(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley - WWE NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn (08/22/15)

(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley - WWE NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn (08/22/15)

This is the most important women’s wrestling match of the past twenty-five years. Many people also view it as the best women’s match in WWE history. It’s a match that’s held in very high regard, especially considering its historical impact. A lot has happened since it first took place and a lot came before it. So with that, let’s look back at this momentous contest to see how it holds up.

Today we revisit the famous singles match between Sasha Banks and Bayley from NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

The story of the match differs depending on whose narrative you want to believe:

The WWE-approved narrative: After something started trending on Twitter, Stephanie McMahon came in and magically announced that a Women’s Revolution was now under way. And to prove this, she brought three of the top women in NXT up from that ‘developmental’ brand, and put them into the mix with the other women on the main roster. All while crediting herself for being the one behind this movement.

The actual narrative: Following an exceptionally-bad 30-second Divas ‘match’ on February 23rd, 2015, former WWE superstar AJ Lee started the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance, which spread like wildfire. It became too widespread to ignore, which forces the main roster creative department to recognize that women’s wrestling in WWE needed to change.

My interpretation of the narrative: Women’s wrestling in WWE, at least from the perspective of in-ring athleticism, was twenty years behind pretty much the rest of the world. Women’s wrestling had already proven that it can draw, especially in Japan, where women-only companies managed to become very successful by putting on high-quality matches that in some respects surpassed men’s wrestling matches of their time. WWE, desperate to create new fans and maintain what little was left of their remaining fanbase, decided it was no longer financially feasible to put attractive yet unskilled and inexperienced women in nothing matches for a gaudy toy of a championship while also booking their few talented women’s wrestlers in garbage storylines. If they wanted to remain profitable, they had to promote their women’s division as more than just a joke and the designated bathroom break match.

Anyway, a few weeks before SummerSlam 2015, Stephanie McMahon brought Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks ‘up’ from NXT to the main roster. These three women were thrown into the mix with other main roster women into three three-woman teams: Team BAD (Naomi, Tamina and Sasha Banks), Team Bella (Alicia Fox and the Bella Twins) and Team PCB (Paige, Charlotte & Becky Lynch). Unfortunately, this tri-team storyline, much like those team names, sucked.

At the same time, Sasha had some unfinished business in NXT. While she was being ‘promoted’ to the main roster, someone else challenged her for her NXT Women’s Championship: Bayley, a cheerful optimist that always looked at the positive side of things and never showed any malice whatsoever. Eventually, she defeated Charlotte to become #1 contender for the title.

Thus the stage was set for a big title match between champion Sasha and challenger Bayley. Would the confident and arrogant Sasha be able to retain her title while wrestling double-duty that weekend, or would said arrogance cause her to lose to the underdog Bayley?

The match

This match took place at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn on August 22nd, 2015. It was originally rated ****1/2 stars out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It was also rated ****1/2 by TJRWrestling’s John Canton as well. Let’s see if that rating was accurate, or if the match’s quality has changed over time.

This is for the NXT Women’s Championship. The crowd is insanely loud already and is firmly in Bayley’s corner. Sasha starts trash-talking Bayley and Bayley takes her down. They trade punches and Bayley lands a pair of sliding forearms for a quick one-count. Sasha reverses an attack by Bayley and smashes her head into a corner a few times, but Bayley starts doing her own version of a Hulk Up. Bayley reverses it and smashes Sasha into the corner. She places Sasha in the tree of woe and lands a springboard elbow drop for a one-count. Sasha counters a charge into a roll-up for a one-count and taunts the crowd as some of them call her ‘ratchet’. Bayley blocks her and lands a corner springboard arm drag. Sasha leaves the ring to recover and talk more trash, which causes Bayley to leave and hit a surprise dropkick on her.

Bayley tosses Sasha back in the ring but Sasha knees her in the gut. She goes for double knees to the stomach but Bayley escapes. They brawl on the top rope and Bayley escapes a superplex. But Sasha maintains control with a kick to the knee which sends Bayley back down to the floor.

