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Hug Life: Bayley's Journey, Part 10

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Click here to read Part 9 of Bayley's Journey, and follow along with our StoryStream of the whole series!

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HugNotes

Below is a subset of essential "Bayley" moments from her time in NXT. Consider this a CliffsNotes version of Bayley's NXT career—HugNotes, if you will. To be clear, this is by no means a comprehensive, objectively accurate list. (The wonderful thing about her NXT career is that there are so many options for this section.) They're merely moments that for me made Bayley, Bayley.

  • 11/6/2013: Overly naive, doltish Bayley is oblivious to the fact that the BFFs (just Summer Rae and Sasha Banks at this point; Charlotte turned a week later) are mocking her—she calls them "cool" even though Sasha literally mouths "loser" to her face. Also, Sasha uses "Bayles" (pronounced Bales, with a silent y) for the first time ever, which is just such a wonderful nickname. This segment shows just how clueless early Bayley was to her surroundings, and demonstrates just how far she had come by the time of her maturation.
  • 9/11/2014: In the aftermath of her loss to Charlotte at TakeOver: Fatal Four-Way for the NXT Women's Championship, Bayley is rendered speechless by a question from Renee Young. Bayley was asked how it felt to be a role model for all the little girls in the audience, and The Hugger, overwhelmed by the notion, is simply unable to muster words, instead fidgeting with her wristband and nodding. A prime example of the blurring of shoot and kayfabe, of Pamela Martinez and Bayley. Also the first time Izzy is referenced on NXT.
  • 11/27/14: Despite Charlotte being absent—and warning her to keep a low profile—Bayley calls out Team BAE, saying that "bullies are cowards." In exchange, she eats a beatdown, with her left leg viciously targeted. As of this moment, Bayley still had more heart than sense—she wasn't the geek of a year prior, but hadn't yet learned much street smarts.
  • 3/4/2015: A defining moment of growth for Bayley, as she's approached by a returning Emma backstage. Only a few weeks removed from TakeOver: Rival, she suggests to the Australian that they watch the NXT Women's Championship match between newly-crowned Sasha Banks and Charlotte. Emma instead mocks her for having lost at Rival, and unlike she would have in the past, Bayley immediately reacts to the slight, giving her old friend some serious side-eye. She was learning.
  • 8/5/15: Minutes after beating her friend-turned-foe-turned-friend again Charlotte, Bayley asks NXT General Manager William Regal for a title match. Regal instead put her in a number one contender's match with Becky Lynch, a result that Bayley accepts as fair. As she's about to leave, she grabs the water bottle she walked into the room with, and clenches it tightly, producing a crinkling sound—she was happy with the decision, and excited for her match with Becky. The bit with the water bottle seems so mundane, but is representative of a Total Babyface persona.
  • 8/19/15: NXT Women's Championship contract signing with Sasha Banks. Three days before her triumph at TakeOver: Brooklyn, Bayley was relentlessly belittled by Banks, and seemed to have merely passively taken all the shots thrown her way. But she slowly rounded the table and chased down The Boss, who was too busy making fun of Izzy to notice the charging Hugger. Bayley savagely assaulted Sasha before being separated by referees, and as she's held back, her face betrayed her true feelings: that despite her bluster that this time would be different, she was worried Sasha was right about her—and that she would lose in Barclays. It helped cast doubt over the result, even though everyone knew Bayley was winning.
  • 9/16/15: Return to Full Sail as the NXT Women's Championship. I can't say enough good things about the last 15 minutes of this episode. The new champion first celebrated among the NXT Universe in the crowd, and then carried Izzy into the ring to do her customary pre-match routine. It's an incredible display of warmth and joy. To top it all off, after beating Sarah Dobson, The Boss showed up to demand her rematch for the title. Regal then came out to announce they would main event the following TakeOver, and would do so in a 30-minute Iron Man match. The segment was so good, I stayed up until 6:00 a.m. (on a Thursday morning!) writing my reaction.
  • 11/25/15: Bayley successfully fended off nefarious corporate influences and Nia Jax in order to retain her NXT Women's Championship against Eva Marie. This was the culmination of an extended program building Eva up as the biggest heat magnet in wrestling. Many fans were convinced that Bayley would drop her title to All Red Everything, so when she did overcome everything placed in her way, it made her something approaching the Greatest Babyface to Ever Babyface. Her line earlier in the night, that the difference between her and Eva was that "I'm a wrestler, Tom," was utter perfection.
  • 12/16/15: Her first "Monster of the Month" special. Her match versus Nia Jax at TakeOver: London was a classic bit of pro wrestling. It demonstrated how gifted Bayley is at guiding inexperienced hands through matches, and the entire NXT swing through the United Kingdom proved how nuclear over The Hugger was with all crowds. By the end of this tour, she was clearly and undeniably The Guy.
  • 4/1/16: Bayley losing the NXT Women's Championship to Asuka was a devastating result for many—none more than The Hugger herself, who sold complete heartbreak when being informed by referee Danilo Anfibio what had occurred. The title meant so, so much to her, and she had lost. Simply crushing.

