Bayley A TCB illustration of Bayley, the 2024 Royal Rumble winner. Credit: USA TODAY Images

Trust is defined as “the firm belief in the reliability, trust, ability, or strength of someone or something.” Trust can often be abused, misused, misplaced, and sometimes irreparably broken. In pro wrestling, trust from the audience is practically the lifeblood. If you break it, you might spend much time working your way back. Two different tales of trust were told this past Friday night on Smackdown. While one became such an unbridled mess that the company might be changing course on a massively impactful decision, there was… the other.

On Saturday, January 27, Bayley won the Royal Rumble. She entered the match at the No. 3 entry spot and outlasted everybody else. Bayley set the record for the longest time spent in a Rumble match with her victory. She’s now the Royal Rumble’s Ironwoman. Bayley’s going to WrestleMania.

Maybe that phrase shouldn’t sound so jarring or exciting. Over the last ten years, it’s hard to find many wrestlers who’ve made an impact and built up a passionate fanbase like Bayley. But it is. Because over the last ten years, Bayley and her fans have taken the road less traveled.

WWE’s first-ever Grand Slam Champion made history on August 22, 2015. On that day in Brooklyn, New York, Bayley won the NXT Women’s Championship from her best friend, Sasha Banks. One year later, Bayley finally arrived on the main roster. But things didn’t go as many anticipated. Within a year, it seemed like Bayley’s fanbase was massively drowned out by jeers and apathy. Her feud with Alexa Bliss was one to forget. She went two years without a singles championship match.

Still, Bayley and her fans trudged on. 2019 was a massive year for her, as she won Money in the Bank and then went on a run with the Smackdown Women’s Championship. She held it for 500 of the next 505 days from May 19, 2019 onward. But that history-making reign once again wasn’t enough. At WrestleMania 37, despite holding the main championship for so long, Bayley had nothing to do. She was put in a hosting role and was eventually duped by The Bella Twins, who were not active wrestlers.

It’s fair to say that on that night, the trust was broken. It was a hard pill for everybody to swallow. You can’t picture anybody who would have had a 365-day reign as champion not appearing at WrestleMania, let alone a 500-day run. And if that’s not enough, in 2021, she had done everything except win the Royal Rumble. The year before, in 2020, that was still true. In 2022, that held the same. In 2023, that also had the same.

The point is that Bayley was always this great and earned her status in the company. Yet, it wasn’t happening. What gives? Plenty were irritated about it. While her feud with Bianca Belair in 2021 excited some fans, it provided no upward trajectory for Bayley. She spent months on the bench and was expected to be a compelling opponent. Her name recognition gets her somewhere, but laziness only adds to it.

After a challenging year away from WWE, Bayley ensured her comeback year was great. She took on a new challenge in helping lead Damage CTRL, her new faction featuring Dakota Kai and IYO SKY, to the top. But things… did not go as planned for the group. They took losses. Bayley put them in uncompromising positions. She lost multiple title matches, and they never won War Games.

But that’s just the thing.

After a while, it became clear what was going on. Bayley, previously a grand champion, appeared to be scrambling. Her goals weren’t being met, and her guidance wasn’t helping. Damage CTRL expanding from 3 to 5 – with Asuka and Kairi Sane joining – clearly wasn’t Bayley’s plan. The power shift happened in front of us, as IYO, the WWE Women’s Champion, seemed to take the lead out from under her.

But all this time since then has done something. It’s made people want to see Bayley be at the top again. It’s been several years since she’s been champion, and the truth is that nobody got to enjoy it first-hand. She has been referred to as the MVP of the “Pandemic Era” when WWE held its shows in the crowdless Performance Center and then later the Thunderdome, which worked as both Tropicana Field and USF’s basketball arena.

If you listened closely throughout January, Bayley was starting to get support from the audience again. It’s been a long time since “Bayley” chants emanated from the audience. They began to appear during her match with Bianca Belair on Smackdown weeks before her historic Saturday in Tampa. Fans cheered on Bayley throughout the Royal Rumble and bellowed out in cheers after she won.

An incredible image also emerged from the victory, showing the fans pointing along with Bayley to the WrestleMania sign.


When Bayley won the Rumble, fans expected her to challenge IYO SKY for the Women’s Championship. Many signs emerged that Damage CTRL was set to oust Bayley, and theories about what would come next blossomed.

Then Friday happened. Bayley got into the ring with Asuka, IYO, and Kairi. The crowd was ready to erupt, serenading her with chants of her name again. She spoke first about wanting to be the best but also about fighting another battle.

That tune change led to the reversal everyone waited for. Bayley turned it around on her faction mates. It quickly became clear that the three didn’t take her seriously and wanted her out.

Under prior circumstances, maybe Bayley would have been ousted; maybe they would have jumped her out of the group; maybe she would have been duped and misled like she had been several times in the past.

But what was most satisfying about what happened Friday… was that none of that happened. Yes, Asuka, IYO, and Kairi launched an attack on Bayley. But she was ready. She dug a pipe out from underneath the ring and attacked The Kabuki Warriors with it. She went to swing on IYO, but they had a stand-off. And then Bayley said the words many were waiting for:

“I’ll see you at WrestleMania.”

Those who have followed Bayley throughout her career know nothing’s come easy. This woman lost every match during her first eight months in NXT. She had tried and came up short several times to win the NXT Women’s Championship before the big one in Brooklyn. Her main roster run has been a tale of ups, downs, triumphs, heartbreak, and befuddlement. But a redemption arc has been building since she returned at SummerSlam. And those stuck around for the ride saw it come to fruition. They saw her win the Rumble, a victory that everybody in the Trop seemed to want badly. They want to cheer for the woman who’s done almost everything.

And they’re here because they trust that Bayley will again rise to the occasion amid a series of losses and shortcomings. The ride has been wild, but it’s one that her fans feel satisfied with, especially with all the character development that Friday showed. She’s spoken before how she wants to take the fans on a rollercoaster. Sometimes, it’s felt like El Toro. Other times, Nitro. Right now? Probably going up the chute on Kingda Ka.

It’ll be a long nine weeks, but after the last two years, the wait will surely be worth it. For all the wonder if all the losing Bayley has done over the years would matter, it turns out that if the fans ride with you, they will forever. Her redemption arc is being written daily, and it’s clear that the fans at home and in the arenas want to be right there for the ride. Bayley captured everyone’s imagination before, and this year, she might well do it again.

About Chris Novak

Chris Novak has been talking and writing about sports ever since he can remember. Previously, Novak wrote for and managed sites in the SB Nation network for nearly a decade from 2013-2022