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Sasha Banks vs Bayley: 7 years in the making (Part 1)

Sasha Banks vs. Bayley. Then and Now.
Sasha Banks vs. Bayley. Then and Now.
Parth Pujara
CONTRIBUTOR
Modified 12 Sep 2020, 12:44 IST
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On WWE SmackDown, we finally saw the long-awaited implosion between The Golden Role Models when Bayley brutally assaulted Sasha Banks, following their failed attempt at regaining the WWE Women's Tag Team Championships.

To many fans, pro wrestling is an art form. When watching it, we look for a connection with the characters and the story that's being told. When you, as a fan, feel like you are a part of the journey as well, that's when the magic happens.

Top this off with quality in-ring action and you have a well-rounded, game-changing story of pro wrestling, which is exactly what Banks vs. Bayley is. Two amazing performers, two ever-developing characters and the start of a revolution.

Their paths have been intertwined since 2013, ever since they both arrived in NXT. For the casual viewers, the story is quite simple, but if you want to sink your teeth in, this is much more than your average pro wrestling program of good vs. evil.

The long-awaited blow-off that we saw is the product of a storyline that has been building for seven years now. In this part, we will take a look at their NXT journey.

Banks and Bayley: Initial Character Overview

Sasha Banks

When Sasha Banks first debuted in NXT, she wasn't 'The Boss' that we know, she was much like Bayley was - a nice, happy to be here girl who loved wrestling. To put it in simple words, it failed. Fans never got fully invested in what she brought to the table, despite her charisma and exceptional in-ring talent.

A change was needed and it came in the form of Summer Rae, who convinced her to join the 'dark side'. Together they formed Team BFFs (Beautiful, Fierce Females), and 'The Boss' character was born. Thank you, Summer!

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"When Sasha first came here, she was that Bayley. She was that innocent girl who just tried to fit in, but it wasn't until she evolved into 'The Boss' is when she had serious success."
-Byton Saxton at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn

Bayley

Bayley's character is probably one of the best-developed characters in recent memory. She entered as this doe-eyed fangirl who loved wrestling and was delighted to be in the WWE - what Sasha was supposed to be initially - but the difference was that the crowd accepted her with open arms. Her character was pure and genuine, a babyface that people liked to root for, but she was naive and chose to see the good in everyone, paying for it time and time again.

Banks and Bayley: The NXT Story

Bayley was a walking reminder for Sasha Banks of her failures initially, so no wonder Banks disliked her from the get-go. Bayley, however, didn't have anything against anyone and was just happy to be there, minding her own business. Bayley's whole NXT run involved her trying to climb to the top and falling, again and again, experiencing a lot of defeats, failures, and betrayals along the way.

Betrayals came in the form of Charlotte and Becky Lynch, who she thought were her 'friends' but then they turned on her to join Banks on separate occasions. She was innocent, a child being molded by her surroundings and events, a nice girl who was living her dream, but how much could she take? It felt real, her portrayal of this character was so perfect that people couldn't help but cheer for her.

Bayley's first breakthrough came on the January 21st, 2015 episode of NXT when she returned from an injury to fend off Banks and Lynch when they were attacking Charlotte. She then ended up taking out Charlotte as well and her expressions during this whole scene were on the mark.

You could see that she'd had enough, she was growing, she remembered all the betrayals and failures that she had to suffer. She was slow, but learning, and her only goal was to win the NXT Women's Championship to prove that she belonged there.

On to Sasha's NXT journey and as noted, 'The Boss' was born after she aligned herself with Summer Rae, who convinced her that she needs to unleash her inner rage to be relevant. Good girl Sasha turned into 'The Boss', which served as the perfect mask to cover up the weaknesses and insecurities that kept her down in the beginning.

Throughout her NXT career, she had a lot of rivalries and matches but whenever it came to Bayley, we saw a different Sasha Banks; she was visibly more vicious and ruthless. Banks wanted to keep Bayley down because she believed that you can't make it to the top with a nice and innocent demeanor, and rightfully so, as she couldn't make it work in the beginning of her career.

Throughout their NXT journey, Banks and Bayley had various matches against each other in which the latter had more victories in singles matches, whereas Banks dominated in multi-person matches. There was no love lost between the two in NXT until the very end.

Banks and Bayley: NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn

Fast forward to mid-2015, Bayley finally overcame all the odds and became the #1 Contender for the NXT Women's Championship, setting up a match at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn with Sasha Banks. Up until now, they were involved with one another in some capacity but this was different, it was special, it was big and it was more meaningful than ever.

Going into the match, Banks thought Bayley was a loser and way below her level, and she made that pretty obvious early in the match. For Bayley, this was more than an underdog story. We saw her grow as a performer and as a character. She was not as naive as she was before, she was more confident. Although there were still a lot of self-doubts, she knew what she wants and what she had to do. She had to prove everyone wrong, especially Sasha.

