We may be on the verge of witnessing one of the more active free agency periods in pro wrestling history. Several major names, from all the top companies, are apparently set to see their contracts expire sometime in 2024.
In addition to negotiating with outside free agents, WWE has reportedly been busy trying to keep some of their own talent from hitting the open market.
PWInsider was the first to report last month that the 4-time WWE Women’s Champion had signed a multi-year extension with the company. That report was later corroborated by other outlets, but when Cageside Seats had a chance to chat with Bayley this week, she did not out right confirm or deny anything.
However, the bold and brash leader of Damage CTRL made it abundantly clear that she plans on wrestling inside a WWE ring for quite a while longer.
Like a ghost unable to crossover into the afterlife, Bayley has far too much unfinished business for anywhere other than WWE to be considered her home.
“There’s so much I wanna do for the wrestling world,” Bayley said. “Of course there are other places that I can do that and give what I have, but to me, the dream from when I was 10 years old was to do [‘this’ several times over] and all with WWE. I haven’t done all those things. I don’t wanna walk away without doing the things that I said I was gonna do, or at least giving 150% of me trying to get those things done.”
One item remaining on the bucket list, is winning the Royal Rumble.
Just a couple of weeks away from this year’s annual over-the-top-rope challenge, Bayley is the current betting favorite to be the last woman standing. Followed closely by former winner Becky Lynch and WWE newcomer Jade Cargill.
The competition is stiff, but if there was ever a year for Bayley to have her moment in one of WWE’s biggest matches, this is the year.
It was January 24, 2013 when Bayley wrestled her first match in NXT. Debuting as ‘Luchadora’ in a 6-woman tag team match at a house show in Tampa, Florida. Almost 11 years to the day, the Role Model has a chance to accomplish a goal that wasn’t even an option the day she signed, in the very city she debuted.
“Everybody knows that when you win the Royal Rumble, you get to point at the sign and the fireworks go off. That’s the stuff you dream about. I’m excited to feel that. I wanna feel that and I wanna get that singles match at WrestleMania.”
Bayley has quite the distinguished list of accomplishments in WWE: Multi-time WWE Women’s Champion, first ever WWE Women’s Tag Team Champion, first ever Women’s Grand Slam Champion in WWE, Money in the Bank winner. Remarkably however, she’s never wrestled one-on-one at the ‘Grand Daddy of Them All’.
Her MVP caliber run during the pandemic culminated with her being left off the card at WrestleMania 37, the first show back in front of fans in over year. The following year she had to miss WrestleMania entirely due to injury.
Bayley’s journey to getting where she is now has not been all roses. Which is why being able to point at that WrestleMania sign would mean so much to her. A fulfilling moment that proves all of her hard work and sacrifice was well worth the effort.
“I had to go through a lot that people don’t see. It’s a lot of patience and a lot of frustration and a lot of wins and a lot of losses, a lot of losses and a lot of losses.”
The vast majority of the losses in her career have only recently started to pile up. You can count the number of singles matches that Bayley won in all of 2023 on one hand. Her last Championship run was well over three years ago, ending at Hell in Cell inside the ThunderDome.
The lack of individual success, however, has not been without purpose. Since returning from an ACL injury at SummerSlam 2022, Bayley has put her own goals and ambitions on the backburner in order to fulfill her goals for the rest of the Women’s Division — doing whatever she can to help women like Bianca Belair, IYO SKY, Dakota Kai and others elevate their standing on the roster.
The depth of talent that she gets to work with on a daily basis is another major reason she wants to stay in WWE for the long haul.
“I’m at such a good place where I’m helping these girls. We have such awesome talent in NXT that I can’t wait to see come up.”
There’s such a fascinating dynamic in pro wrestling. It’s an industry that can be dominated by pride and ego, which as history has shown, can lead to conflict — both in the ring and outside of it. At the same time, it’s the ultimate team sport. The industry does better when there’s a bevy of top tier stars in the game.
Whether it’s in the ring, on the microphone, on social media or doing interviews like this one, Bayley has never been shy about putting others over. Living up to her nickname, the Role Model has rightly garnered a reputation for being one of the more selfless performers in WWE.
