Bayley: Decode

When discussions arise about the best in the current North American professional wrestling scene, it’s hard to think of anyone as impactful and vital as Bayley has been. 

Yes, many in the industry can be argued as the best. Bianca Belair, Athena, Masha Slamovich, Sasha Banks/Mercedes Moné, Deonna Purrazo, Jordynne Grace, Mariah May, Becky Lynch, Rhea Ripley, and Iyo Sky just to name a few. Their contributions are immeasurable and there’s no taking away from that.

However, ever since the latter half of the 2010s, WWE’s Bayley has been an underlying factor in how the company approaches women’s wrestling. Even at her most underappreciated, she’s given it her all, even if her road was paved brick by boring brick.

Having wrestled for NWA, Shine Wrestling, and Shimmer Wrestling under the name Davina Rose since 2008, she gained the attention of WWE and soon signed there in 2012, where she would grow under the NXT banner.

Credit: WWE

As this was in the black-and-gold era in its earlier days, she had a ways to go. Changing her name to Bayley (to represent the Bay Area in San Francisco, California), she would lose to the likes of Paige, Alicia Fox, and AJ Lee while competing in singles competitions or occasionally teaming with future Four Horsewomen friends Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch separately. Both women would betray her individually in alliance with Sasha Banks.

Well, that sounds familiar, given her long-term story. 

Adopting the persona of a bright-eyed wrestling fan with a bubbly personality in 2014, she became infectious to the NXT fanbase. She made it work in such a gritty environment, thriving as an excited and cheerful fangirl protagonist. You wanted to see her win. You wanted to see her succeed. That smile was too bright to root against. 

Just like with any babyface, we are struck with any pitfalls. Kayfabe injuries and big match losses at NXT Takeover: Fatal 4-Way and NXT Takeover: Rival saw to that. Facing Sasha Banks in the former and again alongside Lynch and Flair in the latter wrung the emotions out of everyone rooting for Bayley as she tried and tried to capture the NXT Women’s Championship and fell short.

It wasn’t until 2015 that Bayley would gain the opportunity for the gold. After a few pit stops against the likes of Emma and Dana Brooke, she was soon ready after defeating Flair and Lynch to challenge Banks at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, co-main eventing with Kevin Owens versus Finn Balor.

And what a match it was. I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. This match was grueling, visceral. The hatred was palpable; the rivalry was scorching hot. These women seemed hellbent on tearing each other apart. Ultimately, an Inverted Frankensteiner and Bayley-to-Belly Suplex won her a pinfall victory, finally dethroning Banks. 

As Sasha was set to graduate to the main roster and Bayley was to take the reins as champion, this warranted an emotional celebration. Tears were everywhere. Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair even embraced the women. 

This curtain call remains unforgettable because this was a statement. What the independent and international scenes and TNA/Impact’s Knockouts Division felt real. It felt palpable. Women could be represented as contenders who could hit hard, fight hard, and leave it all in the ring with compelling stories on a big wrestling brand in North America.

If that wasn’t awesome enough, months later NXT general manager William Regal decided it was time for a rematch at NXT Takeover: Respect. This time, however, it was set to be the first women’s 30-minute Iron Man (or Iron Woman) match. Oh, and it was the main event, as well. Big pressure, there.

If the Brooklyn match weren’t fiery enough, this longer performance would leave its mark. Man, I’m getting goosebumps again.

This match was intensity, physicality, and storytelling wrapped in one package. Banks was her typical, dirty-playing self. Echoing the likes of Eddie Guerrero, she spared no expense in any tactic that could regain her the title she coexisted so wonderfully with. Bayley was dead set on defending that which she fought so hard for, and no one was going to stop her.

Sasha relied heavily on her Banks Statement, desperately begging it to tap Bayley out. Throughout the match, Bayley targeted Sasha’s hand in an attempt to make this hold weaker. With each victory Banks eked out, Bayley was there to climb back up to her level. There was even a callback to when Bayley won the last match with the combo of the Inverted Frankensteiner and Bayley-to-Belly Suplex. After multiple Banks Statements, the champion ultimately scored a win with a 3-2 victory, countering another Statement into a modified armbar.

I miss this era.

With Banks once again out of the picture and back on the main roster, Bayley continued her story. A strong champion, she defended against the likes of Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, and Carmella.

