Bayley, the longest-reigning SmackDown women’s champion in history, will try to get her championship back when she faces current titleholder Bianca Belair at the WrestleMania Backlash pay-per-view on May 16 (7 p.m., Peacock). Before stepping into the ring, WWE’s resident role model took time for time Q&A with The Post’s Joseph Staszewski.
(Edited for clarity and length)
Q: When you do a 180-degree character turn as you have, that’s not always something that works out for people. What has it meant to you as a professional and performer to have the success you have and to have gotten the fan reaction with it and now you are just adding layers on top of it?
A: It feels really rewarding, you know, it’s kind of like I love rubbing it in everyone’s face that I was able to pull this off. But I have to thank WWE and Vince [McMahon] really for giving me the go-ahead and his blessing to do this. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years and, no, I didn’t think it was going to work out this way. I had a totally different vision, but with the pandemic and us being in front of no fans and just an empty arena different things just kind of flooded into my idea brain and different feelings came in and out and it was just was a really good combination of like, OK this is a totally different part of my character that I can put into this character that I’ve been thinking about for years. I like to think for me it all worked out for a reason and it’s just been really fun to be something different. I want to be able to be someone who did everything in the WWE and didn’t just kind of have a straight-through story.
Q: What was the different vision you had for the character?
A: Oh, I’m not telling you guys. What about if that comes later?
Q: What has it been like to dress for SmackDown lately with your hair and outfits where maybe that’s not something you were always afforded originally? Where did some of the inspiration for those outfits come from?
A: I guess from me. I think for a long time I was just trying to look a certain way, be a certain thing and worried about what other people are doing or what will they say about it. I just kind of restricted myself for no reason. Nobody’s telling me no. Nobody’s telling me I can’t do this, I can’t look a certain way, I can’t do that. So, I just started doing things I always wanted to and nobody’s saying anything and I’m actually getting compliments and I’m like alright. It makes me feel more in character. It helps me go with the whole thing. You looked good, feel good, feel a certain way. You have to be the whole package to portray these characters that we are on TV.
Q: And where are you getting some of inspiration for some of these looks?
A: From me. I would say that the eye makeup is probably the only thing I pulled inspiration from … I’m a huge fan of Egypt and Egyptology. So I pulled inspiration from their style for makeup, but that’s about it.
Q: What’s it been like to tell this story with Bianca where you are working with her on the way up before she’s champion at WrestleMania and now you get to have the rubber match in this feud with her as champ on the other side of WrestleMania?
A: It’s been fun to be honest. I felt pretty happy being able to do stuff with her at the beginning of the year after losing the title. Still being on SmackDown after losing the title in some sort of a story was a big deal for me. I was really happy with it. I obviously had a lot of fun embarrassing her, beating her at basketball, beating her up with a basketball, pulling her hair, whatever it is. And I’m going to have even more fun beating her at WrestleMania Backlash.
Q: You have said there isn’t anyone quite like Bianca. How does having someone with her physical attributes, the different things she can do in the ring, add to some of the storytelling you can do?
A: She just has the ability to kind of do it all. You know that she’s very capable and even at WrestleMania you saw with the pressure and her inexperience, she is still able to bring top-level game to that match. It takes two to tango and we all realize how great Sasha [Banks] is but Bianca really brought her own. To me, it’s really good to see somebody who hasn’t been in the business very long and is able to pick things up very quickly.
Q: How different was it for you to not have a WrestleMania match to prepare for?
A: Well, it sucked because that’s everyone’s favorite time of the year. But, I’m gonna say this is the last interview I’m going to talk about WrestleMania because I have finally put it to peace. I could only be upset about it for so long, but I was able to show up Hulk Hogan, show up Titus O’Neil. I got embarrassed by the Bella Twins, whatever. I got to be on both shows of WrestleMania and I got to sit back and take in the fans a little more instead of just being stressed out.
Q: With Hulk and Titus, was it fun to inject your character in WrestleMania that way to have a two-day story arc of just programs in the back this time?
A: For me, it’s cool because I was never one to be good in front of a camera and everyone who’s seen me when I first got signed to WWE knows that. I did extra classes with Dusty Rhodes. I did extra promo work. I did extra everything to get comfortable and it took me a long time. The fact that they trusted me on the biggest stage of them all with someone like Hulk Hogan. I feel like that’s a cool pat on my back that I can always say I’ve done and now I’ve really done it all at WrestleMania pretty much. So, yeah, it’s cool when you look at it that way.
Q: You talked about how you were not comfortable doing promos early on and now you have your own talk show (Ding Dong, Hello). Could you have ever imagined that happening and being given that freedom and trust?
A: I never expected that. That’s one of the things I have to really remind myself of if I get mad at myself for something or I’m disappointed in myself for another thing. It’s like dude, look how far you’ve come, you couldn’t even talk in front of a camera without breaking down into tears because you were so nervous and now you have your own talk show and they (WWE) make a point to make it important. It’s crazy to think how far I’ve come. I really have a lot of fun with it because before I just wanted to wrestle and now I’m enjoying all these character things.
Q: What do you think about what Alexa Bliss has been doing? It’s kind of the first time we’ve seen this kind of supernatural type character in the women’s division.
A: It’s cool. I just wouldn’t want to replicate any Bray Wyatt stories, so if I were to be in a story with her or go into something with her I would stress myself out trying to make it different in some way. It’s cool to see her do something like that because I remember when she first came to NXT, when she first got signed to FCW and I’m like, oh this little girl’s pretty athletic and she’s like I did this, this and this. She wore sparkles and spit out pixy dust. She’s a complete 180 on what he is now.
Q: Is there room for more than one role model in pro wrestling?
A: (Shakes her head no)
Q: You and (AEW’s role model) Britt Baker have had a little fun back and forth on social media. Does that benefit everybody because it gets fans engaged talking about the two of you?
A: I love Britt. She’s awesome and everything she’s doing is really cool, so I can’t even hate on her. I’ve heard a podcast where she talked about it and there’s no hard feelings, there’s no disrespect and I only want the best for her because as a role model that’s how you’re supposed to react to these type of things. So, go get ’em Britt Baker.