When Shayna Baszler debuted on NXT in the summer of 2017, her persona was simple. The former Mixed Martial Arts fighter was a brooding badass. Not only could she hurt you, she’d enjoy doing it.
It was a character that fit Shayna Baszler perfectly. However, in recent months the former NXT Women’s Champion has had to show a completely different side to her performance. While Baszler had begun to move away from her earlier persona with the arrival of Reginald by the side of her tag team partner Nia Jax, her latest feud with Alexa Bliss has meant that she has had to evolve considerably.
With Bliss in full ‘creepy witch with superpowers and a demonic doll’ mode, the ass-kicking MMA fighter of old just wouldn’t fit. So fans are now seeing a different side to Baszler, one that has drawn some criticism online.
Speaking in a new interview with Sports Illustrated, Baszler addressed the balance between ‘wrestling’ and ‘sports entertainment.’
“It’s always been a constant juggling act, and that’s not just on Raw,” Baszler says. “That’s also [been the case in] my time in NXT and the indies. I come from a very old-school professional wrestling tradition. Josh Barnett and Billy Robinson were my main coaches, and they’re really, really old-school.
“Back in Billy’s day, the wrestling mentality was that you weren’t going to beat someone in the ring until people believed you could beat them out on the street. It was a very different mindset, and that’s just not how professional wrestling is presented today. It’s been a juggling act to stay true to my martial lineage in professional wrestling, that style I bring where people believe what I do. It’s two-sided. It’s special. There are wrestlers that work for 20 years to build that legitimacy in the eyes of the fans, and I have it when I come through the curtain. It’s also a curse. Not everyone on the roster knows how to deal with that style and mindset.”
Continuing on, Baszler explained how she uses her former coach Billy Robinson, as a guide when she’s in the ring.
“I always think about Billy when I get in the ring,” Baszler says. “After he passed away [in 2014], I remember Josh saying, ‘At the end of the day, if Billy would look at it and nod his head, then you’re doing fine.’ I hope Billy would be understanding that I’m trying to do this balancing act between my old-school, pure wrestling style and the way it’s presented on TV today.”
The former Women’s Tag Team Champion went on to reveal how her recent storyline with Bliss has been a benefit to her. Baszler detailed how the role has helped her show she can do a multitude of different things inside the ring.
“I need to show that I can be counted on to nail whatever it is I’m being asked to do,” Baszler says. “It’s easy to be a badass tyrant like I was in NXT. I can totally fit that role. After establishing myself as that, it’s important to show I can cover a wide range of what professional wrestling is today.
“It’s like music. Some people like country, some like heavy metal. Not everything is for everyone, so I understand why some people roll their eyes when I do comedy. But I’m established as what I am. All it takes is one sentence from a promo delivered properly. I am a legitimate badass; that’s always there for me. I’m glad I can be on Raw and show a wider range.”
One of those who have been less than complementary about the storyline between Bliss and Shayna Baszler is Jim Cornette. With the legendary wrestling personality, saying that the recent meeting between the two would have caused a riot in years gone by.