Sasha mocks Bayley some more and clubs her down as she returns to the ring. She continues the mockery by landing Bayley’s own forearm smashes and a hard slap to the face.  Sasha applies a chinlock, and as Bayley tries to fight out, she transitions to a straightjacket hold. After getting smashed into the corner, Bayley tries to fight out with forearms but Sasha maintains control. Sasha goes for double knees again, but this time Bayley counters out. Except Sasha counters her, and uses her legs to smash Bayley back into the same corner. She places Bayley on the top turnbuckle. Double knees on the top corner. Bayley kicks out at two. That gets a huge reaction.

Bayley crawls into a different corner as Sasha trash-talks her. Bayley can take no more as she kicks Sasha hard and then drop toeholds her into the same bottom turnbuckle. She lands another drop toehold and rolls over to land more punches, but Sasha regains control by avoiding Bayley’s charge and placing her on the apron. Sasha drapes Bayley’s arm over the rope, sending Bayley back down ringside.

Outside the ring, Sasha removes Bayley’s hand brace and throws her around. She smashes Bayley’s injured hand into the steel steps and into any other hard surface she can find. Then she places that same hand between the steps and the ring and kicks the steps, driving them into her hand. The crowd makes tons of noise as Bayley appears to have her hand broken.

Bayley gets up slowly and the ref checks on her. As he does, Sasha gets a running start. Topé Suicida! Over the referee and onto Bayley. Awesome move. The crowd seems to agree.

Sasha tosses Bayley back into the ring and gets a two-count. She grabs one arm and bitchslaps Bayley, but Bayley counters a lucha arm drag and pushes Sasha off the rope. Both women are on their knees and trade forearms. Bayley starts gaining momentum with double ax handles and a shoulder thrust in the corner, followed by a big corner elbow drop and a corner suplex. She goes for the Bayley-to-belly but Sasha resists. So she goes for a German suplex, no, a roll-up, no, Sasha counters into a facebuster. Banks Statement (Crossface)! Bayley starts crawling to the ropes! Bayley reaches out with her injured hand. She’s fingertips away. No. Sasha stomps on that hand. Bayley tries again with the other hand. Sasha pushes off the rope with her foot to bring them both to the middle of the ring. Bayley reverses into a Crossface of her own. Sasha reaches the bottom rope with her foot. Bayley pulls Sasha up. Bayley-to-Belly. Sasha kicks out.

Bayley drags Sasha to her feet and places her on the top turnbuckle. She goes for a top-rope belly-to-belly but Sasha fights out. Bayley charges again with a forearm. She jumps…and looks like she flies off. That doesn’t look right. Sasha lands a top-rope meteora and pins. Bayley kicks out. The fans are now split evenly between both of them.

Sasha’s in control as she places Bayley on the top turnbuckle. Bayley fights out with elbows. They keep hitting each other back and forth. Suddenly Bayley gets control. Top-rope poisoned Frankensteiner. Wow! Amazing move. Bayley-to-Belly. One, two, three! Bayley wins the match and the title!

Winner and NEW NXT Women’s Champion after 18:16: Bayley

Review

A lot of people praised this match when it first came out because of how different it was. They were simply unaccustomed to something like this because WWE had spent almost two decades treating women’s wrestling as nothing more than a joke. Because of that stark contrast, many people who knew nothing of women’s wrestling beyond WWE and the North American wrestling scene praised this contest as one of the best women’s wrestling matches ever.

There were quite a few things to like here. The crowd was very loud and fully invested in this contest. They started off fully behind Bayley, but that changed over time as they began to cheer Sasha for her high-risk moves. It wasn’t long before the fans’ chants went beyond cheering and chanting for the wrestlers and morphed into chants for NXT and ‘this is awesome’, both of which have since become staples of any big NXT show.

Second, the story of the match was great. Sasha was at her best in the role of cocky champion that thought nothing of her opponent. Although she did get a little too carried away with over-the-top acting, that only made Bayley’s struggle much better. Bayley was the ultimate underdog here, as Sasha couldn’t buy her as someone lacking the skill and killer instinct needed to become top champion. But Bayley’s signature trait was her never-say-die attitude, which she demonstrated perfectly in this match. No matter how much pain she suffered, she kept fighting while still retaining her character’s ardent sense of righteousness. Because of that, it became easy to compare her to John Cena here. She was basically his female equivalent from a character and story perspective, and there was an opportunity to make her into a real women’s star. Sadly, her character never went in that direction.

