Today we have a special article coming from guest contributor, Ashly Nagrant. She decided to share her thoughts on last nights NXT Takeover main event featuring Sasha Banks and Bayley. If you enjoy what she has to say you can follow her on twitter at @newageamazon.
At Fully Loaded in 2000, WWE wrestler Lita made her way to the ring in a black baby t-shirt with two words printed on it in silver studs: “Girls Rule.”
It would be 15 years later that I would hear that same phrase chanted during the main event of a WWE special, as NXT Women’s champion Bayley defended her title against Sasha Banks in a 30 minute Iron Woman match.
I’ve tried to approach writing this over and over again and every single time it ends up feeling too clinical, too detached. Not because I didn’t feel anything, but because there is this driving force in me to do two things here: to explain to everyone out there why this match left me in tears and at the same time to pinpoint exactly why this match left me in tears.
I could give you history lessons in the ups and downs of the WWE
Divas Women’s division, I could write a think piece on how Lita and Trish were the prequel to Bayley and Sasha, I could be a good journalist and give you all of the information and a nonbiased point of view.
But I don’t want to talk about this as a journalist or as a analyst. The only way I want to talk about Bayley and Sasha’s huge main event on October 7, 2015 is the way it should be talked about: as a wrestling fan.
I was telling people on Twitter that if they’d ever wondered why I was a wrestling fan, all they needed to do was tune in to watch NXT Takeover: Respect. I shared images and videos from the jaw dropping, bar raising match the two put on in August at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn that not just outdid any other Women’s match in WWE, it actually outshone the main event ladder match between storied indie performers Prince Devitt/Finn Balor and Kevin Steen/Kevin Owens. I found myself nearly crying watching the build to the match, footage from Brooklyn being enough to make my chest hurt in an indescribable way, tears forming anytime I saw the image of Bayley and Banks standing in the ring celebrating with fellow wrestlers Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, NXT’s self-described Four Horsewomen. The four of them threw up the legendary Four Horseman sign, a legacy from Charlotte’s father the legend Ric Flair, but the sign has become all their own now.
I was prepared for something completely unlike anything I had ever seen before. Trying to compare it to anything was seemingly impossible. I threw out the benchmark of Daniel Bryan challenging Triple H at Wrestlemania 30 (to make things even better, Sasha Banks was part of Triple H’s “King of Kings” entrance at that very event) and later going on to become WWE Champion, something he was never supposed to do. But even that didn’t quite measure up because, yeah, checklist of “this isn’t supposed to happen” and “rallying behind a performer you truly love” and “makes you feel like sometimes the good guys win” is all well and good, but there was something else.
Truth was, there was nothing to compare it to because there was never anything like it. NXT wasn’t just trusting two women to put on their main event match in a show of good faith. It didn’t feel like “we’re doing this just one time to appease everyone and then it’ll all be good.” It felt like this was really something that would, that will, change everything.
And it did. It changed the world. A sentiment that I share with Becky Lynch, who was live and ringside for the match.
The match wasn’t the high spot-fest people might have anticipated, especially after Brooklyn where Banks performed a diving plancha to the outside over the referee’s back and Bayley later retaliated with a backwards frankensteiner. Instead the match was paced slow, carefully plotted, everything from the moves performed to the facial expressions and body language of the performers telling you the full story. It was Bayley and Sasha’s NXT rivalry and careers summed up in one match, beginning with the two circling each other and Bayley even looking nervous and unsure, quick pinfalls to try and just get that first point, that first recognition that would give you the edge in the rest of it. Things changed completely when Bayley offered a hand to help Sasha up and pulled her into a hug, signifying how much all of this meant, and Sasha in a brilliant heel move used it as an opportunity to throw Bayley to the floor and remind her this wasn’t about friendship and respect to The Boss, it was about winning and not letting anyone stop you.
Bayley’s retaliation was fierce: we saw her meet Sasha’s aggression from that moment on. When Sasha threw Bayley into the stairs and then into an LCD screen at the top of the ramp, Bayley proved two could play at that game by catch Sasha mid suicide dive and planting her with a huge Bayley-to-Belly suplex on the outside of the ring. Bayley, sweet, chipper Bayley, came back at Banks for taunting Bayley’s number one fan, Izzy, who was at ringside for the match. Banks cried out in pain as Bayley slammed her hand off the “steel” ring steps over and over again, payback for Banks attacking Bayley’s previously injured hand.
Through it all we saw the two women play out not just how good they were, but how well they knew each other. The thing about Sasha and Bayley’s rivalry is that they have always shown growth from one match to the next, have connected them. Spots that worked in previous matches, that the women use regularly, were scouted, prepared for, each woman was ready to counter it and say “not this time.” They both looked back at what they had gotten caught in before and learned how to prevent it from happening again. It wasn’t just a great story in the match, the match itself was the logical end point of the story they’d both been telling since 2013 when they were facing each other in dark matches and being told to “wrestle like Divas.”
And then there’s that factor. The “wrestle like a Diva” or “wrestle like a girl” reaction. Banks and Bayley along with every other woman in NXT and WWE right now? Wrestles like a girl. Like a Diva. It just so happens that wrestling “like a Diva” to them doesn’t mean “cat fights and quick matches and don’t do anything that will potentially show up the boys.” To them it means what it should mean “do your best, work your hardest, put on the best show you can and if the boys can’t match what you’re doing, well, then maybe they should work harder.”
In fact, former WWE Diva’s Champion Michelle McCool mentioned in an interview that a top WWE star said just that at one point. Following a match between McCool and challenger Melina Perez, they were approached by an agent who was angry about their match the previous night at the 2009 Night of Champions Pay Per View.
He said: ‘It looked too good! You can’t go out there throwing punches like that, or taking bumps like that — that looks better than some of the guys! You can’t do that!’ Finally, I remember Chris Jericho, who was by the ring, hears all of this going on. He said: ‘Look, if the guys can’t follow what the girls are doing, then the guys need to step it up! I thought it was awesome. They did great. And it’s not their problem that it looked that great!’
So it’s not surprising that this is overwhelming. Because there is so much to talk about and for someone like me it gets caught up in so many feelings including a straight-up awe that this actually happened, that it was a success, that it was accepted, that an audience was on their feet for two women, both women of color as well, cheering for them. For both of them. Cheering not just for who they wanted to walk out the champion but for the two women who had achieved the unthinkable.
And the two women who won’t stop there.
Sasha Banks has stated she is going to main event at Wrestlemania. It has been her goal since she was 10. She says it without a hint of joking in her voice. She believes she will do it.
Bayley has been chasing this dream since she was 11. She has believed so deeply in herself and in what she and other women can do in the ring and that they can and will change the world.
So when these two have their rematch in the main event at Wrestlemania, my wild dream is to be there in the front row screaming my head off.
15 years ago, a future WWE Hall of Famer wore a shirt proclaiming “Girls Rule.” A generation of women has taken that to heart and is fueling themselves with passion and work and a refusal to be told they can’t.
Because they will make it happen and there is nothing you can do to stop them.
And if anyone wants to try, I’m sure those women will be more than happy to use the brass rings they’ve been grabbing night after night after night as very, very effective weapons.