Rebuilding Bayley

When Bayley first emerged on the main roster, expectations were high. After a year of being NXT’s female centerpiece, Bayley seemed set to be a huge hit on Monday Night RAW. Polished and versatile in the ring with a gimmick that could appeal to the younger audience with ease, Bayley was quickly thrust into the title picture upon her arrival last August. Almost nine months later and in many ways, the jury is out more now than it ever was before. It would be unfair to call the run an absolute disappointment but also somewhat dishonest to say that it’s been a complete success so far.

The decision to take the Women’s title off her this past Sunday at Payback was a controversial one--especially with the PPV taking place in her hometown--but in my mind, it actually represents a perfect chance to rebuild a character that isn’t completely broken but instead just slightly damaged. The truth is, much of Bayley’s main roster stint has seemed disjointed thus far. She was originally inserted into the title picture before taking a backseat to the Charlotte-Sasha feud, wrestling Dana Brooke in the meantime. Though little of it is her fault, Brooke’s inexperience and lack of prior credibility didn’t really help Bayley’s momentum much but a strong showing in the female Survivor Series match kept her ascension going to an extent.

Next Bayley would re-enter the title picture, entering a program with Charlotte following the end of her rivalry opposite Banks. The groundwork seemed there for a memorable feud with the two characters perfectly clashing on every level and their Royal Rumble match was solid too but on February 13th everything changed. In the main event of RAW Bayley won the title and while the result seemed slightly rushed, the way it came was telling. The finish was directly impacted by an assist from the aforementioned Banks, and that coupled with it being RAW rather than a major PPV left the whole thing feeling rather unfitting for a character like Bayley’s coronation.

The moment itself was still a great one but it just seemed off. Compare it to Bayley’s NXT title win at TakeOver: Brooklyn 2015. That was the payoff to an underdog story that had developed for over a year and it came in truly heroic fashion opposite a fitting villain. Charlotte was certainly a befitting nemesis here but I question the decision to have a character as pure as Bayley win under such suspect circumstances. Nonetheless, most expected Charlotte to win her Fastlane rematch to maintain her PPV streak and set up a Bayley win at WrestleMania, a true coronation moment that would solidify her spot as the top babyface in the division.

That wouldn’t be the case though with Bayley once again winning due to a Banks interference, this one was completely unprovoked and confusing though. Charlotte, the heel, had sent her protégé Dana Brooke to the back in order to fight fair but yet Bayley, the babyface, ended up winning almost purely due to her friend’s involvement. This is all bizarre enough as is but then when you consider that this was the end of Charlotte’s streak it suddenly becomes genuinely mind boggling. Bayley was a good choice to end the streak but unfairly and at Fastlane of all shows? It was just all so odd.

Banks’ involvement would’ve been fine if it was simply her being selfish. It made sense for her character to help Bayley if her motives were simply to get the belt away from Charlotte and on to someone more vulnerable but almost two months later and that’s still not occurred. Banks will almost certainly turn eventually but her reasoning for doing so is unlikely to make much sense considering that the development of that story has been so stop-start. The other issue with this aspect is that Bayley never really seemed to mind that Banks was interfering to help her, instead even celebrating joyously on RAW Talk.

Bayley’s response to Banks’ actions often seemed very disjointed from what she’s supposed to stand for as a character. At times we analyze the morals of today’s babyface characters a little excessively in my opinion but in this case, Charlotte was pretty difficult to truly hate. She had been legitimately cheated out of her streak and was being ridiculously phased out of the title picture by supposedly babyface general manager Mick Foley. Everyone’s morals and ethics seemed misplaced and miscast. Regardless, Bayley both entered and left WrestleMania as champion which was an understandable choice, immediately giving her a memorable moment at ‘The Showcase of Immortals’.

On paper everything seemed to be going great. Bayley was the champion, had ended Charlotte’s streak and won at WrestleMania. However, her momentum didn’t seem to be strengthening but instead almost stalling. The issue was that though she’d been billed as an underdog, Bayley’s results had been far from that of an underdog. She had won the title in no time and now defended it against her three biggest contenders in a fatal four way. In many ways I think Bayley’s struggles very much encapsulate the issues that come with NXT. The truth is only a portion of the main roster audience watches NXT but often character’s story arcs are told in completion before that wider audience had even met them. Bayley was a great example of this.

