It’s SummerSlam weekend in the WWE, essentially serving as its calendar’s counterpoint to Wrestlemania. It’s almost at the opposite end of the year, and it’s seen as the show and weekend for the “real fans,” whereas ’Mania is seen as for the masses. Included in this weekend’s festivities is NXT’s 30th “Takeover,” the pay-per-view the company’s third/developmental brand runs. So it’s fitting that on such a landmark occasion for NXT, Sasha Banks and Bayley will be front and center.
Five years ago, NXT ran its first Takeover from an arena, not out of its Full Sail University studio home. It was run out of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center the night before the main roster would run SummerSlam from the same venue, which became the routine for both companies for the next few years. Sasha Banks and Bayley were slated as the co-main event in that first Takeover.
Most would point to that event as the night and moment the “Women’s Revolution” in WWE and wrestling truly hit into fifth gear. Banks, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte had already been called up from NXT to the main roster, but Banks was still NXT champion. While Bayley has been just as big a part of the “Four Horsewomen” that finally got WWE to take women’s wrestling seriously, she had been left behind at the time.
The match itself is an all-time classic, and it’s arguably still the best women’s match WWE has had under any guise. It carried all the elements—the payoff of years-long storytelling, the methodical working of an extremity that Vince McMahon loves so, while also including some incredibly athletic and high-flying spots, and a cathartic ending (as well as Sasha Banks’s determination to utterly maim herself)—that can take a match from merely wrestling to transcendent theater. It’s a testament that no one remembers Japanese legend Jushin Thunder Liger’s only WWE match on that same card or that Kevin Owens and Finn Bálor, two of the best workers in the company, were the other main event.
While it paid off Bayley’s journey from scrappy fan-living-her-fantasy underdog to champion for the first time, the overarching story was that of wrestling itself. Bayley was the girl living out her dream who believed if she just worked hard enough, was kind to her friends, and did everything right, she would achieve all she ever wanted. But she continued to fall at final hurdles, while Banks, Lynch, and Charlotte passed her by.
Banks was the business, “The Legit Boss,” who saw the world for what it really was and benefitted. Banks had no friends, just obstacles and those that could help her overcome them. She was the glitz, the glamor, the show, and everything else was not of her concern. She was primetime, what people came to see, and Bayley would never be more than just the fan who somehow ended up on the other side of the barrier.
The matches’ 20 minutes are a prime example of how wrestling can tell a story within the ring and finish one that has gone on outside of it for years. From Sasha’s taunts of, “You don’t belong here!” to the stomping of Bayley’s previously broken hand to the lengths Bayley had to go to finally overcome her foe, it’s a masterclass.
Five years later, with both women set to have separate matches with Asuka at SummerSlam, it’s fair to ask if either have topped that night. Sasha and Bayley have been the biggest part of both Raw and Smackdown the past few months, a testament to the company’s willingness to push women to the top of the card, while also an example of centering the women’s division around only two or three people at the expense of many performers. And Sasha and Bayley only got there after Becky Lynch’s maternity leave and Charlotte’s injury hiatus.
Less than a year after that night in Brooklyn, Banks would star with Charlotte and Lynch in far and away the best match of Wrestlemania 32. Though that’s damning with faint praise, as the rest of that show was three-day-old garbage in the August sun. She would have a great program with Charlotte after that, culminating at Barclays again a year later. But after that, it would be definitively spotty for Banks, including her leaving the company and rumor had it trying to quit it altogether after ’Mania 35 due to displeasure with her booking.
Bayley would have to wait another year to join the main roster, and her time there has been even scratchier than Banks’. Instead of pitching her as the ultimate underdog who had to work her way up, Bayley was immediately vaulted to the top of the roster. Her gimmick didn’t really work without the hurdles to jump. She floated between being Banks’ tag team partner to singles competitor and back, and only her recent heel turn to team with Banks has cemented her as worthy of the spots she was getting.
Both watched Charlotte be the main draw for years. Both watched Lynch seal the first ever ’Mania main event spot for a women’s match. Both watched Ronda Rousey stroll in from outside the company and use her crossover appeal to land in that main event. Both are capable of those same heights, and maybe this weekend is the final bounce they need to get there again. We’ve seen them reach a height that no one else has, after all.