Craig Wilson, John Carbery, Brian Damage, Earl Marx and Russ Morgan
This could have been a ‘Book or Cook‘ piece but instead, in today’s Sunday Sermon, we mix analysis and fantasy booking to look at the current positioning of Bayley on WWE programming and look at what has gone wrong for her on the main roster.
Craig: Poor Bayley. This past week at Extreme Rules she was booed on her way to the ring ahead of losing a match in which she picked the stipulation. She picked the stipulation. The following night on Raw she was only briefly mentioned, during the segment featuring Alexa Bliss and Kurt Angle, with the champion now moving onto new things.
On the Wrestling Observer Radio show of 29 November 2015, Dave Meltzer, speaking about Bayley, said: “I am convinced now that if Bayley went to the main roster it would just be so sad, it’s just not going to work, I think the potential is there for it to work, I think she has more potential to be a babyface more than anyone, but I’m just watching this, and it’s just like they can’t get anyone over, because Bayley can lose a lot of matches unlike other people and still get over, but the thing is she’s not going to get over instantaneously, it’s going to have to be a long drawn out process to get her over, and they’ll kill her and give up on her before they ever get close to that, it’s just sad, it’s the sad reality of it”
And here we are. The crowds are turning on her and, it looks like, the WWE are losing interest in the act too. Where now for Bayley?
John: Honestly, I don’t consider this her fault. Bayley right now reminds me of people like Wade Barrett and Drew McIntyre, wrestlers with the potential to be huge stars but are offered no support by the company. With the storylines and presentations, they offer the likes of Bayley it’s like putting a 200lb vest on someone and then asking them to swim across the ocean. No matter how good they are at swimming they’ll never make it.
WWE’s creative team have botched everything they could with Bayley. Maybe the buck stops with Vince McMahon but the people in control of WWE’s television product seem to be intractable at times when it comes to doing the right thing. From day one Bayley should’ve been an underdog babyface and it should’ve been at least a year before she won any gold and on a big show too. Instead, she wins the WWE women’s title in a meaningless match on RAW.
Dean Ambrose could be an amazing heel if they allowed him to be, instead, he’s just another bland mid-card face. Seth Rollins should’ve been the hottest babyface in the company when he made his return last year, instead they staggered his turn out and killed his heat in the process. Roman Reigns could genuinely be the hottest babyface in the company right now if they’d had the guts to turn him heel back when he initially started getting his negative heat. If he’d had a great run as a heel he would’ve eventually won the hardcore fans over and they’d accept him as a babyface eventually, this isn’t rocket science either its pro wrestling 101.
WWE are terminal as far as their booking is concerned. They have one of their best ever rosters and they can’t come up with a compelling reason for any of them to wrestle each other. There hasn’t been a classic feud on Main Roster TV in years at this point, it’s no wonder they’re in trouble with the ratings. Contrast that with NJPW, their closest rival, which is a star factory. They lost AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura and within a few months had successfully replaced them with Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito respectively. Omega is arguably a bigger star than AJ was at this point. What I’m trying to say is, it is possible to make stars in 2017 and if the right wrestlers are positioned correctly the audience will embrace them. They seem to have gotten Braun Strowman over almost by accident. It’s embarrassing and depressing to watch their current content.
Brian: I’ll take a look at this from a different perspective. Is WWE’s booking a reason for the lukewarm response to Bayley on the main roster? Yes, but I will not go as far to completely blame them for everything here. Part or even most of the blame goes on the main roster fans.
I mean Bayley was booked pretty strong initially. They did her whole backstory of being this lifelong WWE fan who finally accomplished her goal by being a superstar herself. They gave her a run with the Raw women’s title and a solid feud with Charlotte in which Bayley ended Charlotte’s undefeated pay per view streak. Her entrances have been true to her character when she was down in NXT and she does have a lot of merchandise available to fans.
I think what it comes down to is main roster fans are a bit tougher to get behind a wrestler than on the NXT level. Keep in mind, in NXT, wrestlers are brought into a much smaller and intimate setting at Full Sail University. The fans there can be won over easier if you have an independent background, a cool gimmick and skill in the ring. On the main roster, it isn’t just about your resume, it needs to grow organically and not be manufactured so much. Despite the WWE’s attempts and they have attempted to make her a star, fans just aren’t really connecting to her goody two shoe character.
On the flip side, Alexa Bliss has been embraced a lot quicker by main roster fans, again almost by accident. I know John used the example of New Japan and how they were able to replace the losses of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura with guys like Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito. That is very true but you are talking about two very different fan bases here. New Japan’s fanbase expects more in-ring ability than gimmick, character and storyline. The WWE’s main fan base or “universe” is a lot fickler. Almost too much at times.
John: I will agree with you; the audience is intractable at times.