(And yes, TakeOver: Brooklyn was too obvious a pick.)

Evolution

You only need to take an extremely cursory glance at her social media accounts to see that Bayley is a genuine hero for untold number of little girls (boys too, but especially girls). Young women have never truly had a character, like Bayley, that was designed for them. Her role is an important and long overdue acclimation by WWE toward evolving gender roles and the advancement of women's rights.

Give WWE credit for this at least—they've properly acknowledged that women are increasingly prominent in all facets of American society. Yes, WWE's women's division is amid a sweeping transformation. But it remains to be seen if this is lasting, permanent change, or merely a trend meant to curry favor with sponsors. (It also remains to be seen whether they'll compensate their female performers as well as they do their men, which from all indications is currently far from the case.)

The "Divas Revolution" of 2015-2016 was an utter failure, relying on branding at the expense of anything concrete. Even the company's own talent have lambasted the so-called Revolution. While the work of NXT's women's division since mid-2014 has been truly revolutionary, the main roster has relied far too much on Big Matches, flashiness, and branding at the expense of a solid foundation. (This is also the case with the men's divisions as well, though Smackdown Live of late has been working to correct this problem.)

Sasha Banks is out here damn near killing herself on high spots to get women's wrestling over because creative or management is simply unwilling, or incapable, of telling organic stories to get the division over. This is not acceptable.

It's not to say that there's been zero progress. That's far from the case. But it doesn't yet seem anything more than a surface level treatment—shallow and easily reversed in an instant.

By the time "women's wrestling" became a buzzword in NXT, the work had long been established—every week, the important players in the division would get meaningful time, on a one-hour show, to present developing stories and evolving characters. NXT didn't shove down our throats the idea of "change"—instead, they just went about making the necessary changes. Before anyone realized the transformation we were witnessing, we were fully invested in Bayley, Sasha, Becky, and Charlotte. The big TakeOver matches between the Four Horsewomen weren't big matches because of the ring work during the events—they were big matches because they were presented as such long before the bell rang.

Show, don't tell.

Another problem is the lack of depth in the main roster women's division. The brand split desperately hurts here. With 12 active women on the roster, you could build varied stories and establish character arcs for a number of wrestlers without overexposing anybody. But only six per brand?

While NXT never had a particularly large division, it was consistent in its use of enhancement talent and short backstage segments to both separate characters from each other and allow individual narratives to breathe. In 2014, Bayley had unique stories with Charlotte, Sasha, and Becky. Yes, they were intertwined, but there was never a case of just "having a wrestle" to fill time. Everything was done with purpose, whereas on the main roster, that's so very rarely the case.

This is not to say that NXT is perfect—there's no reason why either Bayley-Asuka I or II shouldn't have been the main event of either Dallas or, especially, Brooklyn II. Closing the show in Barclays with Bayley's send-off would have been truly proper billing. But these are much smaller gripes than the issues with the main roster.

There's also a problem with simply so much more television time for Raw and Smackdown Live—if the women get 20 minutes of time on a one-hour show, it's fine. If they get that much time on a three-hour show, it appears to be a glaring problem and signifies, rightly or wrongly, that the division doesn't matter to management. (There's also the issue that for many months this year, the division wasn't even getting that limited amount of time.) This amplifies the issue of splitting the division—though Raw has still done absolutely nothing with Summer Rae or Alicia Fox (or Paige, who is of course suspended), and not a whole lot with Nia Jax (she got no time last Monday), whereas Smackdown Live is using literally all of its women on every show.

