Over the last couple of years WWE and namely Stephanie McMahon have tried their best to put over a new “women’s revolution”. Of course to the purists, saying that female athletes had created a “new” revolution in this era was silly considering that female athletes have reached mainstream superstardom in the sporting world for decades, whether it be Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Chris Evert-Lloyd crushing tennis in the 1980s, Jackie Joyner-Kersee winning five medals over three Olympic Games in track, or Mia Hamm dominating the world of soccer in the early 2000’s. Even wrestling had elite female talent prior to this era, from The Fabulous Moolah to Wendi Richter to Sherri Martel to Madusa Miceli to Trish Stratus, Lita, Victoria, Molly Holly, etc. No, elite female athletes are nothing new, but what was new in this era was a female fighter rising to the top of a male-dominated combat sport in Ronda Rousey, and she was the inspiration for this latest WWE “revolution”.
It just so happened, as luck would have it, that at the same time that Rousey was skyrocketing in popularity in mixed martial arts, WWE had a group of new female athletes tearing it up in NXT – Charlotte, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley. It also just so happened, again as luck would have it, that Rousey was a big pro wrestling fan and started referring to herself and her friends (and fellow MMA fighters) Marina Shafir, Shayna Baszler and Jessamyn Duke as The Four Horsewomen, of course a name taken from the legendary NWA stable led by “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. That got WWE some press, which then led to Charlotte, Banks, Lynch and Bayley calling themselves The Four Horsewomen of wrestling. All four possessed a lot of talent and were head and shoulders above everyone else on the women’s roster in NXT, and so it was only a matter of time before all four found themselves on the main WWE roster. But while it’s debatable that Sasha Banks was the most popular of the four coming out of NXT – it’s debatable given Bayley was popular in her own right – what isn’t debatable is which of the four has become the clear cut star of the division – ironically enough, the daughter of Flair, Charlotte. And what also isn’t debatable in my opinion is which of the four is currently the most popular in WWE, that being Bayley.
In-ring skill aside, Charlotte has become by far the best promo of the girls, as well as the best at listening to and playing off of a crowd. Watching Raw this week when she, Bayley and Banks were all in the ring together for a promo, it was so clear that she “gets it” and is a cut above the others.
Now, I see great potential in Bayley, and I’ve written about this before. She is the female equivalent of John Cena and has a connection with the fans that is unlike anyone else on the roster, male or female. She is the likeable, approachable, down-to-earth, girl-next-door type that everyone can relate to. And the people in Glasgow, Scotland for Raw this week were proof of that as they commandeered the women’s promo segment and drowned everyone out in the ring with the “Hey! Bayley” song, which is a takeoff of “Hey! Baby” by Bruce Channel that fans started singing to Bayley in her NXT days. Charlotte, the heel, played off the crowd tremendously as they sang that song, pausing mid-sentence to look at the crowd in disdain and cover her ears. But the other girls in the ring – Bayley included – tried to go about their business as usual and ignore the crowd as they continued to recite their scripted dialogue. Bayley only paused to take in the crowd’s song when the noise was too loud for her to continue her promo, but even then she tried repeatedly to keep cutting that promo as planned. This was a great moment for her and the women’s division created organically that was somewhat spoiled because the girls in the ring didn’t know how to react.
This segment made me think of Hulk Hogan when he made an appearance in Montreal, Canada at a SmackDown! taping in 2002. The people in Montreal gave him an amazing ovation, and Hogan – who was a master of creating something while doing almost nothing – milked that ovation for almost ten minutes. He did the same thing at his Hall of Fame induction three years later. I remember both of those nights as being something special due to the crowd reception, and in both cases Hogan made it work by knowing enough to just stand there, soak it in and do nothing. Watching Bayley struggle to try to cut her planned promo over the crowd noise rather than soak it in and essentially get herself over even more in the process I thought, this girl has a lot to learn. But Charlotte on the other hand who handled it as well as a heel in her position could have, I’m pretty sure would have rolled with the moment had she been the babyface and had the crowd been singing to her.
Getting to WWE is a challenge in itself, but getting over with the fans in WWE is the ultimate challenge. Bayley is there, more so than any other women’s star on the roster today. How she gets to the next level will partly depend on how well WWE protects her on the way up (getting squashed by Nia Jax doesn’t help but that’s another story). But it will also partly depend on her. She doesn’t yet “get it”, not after her time and training in NXT, and not since her debut in WWE. But Charlotte does and she displays it week after week. Bayley needs to learn from her Four Horsewomen friend. She needs to better understand how to read a crowd, and how to play off a crowd even if it means going off script in a promo. Those are elements that are every bit as important as work rate and ring psychology with respect to becoming an all-around top talent. I hope that she gets there, and I believe that she will.