Hell has frozen over. Pigs are flying. The impossible has happened. Bayley, who has been the brightest and bubbliest presence in WWE’s women’s division for the lion’s share of the 2010s, has turned into the bad guy. Chopping her long hair into a bob, putting black tape over her smiley-face title plates on her WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship and exuding a mean, cynical demeanour. A lot of fans have considered this dramatic shift in character to be Bayley going through an “emo phase” – which leads one to wonder what kind of kid the woman born Pamela Martinez was when she was in high school. As it turns out, she didn’t really fit in anywhere.
“I was my own different clique altogether,” she says, speaking to media as part of a press junket in Melbourne, hours before wrestling at Rod Laver Arena against longtime rival Charlotte Flair. “I was the dorky wrestling fan, slash emo kid, slash basketballer. I had like four groups of friends I would bounce between.
“There were the friends I came into high school with, the friends I met through playing basketball, the friends I loved music with and then there was just this random assortment of people I just had around me. I feel like the me from then and the me now are the same in terms of having lots of different groups of people around me at any time. That said, I literally still just listen to the same bands as I did when I was in high school. I just did a DJ set for an Emo Nite back in the States, and I felt like I was in heaven.”
Back in the present, Bayley’s unexpected turn to the proverbial dark-side has been one of the more genuinely-affecting twists in recent WWE history. This has particularly been the case with the company’s younger demographic – a viral video on Twitter saw a dad filming his infant child’s reaction to Bayley destroying her “Bayley Buddies” – the brightly-coloured, inflatable tube men that were part of her entrance every week. Needless to say, the little boy was absolutely distraught at seeing the Buddies getting chopped down – and he was far from the only one to feel such a way.
“We got sent in a few of those sort of videos, actually,” says Bayley. “I would hope it’s a sign I’m doing my job, right? Of course, it’s funny to me to see it happening, but it’s easy to forget that wrestling is all about the emotion – especially when you’re at that age. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve cried watching wrestling. I’ve cried over WWE matches and heel turns. You fall in love with characters, you hate characters, you want to be certain characters.”
“Lita was my hero. I can remember being so mad at her when she turned heel and teamed up with Edge. I honestly think there’s a lot of life lessons that you can get out of having that emotional investment in wrestling. If I can be that for these young kids, then that’s really something. With any luck, as time goes on, they’ll learn about forgiveness, too.”
It’s this that leads to the discussion of kayfabe – that is, the maintaining of character and insisting that everything that goes on in wrestling is real and not part of a storyline. It’s been widely debated in the online wrestling community of late, with wrestlers like Jordynn Grace and promoters like Jim Cornette all having their two cents thrown in as to whether a wrestler should or shouldn’t maintain a sense of their character when moving over to social media platforms. For Bayley, she’s happy to play along with her new bad-guy character when she logs onto Twitter or Instagram – after all, she prefers to keep her life outside of kayfabe strictly to herself.
“I mean, for me… my place to just ‘be me,’ as it were, is just to be at home,” she says. “Social media is whatever, y’know… it’s probably more annoying than ever, really. It’s literally just a platform we can use when we’re not on TV, and parts of it can be fun. I might occasionally put personal stuff up there, like my cute dog – but really, who doesn’t love a cute dog? For the most part, though, it’s just to keep people’s attention because we’re not on TV every single day.”
She smirks, before adding: “Besides, sometimes we can get sent fun stuff – like videos of little kids crying.”
Interview – David James Young