The true revolution.
It’s insane how much it can’t be stressed how much Saturday, August 22, 2015 was a catalyst for women’s wrestling in WWE. Actually, not so much a catalyst as it was THE catalyst.
Reading that sentence sounds like a lot of hyperbole and I wouldn’t blame you if you thought that. Except that hyperbole feels justified in this instance. It’s worth noting we’ve had excellent women’s matches before Bayley and Sasha Banks’ incredible barnbuster a year ago today at NXT Takeover Brooklyn, whether on NXT (WWE’s developmental/”indie” brand) or the main roster long before the pair were in the WWE.
Even in the six months before that match, there were at least two women’s match of the year candidates in the Fatal 4 Way between the Four Horsewomen (the group of women wrestlers who led the women’s division at NXT for a two-year period – Bayley, Sasha, Becky Lynch and Charlotte) at NXT Takeover Rival and Sasha’s incredible championship match against Becky Lynch at NXT Takeover Unstoppable. Such was the quality of the latter that it could have been argued as a contender for outright MOTY, let alone women’s MOTY.
It’s why the recent WWE 24 documentary on the women’s division and the origins of the division, the rise of WWE women’s wrestling pioneers Trish Stratus and Lita at a time where the division was anything but about the wrestling, the era of the divas and the birth of the Four Horsewomen within NXT and the WWE main roster is such a great watch and shows the massive night and day difference in the past fifteen years. It was refreshing to hear the likes of Trish and WWE co-owner Stephanie McMahon talk of the difficulties of being a female talent in a time where the division was about bikini contests, bra and panties matches and ‘puppies’ (ugh).
But the reason why Sasha Banks and Bayley stand out here is, besides their incredible match in Brooklyn, they merely know: what came before in the past and how they want to go about changing the business for the future. They know this – and can do this – because, their obvious talents aside, they’re the biggest fans of all as two girls who said in the past they’d wanted to become wrestlers at 10/11 years old. They care because they grew up loving wrestling. It shows in their work and ethic, as well as chemistry for each other both in-and-outside the ring. Even look at Bayley during her title reign in helping to develop other wrestlers in NXT: Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, even Eva Marie (who, lets say, does not have the best reputation).
Said Sasha in the WWE 24 documentary: “When we were in NXT, we called ourselves ‘Average Janes’ because we were just average. Just loving and so excited for what we were doing.”
In building to their match at Takeover last August, they had The Boss (heel/baddie) gain the NXT Championship in the Fatal 4 Way at Takeover Rival and start her build by having TV matches for the title with Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch and Charlotte (the latter numerous times).
The build for Bayley (face/goodie – and she is a true-blue goodie in every sense of the word), meanwhile, was a slower burn that goes way back, but one that paid off in chunks. Cageside Seats has a fantastic series ongoing which chronicles Bayley and does a better job of describing it than I ever could, but also shows why perhaps out of anyone in the Four Horsewomen, she could be the woman who could lead the women of WWE in the future (warning: I’m a massive Bayley mark, so take that at much face value as you like), so I highly advise you check that out.
But the shorter version is this, starting from Takeover Rival: loses the Fatal 4 Way despite being so close to winning it, ends up in a feud with fellow superstars Emma and Dana Brooke which stretched out a bit – including a Takeover Unstoppable tag match with Charlotte as her partner – takes time off from a broken hand before coming back in a series of matches to show she’s worth champion material, including a feud-ending match with Emma plus separate matches with her fellow horsewomen Charlotte and Becky Lynch in a number one contender’s match respectively. All of which she won.
It’s worth noting too the incredible contract signing between the pair. It’s a huge part to the build and absolutely can’t be ignored. Bayley’s nervousness and slight stuttering at times (something not there in her contract signing with current NXT Women’s Champion Asuka for her recent match at Takeover Brooklyn II this past weekend thanks to her fantastic character development in the year since), Sasha’s taunting of Bayley to the point she just snaps and we suddenly see that passionate side of Bayley, an edgier side not seen until that point that showed that she could end up doing this. One of the best contract signing segments in WWE, if not NXT.
And not to mention the video package before their match which is up there with even the best promo videos in the WWE, such as Rock-Austin at WM17.
If you’re someone who’s been interested in getting into wrestling or want to know more about the Four Horsewomen, get watching it now on the WWE Network. When I see people who say they want to get into wrestling, either for the first time or after a long time way, I immediately point to this match because it’s perfect for newcomers and ticks near enough everything to be an absolutely incredible match to the point it’s the best women’s match in WWE ever and quite simply one of the best ever matches full stop.
