A key part of Sunday’s Money in the Bank was supposed to be Bianca Belair defending the SmackDown women’s championship against Bayley in an “I Quit” match.
Belair and Bayley have been embroiled in a feud throughout the year. This would have marked their third straight pay-per-view encounter, but the bout was called off last week when Bayley tore her ACL while training at the WWE Performance Center.
“It meant everything for me to work with Bayley,” Belair says. “She’s been there every step of the way for me until now. She gave me momentum going into the Royal Rumble, we came full circle after WrestleMania, and she helped show the SmackDown universe who I am. She brought out a whole new side of me at Hell in a Cell.”
Belair’s in-ring work has stood out during the pandemic, even as WWE struggled to build sustainable momentum with its television studio show in the ThunderDome. This was especially apparent at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view, when Belair worked with Bayley in a Cell match that was creative, compelling and gripping.
The innovative Hell in a Cell match was a credit to the in-ring chemistry Belair shares with Bayley. She noted that there was not much time beforehand to prepare, though that was not an issue for someone as forward-thinking as Bayley. The match featured all kinds of creative spots, including kendo sticks, Belair’s hair and a vicious KOD on a ladder.
“We found out for sure that we were having that match in the cell on the Friday two days before the show,” Belair says. “We were still able to make something special, and that shows how great Bayley is and how great we are together.
“When you’re in the ring with Bayley, it’s different. You have this full confidence that things are always going to go well.”
WWE has had many women who have stood out as industry pioneers, showcasing the strength and captivating nature of women’s wrestling. The Four Horsewomen—Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Bayley—have worked to set a new standard of excellence in wrestling, and Belair has made it her mission to create her own definition of greatness, which she did successfully in the cage against Bayley.
“I was the first woman in a Hell in a Cell match that wasn’t part of the Four Horsewomen, so there was a lot of pressure involved,” Belair says. “I want to be a new face of this era of women’s wrestling with Rhea Ripley, and the Hell in a Cell cage is brutal, so I was definitely nervous going in.”
With a huge assist to Bayley, the foundation for Belair’s run as champ was laid during the pro wrestling’s empty-arena era.
“Fighting Bayley after winning the title at WrestleMania was perfect,” Belair says. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with her. She has contributed to so much of my success. She’s made me better, and I’m going to carry that forward and carry that through.
“Bayley is a locker room leader, and an amazing person inside and out. I’ve watched and learned from her, the way she handles situations and adapts so easily and quickly. She has the ability to make things look so easy. We’re going to miss her so much while she’s out. She’s a legend in the making, but she does so much more than just make it about herself. She gives and contributes so much to the locker room.”
With Bayley no longer available for the match at Money in the Bank, Belair instead defended her title on SmackDown on Friday against Carmella.
“It was a chance to rise to the occasion,” Belair says. “I always stay ready, so I was ready. Getting to show up and show out in front of the fans, that means the world to me.”
The match on SmackDown offered a rare chance for Belair to wrestle in front of a crowd. She is now excited to create magic moments in the ring on a far more consistent basis.
“I’m so excited to interact with fans,” Belair says. “I was called up to Raw last year right after the shutdown, so I hadn’t had that type of opportunity to be with the fans outside of this year’s WrestleMania. I still think back about the way we showed up and showed out at WrestleMania. Sasha Banks and I were the first Black women to main-event WrestleMania, and we took so much pride in that. It was so much bigger than just us, and we’re looking to push forward even more for women in WWE.”
Performing in front of crowds presents Belair with the opportunity to reach a new level of popularity through a deeper connection with fans. Her charisma is unlike anyone else in the industry, which is further enhanced by her intelligence, kind approach and work in the ring.
“It’s so different to wrestle without a crowd,” Belair says. “I’ve been so honored to motivate the people out there watching from home. That’s why I do what I do. Now I can finally share the title and connecting physically with people from all over the world is going to be so amazing.”
Along with Banks, Belair attended ESPN’s ESPY awards show last week, where the two WrestleMania main-eventers won the ESPY for WWE Moment of the Year.
“It’s still surreal to me,” Belair says. “Getting to go, being on the same stage and getting recognized on the same level as the NFL and NBA and tennis and Olympic sports, it’s amazing. It’s a prestigious award, and to win it with Sasha shows what we provide and represent in WWE.
“To be recognized for something I love doing, it’s just a feeling. I’m so blessed and grateful. I’m still trying to soak it in.”
Following the masterpiece they created at WrestleMania, a Banks-Belair rematch has the potential to main-event SummerSlam in August.
“I’m fully expecting SummerSlam to be something big,” Belair says. “Maybe even out of the blue. Whatever it is, I’ll be prepared.”
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- Adam Copeland Is Receiving the Farewell He Deserves
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.