I can imagine that WWE probably doesn’t know what to do with them at times if I’m being fair. They’ve put a tonne of time into the Austin Aries vs Neville feud and both guys are tearing it up bell to bell but its crickets from the crowd. Try to go the opposite way and give them a big main eventer like Reigns and they act like they’ve been fed live bees.
I have a friend who thinks that its due to the fact that the McMahon family have positioned themselves as antagonists to their own audience through their television product for years and that fans are automatically inclined to hate anything they really try to get behind. They’re pretty bad at hiding who they like and want to succeed too. When it comes to pushing someone it’s either 50/50 nothing booking or the guy is an immortal superman who can’t be stopped. Except by the audience who’ll make even the mightiest would be hero wince.
The thing with NJPW is, while there is a greater emphasis on in-ring work, they build their stars with angles and promos. Naito was always a capable wrestler but it was only after he turned heel and became the Ignorable version that he became a star. Kenny Omega is similarly a breakout attraction for them due to his crazy Cleaner gimmick and personality. NJPW gave them room to grow. WWE only offer support to a handful of pet project wrestlers, many of whom fall to bits under the rubbish booking strategies employed by WWE to get them over.
Earl: I’m going to stand with John on this one. I’m with…him. Ha. For me, I anticipated Bayley coming up to the main roster, but I wondered how the gimmick would stick. On one hand, it had the potential to do so much – she’d be the “everygirl with a wrestling dream”. On the other hand, it had the potential to be bland given the larger than life characters of the main roster. I think it started out somewhat strong, but is beginning to fizzle as the “everygirl with a dream” doesn’t seem to be as interesting and the connection seems to be fading.
I felt this for the last couple of weeks and her booking at Extreme Rules made me think some of the higher ups may feel the same. She didn’t lose a competitive battle. Alexa pretty much washed her and proved she didn’t have it in her to get extreme. This could all be some weird path to character development for her, but I don’t think so. I think after Bayley got her title reign, it just didn’t elicit the reaction people thought it would. Do people want to see Bayley? Yes. Does she probably sell a nice amount of merch? Yes. Has she been a compelling character to follow over the last few months? No.
This may be a topic for another day, but, for me, it definitely speaks to the landscape of today’s wrestling environment. Heels and faces are so hard to peg down and make sense of. Bayley is nice, presentable, friendly and still can’t get a raucous reaction from the crowd. Braun comes in and tears up everything and gets a “Thank you Strowman” chant. In the 80s, maybe early 90s, it’d be very clear who’d be cheered and who would be booed. Today, it’s hard. At this point, I think Bayley has the in-ring talent, but her gimmick needs adjustments to keep us interested. And please – no more “this is your life” segments…ever.
Brian: I think the blur between Face and Heel was blurred years ago with the emergence of the nWo and the Attitude era. Many fans just aren’t into the complete babyfaces like they did years ago.
There is no edge or dark side to the Bayley character. That might have worked in small crowds but on the world stage, she needs something a little extra.
Russ: I think there’s also a difference between the NXT fans and the broader WWE fan base. The fans of WWE have so much choice on the roster to get behind, it has been difficult for the NXT guys when they do get the push to main.
Brian: Yes, we did cover that. No doubt the fan bases for each brand are different and want different things. One thing I think we have overlooked here was the importance of something that never happened but perhaps should have. Let’s think back to when Bayley defeated Charlotte for the Raw title. It was Sasha Banks who interfered in that match helping Bayley win the title.
The next week on Raw, Stephanie McMahon asked Bayley to surrender the championship. I think the NXT Bayley would have given it back and want to prove her worth as the champion. The Raw Bayley decided to keep the title fully knowing that outside interference was caused. Do you guys think, perhaps, that tarnished her character in the eyes of fans just a bit?
Craig: I’m not sure that’s actually the reason, Russ. I think it’s more to do with the fact that WWE saw someone get over on NXT, assumed that all Raw and Smackdown fans watch NXT, and figured that just a ‘carry on as before’ approach when the performer was on the main roster would be enough. In many, many cases that have proved to not be the case. Whether it was Emma, Apollo Crews, the Ascension, Xavier Woods or Tyler Breeze, countless successful NXT performers have moved from NXT to the main roster and got minimal, if no, reaction as a result of the fans not really knowing who the superstar was due to the WWE doing nothing, no build or promos, to help the new talent get over.
Re your point, Brian, I have to agree. Whilst handing it back, in some people’s eyes, may have made her look weak, it would have generated sympathy for the character. Instead, we’re left confused. Is she a toughie after all?
John: Bayley shouldn’t have won that belt on RAW. That was an idiotic booking decision. They had been building Charlotte up for months saying she was undefeated on PPV. It should have been a slow build to WrestleMania where Bayley beats her in a singles match, clean, for the title on the biggest PPV of them all. Instead, we got the half-cooked mess of a four-way dance for the title which felt inconsequential.
A child would know to book it the other way. It’s not rocket science.
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.