Bayley could, and should, be the face of the company. But WWE is going to have to seriously commit to its women's division in a way it just hasn't yet for someone like Bayley to reach her full potential.

What Bayley Means

Once you reach a certain age, actually believing another person is perfect is an illusory, even dangerous, idea—everyone is flawed, and seriously so. It's the nature of being human.

But in professional wrestling, the babyfaces don't have to adhere to real-life standards. It's storytelling. The characters are fictional devices. We don't need to know that (hypothetically) Bayley actually has a really messy house and leaves her dirty dishes in the sink when there's a dishwasher right there and oh em gee even when you do put them in the dishwasher you don't rinse them off it's really frustrating seriously. (You get the idea.)

We are allowed the childlike approach of projecting every good quality onto her—and we gladly take it. We are innocent when watching Bayley and wishing for her success. We don't want to see Bayley win—we need to see her win. In a world so often bleak and uncaring, we need to witness The Good being rewarded.

Looking back now at my writings last year on Sasha Banks, I can see more than a hint of condescension toward Ms. Martinez. Maybe I'm the only one who can read them that way, since I can remember where my head was when producing those works, but to me it's quite clear. I called Bayley good, very good, great, etc—but always with the caveat, stated or not, that Sasha's better. Sasha's the best, I claimed.

But I was massively underselling Martinez—which is wonderfully ironic, considering the arc of the character is about a struggle to overcome doubters.

One day you kinda like Bayley but maybe she's not your favorite; the next day you start actively rooting for her in her matches; the next week you're openly wearing her shirts in public; and then finally you end up writing 27,317 words about her NXT career. (I mean, look at how many more words I've now written about Bayles than The Boss.) Watching Bayley is an investment—she grabs some portion of your heart and refuses to let it go.

A song titled "Hard Times" by my favorite musician in the world, William Elliott Whitmore, contains a snippet that I find particularly relevant when assessing Bayley:

hard times, hard times, hard times made us
you know that hard times, hard times, hard times made us
oh and I would not trade them all for anything

The idea is that anyone can claim to feel alive when things are going well. It's easy to express happiness and love of life when we're on top. The real test of a well-lived existence is whether we can acknowledge and appreciate the struggles that shaped us and helped propel us to whatever successes we find. We can't know true joy without having experienced real pain.

That is the lesson of Bayley's Journey. There's obvious love in beauty, but also a different, subtle love in pain. Do we hide from pain, because it's simply too much to bear? Or do we choose, as Bayley inevitably does, to own up to the realities of defeat and failure and resolve to overcome? Do we respond to adversity by becoming the best version of ourselves?

Pogo is truly the perfect nickname for her—you can't keep her down, ever. It's because of her natural spirit, her indomitable will, that she makes the quintessential babyface. For a company that has lacked a natural, fresh, top babyface for a very long time (Daniel Bryan's period on the top being sadly cut short due to injury), Bayley is an absolute gift from the heavens. She's built for the role of company, and industry, standard-bearer.

When you think about it, it's remarkable that any of us exist. Think of the literally innumerable events that occurred throughout history leading up to our births. It's such a gift to be present at all. It's indubitably overwhelming, but we try our best to provide comfort and love for those also making this rare, accidental journey of life alongside ourselves. Those rare individuals that can express that sentiment through their life's work, on such a visible level, are so dearly cherished.

Long ago, we were told to eat our vitamins and say our prayers. More recently, we were told to follow the mantra of "hustle, loyalty, and respect" and to never give up.

It's time for a new philosophy. It's time for the world to embrace the power of the Hug Life.

Acknowledgments

A very special thank you to our fearless leaders on Cageside Seats, Geno Mrosko and Sean Rueter, for running such a collaborative environment and fostering an elevated level of discourse.

Thanks to all those reading that have commented or tweeted or emailed me expressing support or enjoyment—it is much appreciated.

And my utmost of thanks, once again, to Pamela Martinez.