Meanwhile, another story was playing out, just as massive and impactful as Bayley and Sasha’s. This story featured an Empress on a streak. Asuka was here, and Bayley’s days were numbered as champ.

Credit: WWE

Asuka’s inevitable collision with the babyface echoed the arrival of Shinsuke Nakamura against the departing Sami Zayn at the same event, NXT Takeover: Dallas. One hot talent against one at the end of their time. The passing of the torches. Though the match was hard fought, this excellent bout was won by Asuka.

Bayley was not yet done, however. One last match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II saw Bayley defeated once again in a hotly contested match against the Japanese superstar. 

The summer of 2016 would see Bayley eschew the gritty darkness of NXT and enter the limelight of Monday Night Raw. Things would go about as expected at first, with Bayley set to climb on a bigger stage like she once did. It worked before, didn’t it?

In 2017, she won the Raw Women’s Championship from then-title holder Charlotte Flair in February thanks to former rival Sasha Banks. Bayley would retain this belt again thanks to Banks against Flair at Fastlane, handing the Queen her first pay-per-view loss on the main roster in shocking fashion. Even as early as this, Flair had the perception of being unstoppable. Bayley was just the only exception.

This was a great start to Bayley’s main roster run. The sky was the limit, it seemed. At WrestleMania 33 in a four-way featuring Flair, Banks, and Nia Jax. She overcame all of them.

Sadly, the events following this are where the name of Bayley as a protagonist would be besmirched. After 76 days, Bayley’s reign came to an end at the hands of Alexa Bliss. It could have been salvaged and she’d have been fine, but the way she was presented as her feud with Bliss persisted still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

The “This is Your Life” segment between Bayley and Bliss was nowhere near as entertaining as The Rock and Mankind’s version in 1999, combined with Bayley paralyzed in fear holding a kendo stick during their later “Kendo Stick on a Pole” match led many to stop taking her seriously. 

After so many failed attempts to regain the title and an extended period of not doing much, Bayley received an opportunity that in retrospect was actually pretty cool.

The storied rivalry with Sasha Banks now turned friendship brought about their tag team, The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection. It had a rocky start, but after some counseling, the pair was on the same page. 

Fortunately, they had further reason to stick together, as WWE unveiled its first-ever Women’s Tag Team Championship belts. Sasha and Bayley would compete for this gold at 2019’s Elimination Chamber at which they’d win and leave with the belts! For stars of their caliber, this was something that gave them something to do that wouldn’t necessitate them staying behind in catering or losing in meaningless matches. This was them making history.

As exciting as that was, it was not to be. This reign would be short, seeing them lose their inaugural reign to The IICONICS at WrestleMania 35.

This was met with radio silence from Sasha Banks who went on her own journey outside of wrestling, but Bayley moved forward on her separate path, soon being drafted to SmackDown, leaving the absent Banks on Raw.

With nowhere to go but forward, she entered Money in the Bank with a steely determination, Bayley managed to overcome seven other competitors to climb the ladder and win, cashing in later in the night against Charlotte Flair, who had just won the SmackDown Women’s Championship against Becky Lynch. 

Credit: WWE

Then, an old friend returned. Sasha Banks made her long-awaited return in autumn, with a new look. Initially showing love to a still-mourning Natayla some time removed from her father Jim Neidhart’s passing, Sasha took off her purple wig to show a blue hairstyle below as she attacked the Canadian. Becky Lynch came to her defense, but she too fell to The Boss.

How would Bayley react? Would she look down on her friend, or would she join in the affair? It seemed she was caught in the middle.

Fans wouldn’t have long to wait, as Bayley seemingly came to Becky Lynch’s aid the next week, only to follow suit with Banks in the attack and harassment of the women’s division. Enough with playing nice.

Sporting a shorter hairstyle and a rageful sneer, Bayley did something that was a recurring theme for her, now in her own hands: betrayal. Specifically, this started with the inflatable tube men known as “Bayley Buddies”. No more bright smiles. No more fangirling. No more reaching to the audience. No more Bayley Buddies. No more of that music that wouldn’t have felt out of place in a Hollister at the mall in the 2010s. No more of the Bayley we knew.

Dismantling the establishment she was built upon, she constructed a new visage and goal. One of these additions to her that I love was the implementation of her new finisher, the Rose Plant. Trapping the arm and the head of her opponent, she slammed them face-first into the ground. Funnily enough, I realized that this name could very well come from her former ring name Davina Rose, or her middle name outside of wrestling, Rose.