But the reason it’s absolutely the best women’s match in WWE history and one of the best matches of all time regardless of gender (it’s my favourite wrestling match ever, in case that still hasn’t been made clear by now), is because of the clash of ideologies, psychology, the chemistry, the spots and move-set, the rivalry between the two built up over a two-year period. The pair deserved – and still do deserve – most of the plaudits and applause for the match they gave, but part of the credit has to go to the NXT creative team (led by 14x WWE champion Triple H, now also a WWE exec leading the NXT brand) too for putting together a slow-burning feud that gave an absolutely incredible payoff and perhaps gave the brand its Daniel Bryan moment in having Bayley win the title.
The reason why it was such the catalyst for women’s wrestling in the WWE from that match forward all comes to one simple thing: it showed at an event where there were more eyes on the product than ever before, both at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York and watching at home on the Network a year ago, that women can put together five-star matches and not just be relegated to mere eye candy. It showed women’s wrestling can move on and has moved on from an era from purely sex appeal and barely any wrestling.
Women, not divas, are now on par with the men as superstars. The butterfly belt (what used to be referred to as the old women’s title, the Divas Championship) is gone and resigned to history. And biggest of all, a marquee match at Wrestlemania where the competitors were front and centre of the main art at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. I certainly couldn’t have imagined such a thing a year beforehand after Wrestlemania 31 in Santa Clara at Levi Stadium, especially moreso the night after it on Monday Night Raw Raw during a six-woman tag match (warning: the linked video has extremely offensive sexist crowd chants so be warned and don’t watch at work).
The divas revolution/women’s evolution has stalled at times and even given moments where you question where they’re going to go next after something idiotic or stupid happens on a booking level (the Reid Flair spot in the Charlotte-Paige contract signing pre-Survivor Series, a fantastic feud in Charlotte-Becky Lynch for the title ruined by WWE Hall of Famer Ric Flair’s incredibly offensive “wheelin dealin’ etc etc bull-nonsense at the Royal Rumble).
But when you have moments like the Takeover Brooklyn match and the subsequent curtain call between the Four Horsewomen – an iconic moment, not just in WWE but in all of wrestling – the Ironwoman match at Takeover Respect, the Sasha pop at the Royal Rumble, the Wrestlemania triple-threat, Sasha Banks-Charlotte’s utterly incredible title match on the first new-era Raw, the Attitude Era-like pop and reception to Bayley’s main roster debut in a one-night only appearance at a WWE pay-per-view last month in a tag match as Sasha Banks’ partner, there’s still hope yet and even reaffirmed when these moments happen.
It’s truly amazing how much has happened in a year for these two since Brooklyn. For Sasha, being one/third of a Wrestlemania main event, her championship coronation and the response after on Raw and being one of the faces of the entire company (she’s the last face you see on the Raw intro, a shift away from placing the men who are chosen by WWE chairman Vince McMahon as the faces of the company like John Cena and Roman Reigns).
For Bayley, carrying the NXT women’s division in her time as champion, being the face, the heart, the soul of the brand as well as her aforementioned main roster debut and her final farewell this past Saturday night after her Women’s Championship rematch at Takeover Brooklyn against Asuka, a moment she truly deserved on the biggest stage of NXT’s year. If she gets her full main roster debut tonight on Monday Night Raw like its suspected she might, she is going to get the pop of the year. That, I have no doubt. Just listen to the response she got when she made her first appearance on the main roster last month.
If you had told me at the start of the decade, my favourite wrestler would be a female wrestler, I would have laughed at you. Six years later, lo and behold, we’ve come a long way with women’s wrestling in the WWE that such a thing isn’t a pipedream anymore. The Four Horsewomen – but especially Bayley in particular – made me believe in women’s wrestling again. That absolutely can’t be ignored. It all started again for me with that Fatal 4 Way at NXT Takeover Rival with all four of the Horsewomen, made official by NXT Takeover Brooklyn and solidified by NXT Takeover Respect thanks to Bayley and Sasha.
Last year’s NXT Takeover Brooklyn was the greenshoots out of something special in the works. There may have been some teething along the way and there surely will be more of it to come. But if it’s anything like the slow-burning payoff to Bayley’s coronation as NXT Women’s Champion a year ago today, the payoff here will be nothing short of incredible.
Here’s to it. And here’s to what went down a year ago. Thanks, Bayley and Sasha.