“I just think if it’s right for the division, if it’s right for a story, if this person deserves praise or deserves this spotlight... I’m gonna do it. I’m not a selfish person in that sense, because I’ve had many moments. I’ve had my time and I know I’ll get many more because this business is just a freaking rollercoaster. It all comes back around. And I’ve had people help me when I was nothing, and I’ll never forget that.”
Bayley has long been well respected and well liked backstage, but it was after Fastlane this past October when Triple H made it known publicly just how valuable she is to the locker room.
During what turned out to be a very headline-grabbing post show media scrum, WWE’s Chief Creative Officer called Bayley the all-star of the Women’s Division, and someone who doesn’t always get the credit she deserves.
“I hope he really meant it. It’s all over Twitter, so he can never take it back,” Bayley said with a chuckle.
At this point in her career, Bayley says she’s in a place where she has goals for both herself and the industry — and what the impression she leaves on that industry will be. But certain goals can be challenging to accomplish when company higher-ups have their own vision for the future.
“Their goals might be different than mine. So, where can we meet halfway and where can we make it work together? So to hear [Triple H] say that makes me feel like we’re like right there, because everything he said [at Fastlane] is everything I’m trying to be and more.”
Triple H’s first major splash when he took over WWE creative was the introduction of Damage CTRL. Standing there face-to-face with Becky Lynch and Bianca Belair in the middle of Nissan Stadium at SummerSlam 2022, the new trio seemed destined for big things right out of the gate.
Whatever the reason, that turned out to not exactly be the case.
A statement win over Belair, Asuka and Alexa Bliss at Clash at the Castle was followed by a year long dance of one step forward and two steps back, including key losses at Survivor Series and WrestleMania 39.
“It was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Especially for someone, like, I brought Dakota and IYO in being like, ‘this is gonna be great!’ And then it was hard, you know? I’m like, ‘don’t worry, let’s be patient.’ And I think the fans needed to have a little faith in us. Hunter had to have more faith in us and not give up.”
Being patient ended up paying off for Damage CTRL and the faith of those who believed in them has been rewarded.
It looked as though the trio was about to dissolve over the Summer. Dakota Kai was off TV after suffering a torn ACL while trying to protect Liv Morgan in a match after she had injured her shoulder. And during her absence, WWE continuously teased that Bayley and IYO SKY were barreling toward a falling out.
Even when IYO won the MITB briefcase, she did so by literally climbing over Bayley whom she had handcuffed to the ladder. But much to her credit, the former MITB winner stayed loyal to her stablemate and helped her realize her dream of capturing the WWE Women’s Championship.
SKY successfully cashed in her MITB contract on Bianca Belair at SummerSlam last year in Detroit, the one year anniversary of Damage CTRL’s debut. That cash-in was only made possible by Bayley, who raced down the ramp at Ford Field to throw several blocks like she was clearing a path to the end zone for the Lions’ Jahmyr Gibbs.
Once on the brink of extinction, Damage CTRL is now flourishing in way that Bayley had always dreamed about. IYO SKY is still the WWE Women’s Champion, Dakota Kai has returned to television and is stepping up as the voice of the group, and an all-star tag team in the Kabuki Warriors has now joined their ranks.
“I could not have imagined two better people to join Damage CTRL than Asuka and Kairi [Sane], professionally and personally,” Bayley said. “That is an honor to have them align with us. And honestly, I wanna keep growing and I wanna pick a few from NXT because it was always my goal to keep bringing girls up. I wanna make it a big old NWO style faction.”
Bayley has laid out her great prophecy for the new and improved Damage CTRL as we inch closer to WrestleMania 40. Predicting that Asuka and Kairi will once again capture the Women’s Tag Team Championships, in addition to IYO SKY continuing her reign as the top Women’s Champion on SmackDown.
As for herself, she’s promised to carry the group’s success across brands by challenging Rhea Ripley for the Women’s World Heavyweight Championship after she wins the Royal Rumble.
First things first, Bayley has a date with a familiar foe on tonight’s episode of Friday Night SmackDown in Bianca Belair. A woman who has her sights on winning her second Royal Rumble match, in route to her fourth straight Championship bout on the ‘Grandest Stage of Them All’.
SmackDown coverage begins tonight at 8pm ET on FOX, and of course, you can follow along right here on Cageside Seats.
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