Saturday, May 28, 2022

WrestleMania Backlash 2021: Bayley working to not let women, like opponent Bianca Belair, ‘pass me up’

For 380 days, Bayley was SmackDown women’s champion. It was an incredible run, made all the better by her work as a heel character, something many felt was out of the 31-year-old’s range when she first made the move from NXT to WWE’s “main roster.” At WrestleMania Backlash on Sunday, Bayley has the opportunity to again become champion, nearly seven months after losing the title.

“It was a little weird because I’d look in my bag and freak out because my title wasn’t in there or I would try to put my title away or grab it before I make my entrance and realize I don’t have it anymore,” Bayley told CBS Sports of those initial months after losing the title this past October. “So, there were some sad moments in there.”

On Sunday, Bayley will face Bianca Belair, the rising star who captured the belt from Sasha Banks in the main event of Night 1 of WrestleMania.

Belair is one of the leaders of the generation that came after the class of Bayley, Banks, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch. To Bayley, Belair — along with Raw women’s champion Rhea Ripley — represents a continued advancement of the “idea” of what a female wrestler can be in WWE. However, the hyper-athletic crop of young superstar talent present new challenges for established stars to face while attempting to hold on to their top spots.

“It’s awesome to see how much NXT has grown and how it’s still going strong,” Bayley said. “Just the people alone that they hired after some of us were hired, they were still only looking for a certain kind of girl, certain kind of woman, certain kind of wrestler at the time. Now it’s literally all are welcome. Any size or style, anyone could come to NXT and become a star. Obviously, Rhea Ripley worked so much before that in Australia and is still so young, but watching her and Bianca come and be able to be themselves and look the way they do as just outstanding freaking specimens and finding success is cool to see.

“My challenge is to make sure that people like Bianca and Rhea don’t pass me up. I’ve worked too hard on Raw and Smackdown and in NXT to get pushed to the side before I’m ready. To me, they’re my challenges. Yeah, I want to see them do good and be successful but I’ve still got a lot that I need to do, too.”

After being at the center of the evolution of women’s wrestling in WWE and holding the SmackDown title for longer than any other woman in history, Bayley has seen milestones come and go. That includes watching Banks and Belair in their WrestleMania main event, the second time women have been the main event for the biggest show on the wrestling calendar.

Bayley said the goal for women in WWE is to have those milestone moments be less significant by becoming the expectation as the women’s locker room continues to prove they’re on equal footing with the men.

“I think it’s just a consistent equality, you know? Consistent matches on TV, time on TV, stories on TV,” Bayley said. “That’s really all we want. Not everybody needs to be a champion or have a main event at WrestleMania, but we all work really hard in just trying to get to that next level and be seen in the same eyes consistently, not just one pay-per-view or one match for the first time ever. It’s just consistency.”

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