Is Wrestling A Great Form of Storytelling? Respect
This is the final part of a third part article. The first part can be found here and the second part can be found here.
Bayley and Sasha Banks at the contract signing for their match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn
Previously I described the fall of rise of Bayley from outcast in the NXT women’s division as part of a great story told through the medium of wrestling. Bayley’s story took us up to NXT’s biggest ever show, NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. In front of 13,000 fans, Bayley faced the reigning NXT Women’s Champion, Sasha Banks. Both of whom had similar beginnings in their careers but gradually veered away from each other making them almost polar opposites. Bayley, the innocent, bubbly fan favourite who could never catch a break. Versus Sasha Banks, the ruthless, self centred, vindictive champ. These two characters were bumped against each other throughout the actual match. Repeatedly, Sasha Banks took time from fighting to get in Bayley’s face and tell her she wasn’t good enough and this wasn’t a fairy tale. Repeatedly, Bayley showed she had heart by pulling off some fantastic moves. Repeatedly, Sasha showed off her ruthless side by focusing her attention on the previously injured hand of Bayley.
Of course, in the end it was a happy ending. It had to be. Bayley overcame Sasha Banks to pin her for the win. It was a great ending to a story. It was a simple story, yes. The underdog overcoming the big bad to reign supreme. But this story was told so well through the use of well developed characters over the course of about two years in all if we go from the moment Bayley was first stepped over by Charlotte. The Sasha Banks vs Bayley match was a culmination of two years of character building through the use of in ring storytelling through simple good/bad psychology and promos outside the ring (scripted backstage drama, interviews etc).
Bayley, Summer Rae and Sasha Banks in backstage drama back in 2013
But not only that, this match was more about Bayley achieving her dream. This was about women’s wrestling as a whole. After the match was finished and Bayley held her title aloft. She was joined in ring by Charlotte and Becky Lynch, two of her Four Horsewomen friends (Charlotte and Becky has become good guys by this point). Then in a brilliant moment, Sasha Banks, the fourth horsewoman broke character and joined the other three in an embrace much to the delight of the fans. This was a moment where all four of them had elevated women’s wrestling in the WWE from bra and pantie side show to legitimate drama and entertainment.
The match itself was brilliant. It overshadowed all of the other matches at the show including the main event that followed it. It even outshone every match that occurred the next night at WWE’s huge ‘Summerslam’ event that featured a rematch between two of WWE’s biggest stars, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker. The match was hailed as a ‘match of the year’ contender and rightfully so. In fact the only criticism that people could find was that the match should have been THE main event of NXT Takeover: Brooklyn.
…But it wasn’t over yet. There was still an epilogue to this great story. After being humbled by Bayley in Brooklyn. Sasha wanted a rematch and that was exactly what she got. This was a chance for WWE to make amends for their earlier mistake. This time it would be THE main event of the next NXT Special Event, ‘NXT Takeover: Respect’. The fans went wild. There was a great moment where this was announced and Sasha Banks couldn’t help break character and smile at the fans’ reaction to the announcement. This would be the first EVER time that a women’s match was the main event of not just an NXT special event, but a WWE special event. Sasha and Bayley were now making history. Not only that but the ante was upped even further when it was announced that this match would be an ‘Iron Man Match’. This is a type of match where the object is to score as many pins as possible within the set time limit (in this case, 30 minutes). A quick look on Wikipedia tells me that before this, there had only ever been 9 Iron Man Matches in the last twenty years. Now here was the tenth one featuring two women for the first time. Gone are the days of bra and panties matches. Now it’s all about Iron Man matches (or Iron Woman Match as the fans rightfully dubbed it)
The match itself was another competitive affair. Both women once again showed great athleticism and told a story within the confines of the NXT ring. Bayley once again became successful. It was another match of the year candidate and fans are still debating which of these two women’s matches were better. In another brilliant moment, there was another breaking of character as the entire locker room of NXT stars and trainers all came out to show their appreciation for Sasha Banks and Bayley. The special event was called Respect which in storyline was all about Bayley earning the respect of Sasha Bank by overcoming her again. But it was also about bringing respect to women’s wrestling in WWE and solidifying its place in the company. There was a standing ovation and not a dry eye in the arena. Bayley was congratulated personally by one of the head creative minds of NXT, Triple H.
Sasha is congratulated by the NXT team including Stephanie McMahon (Chief Brand Officer) and Sara Del Rey (Senior Trainer at NXT)
Triple H & Bayley
Which brings me full circle back to the original video that I referenced back in the first part of this article. Max Landis’ ‘Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling’. Landis argued that wrestling as a medium had the capability to tell “interesting, diverse and compelling” stories similar to that found in film or TV drama. When you look at stories like Bayley. You can feel compelled to believe him. NXT told Bayley’s story week by week for about two years. Only in a soap opera could something like that be told on a similar scale. Plus the story goes on. Bayley’s rivalry is merely a chapter in her story. She now moves on to something else. She’s now NXT Women’s champion therefore she’s the one that every other woman wants to beat. Another challenger will look to overtake her…Hell, it could be another person JUST like Bayley. Plus, how does Bayley develop from here? In her second match with Sasha, she showed shades of the former champion, she showed a ruthless streak that she had never exhibited before. Is this the start of a new Bayley? Plus, as champion and with everyone out to get her, is she going to start becoming paranoid and therefore not trust everyone who isn’t her? There are endless ways to go from here and she has at least ten years left for the writers behind NXT/WWE to explore them.
There is one other point I want to pick out from Landis’ video. He also goes on to say “A lot of wrestling sucks. But when it’s great, it’s f****** amazing!”. He’s great. Unfortunately, for every Bayley, there’s another storyline that does suck. Last year saw a storyline where a man was teaming up with a guy in a giant white rabbit suit (no, really!) and another storyline that saw two twin sisters feuding which including one telling the other, “I wish you died in the womb!” (Eek). But I guess when you’re outputting about 6 hours of content a week (as the WWE does), there’s always going to be some duds in there (and let’s face it, many TV shows are guilty of dropping some dud storylines too) . But to sit through those duds to get a story like Bayley…perhaps it’s worth it.