WWE’s Bayley Reflects on One Year as SmackDown Women’s Champ

Since winning the SmackDown women’s title last October, Bayley has become one of the most important parts of WWE programming. Her storyline with Sasha Banks has been integral in helping WWE weather the fan-less era.
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Bayley is set to defend her SmackDown women’s championship against Sasha Banks on Friday night on SmackDown. Adding to the intrigue is the WWE draft, which will begin Friday night and extend into Raw on Monday.

Throughout the past year, Bayley has excelled as one of the top villains in wrestling. Her work with, and now against, Banks is a highlight of WWE programming, and the two helped carry the product for the months during the shows at the WWE Performance Center.

Bayley and Banks are building to a pay-per-view showdown, so it will be interesting to see which direction their story will take with the match and draft on SmackDown. If given the opportunity, they could make magic in a match against one another at WrestleMania 37­—potentially even in the main event.

Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Bayley discussed a wide range of topics, including her in-depth story with Banks and her upcoming goals in WWE.

Before we jump into the world of WWE, I know you have an affinity for the Los Angeles Lakers and that you are a proud Kobe Bryant fan. In addition to your title defense against Sasha Banks on this Friday’s SmackDown, the Lakers will also look to defeat the Miami Heat and win the NBA championship. What’s your prediction for Game 5 of the Lakers-Heat series?

I’m definitely pulling for the Lakers. I just saw how LeBron said that Game 4 was the most important one of his career, so I’m looking for them to take it home on Friday, as well as defending my championship again. It’s going to be win-win for me on Friday night.

If the Lakers win this series, they will tie the Boston Celtics with their 17th NBA title. Is that the basketball equivalent of a combined reign of over 500 days as SmackDown women’s champion?

It’s close [laughing]. I respect all the NBA players, but I wouldn’t say it’s equivalent. They get an offseason. I do this every week. My reign is more impressive.

One more non-WWE topic: GLOW was such a phenomenal portrayal of women in wrestling. The news of its cancellation by Netflix is so disappointing. What stood out most to you about the series?

I loved that show. I binge-watched, and I honestly never expected it to be as intriguing as it was. I fell into the story lines, and you couldn’t help but fall in love with the characters. Awesome Kong [AEW wrestler Kia Stevens] being in there was so cool. I was just obsessed with it. I’m so disappointed that we can’t see how it all turns out. They showed that, in wrestling, we’re a little bit of everything.

As you mentioned, you defend your title this Friday on SmackDown against Sasha Banks. I know Sasha made this comment about you in character on Talking Smack, but I thought it was interesting to hear her say, “You can’t get the magazine covers, you can’t get the following, you can’t get the interviews, the appearances, you can’t get the star power because you’re not a star like me.” One of the highlights of wrestling in 2020 is you proving that you belong on the short list of wrestling’s biggest stars. Your work in-ring is compelling, you have cut the best interviews of your career and you’re building the most compelling long-term program in years with Sasha. Is there an accomplishment you’re most proud of from this past year?

I don’t know if I could pick out just one thing. This whole pandemic era, Performance Center era, doing shows in front of no one, wrestling in front of no one, we did promos in front of no one. I think that showed a lot. That showed how well we come together as a team at WWE. For me, it was a blessing in disguise. I started realizing I could use this to my benefit by focusing on myself. That’s the first time in my career I was able to really grow and find out a lot about myself for the better. I’d held myself back too long trying to be a people-pleaser and a fan-pleaser, so I’m grateful for the chance to show the world, this company, the fans, and Sasha Banks that I was capable of this all along. Now it’s finally showing through, where I’m about to come up on a 365-day championship reign. I’m putting in the work every single week. I’m very proud of this.

You don’t play pro wrestler; this is your life. You put in the work, put in the sacrifice, and your charisma and ability to captivate in the ring has reached another level as a villain. I know you pride yourself on being a role model, and that’s true in real life, too.

I’ve always tried to show through everything I do that all of this is so real to me. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was 10 years old. It was never, “Oh, I want to be on TV.” That was never my thought process. I never wanted to do this for the interviews or appearances, so Sasha can suck it with that line. All I ever wanted was to be a pro wrestler and champion, and that’s what I’m doing.

This whole transformation has been as real for me as it has been on TV. I’ve had to dig deeper within myself. I have been in WWE for almost eight years, and you need to constantly reevaluate and motivate yourself, and that’s what I’m doing to stay consistent as a champion and performer.

What don’t we know about being a champion, and is the role harder during a pandemic?

It’s the work that goes into it. Right now, I’m doing this interview while eating a Caesar salad on my layover. Fulfilling obligations is a big part of it. Being champion during a pandemic has taken a while to get used to because, for a long time, I wasn’t reading comments on social media. The fan base there can be very different from the fans watching at home or the fans in the crowd. But that’s the only interaction we have now, so I’ve been on my phone figuring out what the fans are into and what they’re enjoying, just so I can go forward. Whatever they want to see, that’s what I’m not going to do. That’s been working for me.

There is so much depth to the Sasha-Bayley story, which is the single-best program in wrestling and has been carefully developed over time. Everything makes sense, particularly with you explaining that she would have turned on you first if given the opportunity. The creativity is nonstop, with Sasha even recently wearing your name as a neck tattoo, similar to what the Undertaker once did when he was married to his ex-wife. This is destined to be the main event of a pay-per-view. With all that being said, how do you enhance the story this Friday, especially with the first night of the draft also taking place on SmackDown?

Honestly, I’m disappointed in Fox and WWE. I take my only day off last week, and then they make a match behind my back. I can’t get drafted to Raw if I am the SmackDown women’s champion. That would make no sense. Maybe Sasha will get drafted right away to Raw, and that saves me a match. Or she’ll have to go as a loser after she wrestles me. Either way, I’ll be SmackDown women’s champion for another 500 days.

I just saw a unique fact: You have now attacked every other member of the Four Horsewomen during the month of September.

I guess September is a month of realization and clarity [laughs]. It’s funny because people have told me for so long that I’m the weakest link to the Four Horsewomen. I wasn’t called up as soon as the others, I wasn’t main-eventing, or whatever their reason may have been, but look who’s standing now. And where are the others?

On the subject of wrestlers that have impressed you, which talents have stood out to you over the past six months in NXT and WWE?

Shotzi [Blackheart] has really stood out to me. She’s someone I knew from the Bay Area. She trained in the same area as I did, but I never really wrestled her until that NXT match. Her performance in that gauntlet match, and now she’s hosting “Halloween Havoc,” and she has her own tank. NXT as a whole has stepped up.

And as much as it pains me to say this, the person that’s really stepped up is Asuka. I already had a lot of respect for her, but it’s only grown over the past few months. There is a reason why she is where she is and why she’s been doing it for so long. So besides Sasha and I for carrying the shows, I’d say it’s been Asuka.

I don’t know if you could have crafted a better run this past year, but that’s an exciting part of wrestling—the mystery of what comes next. What happens next for Bayley?

Now starts the hard work. Now is the time to prove everyone wrong. People think this honeymoon stage is going to end. They’re thinking, ‘Bayley has a good run.’ But this isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. I still have a lot left to do, a lot to accomplish, and a lot of girls to beat up. Bianca Belair is on top of that list. There’s plenty of time for me to make more history.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.