During the contract signing between the two, all of this was laid out perfectly; Bayley says she's ready but Sasha keeps undermining her and we finally saw another breaking point for Bayley as she launched an attack on Banks. Even though the base of Bayley's character was the same, you could see a big difference between the Bayley that came to NXT and the Bayley that went into this match.

August 22nd, Barclays Center, Brooklyn. Simply put, the measuring stick for women's wrestling in WWE even to this day. Sasha and Bayley gave it all out there. Bayley's role as an underdog felt natural, she had a huge chip on her shoulder, while Sasha's extraordinary character work magnified the story and took it to another level. Her ability to elevate opponents by turning the crowd against her is unmatched.

The crowd was divided at the beginning of the match, but they were all cheering for Bayley at the end when she finally knocked off 'The Boss' to win the NXT Women's Championship. All of the Four Horsewomen celebrated in the ring after the match in a powerful moment, which Byron Saxton summed up perfectly. "Women's Wrestling is back!" Couldn't agree more, Byron!

After the historic Brooklyn match, Bayley then returned to NXT and Sasha interrupted her looking for a rematch. Bayley earned her respect but just like you would expect, Banks still believed that she was the best. We witnessed a clear growth in her character during this segment.

Bayley also added a lot of value to this with her subtle facial expressions, asking herself what if the Brooklyn match was a fluke while firmly grabbing her title. We can feel her internal struggle as William Regal announced a 30-minute Iron Woman match between the two at NXT TakeOver: Respect.The whole segment is a work of art.

Banks and Bayley: Who's the Iron Woman?

Another pay-per-view, another classic. This time it was THE main event of the show but the dynamics of this match were a little different from their previous one. Sasha Banks finally acknowledged how good Bayley was and showed it well at the beginning of the match. Bayley, despite going into the match as the champion, was still the underdog. Her struggles with self-doubt were shown right out of the gate when she was preparing to make her entrance, which carried over later in the match as well.

As the match went on, Banks brought out whole new levels of her villainous character and we saw one of the best heel moves in history when Sasha made Bayley's biggest fan Izzy cry in the middle of the match. After 30 minutes of amazing wrestling and storytelling, Bayley defeated Banks 3 falls to 2 in a nail-biting finish. After the match, the NXT Universe congratulated both on the history-making performance and bid farewell to Banks.

Bayley and Banks: Character Arcs

Sasha Bank's character was what intrigued the most. The narrative so far was 'good girl gone bad', which was accurate only to some extent, as it was only touching the surface of a deeper story.

If you ask Banks, the character or Mercedes Varnado, the person what her main goal is, both would have the same answer and that is to be the best. The initial character of Banks was an accurate representation of Mercedes. However, as time went by, Mercedes had to become 'The Boss' to move forward in achieving her goal.

You can see the line between Sasha and Mercedes being blurred many times throughout her NXT journey. The initial moments of her first title win at NXT TakeOver: Rival and the early part of the promo with Bayley after TakeOver: Brooklyn are a few examples. Bayley's character played a crucial role in the development of 'The Boss'. She became more ruthless and dived deeper into 'The Boss' character when it came to Bayley.

But people change, they mature over time and by the end of her NXT journey, she left with a different and more open mindset. Her belief that she needed to be ruthless and sadistic had successfully been changed. This didn't mean that she'd start jumping around and smiling; she'll always be 'The Boss'. It's just that her battles with insecurities during the beginning of her career were put to rest and as her Twitter bio reads, "she remembered who she was and the game changed."

On to Bayley's character so far, which is very simple yet complicated. One thing that's common between Bayley, the character and Pamela Rose Martinez, the person is that they're both huge fans of pro wrestling and it clearly shows on-screen. Bayley came in as an innocent child and grew right in front of our eyes, while everyone around her took her kindness for weakness, she trusted everybody and was betrayed by all of them.

Despite working just as hard, she was the one left behind while the other three women moved up to the main roster and even though she was victorious in her rivalry with Sasha, Sasha was still the talk of the town. You would think that winning two of the most important matches in the history of women's wrestling might get you the recognition that you desire, but looking around, it might not have been enough for Bayley.

You can say her insecurities of being overlooked started here. Bayley did remain true to herself until the end of her NXT run and for a long time, but it would be stupid to think that this journey and all the struggles she had within herself didn't change her. As we noted with Sasha, people change and this was true for both of them. From the character perspective, Sasha found herself after her story with Bayley, and Bayley started questioning who she was.

The matches between them, their importance and magnitude, overshadowed the subtle progression in their story in some way. This was only the beginning, the rivalry was far from over and the seeds of the implosion that we saw on SmackDown were planted during NXT.

Stay tuned for part two where we will take a look at their journey on Monday Night RAW and SmackDown so far, as well as the build-up to the current scenario.

Published 10 Sep 2020, 01:03 IST
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