On last week's call with investors, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon re-emphasized his commitment to maintaining WWE's PG rating. When asked if AEW would encourage WWE's creative team to create edgier, more explicit content, McMahon said the following:
"AEW has not changed [WWE's] content at all because it's all about our characters, the storylines, and resolutions. We don't need more edgy content, as you call it. We're one of the few programs out there that really is PG."
Shayna Baszler bit Becky Lynch on the neck and then posed with blood dripping out of her mouth on the February 10 episode of Raw. WWE is in the business of working a paying audience; it takes nerve and gall to work the stockholders.
The big bite occurred on the heels of a Raw Women's Championship match between Becky Lynch and challenger Asuka. Lynch retained the title via pinfall, and it was during her post-match celebration that Baszler entered the ring and struck Lynch from behind. She then locked her opponent into a Kirifuda Clutch, before throwing Lynch's limp body to the mat, face first.
This was Baszler's debut on Raw after years of dominating NXT. Had the segment ended there, it would have been perfect. In less than a minute, WWE had established everything the audience needed to know about this new feud between Lynch and Baszler. In one corner was the dominant champion, who held the title against all comers and handed Ronda Rousey her first loss. In the other corner was a thick-shouldered, legitimate shoot fighter, who trained with Rousey and fought in the UFC.
But the segment did not end there. Instead, Shayna Baszler knelt down and took a healthy chomp out of the back of Becky Lynch's neck. Blood flowed out of Baszler's mouth. Lynch, who had been lying on the mat lifeless, began hollering at the top of her lungs. And as she was taken out of the arena by a medic team, the camera captured dried blood clumped in Lynch's hair.
Afterwards, Lynch hijacked an ambulance and drove herself to the hospital. She returned later in the show, bandaged up and spoiling for a fight. Baszler didn't oblige, which means that likely, this angle will become a cat-and-mouse game for the next several weeks, where each woman will try and one-up the other. A Becky Lynch appearance on the February 12 episode of NXT seems imminent.
The segment drew a crowd reaction, no doubt about that. But WWE will struggle to top this segment for the next two months. It's too much, too soon.
Let's assume that both the bite and the blood were kayfabe (in the unlikely scenario that the bite was legit, this segment was beyond the pale). Even so--even as a scripted storytelling device--the bite is a freak show stunt. It reduces Baszler, who is a legitimate, trained fighter, to the level of a feral animal.
Fleshing out who she is, and why we should care, is going to be an uphill battle moving forward. The WWE creative team now has to convince the casual fan that Baszler is someone with value beyond "the one who bites people;" commentator Jerry Lawler got the ball rolling by calling her a "vampire." Fortunately, Baszler is talented enough to dig herself out of this narrative hole, but why put her in the hole to begin with?
It would have been easy to make her unhinged and dangerous without stooping to this level. The bite was so extreme, so out of place, that it became impossible to suspend disbelief. Baszler might as well have taken out a knife and shanked Lynch. Because at that point, the wrestlers are no longer simulating athletic competition. They're performing bad theater.
Conversely, imagine if Baszler mounted Lynch and continued to ground-and-pound her. Imagine if at the end of the segment, the blood dripped off of Baszler's fists instead of her mouth. Wouldn't that be terrifying?
In the context of a wrestling angle, biting is logical if the biter feels cornered or trapped--if the person's other limbs are, for whatever reason, unavailable. Chomping down should be the last, desperate resort.
Case in point: When Roman Reigns and the Usos chained Baron Corbin to the ring post on the January 31 episode of Smackdown, Corbin attempted to bite his opponents as a way of escaping because his hands were being yoked together. That made sense. What didn't make sense, and what came across as ridiculous, was Shayna kneeling down to bite an unconscious opponent, who was lying in the prone position.
Yes, it was shocking, and it drew a social media response. But that's a short-term reward that numbs the audience's sensibilities. The bite would have made a lot more sense if it took place two weeks before Wrestlemania. The storyline needs to build to an emotional point where such an act would be a necessary escalation.
Instead, we're 50 days away from Wrestlemania. What's the followup act to this? Does Baszler continue to bite people? Will Lynch bite Baszler back? Never underestimate WWE's ability to redefine bad taste. This is not the bottom.
Lynch vs. Baszler has the potential to be great--even better than the Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley showdown that's also heating up. But often, the difference between a solid match and a classic match comes down to the context and history of its competitors and the lead-up to the fight. WWE hot-shotted this storyline with a momentum it cannot maintain. It does Baszler, and the hard work it took her to get to this point, a pointed disservice.