your heroes, but to be honest with you in my experience that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
WWE will be touring in Europe in the coming months, including dates in Belfast (Wednesday 20th April) and Dublin (Thursday 21st April), and Rebecca is extremely keen to be back fighting on home turf. “Please God I’m there, because last time I was there back in November it was one of the best experiences. It might have actually been the most nervous I’ve ever been as well – just to perform in front of my home crowd. But the reaction was just incredible. It was amazing, especially having gone to see WWE when they were in The Point, as it was back then, and then being on the other side: what’s happened! The reaction and the responsiveness and the support, it just makes you so proud to be Irish.”
Her connection to home is still strong. “On my days off, I will spend most of my time on Skype to friends back home in Ireland,” probably why she hasn’t lost a drop of her Dublin accent. “That’s been the greatest support structure as well, and reminds you of all the important things. All my friends and family are the reason I got here in the first place, I’d be nothing without them and I’d never forget that.”
Contact with the fans is also a big part of Rebecca’s life and work. Between her Instagram and Twitter she’s got easily over a million followers, a level of direct exposure that she never had to her wrestling heroes when she was young, and a level of personal feedback that wrestlers of the past never had from their fans. “It makes you feel a lot of love, and I’m humbled by it. But it also allows you as a performer to be able to see what people are tuning into. I think that helps you perform better because you can tell what people like and maybe what they don’t like. And then you are able to respond to them and tell them how much their support means to you, and I think it’s great for fans to know that they’re actually contacting you directly.”
But what does her mam think about it, 15 years after Rebecca was worried she wouldn’t let her join her brother in England to train? “I’ll tell yeh, the battles were real. My mam wasn’t the biggest fan of me wrestling when I was younger. But now she’s just my number one fan. She’s happy to see me in company where I’m so looked after. She’s happy that I’m doing my dream, doing what I want. Because she fought against me wrestling when I was younger, we battled. I pursued all the other things that I did, which were safer choices and had her a lot happier, because trying to make it to WWE is a risky thing, there’s only a few people that make it here. But seeing that I did make it, she’s proud of me. Her support means a lot, and of course she’ll always be there to keep me grounded.”
Rebecca will be returning to Ireland and taking to the ring as Becky Lynch in WrestleMania Revenge in Belfast’s SSE Arena on Wednesday 20th April and Dublin’s 3Arena on Thursday 21st April.
Words: John Hyland
Illustrations: Ruan van Vliet