What came next in 2020 would shape fan perception of her from around this time. She was now in the business of misery, ready to take out anyone on the top.

Bayley emerged out of this ridiculously entertaining. She was such an asshole but was hilarious about it to a point beyond endearment. It was infectious. Paired with the equally villainous Sasha Banks, the pair terrorized both Raw and SmackDown and on occasion, NXT. 

Keeping in mind this was during the lockdown during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, this was no easy feat. WWE’s shows were held in the empty Performance Center, meaning something special had to be brought to the table. It’s not easy to do when the world is falling apart and the future lay in bed with uncertainty. 

When it comes to the product around this time, some of the top draws were talents like The Fiend and Drew McIntyre. However, Bayley and Sasha were the biggest driving force to what made the product watchable. It makes sense, right? If it’s in a place with no real crowd, so how can you tell if a talent is popular? So you reach inside yourself and find something that burns bright. You plan it out with the blueprint.

Among all the programs and films being binge-watched while the world stayed at home, being enough to draw even jaded wrestling fans in just enough speaks to the talent and charisma involved in week-to-week television.

Bayley’s character brought forth her imaginative and wacky personality that feels like the true Pamela Rose Martinez, turned up to eleven. There’s almost a late 90s/early 2000s Chris Jericho-ness to her without the misogyny. Calling the crowds “stupid idiots”, coining catchphrases such as “Ding-Dong! Hello?”, and tormenting Michael Cole added to that.

Fans watched as Bayley and Sasha made life hard for the likes of Nikki Cross and Alexa Bliss and later the Women’s Tag Team Champions, The Kabuki Warriors. Seeing as Bayley was SmackDown Women’s Champion and Sasha eventually won Asuka’s Raw Women’s Championship, they needed more gold to add to their collection.

Eventually, however, Sasha kept slipping up. It started with her nearly costing her and Bayley’s matches and outright losing them as time went on. Even in singles competition, the pressure to stay on top was getting to her. The Boss had even caused the two to lose the Women’s Tag Team Championship to Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax at Payback and failed to win them back. Now Bayley was in the position that had afflicted her so much in the past few years. 

So, she cut ties. She didn’t just burn the bridge. She doused the lands connecting and set it ablaze in an inferno of hate and sulfur. 

Later in the year, Bayley found herself in the vengeful crosshairs of her former partner. After a successful defense against Asuka at 2020’s Clash of Champions, Bayley found herself inside the Hell in a Cell structure at the titular event. Given Sasha’s track record in the enormous cage and Bayley’s subsequent matches inside, it comes as no shock that the pair had an incredible and memorable bout that saw Bayley defeated and dethroned of her long-held title.

Bayley’s descent spiraled her down the card as Sasha rose to success amid new star Bianca Belair’s impending success. This neurotic downfall saw hilarity in her character that made it oddly compelling. The “Ding-Dong! Hello?” segments based on her catchphrase saw her in the usual talk-show segment WWE was so fond of, bringing out some goofy action as she interviewed whichever guest. Either cackling with the bad guys or berating the good guys, this show with a single door carved out her memorability.

Soon, she set her aspirations at vengeance and glory towards Sasha at the 2021 Royal Rumble but was thrown over the top rope by eventual winner Bianca Belair. This newcomer took the exact spot Bayley wanted, and now it was time to play gatekeeper. 

Setting forth obnoxious obstacles and problems to trip Belair up, Bayley only found The EST to be insurmountable in the face of opposition.

What came next was yet another spectacular match, courtesy of Bayley. Yet again in the Hell in a Cell, the former champion was soundly defeated by Belair, who had barely even broken a sweat. Her path forward remained clear, but Bayley’s was in question.

Not having a match set for WrestleMania 37, she instead hosted. This brought forth fan outcry, but instead, she was beaten up in humiliating fashion by the retired Bella Twins. Then, Bayley wasn’t seen for a while due to an ACL tear for nine agonizing months.

Fans bemoaned the lack of Bayley, missing that which she brought to the WWE product, but they had to wait.

Thankfully, the prayers would be answered in 2022, when she returned to rapturous ovation following Bianca Belair’s title defense against Becky Lynch. But Bayley didn’t come alone.

Io Shirai (now Iyo Sky) and Dakota Kai who were thought to be out of the company had returned and they set forth to wreak havoc. This was a total yet welcome surprise. Timed with a change of regime, this set forth the motions that would later grow into a new era.