People cared about Bayley in NXT because they’d watched her grow and develop into the champion role--they were invested. The wider audience didn’t get a chance to see that organic rise though and was left almost befuddled by Bayley’s disjointed characterization. It’s a problem American Alpha have struggled with to an even greater extent. The main roster crowds didn’t witness their evolution as a pair and are left completely uninterested in both characters. Contrast that with Alexa Bliss, who entered the main roster with a completely clean slate because though often entertaining, her character hadn’t ever really been overly focused on or featured in NXT.

Everything has been fresh for that character on the main roster so far because it was never assumed that the new audience would already care about her, instead it’s all been done in front of them. Another factor that comes with NXT is the way talent are featured on the product weekly. Hardly anyone is used every week and when they are it’s sometimes via squash matches and short backstage interviews. It’s hard to be overexposed or stagnant in that product but when you’re the RAW Women’s champion, you’re featured prominently every week and sometimes in unnecessarily long talking segments. If your character is shallow or one note it’s very hard to maintain momentum in that format.

You could argue otherwise for Bayley’s NXT character but her current incarnation is undeniably one-dimensional. I feel like I have seen Bayley cut the “dreamed of this since I was a kid” promo every week for months and as bad as the material is, it doesn’t help that Bayley’s delivery isn’t exactly stellar either. Bayley has never been a great promo but that didn’t really matter in NXT, the issue is that it seems at times as though the main roster decision makers go out of their way to expose talent’s weak points rather than protecting them. Bayley has been no different and her lack of confidence in that area was exposed in her interactions with new rival Bliss.

And so that brings us back to this past Sunday in Bayley’s hometown. It should be noted that Bayley and Bliss had a very good match and one that Bayley herself performed excellently in. She is the perfect opponent to spotlight everything Bliss does well and Alexa’s villainous tactics contrast beautifully with Bayley’s style both in and out the ring. The finish has been somewhat controversial though, with many feeling that the decision to have Bliss win not only hurt the show but also was done purely due to the company’s apparent love of having talent lose in their hometown.

Firstly, I think it’s completely unfair to blame a crowd shift on this finish when after it came a ten minute pre-tape of two men fighting in a ‘House of Horror’ but more than that, I struggle to see how this is such an unreasonable decision. Removing all of the preconceptions from NXT, the truth is that Bayley’s reign wasn’t really helping her as a character but instead stripping away what makes her special. Of course Bayley was over big in her hometown but week to week her reactions generally have been dwindling and this whole run has been built around her on-screen friendship with Sasha Banks, a pairing has in many ways hurt both characters. It’s often made Bayley look overly vulnerable and left Sasha almost confusingly directionless.

This week’s RAW segment for me showed that if handled correctly, dropping the belt was the best move for Bayley and the RAW division as a whole. Bayley is one of the few characters that actually should always be a sympathetic underdog and that’s the way she came across on Monday. She was hurt by what had happened Sunday and eventually snapped at Bliss’ taunts in a moment that felt more like the NXT version of Bayley than anything else she’s done on the main roster so far. Alexa has momentum on her side right now and seems to be a great fit for realigning Bayley’s character to be what it should have been all along.

Bliss can build the program with her promos and Bayley is a great leader in the ring. Together they’re the perfect pairing. Granted Bayley lost again on RAW but that doesn’t really matter, what’s important is that she once again finds her groove as a true underdog. Due to her stature Bliss isn’t the traditional foe for an underdog babyface but her personality juxtaposes exquisitely with Bayley’s as they represent completely opposing beliefs. Mix up Bayley’s promo material some and give her time in this role of the endearing underdog once again chasing the belt and I genuinely believe that slowly but surely, Bayley will regain the momentum that has been lost. On the surface that’s not overly complex but one thing must be conceded: one way or another, this is a pivotal turning point in Bayley’s career trajectory.

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