And of course, the in-ring action was way better than pretty much anything WWE’s women’s division had put on in decades. It had the right mix of story, character and high spots. Sasha, as the villain, controlled the match by targeting Bayley’s hand and back, which led to an awesome closing sequence. The best moment in the match was the submission sequence as Sasha tried her best to keep it in., only for Bayley to counter it on her. That sudden switch allowed Bayley to begin her comeback in earnest and eventually win the match. And of course, there were insane high-spots here that no-one expected. From Sasha’s dive over the ropes and referee to Bayley’s Avalanche Poisoned Frankensteiner, these two women really went to the depths of Hell to put on an awesome wrestling match and change perceptions about women in WWE.

But is this a legendary, historically-great match? No. Not even close.

I’m not saying this to be contrarian. It’s just that this match just doesn’t hold a candle to what took place before it (and in some cases, after it). Much of the praise this match has gotten already was from people who compared it to other WWE matches, which is setting the bar very low because other WWE women’s matches of that era were garbage. In comparison to women’s matches from elsewhere – such as from STARDOM, GAEA, OZ Academy, Sendai Girls Pro Wrestling, ICE Ribbon, ARSION, and especially All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling (AJW) – this match is great, but not amazing.

There were only three moments in this match that I thought were truly great: the crossface sequence, Sasha’s suicide dive, and Bayley’s top-rope rana. Aside from that, nothing in this match truly stood out as really exceptional. I’ve seen women’s matches with airtight psychology, intense drama, non-stop action and amazing high-spots before, on multiple occasions. This match basically stole elements from those great earlier women’s matches and added a slight WWE twist on them. And everything outside of those three big spots was great by WWE standards but only above-average compared to historical women’s wrestling classics.

I’d be saying something entirely different if Sasha and Bayley went to even greater lengths or higher heights for their match. The first half of the match was incredibly slow without much happening. I wasn’t expecting a technical marvel or anything like that. But Bayley should’ve at least done something to weaken or neutralize Sasha’s constant knee attacks early on. Even a single kick to one knee would’ve made this match better because, if followed up on properly, it could’ve given Bayley more openings for a victory. But instead, Bayley spent 80% of the match on defense, only to score a big win at the end. And to be honest, that just isn’t my type of match unless a story really calls for it. In a big title match like this, it’s always better when the challenger at least establishes themselves as being on the same level as the champion early on. But that didn’t happen here. Bayley was the underdog for most of the match. And while it’s true that this made sense because it fit her character, it also made her victory come across as a bit unearned. Going into this match I expected a long, dragged-out fight between two warriors on equal footing. What I got was basically a lengthy beatdown from one side and a surprise comeback from someone who really didn’t do enough to deserve it.

The women of NXT take a curtain call: NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn, only on WWE Network

Final Rating: ****1/4

This was a great match, but that’s it. Compared to stuff from elsewhere and from different eras, this match just doesn’t hold a candle. But if we isolate it into the WWE bubble, then it’s quite possibly the best WWE women’s match ever. These women should be proud of what they accomplished here, because even with all the drawbacks I mentioned above, this is still way better than anything else WWE’s women had showcased in decades.

This match really did change perceptions in WWE and among its fans, although it’s hard to say to what degree. From both storyline and in-ring perspectives, this match really was the peak of the Women’s Revolution in WWE. While this match was pretty damn great and still makes for an enjoyable 20 minutes, its aftermath has been…questionable. The main roster ‘women’s revolution’ storyline was utter garbage. Sasha’s main roster run would be mired by ok matches mixed with crappy booking and playing hot potato with the women’s title. As for Bayley, she has gone from being a potential top women’s star to one of the most disappointing women on WWE’s roster. Though much of that isn’t her fault (she suffered through extremely shitty booking that still lingers on her in some way), she hasn’t been able to put on the same quality of matches as she did with this NXT match.

If you’re looking for good women’s wrestling, you’ll only find a few WWE matches to fill that moniker. If you want consistently good women’s wrestling matches, best look elsewhere. YouTube and Dailymotion both have their own cornucopias of matches to find and search. And you can be sure I’ll be looking at some of them as well for this series.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.