On August 22, 2016, it finally happened. After an eternity of false starts, Bayley debuted on Raw and drew the loudest crowd response of the evening. The NXT faithful, who followed her rise to stardom, rejoiced.
But then, almost immediately, Bayley was placed in title contention at Clash of Champions, which was more than a little eyebrow-raising. How would the new fans, who didn’t watch NXT, understand what made Bayley special?
Because it wasn’t her dominance that made the fans fall in love with her. It was her perennial underdog status; Bayley was the last Horsewoman to be called up, and still the only one to never win a world title.
As it turned out, she didn’t win the title at Clash of Champions. And this past Monday evening, she began a lower-card feud with Dana Brooke.
We caught up with Bayley earlier that afternoon to discuss her present, her future and what it’s like to see herself in a video game.
Bleacher Report: Tell us about the transition from Raw to NXT.
Bayley: We were prepared to go from NXT to WWE. We were able to get that TV exposure of working in front of large crowds. Raw is different, because we travel to different places every week. That’s the biggest change, but luckily I know a lot of the people from NXT who are now here.
There’s not many things from NXT that I’m missing. I miss a few people like my coaches, Matt Bloom and Sara Del Rey. And I miss a lot of the performers backstage, like The Revival and Peyton Royce.
BR: Is the tone backstage at Raw different from the one at NXT?
Bayley: It’s pretty much the same. Everyone is very professional, and everyone has the same goal of making the product as best as it can be. And especially now that the brands are split, there’s that competitive edge between the two shows, which is what NXT always had. NXT was competing with Raw and SmackDown to be the best brand in the company. And now I feel that in Raw, too.
BR: Do you think Raw is currently better than SmackDown?
Bayley: Well, maybe I’m a little biased! But I think Raw is killing it right now. Every division is doing well. We just did this huge tour, and the South American fans were so excited to see all the Superstars, so I think we have a stacked roster. But SmackDown is a great brand. They push us to be better.
BR: Did you have a preference of where you wanted to end up?
Bayley: Not really. I honestly just (laughs) wanted to get here. So I was excited to be on either show. SmackDown has a lot of my personal friends like Tyler Breeze, Becky and Carmella obviously, so when they first got drafted, SmackDown seemed like a nice place to be. But in my heart, I really wanted Raw, because that’s where the championship was at the time, and that’s always my ultimate goal. And I love being around Sasha, so I was very excited to be picked to go to Raw.
BR: You took on the role of locker room leader while you were in NXT. Now that you’re on Raw, what’s your role in the locker room?
Bayley: I feel like I’m starting all over. Now I’m the new kid on the block. I’m always the first one here, and I want to be in the back of the locker room and not get in anyone’s way. People still respect my opinion, which is cool. But I want to put myself in the position where I can build myself back up and show that I’m not just going to come in and act like I own the place, where I’m the leader like I was in NXT. I understand that I’m at the bottom now.
BR: Who can you go to for advice if you need to talk to someone?
Bayley: Locker room-wise, I go to Alicia Fox, because she’s the veteran. But if it’s something I need in general, Triple H is here, and he’s someone who I built a good relationship with at NXT, and I think that carries on here. So if I have a question of if I’m doing something right, or if everything I’m doing is OK, he’s someone that I’m going to feel comfortable going to.
BR: In your Four Horsewomen feature in GQ, Sasha Banks credited you with changing the locker room culture of NXT from one of competition to one of collaboration. Would you agree with that?
Bayley: I didn’t know [at first] that she said that! And when I found out, I was really humbled, because this [business] is something that, in my mind, I don’t want to be a competition. When I came in, I knew I wanted to make these girls my family and my sisters, and that’s how I feel coming to Raw, too.
Because that’s how it was when I started training. I trained with a locker room and roster full of men, and we were all a family, and they all took care of me like their little sister. It’s what I want out of a locker room. I think it helps the locker room, and it’s a part of the success of the NXT women’s division.
BR: One of the things that’s always appealed to fans is your underdog status. And when you came up to Raw, there was a lot of speculation about whether you would be in contention for the title. Do you think it’s important for Raw fans to see you work your way from the bottom to the top?
Bayley: When I got to Raw, I was hoping to take the same [underdog] route and sort of have the same journey. But as we’ve seen, I was thrown into a bigger picture than I had hoped. I’ve already had a championship match!
I’m so appreciative of it all, but I enjoy growing in front of the audience, especially a larger audience like Raw. I feel like I really need that for my character and career. But now [after Clash of Champions], I think I’m back at the level where I can start rebuilding myself.
BR: This is the first time that the Four Horsewomen have been in a video game together. Have you seen any clips of yourself in WWE 2K17?
Bayley: Yeah, I’ve seen my entrance, and I saw a whole video of a match against Sasha. It’s pretty cool.
BR: Are there any moments of recognition where you look at your virtual self and say, “That’s exactly what I would do.”?
Bayley: (laughs) Yeah, I was pretty surprised that they were able to do the stuff they did with my entrance. I thought I would just get a little generic entrance, but they have when I do the high-fives to crowd. I was just so happy, and I thought it was so cool that they put the details in there.
BR: Were you into video games growing up?
Bayley: I was into Crash Bandicoot. Croc. I loved Twisted Metal. And as far as the WWE and wrestling games? All of them. I played SmackDown! Just Bring It and Smackdown vs. Raw. I loved WWF No Mercy for the Nintendo 64. One of my favorites games was WCW Thunder. I loved playing that game, and I loved being The Steiner Brothers. They were so cool, and they were some of the most powerful characters.
BR: Where do you see the women’s division five years from now?
Bayley: Oh my goodness ... One year from now, I see us main eventing pay-per-views. Five years from now, I see us main eventing WrestleMania. Not as one of the main events. The main event.
A slow character build is nearly always preferable to a rushed one, and apparently Bayley feels the same way.
Hopefully, the next several months will be an abbreviated version of her NXT run—slowly working her way from the bottom to the top. There’s no reason to strap a rocket to her, and because she’s an underdog, her character can withstand many losses without disrupting her push.
She’s not building a title run; she’s building a career. If WWE plays this properly, Bayley could be a role model, ambassador and merchandise-mover in the vein of John Cena.
And should she attain that level of success?
The main event of any PPV could be up for grabs.