Friday, March 25, 2016

The 2015 TWB 100: Number Two

The second best wrestler of 2015
Photo Credit:
2. Bayley
Points: 6068
Ballots: 65
Highest Vote: 1st Place (Antonio Cruz, Jesse Dlugosz, Keith Campbell, Jesse Powell, Brandon Rohwer, Kenn Haspel, Brandon Kay)
Last Year's Placement: 29th Place

TH: Bayley is the heart of professional wrestling. She is the only babyface in WWE, and she presents a paradigm in the ring unlike any other wrestler who has ever deigned to take the mantel of People's Champion since before the days of regular television and pay-per-view. Hulk Hogan raked backs. Steve Austin abused refs. But Bayley, no, she resonated with a WWE-sponsored crowd by being the most delightfully innocent wrestler on the non-offensive side of Eugene. The dirty little secret of NXT is that it's not a great show because it's written well. Ryan Ward, Triple H, and whoever else had their hands in the pot last year got by not because they told fantastic stories out of the ring, but because they knew that letting the wrestlers go in the ring with minimal interference and just the right guidance week to week was going to get them over huge. One could watch only the Takeover specials and get the same feeling of satisfaction that they might get from watching Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, the king of no-booking excellence. Which is to say, when Bayley got over, she got over on her own, and she got over, as a babyface, on the strength of her in-ring wrestling almost exclusively. In the post-Russo landscape of pro wrestling, that feat deserves to be lauded.

Photo Credit:
But the question is how did she get over? The answer is so simple that it defies convention in this world of Ring of Honor-influenced high-octane spot explosions. She conveyed heart, determination, will, emotion, pathos. It wasn't just in her moves or selling. Her face drove the story, her body language, the things that people tend to overlook when parsing wrestlers like sentient slabs of beef at a meat market, those told the story, informed every move, every beat, every near-fall, and every kick-out. Even if one distills her year down to the two matches with Sasha Banks, which is a disservice to both wrestlers but okay, those two matches were, by far, the best two of the year in any promotion. The fact that they went out in Brooklyn and made believers out of 10,000 people and then went and nearly topped it (or depending whom you ask, achieved that goal) two months later, in a year when Death and Rebirth reinvented the casket match, where Shinsuke Nakamura and Kota Ibushi went all out in front of the biggest extended NJPW audience to that date, where you couldn't trip over your own two feet and not land on something excellent happening somewhere in the wrestling world... that is impressive enough to put Bayley (and Banks, but she'll have her day soon) on a pedestal.

Purely put, Bayley deserves all the praise you and I can possibly heap upon her and then some. If you think it's hyperbole, then maybe you didn't watch her. If you think it deserves points checked off because she "practiced" beforehand, you don't understand the nature of the wrestling business. Bayley had just about the best year she could have had, which is leagues better than any other wrestler in the world right now except for the one I voted number one. But hey, it could have gone either way, to be honest.

Rich Thomas: The alignment between Bayley's character and in ring work is perfect. She puts on matches that shows someone who loves wrestling and just wants to win. She wants to be the best is a way that matches who she says she is.

Photo Credit:
Bill Bicknell: It's strange to look back on Bayley's 2015 because, on the aggregate, much of it wasn't good. After Rival, she didn't do much other than have sad matches with Emma and lose a lot, and NXT seemed to lose their way with her. But the power of Brooklyn and Respect, without question two of the best matches of the year, overshadow pretty much all of that. Bayley was the one who got left behind; she wasn't a powerful legacy wrestler like Charlotte, a wrist-wrecking super-worker like Becky Lynch, or an unqualified next big thing like Sasha Banks. In the end, Bayley was like us: always being told no. When she emphatically, undeniably stood up and said "YES," we all stood up with her. It took some work, but when Bayley's story finally came together, there was no better story in wrestling. (It also made me cry an embarassing amount.)

Elliot Imes: She's the in-ring character who cannot be hated. Through tireless effort and unwavering strength, Bayley sets the example for wrestlers around the world. And no one else can connect with kids and adults like her. We love her because to not love her would be ridiculous.

Jamie Girouard: While Becky Lynch is better technically and Sasha Banks is a better overall performer, Bayley is easily the best female babyface the WWE has. Scratch that, Bayley is the best babyface - regardless of gender - the WWE has. Her work in both Sasha Banks matches at getting sympathy against a cool heel was otherworldly.

Joey O.: Bayley (along with someone else we'll see further up the list) told what was widely acclaimed as the best in-ring story of 2015. After coming up short in every chance she got, Bayley adjusted to each opponent, added more to her arsenal and went on to a pair of universally praised title matches last summer. As the standard-barer of women's wrestling in NXT, it's hard to imagine her NOT being champion at this point.

