As I started writing my weekly article on NXT this past week, I started to think about how fluid the brand has been since its creation. Stars come and stars go in NXT, that’s simply the nature of things. As much as things have changed over the years, there has been one name that has been synonymous with NXT. That name is Bayley.
NXT only existed in its current form for around 6 months before Bayley (who was then known as Davina Rose on the indie circuit) was signed and around 9 months before she adopted the Bayley name and made her television début against Paige. That means that she has been around for the vast majority of the existence of NXT as a brand. No other person has made quite the impact that Bayley has in those 3 1/2 years. She has grown, and the NXT brand has grown with her.
As you can see above, there was a short period of time when Bayley was the new girl on the block who wasn’t yet rocking the side ponytail and had more of a mean streak. This version of Bayley’s character was short-lived and would prove to be almost completely opposite to what she would become.
Bayley would debut her super-fan character against Alicia Fox on the June 12th, 2013 edition of NXT in a first round match for the vacant NXT Championship against Alicia Fox. She hadn’t yet adopted her trademark side ponytail yet, but this was the first glimpse at the character the NXT Universe would come to know and love. The original version of the character was an obsessive fan who shook hands with the opponent before matches, gushed over them in interviews, and gave sneak-attack hugs. She started out with very little aggression and her character would actually feel bad for her opponents if she hurt them with a move. It was at this time when Bayley started winning over a big part of the audience. Her happy-go-lucky attitude in the ring was infectious and the fans couldn’t help but get behind her.
Bayley got her first big break in NXT facing the ultra-popular AJ Lee in a rare match for the WWE Divas Championship. This match was one that showed just how good-natured and wholesome the Bayley character was. Bayley had still yet to get a win on NXT television up to this point, so this championship opportunity was huge for the relative newcomer.
Bayley would continue on being the naive girl that the fellow women in the NXT locker room would try to manipulate. The BFFs (Beautiful Fierce Females) would try and recruit Bayley to join them. This would prove to all be for nothing as Charlotte would turn on Bayley in November aligning herself with The BFFs by turning on Bayley in a tag-team match.
Bayley would continue to feud with The BFFs for the first half of 2014 enlisting the help of Natalya. It was during this time that Bayley had begun to become a valid contender to the NXT Women’s Championship. She would challenge her former ally Charlotte for the title unsuccessfully at NXT Takeover: Fatal 4 Way.
Bayley started to show a competitive fire after getting her first taste at the championship. She wasn’t a pushover anymore, her character was evolving before our eyes into something that people of all ages were starting to truly support and cheer for. This would prove to be the beginning of Bayley’s ascension into a top star in NXT and a perennial championship contender.
Bayley would feud with Emma for a few months in 2015 after Takeover: Rival before legitimately breaking her hand returning in July and announcing her intentions to win the NXT Women’s Championship. Bayley was a heavy fan-favourite at this time and after 2 long years, the fans were ready to see this star finally capture the title that had, up until that point, eluded her. She did just that at Takeover: Brooklyn in August of 2015.
The aptly named NXT Takeover: Respect was the night that everyone took notice of just how important Bayley had become to NXT and how far she had come in such a short amount of time. He 30 minute Iron Man Match at Respect was declared Match of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. This was an incredible accomplishment, no other women’s match has ever been given that honor. The entire locker room came out to the stage last night, a testament to the respect that Bayley has earned.
PWI would go on to rate Bayley 2015’s Most Inspirational Wrester of the Year while Wrestling Observer rated her the Most Improved Wrestler of the Year for 2015. Bayley had arrived as the most important and most influential woman in the NXT locker room. She carried the belt with pride defending against numerous contenders like Carmella, Nia Jax, and Alexa Bliss. Every one of those women has gone on to the main roster. Bayley would hold the championship until NXT Takeover: Dallas when the undefeated Asuka would win by technical submission after Bayley lost consciousness.
This shocking defeat added yet another layer to such an interesting character as the crowd had never seen Bayley lose in that way. After being injured in the storylines, Bayley has returned to claim her rematch to the title she lost in April. Bayley will face Asuka for the NXT Women’s Championship at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II. She happened to get her first taste of WWE action just before that, though!
