I can’t remember the last time I’ve been more upset by a wrestling story than the day that Bayley turned her back on the fans. It was like I’d been punched in the head and kicked below the belt simultaneously, and a horrible mixture of denial and sadness swept over me. The Hugger was dead, and ironically, I really felt like I needed a hug.
It wasn’t that she was giving a defenseless Becky Lynch a vicious beating with a chair. It wasn’t that she was siding with Sasha Banks, who’d screwed her over so many times it was almost starting to become a running joke among fans. It wasn’t even that it came as a complete shock, as it was obvious Bayley was becoming more and more frustrated by the lack of respect she’d gotten from the other women on the roster and really the wrestling world as a whole. This one hit so hard because Bayley was a legitimately good person on a show full of ‘good guys’ who a lot of the time don’t do ‘good guy’ things.
I know that’s probably not the way you’d expect an article from Wrestle Joy to start out, but bear with me for a second. Bayley was the one who made me believe a true babyface could exist in modern wrestling. Sure, she could be naïve to the point where it was frustrating, and sometimes her inherent goodness would hold her back from taking the most of her opportunities. Despite all of that, she was the one person on the roster who you could always count on to do the right thing. There was no cheating in the ring or cheap shots on the microphone. Bayley was a wrestler who radiated positive energy outside of the ring and, to paraphrase the great Juice Robinson, was all “heart and guts” inside of it and that’s exactly what I love in a wrestler.
For the first month of Bayley’s heel run, I was comically bitter about it. I was sure that my favorite wrestler had been ruined, and there was no convincing me otherwise. When she lost her Smackdown Women’s championship at Hell in a Cell (on my birthday of all days) barely 30 days after she’d gone bad, I remember thinking that was the last straw. I was jumping off of the Bayley bandwagon, because I couldn’t imagine her as anything other than the woman who’d become the heart and soul of NXT just a few years before. Of course, less than a week later Bayley made her entrance on Smackdown and I immediately realized I was an idiot.
Hitting the stage with a new look, a new attitude, and a makeshift pickaxe to cut down the inflatable tube men that had been a defining part of her character, I couldn’t help but to smile. Watching Bayley destroy her past; it was instantly obvious that this was a much needed change for not only the character, but the performer. Even though she had a look of absolute fury on her face as she hacked the inflatables to shreds, you could see just a hint of glee as she tossed the axe to the ground, and you could feel how cathartic it was. The plucky and gullible Bayley of the past was gone, and this new version wasn’t messing around. It was time to become a champion.
After storming to the ring with an intensity that made even the always confident Charlotte Flair look a little shaken up, we saw a side of Bayley many thought we’d never see. She dove head first into becoming the opportunistic, corner cutting heel that she’d had to thwart time and time again over the years, and it became quickly apparent that she’d picked up a few tricks along the way. There was no way Bayley was losing that night and she found a way to regain her title, grabbing a handful of Charlotte’s hair and pulling her into a rollup. Then it was time to grab a microphone and to seal the deal. With her championship back on her arm and a look of triumph, the message to the fans was short and sweet: “Screw all of you”.
When you look at how things had been going for Bayley, you can hardly blame her for deciding to pack up and leave the hug life behind. In the wrestling world, staying down the straight and narrow is difficult when everyone around you is taking shortcuts, and it’s especially tough when people start to take your integrity for weakness. Despite being the first ever Women’s Grand Slam champion in WWE history, Bayley was still often seen as the 4th in line when it came to the horsewoman. Becky was The Man, Charlotte was The Queen, and Sasha was The Boss. Bayley needed an identity outside of being the girl who gives hugs, and she’s found it by becoming a Role Model.
It understandably took some fans a little while to warm up to the new Bayley. After spending over a half dozen years as the epitome of good, it was going to take more than a few cheap digs and a lackluster attitude to combat the thousands of young fans showing up in headbands and flailing around like tube men every week. Slowly but surely, Bayley has become one of the best villains in wrestling and has hit her stride like never before. She’s smarmy, she bends the rules constantly, and what makes it so much more frustrating is that we’ve seen that she doesn’t need these tricks to get to the top. However, you can’t deny that they’re helping her stay there and since tossing the rulebook to the side Bayley has been more successful than ever.
Bayley’s become the most dominant women’s champion in Smackdown history. Her reign as the Queen of Friday nights has surpassed over 250 days, and if you overlook the 5 day gap between her two reigns, she’s been on top for over a year now. With Sasha Banks firmly in her corner, Bayley has ran through anyone and everyone they’ve put in front of her during this epic title run, and she’s never looked more unbeatable.
The bond between Bayley and Sasha has never been stronger than it has over the last 9 months or so, and the duo have become a pair of absolute workhorses for the WWE. The Role Model and The Boss are the current WWE Women’s Tag Team champs, (giving the champ her new “Bayley Dos Straps” moniker), and they’ve been a focal point on all three brands since they won the titles. With Becky Lynch and now Charlotte Flair both out for the foreseeable future, the two remaining horsewomen are going to be looked at to carry the women’s division in a way they haven’t had to before on their own. If their performances over the past couple of months are anything to go by, things are going to be just fine.
While I’ll never forget the instant stomach punch that came with Bayley’s turn to the dark side, I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be wrong about a wrestler. I may not have believed in it at the time, but Bayley needed to step out of her bubble and take a risk, and as all great performers do, she stepped up and made the absolute most of her opportunity. It may have taken everyone a while to see it, but the time for hugs is over and the era of the Role Model is in full effect. If you’re one of those that doesn’t like it, the message is simple. To quote one of the greats, “Screw all of you.”