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From ‘Just Bayley’ to ‘Just Champion’

What Bayley’s title triumph reminds us about pro wrestling—and life.

WWE Raw Women’s Champion Bayley WWE Instagram

Check the calendar.

Rather fitting, isn’t it?

Ignore for now the fact that Bayley’s probably losing the Raw Women’s Championship at FastLane in two weeks. Put aside the gripes that they didn’t save this moment for WrestleMania, or that her journey wasn’t as epic as it “should have been.” Worry about the division’s path forward another time.

Look once more at the picture adorning the top of this article.

In a world that seems more uncertain by the day, that smile is a life-affirming salve. That smile is joy. That smile is innocence.

That smile is love.

It’s unfortunate that Valentine’s Day represents a specific sort of love: the saccharine sentiments, the candy hearts with cute little messages, the Hallmarkization of the greatest human emotion. Because love, as Bayley teaches us, is so much more than those commercialized, sanitized representations.

Love of thyself, family, friends, pets, sports teams, foods, places, television shows and characters, etc, etc—they’re all unique forms of love. What they share, though, is that they’re all inherently undefinable. They are so immense, so powerful, that our abilities to describe them inevitably fall short. Words and actions can only express so much.

Much like the idea of love, it’s both very hard, and not hard at all, to explain what makes Bayley so compelling. She’s an impossible amalgamation of every decent person we’ve ever met: the kid in class who took notes in a fashion that you always deeply respected; the stranger who bought you a muffin at the coffee shop, just because; the person who says “Hi” to dogs on the street.

None of this is necessarily special. Yet, somehow, that’s what makes her more special than any other. Love isn’t just about grand gestures and overt displays. It’s born out of ostensibly mundane familiarity, and emerges as something subtler, something intangible—a feeling that only the individual can truly understand, a feeling that comes from deep inside. In similar fashion, Bayley is not just her matches, nor her talking segments—she’s somehow greater than what she is and does. The organic connection that she inspires in so many is paramount, is singular. As last night’s match went on, one could feel the energy of the crowd grow through the TV, more and more.

We’re all well aware, and have accepted, that this endeavor called professional wrestling is slightly ridiculous. But currents like the one that coursed through last night’s crowd in Las Vegas are far, far from any fakery. The greatest wrestlers are those who can make us feel, in spite of our self-awareness; who can enrapture us to the point where we abandon any pretense of being “smart” about the product.

Bayley remains, forevermore, the babiest babyface to ever babyface. She tugs on our hearts, whether we allow it or not. As the last 15 or so minutes of Raw went by last night, the collective WWE Universe found its knees a little wobbly and its heart racing just a bit. Of course she was going to win—Charlotte loses the title on Raw. That’s what happens. There’s no surprise here. What’s to be excited about?

But the logic in our brains was overruled, somehow, as always, by this “Average Jane” from San Jose. Everything we knew became irrelevant; all that mattered in the moment is what we felt. Cynicism, seemingly permanently ingrained in WWE fans these days, washed away at the hands of hope. This is no accident, but a direct result of what the character represents and espouses.

What Bayley implores us to accept is both herself as herself—and ourselves as ourselves. The core message of the character is to embrace one’s self, warts and all, no matter what life throws at us. What Bayley teaches us is that when an opponent tries to cut us down, tries to belittle whom we are, the best answer is to simply double down on being us.

Tyrion Lannister once told Jon Snow, “Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” When Stephanie McMahon mocked Bayley by saying she was, “Just Bayley,” our resident Hugger shielded herself in this very philosophy: “I’m just Bayley, and that’s good enough for me.” We need avatars like this who can remind us that our imperfections are what make us whole.

Sure, it may not always be a realistic sentiment for real life. Circumstances can weigh us down. We get unduly hard on ourselves. But that’s what makes her message so universal—we need art that presents us an unvarnished, unadulterated good. The human capacity for comprehending, and appreciating, an ideal while simultaneously acknowledging its impossibility is one of our greatest, most unlikely gifts. We need ideals to inspire us and aspire for, as otherwise it becomes all too easy to accept a life without meaning and purpose.

Furthermore, she brings a level of authenticity that is unmatched in most art forms. Were Bayley’s joy and good-nature merely an act of an actually quite nasty human being, the insincerity would easily come through. Never has the old adage, “The best characters are the performers dialed to 11,” been more true as it is with Bayley. We, as well, cannot fake ourselves—try as we might, we cannot avoid the fact that, “wherever you go, there you are.”

You can’t fake love—and you can’t fake Bayley.

Always be yourself, and we’ll try, too.

Congratulations, Bayles.

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