Regardless of size, style or era, most memorable professional wrestling requires two simple concepts: the hero and the villain. A pair of opposing forces, a character clash of the highest order. Sometimes that split is more pronounced than others but it almost always remains apparent regardless. This Sunday night at WWE Stomping Grounds, a meeting of seemingly traditional good and evil takes center stage, as Alexa Bliss challenges Bayley for her SmackDown Women’s Title. However, memories mean that the match is being greeted with some caution but thankfully, this moment presents a chance to rewrite history.
Many years ago, Bliss and Bayley had almost identical on-screen presentations. Though their backgrounds were different, both portrayed conventional protagonists. Traditional heroes without any edge or ulterior motives. That soon changed though, with Bliss soon becoming a venomous villain while Bayley rose to prominence as the industry’s purest babyface, reaching staggering heights as NXT’s centerpiece. Bayley’s famed ascension is well-documented but Alexa featured along the way, challenging the NXT Women’s Champion for her title in Bliss’ first major match as an antagonist.
The title tilt was good but they soon improved on that effort in the summer of 2016, thrilling Full Sail with a dynamic non-title affair. Within Bayley’s stint, that match was just a roadblock en route to TakeOver but for Bliss, it was a precursor for her future. Alexa’s evolution and improvement had never been clearer, with her strengths being neatly spotlighted by Bayley as together, they’d quite visibly established genuine chemistry. Bliss’ success would soon follow, thriving on the main roster and becoming SmackDown Women’s Champion.
In the meantime, Bayley arrived on RAW, dethroning Charlotte Flair and becoming the brand’s titleholder in the process. At their first WrestleMania, both women walked into ‘the grandest stage of them all’ as champions, with the fallout leaving them as suddenly inevitable rivals. Now on RAW, Bliss was set to challenge for Bayley’s title, the pair’s first singles match since NXT. The matchup felt like a natural fit, two women with history, two characters created for conflict and with differing skill-sets to boot.
The division’s strongest speaker, Bliss is capable of directing any programme’s story on the microphone while opposite her, Bayley is the ideal ring general. She’s been consistently capable of producing regardless of scenario and for Bliss, presented a familiar face as well. Those elements shone brightly in their initial PPV outing, producing an exciting encounter at Payback as in Bayley’s home-town, Bliss took the RAW Women’s Title in sudden fashion. If you’re reading this, you are likely aware of the response to that decision, with intense debate surrounding the chosen finish and victor.
In truth, that moment could have and frankly should have only been a plot-point in a far bigger arc. After simply winning the title and then impressively retaining it at WrestleMania, Bayley’s underdog appeal had been lost in translation. That was understandable too, with Bayley prominently evolving as a confident champion in NXT. However, much of the audience hadn’t seen that development and as a result, Bayley’s presentation was somewhat skewed. This direction presented a chance to regain that, a hurdle to overcome and a mountain to climb as her ultimate contrast suddenly reigned as champion.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite pan out that way. Instead, the feud took an unexpected turn, with the infamous ‘This is Your Life’ segment coming just days before an ill-fated kendo stick on a pole match. Bayley was presented particularly poorly in the programme but the whole approach helped no one, limiting the women to a stipulation and scenario that was simply doomed to fail. There was an opportunity to fix the issue at SummerSlam, with Bayley scheduled for another opportunity until an injury derailed those plans.
Since then, Bayley and Bliss have remained linked at times but mostly from a distance after that prior showing. In the minds of some fans, their names just shouldn’t be placed next to one another, with many pointing to the rivalry as a pivotal point in Bayley’s supposed decline. In truth, it was undeniably a creative failure of the highest order. A total misfire in what appeared to be a can’t-miss matchup. Since then though, Bayley has rebuilt, hitting a real stride as of late and showing more confidence than ever en route to winning the SmackDown Women’s Title.
Though side-lined by injury for much of 2019, Bliss has also evolved since her first programme with Bayley. She’s continued to build her resume as one of the generation’s central females, consistently holding the RAW Title and gaining immense experience throughout a range of PPV matches along the way. While Bayley’s stock was at an all-time high in NXT, I’d argue that her performance has never been higher than what we currently see on WWE TV. She’s more assured now and frankly, more complete in general.
Bliss is no different and as a result, I can’t help but be optimistic about what awaits us at Stomping Grounds. To me, these two women are the purest definitions of their respective roles on the roster. Bayley’s babyface fire has never been more palpable and while Alexa’s presentation may have been inconsistent at times, she’s always only a scowl away from being as wicked as ever. On paper, this should be simple. Characters on opposite ends of the scale, performers with contrasting skill-sets that in theory at least, should protect each other’s flaws.
Combine that with their aforementioned chemistry and regardless of the evidence we’ve already witnessed, I remain confident in what these women can produce in the right environment. That’s not to say they even require masterful writing either, I just know that they deserve better than what they received last time. That's certainly been the case thus far too, with an ironic uncertainty surrounding their alignment as Nikki Cross' refreshing impact looms over this burgeoning morality play.
Beyond any of that though, I’m simply hopeful. These two names shouldn’t be linked in infamy but instead, they should be firmly tied to each other’s legacies. This programme has all the ingredients to elevate both women and further define their personalities along the way. Even if that doesn’t prove to be the case, this matchup certainly doesn’t warrant the reputation that was forced upon it last time. Their talent deserves better than that and ideally, this latest chapter will continue to prove it at WWE Stomping Grounds.