ON FEBRUARY 23RD, 2015 A HASHTAG CHANGED THE COURSE OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING, AND WITH IT THE CAREERS OF ALL THOSE INTERTWINED BY ASSOCIATION.
#GiveDivasAChance trended on Twitter after the Bella Twins fought Paige and Emma on an episode of Monday Night RAW in a contest that was almost literally a blink-and-you-miss-it affair. After years of mistreatment of the women of WWE in general, fans were fed up and demanded better. The hashtag, which trended for over 36 hours, would help to propel the division to reach heights not which seen before. Of course, the wheels for such a movement had been turning for quite some time before it became a social media hot topic.
Underneath the surface of WWE, there was a happening taking place.
In NXT, the company’s primary developmental brand, the women weren’t simply part of the show; the women were quite literally the selling point of entire events. Given the time and opportunity to build feuds and develop characters, the company had a bevy of cant-miss female prospects in their ranks And in the summer of 2015, they unleashed some of them onto the main roster, officially putting the “Divas Revolution” into high gear.
And while Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte all made tremendous debuts and took the WWE by storm, there was one notable absence. The fourth member of the horsewomen. WWE’s seemingly brightest star up-and-comer, Bayley.Perhaps it was for the best they staggered her debut. She did, after all, go on to make the NXT women’s division completely run through her. She added to her already impressive resume in a series of high profile matches, all the while making fans clamour even more for her main-card arrival. In Bayley, World Wrestling Entertainment seemingly had someone who checked all of the boxes. She was great in the ring. She was good on the microphone. Men, women, and children all had different reasons to love her. It is not a stretch nor a use of hyperbole to say she was on track to become the female John Cena.
Actually, it wouldn’t be completely wrong to label her the female answer to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Not because she was overly profane (she isn’t) or for her penchant of drinking beer on screen (she doesn’t), but because her popularity truly was unmatched universally, among all segments of the “WWE Universe”. Then her debut on the main WWE roster finally happened and all of that changed, somehow both agonizingly slow and surprisingly fast simultaneously.
She debuted at the Battleground Pay-Per-View which was, for all intents and purposes, a throwaway event. The final offering before the roster splits took hold some twenty-four hours later, it was expected not much would happen at the event. But with Sasha Banks needing a tag partner, the roof came off the building when the opening bar of Bayley’s entrance hit, ushering in with it truly one of the loudest reactions of the last few years. And the match was solid as well. The fans stayed in it for the duration, and it set the tone for the rest of the night.
All-in-all, it was a great main roster appearance for the hugger. And then she oddly disappeared.
When she surfaced a few months later as a free agent signing for Monday Night RAW, absence had indeed made the heart grow fonder, as the crowd still reacted voraciously to her appearances. She immediately situated herself firmly in the thick of things as far as the women’s championship title picture went, automatically a credible and believable challenger. As she interacted on screen with the likes of Charlotte, Dana Brooke, Sasha Banks, and Nia Jax one thing became clear: we were eventually heading somewhere very reminiscent of recent days gone by.
The path of least resistance for Bayley on the main roster was perfectly parallel to the one that captured the hearts and imagination of viewers in NXT. Bayley was going to play the lovable, spunky underdog. Charlotte was going to play the unbeatable, unlikeable heel champion. The perfect foil to Bayley’s happy-go-lucky character.
Mirroring Daniel Bryan’s rise to the top (and the aforementioned Bayley run in NXT), there were even discussions of Charlotte and her unmatched Pay-Per-View win streak being lined up for several seemingly demoralizing victories over Bayley. Then, when it seemed all hope was lost she would pull off the impossible, defeating Charlotte and dashing not only her undefeated streak, but taking her Women’s Championship in the process.
It all sounded absolutely perfect, if not a little familiar.
And then, as they often do, WWE shotgunned it. Once more the big company up north just couldn’t help themselves.
Rather than have Bayley’s crowning moment take place on the show of shows, Wrestlemania, they had her topple Flair at a random February 13th edition of Monday Night RAW. Sure, title changes on television help add an air of unpredictability to the programming, but when you consider this was done just a few weeks after one of the big WWE Pay-Per-View’s where it would have been a huge moment (the two squared off at January’s Royal Rumble), and that Bayley needed as assist from Sasha to get the win, and it just felt unimportant, or at the very least not all it could have been.
To make matters worse, WWE then had Bayley defeat Flair at Fastlane, the stop-gap event before Wrestlemania, ending the undefeated Pay-Per-View streak they so carefully curated. Compounding things even further, Banks distracted Charlotte again to aid Bayley in the victory, thus ensuring nobody came out of the whole mess looking any better off. In short WWE botched the whole ordeal. But at least a lengthy title run from Bayley would help establish her as the pillar of the division, and one of WWE’s biggest and brightest stars.
As you either remember, or can probably imagine, that did not happen.
Though she did get a Wrestlemania win over three of her toughest challengers (a good start toward building her up), Bayley promptly dropped the gold at the follow-up Payback event to Alexa Bliss (though in the company’s defence, Bliss herself was on a meteoric upward trajectory). In fact, it appeared WWE actually had a unique opportunity to right several wrongs, and set themselves up nicely to have a top notch feud between two women who could be their top face and top heel respectively for years to come.
As you either remember, or can probably once more imagine, that did not happen either.
Bayley and Bliss fought once more before the whole thing was blown off and the two performers went their separate ways. Rather than build the feud up over a series of months and hotly contested matches, they once more put the whole thing on fast forward and wasted it, leaving several quality matches on the table in the process. That’s not saying they can’t (and likely will not) go back to it at some point. Still, it seems like a great opportunity squandered.
Bliss moves on to a match with challenger Sasha Banks while Bayley… well, to be honest I have no idea what she moves onto (and with that, I feel like WWE Creative and I have something in common).
Banks, for her part, hasn’t been booked fantastic either so perhaps this is their attempt at getting her on the proper course once more. In fact, it is entirely possible that WWE has a Divas Revolution problem that they either don’t see or don’t want to admit. Aside from Charlotte and Alexa Bliss, each women on the roster can have complaints about their booking.
Sure, women main evented all three shows two weeks ago, and that’s no small feat. Still, Bayley, Sasha, Emma, Nia Jax, Becky Lynch, Carmella, and even SmackDown Live! Women’s Champion Naomi can all have legitimate gripes about how their careers have been handled over the past twelve months or so. The women themselves have proven they can put on show stealing matches. And at certain points, WWE seems to indicate they want to go all the way with the concept. So then why does it feel all too often like they’ve only got one foot forward, or one toe in the water?
Clearly someone (or probably more accurate: a group of someones) high up within the WWE wants this to work. But it is becoming all too obvious that there’s another side that doesn’t or isn’t completely convinced either way, at best.
The cynic fan can point to the fact that the company has much publicity to gain from positively positioning the women’s division. We are in an age where women in sports (and society in general) are being revered and respected like never before, and it’s natural for WWE to have a willingness to both contribute to and benefit from such a situation.
The optimist fan looks at the investments the company has made over the last few years (ample television time for the girls in NXT and at times the main roster, allowing them to main event certain events, the hiring of female trainers with incredible pedigrees) and can easily see that at least part of the brain trust believes this can be a thing.
So when are they going to stop wading into the water and simply cannonball into the deep end? I don’t want to sound like an ungrateful fan; the WWE has made tremendous strides when it comes to the handling of their female division. But why do I usually feel like there’s always some place further to go? As it stands, we’re getting a lot of “first time ever” matches featuring women competitors, and that’s pretty cool. But why does the company feel that throwing those out there is a substitute for simple, effective, character building booking?
As for Bayley, let’s not kid ourselves: she has every tool needed to rebound and return to that trajectory she was once on. Aside from all the superlatives lauded her way earlier in the article, she also seems genuinely smart about the business, and appears invested enough in her character to take proper care of it, make little changes, etc.
Question is: how much longer are fans going to have to wait for that return? And will they be patient enough to still be there when it finally happens (see: Bray Wyatt).
You can’t be a little pregnant, and you can’t be a little invested into a revolution. It’s time for WWE to really step up their game and prove their intentions are more than simply capitalizing on a hashtag and a few fleeting moments here and there.