Former UFC fighter Shayna Baszler brings an uncommon brutality to the theater of pro wrestling.
Shayna Baszler is ready for her WrestleMania debut. And she plans to do it while wearing the NXT women’s championship.
“Everybody’s goal in pro wrestling is a WrestleMania moment, and that is becoming more and more real for me, especially being on USA every week,” said Baszler. “I’m ready for that moment and I want to do it as NXT champion.”
NXT’s move to the USA Network is a positive for a long list of reasons, perhaps none more meaningful than giving Baszler the platform to showcase her talent on a bigger platform.
Baszler’s work is rich with realism, creating a genuinely intimidating presence in the ring. Her matches can be uncomfortable in the terrifyingly delightful way in which she breaks down her opponents, a nearly unattainable skill in the business.
Her history in mixed martial arts adds legitimacy to her work, and she presents a style in pro wrestling that is unlike any other woman’s in the business.
“When I started in professional wrestling, dreaming about how big this could get, the important thing for me was to stay true to who I am and what I’ve been brought up in,” said Baszler, who was trained by Josh Barnett and the late Billy Robinson, two legendary figures in the world of MMA. “That’s the style I learned and that’s the style I love. I’m excited that it was the right time and right place. It’s the perfect time to bring this no-nonsense realism to wrestling.”
The 39-year-old Baszler is also a close friend of MMA pioneer Ronda Rousey and part of the original Four Horsewomen alongside Rousey, Marina Shafir, and Jessamyn Duke. Baszler watched with a combination of awe and pride as Rousey brought new eyes to WWE during her run with the company.
“Ronda’s work in WWE was the same thing she did in MMA,” said Baszler. “I was fighting long before Ronda, and I could drop all sorts of names of girls that could be known as ‘the best’ women’s MMA fighter of all-time, except no one knows them.
“No one brought eyes to MMA like Ronda did. She was the perfect storm of ingredients to bring eyes to mixed martial arts, and that snowballed into bringing eyes to professional wrestling. For me, I wouldn’t have fit into any other era in WWE, but Ronda’s success in MMA said this could be done.”
Representing NXT as its most dominant woman in the history of the promotion now presents Baszler with an opportunity to perfect her craft on live television with the added attention that comes with competing against the upstart All Elite Wrestling. A title match between Baszler and Candice LeRae, who won a spectacular four-way match last week on NXT’s USA premiere, should be as close to a lock for a ratings victory as any segment in wrestling.
Baszler presents herself differently than any other woman in the business, including Rousey. Becky Lynch is more popular on the main roster, but there is no woman more dominant or convincing than Baszler.
“That’s very important to me,” said Baszler, who built herself into a star with stops in Shimmer, Stardom, and WWE’s Mae Young Classic. “When you see me enter the ring, I pause at the ring steps and point to the sky. That’s my reminder. When I first started wrestling, Josh Barnett, who was my main coach for most of my MMA career, said to me, ‘If Billy can look down and watch your match, then in the end, you did a good job.’ So that point is me paying respect to Billy, and I still ask whether he’ll be rolling in his grave or whether he’d be proud of this. So that is a reminder to stay true to myself.”
Baszler started wrestling at the age of six, and she was always taught to never look beyond her next opponent. The employs the same philosophy in pro wrestling, refusing to place her undivided attention anywhere but on her work in NXT.
“I would be remiss to miss this moment and look too far ahead,” Baszler responded when asked if she is considering a jump to the main roster. “I need to concentrate on my place in NXT as the women’s champion.
“I’m very lucky to be here at this time in pro wrestling. The rise in popularity of mixed martial arts is important, too, because the style I bring is a lot more recognizable, the time is perfect for a style like mine to come into play.”
Leading the top women’s division in the entire industry is a source of inspiration for Baszler.
“NXT has always put a huge focus on the women’s division,” said Baszler. “I’m lucky to be a part of that, and I’m a two-time champion here. That’s one of the coolest things I’ve done in my entire life.
“I am the champion of this division for a reason. I don’t mess around, it’s no nonsense, and I know exactly what I’m doing. Now that we’re on USA, everyone is going to know it.”