Frank McCormick: I have a terrible confession to make. I don't regularly watch NXT. I know, I know, but there's only so much time in a day! Therefore, my direct experience of Bayley is actually fairly limited. I do, however, usually watch the live specials, and thus did get to witness perhaps the best match of the year between her and Sasha Banks. On that basis alone, she deserves high placement.

Photo Credit:
Butch Rosser: The best NXT World Women's Champion of all-time (of all time!) got the runner-up position on my ballot, as she and my number one had either the match of the year on one Network Special or outdid themselves on the next one and made history and Izzy cry in the process. (SPOILER ALERT!) But in a horrifying dystopia where there is no Sami Zayn, she's the best babyface walking the Earth and it's not even close. The fact she continued elevating her in-ring work and managed to show off selective and appropriate aggression without devolving into an outright jerk just put more cartoon hearts in my eyes. I remain massively apprehensive of what happens when she gets the call up. MASSSIVELY. But there are few things in this world that give me unproblematic joy anymore, and the Doctor of Huganomics is near the top of that list for me.

Brandon House: Bayley is special in a way that maybe no one else in wrestling is. If you look at the other Horsewomen, Bayley doesn't have the sheer talent of Sasha Banks or Becky Lynch, or the sky high potential and physical ability of Charlotte. What she does have though is an in ring charisma that is second to none that make her biggest matches as compelling as the finest Wrestlemania main events. She has an It factor that pulls jerks like me into the match like no other. Though a major part of the the Fatal Four Way at Takeover: Rival, and having fantastic matches against Charlotte and Becky Lynch in the summer, it was the match in Brooklyn against Sasha Banks and the Iron Woman rematch that solidified Bayley's spot just under the top of my list. Bayley's just great, y'all.

Joey on Earth: Bayley had the greatest calendar year in NXT history by becoming the face of the growing brand. The matches against Sasha Banks is what everyone will remember but her work on NXT television is what truly made her excellent in my eyes. Let’s be honest – 95% of the matches on NXT TV are completely meaningless or squashes. Bayley instead used her title defenses to showcase different styles against lesser talents like Eva Marie and Nia Jax. She deserves every opportunity in the world and the respect of every wrestling fan.

Stygimoloch: For all the love that Sasha Banks (rightly) receives, Bayley was every bit as essential to 2015's defining feud. Where Banks ultimately compromised her principles in the name of success, Bayley did not, and while that made her journey longer and harder, it also made it all the sweeter when she finally triumphed over her former friend. Infectiously passionate and innocent without being ingenuous, Bayley updates wrestling's classic lawful good hero to an era of more emotionally complex characterisation without losing a thing.

Ryan Foster: I’ll admit that I was one of those who saw Bayley as the weak link of the Four Horsewomen and will gladly eat my words now. Bayley had what can only be described as an outstanding 2015, her athleticism, hard work, and pure heart coming through in every match. Any questions about whether Bayley’s excellent year could be attributed to Sasha Banks were quickly put to rest, as she pulled high quality matches out of the likes of Eva Marie and Nia Jax. The Boss of NXT is gone, long live the Queen.

Scott Holland: When I look back on 2015 and realize Bayley started on the road to the fatal four-way at Takeover: Rival, it reminds me her entire year required her to demonstrate her skill against opponents of all skills, shapes and sizes. Much like the other folks who populate the very top of this list, Bayley has demonstrated — over and again — an ability to virtually guarantee the success of any match regardless of the other wrestlers involved. When it comes to picking who gets my top TWB100 spot, this year especially, it’s a matter of splitting very fine hairs. Bayley had an incredible 2015 and I’m excited to see if she can match it this year.

Brandon Rohwer: Bayley and Sasha Banks had the two best matches of 2015, so frankly the top spot could go to either one of them when ranking the top performer of the year (I personally voted for Bayley at number one and Sasha at number two). The in-ring work and character development of both grew by leaps and bounds over the course of 2015, but not even The Boss could capture the imagination of audiences to the degree Bayley has. Throughout the year, the Huggable One solidified herself as one of WWE’s best in-ring storytellers, with a huge character arc progressing through the year (and showing in every single match) in her standout programs with the wide range of women on the NXT roster from her fellow Four Horsewomen to Eva Marie and Nia Jax.

Joshua Browns: If I put Sasha Banks at number one based largely on her matches with Bayley, then it only seems fair to have Bayley in the top 10 as well. I thought 2015 was going to be a huge challenge for her as she transitioned from “lovable underdog” to “believable champion” – I wasn’t at all sure she could sell me on herself as somebody who could dominate a division. But her match with Nia Jax in December erased a lot of those concerns. As great as the matches with Sasha were, the match with Jax was SUCH a well-told story – a veteran using her experience and intelligence to overcome a far more physically gifted, but much greener opponent. Just beautiful stuff, and as long as they keep giving her opportunities to grow, I think Bayley’s natural ability to connect with the audience and her timing and psychology will have her near the top of a (hopefully) re-vamped WWE women’s division by the end of 2016.
Photo Credit: