It’s rare to say that WWE can be accused of throwing away money, but in the case of former RAW Women’s Champion Bayley, it’s a just comparison. Heralded as the future of the women’s division, the Hugger looked poised to be the greatest female success story since perhaps Trish Stratus. Truly, if there was anyone from NXT that looked like a guaranteed success on the main roster, it’s the former Davina Rose. While no one can take away Bayley’s success on the main roster - and despite even what this article may tell you, she’s certainly not a failure - but her run pales in comparison to what many believed could be possible.
So where did it go wrong with the former NXT Women’s Champion? Usually, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment that a booking decision goes wrong in World Wrestling Entertainment, but hell - finding an exact moment is what this series is all about!
Welcome, friends, to the third-ever edition of Bad Decisions in Booking History on Bayley’s first run with the RAW Women’s Championship - and how a brief moment of forgotten morals has impacted her entire main-roster run thus far.
NXT’s Greatest Success
It’s hard to argue that Bayley had one of the greatest NXT runs of all time. While she may be one of the more consistently-featured women on RAW at the moment, her current run on the main roster has paled in comparison to the Hugger’s run in NXT.
Her time on the black-and-yellow brand was a perfect underdog story; from the onset, Bayley was naturally lovable. While the Hugger may have resembled a cookie-cutter babyface of days past, she was truly a revelation in the position. She was both child-like and badass at the same time; while she may have had a gimmick that appealed to a younger demographic, she was more than capable of delivering classic matches in the ring. While her first few years with NXT weren’t filled with championship accolades - despite multiple attempts to earn the NXT Women’s Championship - she clicked with the fans and naturally became the most popular female on the roster.
In 2015, Bayley kicked off one of the most spectacular women’s feuds in WWE history by becoming the #1 contender to the NXT Championship. Held at the time by Sasha Banks, the two would go on to not only able to put on not one but two classic matches, they were able to bring women’s wrestling to a whole new audience in WWE. Many tout this match as one of the first flags planted in the Women’s Revolution, and many today still rank it as the greatest women’s match in NXT history.
After a terrific run with the NXT Women’s Championship that featured defences against the likes of Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss and Carmella, Bayley finally dropped her championship to the undefeated Asuka after a 223-day reign. As is NXT tradition, Bayley lost her contractually obliged rematch to the Empress of Tomorrow on August 20, 2020 - her final match in NXT.
While the fans love for Bayley may have grown through her time on the black-and-yellow brand, one thing that never changed was her heart of gold. She was WWE’s version of Pureheart, a character of unflappable moral fortitude. She was the female John Cena, but believable; a true underdog who was actually believable in their absolute morality. Moreso, it was one of the major factors in her getting over as a babyface - something that many fans believed would be the key to her success on the main roster.
Bayley, RAW Women’s Champion
Bayley’s official main roster debut came on July 24, 2016, in a one-off tag match with her real-life friend Sasha Banks; however, she was officially made a member of the main roster on August 22, 2016, announced by then-GM Mick Foley as the newest signee to the red brand. Her run on the main roster began exactly as her run on NXT ended - red-hot. Bayley was universally loved in her inaugural days on RAW; she routinely earned the loudest cheers among the females on the roster, and it seemed as though she was destined to become a megastar on the main roster.
While her popularity on the main roster resembled her later fan-favourite status in NXT, her storyline status was eerily similar to her black-and-yellow beginnings. She near immediately challenged for Charlotte Flair’s RAW Women’s Championship but was unsuccessful in her early attempt fo the championship. Slowly but surely, the Hugger slowly worked her way up the food chain on the flagship show, going through Flair’s protegee Dana Brooke and earning herself a spot on the five-woman Survivor Series team for the 2016 edition of the eponymous pay-per-view. In an impressive showing, she stood as one of the survivors with her rival Charlotte. A post-match beatdown from Flair set Bayley up in a #1 contenders match with Nia Jax the next evening, with the Hugger’s victory earning her a
title shot championship opportunity against Charlotte at the 2017 Royal Rumble. The whole time, Bayley had Sasha Banks at her side, taking away the numbers advantage from Charlotte and Dana Brooke. While the aforementioned Banks acted as added enforcement in Bayley’s corner time and time again, she never directly interfered in a match - at least, until February 13, 2017.
Bayley had conclusively lost to Flair at the 2017 edition of the Royal Rumble, but a mixed-tag victory over Flair and the Club on the January 30th edition of RAW thrust the Hugger right back into another championship match. On February 13, 2017, Bayley faced Charlotte Flair for the RAW Women’s Championship in what would be a turning point for the Hugger’s career; however, it wouldn’t be in the way many anticipated upon her debut.
As with most matches involving either Flair or Bayley, the match was excellent. Within the final few minutes, however, it looked as though Dana Brooke would make her impact felt once again. However, while Brooke was able to break up a Figure Four attempt from Bayley to Flair, the Hugger had a friend of her own in Sasha Banks. The Boss ran to ringside near the conclusion of the match and laid Brooke out from behind with a crutch, rendering her useless for the rest of the match and giving Flair and Bayley the one-on-one match that the both of them wanted - right?
After attacking Brooke from behind, Banks proceeded to ringside with the crutch in tow. As Flair locked in the Figure Eight - her signature finishing manoeuvre - Banks once again struck with the crutch, this time striking the Queen with the weapon and breaking up her submission attempt. All of this happened unbeknownst to both the referee and Bayley herself
A quick three-count later, and Bayley became a RAW Women’s Champion for the first time in her career.
However, unlike the character that we’d come to know and love, she’d won the championship using dubious means. Regardless of how little knowledge she’d had of Sasha’s interference, there was no way she would hold on to the championship after realizing she’d obtained it under less-than-honest circumstances, right?
Again - wrong.
So What Went Wrong?
From the outset, Bayley’s title victory felt, well, off. Not only had the Hugger won her first championship under dubious means, but refusing to relinquish the title - despite the obvious interference from Sasha Banks - went against everything that the WWE Universe knew Bayley to stand for. It was a stark contrast from the straight arrow we’d come to know and love; it simply seemed impossible that she wouldn’t do the right thing and try to earn her championship fair and square.
Bayley’s championship run was middling, at best. After a 76-day title reign, she dropped the title to Alexa Bliss at that summer’s Payback. Since then, she’s been in an off-and-on storyline with BFF Sasha Banks but hasn’t come near the heights many expected her to hit upon her debut. Is there still hope for Bayley? Absolutely - but this time, no compromises.
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