Under the moniker of Damage CTRL, the trio would be a thorn in the side of many. With the benefit of WWE now seemingly under the creative control of Paul “Triple H” Levesque, it seemed as though nothing but good things were to come. 

Hilariously in retrospect, it did not. Though they won small matches in between events, the group often stumbled in big-time matches. They were at most a thorn in the side. But Bayley had a vision that was still paying off. Crowds who had been introduced to Kai and Sky saw that they both had something incredible in them while Bayley wrestled a safer style. Almost as though she were sitting back for who she saw as real stars. She did just return from an ACL injury, after all. 

I’m not saying that Damage CTRL’s losses were something I was a fan of, but seeing the long-term storytelling trajectory, it makes sense, at least to me. Bayley just had to continue eating disrespect as though it were routine dinner. 

Leading to the 2023 Royal Rumble, Damage CTRL would feud with Bianca Belair, Alexa Bliss, Shotzi, and Asuka, as well as a returning Becky Lynch. The latter, Bayley would extensively feud with, culminating in a cage match which Becky won.

Fortune would soon favor the trio, however, as Dakota and Iyo won the Women’s Tag Team Championship which they’d carry into WrestleMania 39. Unfortunately, those titles would not be defended, as the three took on the group of Becky Lynch and Hall of Famers Lita and Trish Stratus.

Lita and Lynch would soon win the Women’s Tag Team Championships, and the losses would continue for Damage CTRL, save for a Money in the Bank win for Iyo Sky, which she successfully cashed in on Bianca Belair at SummerSlam. Even with the inclusion of the returning Kairi Sane, the team still lost, notably on 2023’s Survivor Series. As was common, Bayley took the pin. 

While her time before turning bad was marred by betrayals, this current one was afflicted by her complacency as she was focused more on the idea of making Damage CTRL a big deal than successfully winning the matches. Her vision was clouded and ignorance was her new best friend.

The lack of respect, consideration, and support for Bayley within her stable was growing more apparent. Iyo, Dakota, and Kairi would tell Bayley to stay in the back or to stay away from certain meetings. Even Bayley’s worries about Kairi and the eventual inclusion of Asuka were not properly assuaged, made even worse by the buildup of hearing them talk foully about Bayley repeatedly in English and their native Japanese.

Bayley, upon winning the 2024 Royal Rumble sensed that the recurring theme of betrayal was coming. She accepted it. She even embraced and challenged it head-on alongside casting away her complacency. Her choice for WrestleMania 40? Iyo Sky. Enough with the disrespect; she was taking back her life.

Even when Dakota Kai would follow suit in stabbing Bayley in the back, she didn’t seem upset. Just disappointed. These are consequences she was ready to deal with. Ain’t it fun, living in the real world?

It’s a painful feeling, to be alone. Even when you’re used to it and you know it’s going to happen, it still stings. Those messages won’t be updated. You can’t go to the same places anymore. There’s a hole in your heart and it bleeds blood and tears, and it won’t be the same when healed. But still it pumps, oh does it still pump for her. Could you stop her, stop it? You cannot.

Leaving the group outright and dealing with the rightful indifference of Bianca Belair and the cautious yet enthusiastic support of Naomi, Bayley was on her own. Perhaps as it should be as she finds herself.

Still, she was set for her big WrestleMania moment. Granted, it wasn’t with the Paramore she’d had hoped for, nor the main event that would normally be promised to her, but she didn’t need any of it. 

All she needed was herself

In Philadelphia, Bayley put on her best match in quite a while. Though Iyo was technically sound and athletic, she could only be one step ahead for so long. Bayley sold each move like it were death, telling an underdog story of someone who was going to be great by willpower and tenacity. With so many ways to give in, she drew the line between wrath and mercy. All of the disrespect was to be done away with. With her, a Rose Plant, Bayley won and she was vindicated. 

Bayley holding the WWE Women's Championship at WrestleMania 40
Credit: WWE

She didn’t need anybody, and she didn’t need to turn on anybody. All she needed was that which existed, burning in her soul. Persistence. Heart. Fire. All.

Everything in life can come to you, but you must maintain patience and you must practice love towards yourself, no matter how unshakeable you think it is. Because once you find yourself and love that person, you will see the light others see in you. 

This is what you get when you let your heart win.