Bayley would make her WWE debut at Battleground 2016 as the tag-team partner of Sasha Banks but it would prove to be a one-off as Bayley looks to be staying in NXT for the time being.
Bayley is more than just a wrestler. She is so many things to so many people. It’s not easy for someone to connect with every fan the way that she does, but she somehow makes it happen. Bayley went from someone who didn’t even have ring music to the most recognizable face in wrestling. There isn’t a wrestling show I’ve seen over the past year that hasn’t had someone with Bayley merchandise on. Her reach is incredible and her fanbase is only getting stronger by the day.
Bayley wasn’t just someone that became a wrestler, she always wanted to become a wrestler. She posted her essay above to Twitter last year before the Iron Man match. As you can see, she always had these aspirations and did everything she could to make those dreams come true. Her story, unlike many, has been a happy one and one full of triumphs. She worked hard, evolved, and became the face of the entire NXT brand.
— Bayley (@itsBayleyWWE) August 7, 2016
Bayley even has a very special fan named, Izzy. Izzy can be seen at virtually all NXT events in the front row at the corner near the ramp. She’s the one directly in the middle in the tweet above holding the sign. What Superstar do you know that has a fan who everyone knows by name? It’s truly an amazing sight to see and not something you’re likely to see with anyone else. Sasha Banks even took her headband during a NXT Takeover: Respect! She made it up to her afterwards by sending Izzy home with flowers. It’s just another layer to Bayley’s character that makes her so different from the next.
Bayley was the fan in all of us and still is. She knows how important fan interaction is and how influential someone in her position can be. You’ll never hear Bayley say anything negative, swear, or do anything that would reflect negatively on a child. She is like the female version of John Cena except for the fact that I have yet to meet a single person that doesn’t like Bayley. Parents love her, kids want to be her, females and males alike want to hug her. She is a role model and one of the most personable people you will ever meet. On any given day, Bayley’s twitter is full of pictures of all the fans she’s taken the time to meet with. She takes her role very seriously and wants to make every fan’s experience special. She never forgot where she came from.
Bayley brings an unmatched energy to the ring with her every time she competes. From the first note of her theme music, the crowd goes into a frenzy the likes of which is rarely seen. The wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men are something that wouldn’t work with any other wrestler but they’re perfect for her personality. Her début at Battleground was one of the biggest reactions I’ve ever seen for a women’s wrestler in WWE history. Her ring gear is colourful and stands out from the rest. Her trademark bow and side ponytail complete her unique look and are replicated by tons of girls every show. The fans even have their own unique chants for Bayley:
“Bayley’s gonna hug you!”
“Heyyy Bayley, I wanna knowwww if you’ll be my girl”
“Heyyyy we want some Bayley!”
Bayley’s influence extends far beyond the spotlights. In an interview with Kotaku, Bayley talked about how she was taking two wrestlers under her wing, Aliyah and Liv Morgan.
“In training, I’ll make sure to pair off with one of them, so I can see how they’re working or thinking,” Bayley says. “When we’re in the gym, I’ll do circuits with them at the end, because I want to see how far they can push themselves. And at shows, I watch all of the girls’ matches. They’ll come up to me because they want to know what I thought, and I’ll give them honest feedback.
“Sometimes when I see [Liv] out there, I’ll say, ‘You’re trying to be this [type of] wrestler, but you really just need to be yourself,’,” Bayley says. ‘Because you dress the way you really do on the streets, and you come out to music that you really listen to. You dance the way you really dance. The wrestling moves are there, but you have to act organically.’
Bayley knows a lot about acting organically. Her character, as is the case with any good wrestling character, is her real personality with the volume turned up. She has become the very person that she looked up to as a little girl who one day aspired to be the WWE Women’s Champion. She’s not there yet, but she’s accomplished more in her 3 1/2 years in NXT than anyone I can think of. She is the backbone, she is the face, she is the role model. Bayley is NXT. When she ultimately does get the call-up, NXT will be missing a piece of its soul and Raw or SmackDown will be gaining an invaluable building block for years to come. NXT will build new stars, but they’ll never have someone quite as important in so many ways as Bayley has proven to be.
Bayley, in my opinion, truly is the heart and soul of NXT.