Cheap Heat: Nia Jax vs. Bayley – Immersed in a Match
By Jacob Fox
The greatest thing that can occur in professional wrestling is that a match is executed so perfectly that a fan can forget that the ending is not predetermined. When a match is promoted, wrestled and performed in such a way that fans can suspend disbelief and cheer as if everything about the fight is real, it becomes exponentially more enjoyable. This happens rarely for me but it happened in the amazing match between Nia Jax and Bayley for the NXT Women’s Championship at Takeover: London.
Wrestling fans have evolved in how they view wrestling. We used to debate simply who will win a match or who is the better wrestler. Currently fans care more about who is the better performer, both athletically and in regards to charisma. Whether a match is good is very often determined by the performances more often than the victor.
What has not changed, though, is the fans truly love when their favorite promotion manages to surprise them. The best way to surprise an audience is to have every aspect of the match and the build up beforehand work so perfectly that there is no way the fans can expect the ending to be any different than what is expected. Then, the wrestlers need to work so convincingly to get the audience completely immersed in the match and believing the possibility of a different outcome; only to have it snatched away. Once the audience is lost in the match, the match can then present the surprise by delivering the opposite of what is expected. Immersion is the key.
NXT Takeover: London offered the perfect opponent for this story. On October 14, 2015, NXT introduced the dominant Nia Jax onto the roster of their women’s division. Billed as weighing 272 pounds, Jax easily and very quickly began plowing through everyone in her path. She made very short work of every wrestler who came against her. Her decimation of Carmella established her as a heel, although it was quite obvious from her demeanor and style that she already had been. Jax’s meteoric rise and dominance seemed to be pushing her towards an inevitable and fast championship reign.
NXT took little time establishing a feud between Jax and women’s champion Bayley. It began with Jax distracting Bayley on November 11 before the champion was attacked by Alexa Bliss, thus hinting that the altercation was happening in the near future. Having Jax accompany Eva Marie to the ring when she challenged Bayley for the championship further alluded to the eventual rivalry, which was completely confirmed when Jax attacked the champion after the match. The match with Marie ended up being nothing more than a prelude to Jax becoming the real threat to the title. After only five weeks in NXT it looked like Jax was going to get her title shot. To anyone paying attention, it seemed like Bayley‘s luck was finally going to run out.
The beginning of a good story was being told. We were given Jax, the behemoth challenger who made short work of the women’s division. Her confidence was unparalleled as she almost came across as a female Brock Lesnar. Plus, there was no way that her meteoric rise would end with her losing so soon in her career. On the other end was Bayley, the champion who although did not back down, seemed nervous whenever in Jax’s presence. Both characters in the story leading up to the match played their parts to perfection and each passing day was really just a countdown to the end of Bayley‘s title reign. Both characters in the story leading up to the match played their parts to perfection.
The likelihood of Jax winning the women’s championship seemed confirmed during the Takeover event. During an interview, Jax got angry when Asuka showed up and smiled at her. It seemed like the foreshadowing on an eventual match with Asuka challenging Jax as champion. A post championship feud was already being developed.
The only thing left was for Nia Jax to claim her belt. Jax looked confident as ever and she appeared not only to think but to know she would be holding the NXT Women’s Championship in a few moments. Bayley came to the ring, smiling and celebrating with the crowd. She had the confidence of a champion, which often does not help a champion retain.
The storytelling of the match also revealed Jax was fated to win. Bayley came out fast, trying to chop her enormous opponent down. Her moves, however, were completely ineffectual and it was mere moments before Nia Jax got her hands on the champion. The match became a formulaic David vs. Goliath wrestling match. Fans were being told that while it was inevitable that Bayley was going to lose, she would not go down without putting up a fight. It was then that I just accepted and waited for the title change to happen.
Often during a wrestling story, there will be some red herrings thrown in to make the audience believe that the outmatched competitor might not get beaten. These are used very often in Money in the Bank cash in attempts. The wrestler cashing in will hit his finishing move, only to have the champion kick out to the shock of the challenger. This way, even though the champion will eventually be beaten, he still looks good because he did not give up.
Bayley seemed to be offering the audience several of these red herring moments. When Jax would beat the champion to a pulp, Bayley somehow kicked out of every pin attempt. This included the champion kicking out after three straight finishing moves from Jax. Bayley came back and connected three guillotine chokes, with Jax escaping the first two. It seemed the story NXT was trying to tell was that Bayley would be losing her championship, but she would be going down showing more heart and determination than thought possible. I became immersed in the match and slowly because the possibility, regardless of how remote, of Bayley retaining her belt.
Then, the impossible happened. The story took a turn. After locking up Jax in a third guillotine choke, Bayley brought Jax to her knees. It still did not seem like Jax would tap out. The hold was simply to give fans false hope that Bayley would stand a chance. Jax would escape a third time and finally put the exhausted champion away. But Jax faded and then did what seemed impossible during the entire feud: she tapped out. Bayley retained the championship.
So what happened different in this match than in any other?
NXT did everything they could to make it seem inevitable that Nia Jax would become women’s champion in a very short time. She was brought in and destroyed everyone in her path without breaking a sweat. She dominated a champion who was less than half her size. She brushed off every comeback attempt from Bayley as if it were nothing. Bayley was even given the consolation prize of unlikely kick outs and meager but heartfelt offense. But for once, it worked.
This women’s title match is not going to go down in history as one of the all time greats in terms of the match itself. There were no impressive flips, no balanced offense, no wondering who would come out the winner. It was almost as one sided a match as when John Cena lost the WWE Championship to Brock Lesnar in 2014.
What I will remember about this match is that I got lost in the story telling. The promotion of this match and the first three quarters of the match itself were telling a story that everyone watching knew the ending to. The last quarter of it excruciatingly slowly kept building up the possibility of a Bayley victory only to keep taking it away. By the end of the match, my disbelief was not only suspended, it was tossed out the window. I was urging Bayley out loud and I cheered for her when she won in a way I have not done in a long time.
Bayley versus Nia Jax made me feel the same way about wrestling that I did when I was a kid. For a few fleeting moments, it was as real to me as it had even been in the past. Every part of this encounter, from the story telling, the actions of the wrestlers leading up to the event and the match itself, came together to tell a story that completely immersed me in its plot. It made me believe a win by Bayley was completely impossible; and then it delivered what it had been denying could happen. This is what professional wrestling is at its absolute best.
— Jacob Fox