There’s a lot of things to be upset with WWE about today, from the truly vile to the creatively unsatisfying. But with those things taking up the headlines, there’s at least one story going on that’s worth celebrating — both in their fictional world and our real one.
Bayley, the least celebrated but arguably most valuable of the NXT Horsewomen who helped change women’s wrestling in the 2010s, is finally poised for the main roster babyface run she deserves.
Her early WWE career in NXT gave us one of the modern wrestling’s best pure faces, with Bayley’s time in the Women’s title program from 2014-2016 main event giving us a great story that helped establish her, Sasha Banks (now Mercedes Moné), and Asuka as stars. But despite the fact it included one of the decade’s best matches in her championship win over Banks at TakeOver: Brooklyn (and possibly two of the decade’s best matches if we include the Iron Woman rematch at TakeOver: Respect), it’s still a run that was mostly experienced by wrestling diehards and not the wider WWE fanbase.
Once she arrived on Raw in 2016, the last of the Horsewomen to be promoted, Bayley certainly had plenty of success. But for a variety of reasons, her side-ponytailed fangirl gimmick never translated well to the main roster. Despite adding both the Raw & SmackDown singles belts, the Women’s Tag titles, and a Money in the Bank briefcase to her trophy case, the Hugger was a rung below the biggest stars of the so-called Women’s Evolution. Main roster babyface Bayley was more sidekick than superhero.
It’s why her 2019 heel turn was so celebrated. Cutting her hair and taking a kendo stick to the wacky, waving inflatable tube guys was a much needed moment that allowed Bayley to forge a new identity on WWE’s biggest stages. Her Role Model character was one of the bright spots of the pandemic era’s empty arena shows. It still wasn’t properly appreciated, at least by the people running the company at the time. Otherwise she wouldn’t have been handed host duties at WrestleMania 37 rather than a marquee match.
Ever the team player, Bayley brushed that off and went to work helping to establish Bianca Belair as a main eventer... only to be sidelined by an ACL tear that kept her out of action for a year. Her comeback at SummerSlam in 2022 gave us Damage CTRL, a faction that has mostly been used to elevate IYO SKY into the star she was destined to be... but that started to change when Bayley won the Royal Rumble last Saturday.
The crowd at Tropicana Field was with her, even though she was still playing a heel. That set the stage for last night (Feb. 2) on SmackDown, a perfectly executed turn for Bayley that saw her suss out SKY’s plot with Asuka & Kairi Sane to kick her out of the group.
Even knowing the Japanese wing of the faction she’d created planned to do her dirty, Bayley still attempted to appeal to IYO. Her plan for the group sounded more altruistic than ever. Trying to pitch it one last time only to be attacked made her more sympathetic than ever — which was evident in the boos of the Birmingham, Alabama crowd when the Kabuki Warriors & the WWE Women’s champ were beating her down, and their cheers when Bayley announced she’d be going after SKY & her title at WrestleMania 40.
Win or lose in Philadelphia, the audience is ready to celebrate Bayley the way her peers — who to a person all praise her as a selfless creative partner and a passionate behind-the-scenes advocate for colleagues — always have.
No hugging required.