Shayna Baszler isn’t looking for your approval.
The former UFC fighter will walk into the WWE Elimination Chamber pay-per-view on Sunday (7 p.m., WWE Network) with a chance to leave the structure with a shot at Becky Lynch’s Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 36. Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, Sarah Logan, Asuka and Natalya stand in her way.
The 39-year-old two-time NXT women’s champion brings a unique mindset and style to WWE, having come from the “different world” of mixed martial arts. When she’s in the ring, there are no fancy flips, dives or aerial displays seen so often in today’s wrestling. What you get is a pioneer of women’s MMA and trained catch wrestler bending opponent’s limbs and making them tap out with her Kirifuda Clutch finisher.
Her character is trying to get wins. Not your endorsement.
“It’s either you are going to get broke in that ring or you are going to find your way through it. And the people who can’t hack it get weeded out really fast,” Baszler told The Post in a phone interview. “That’s the world I come from. These girls that come in there and they want to win fans and get people to ooh and ahh. It’s like, people can go and watch fireworks and ooh and ahh. They’re not going to remember the fireworks show at the end, but you know they are going to remember when someone’s arm is gross and hanging off their body.”
Baszler is responsible for one of the most eye-popping moments in WWE this year when she attacked Lynch from behind, bit her in the back of the neck and came up with a face full of blood — drawing a vampire comparison from Raw commentator Jerry “The King” Lawler. The polarizing reaction the segment received showed Baszler people were paying attention.
“I’m just gonna turn heads, and everything I do … no matter what energy level it’s at, is going to show people, ‘Oh, that is someone I need to watch out for,’ ” Baszler said. “So that’s the whole point is everything is like off the cuff, but it’s gonna make you raise your eyebrows and maybe put your hand in front of your kid’s eyes.”
Baszler laid the groundwork for her feud with Lynch when she interrupted an interview Lynch was doing on Raw in early November and calmly stared her down, neither showing a hint of intimidation. It helped prove to the audience Baszler belonged. Baszler went on to beat Lynch and Bayley in the main event at Survivor Series.
“I think that sitdown interview kind of established we’re clearly two big players in this,” she said.
In that interview, Baszler also reminded the audience of her real-life friendship with former Raw women’s champion Ronda Rousey, but made it clear she’s “not Ronda Rousey.” The two are close, and have trained together. Still, Baszler said she’s never been one “to stand on a mountain and wave the Ronda flag” for attention.
Baszler is happy her storyline has not been based around her being Rousey’s friend or her looking to avenge the UFC Hall of Famer’s loss to Lynch at WrestleMania 35, which was the last time Rousey was in a WWE ring. Baszler said they don’t talk about wrestling much and she doesn’t know when Rousey, who is “sort of on her own,” focusing on family, will return.
Baszler and Rousey have blazed their own paths even as those have intersected. Unlike Rousey, whose first professional wrestling match was at WrestleMania, Baszler spent two years on the independent scene before signing with NXT.
“I am glad that it’s not something that WWE has like forced down people’s throats,” Baszler said of her friendship with Rousey. “I’m not afraid. It’s not that I want to hide the fact that Ronda’s my friend. I don’t. But at the same time, I busted my ass just as hard as anyone else to do this, so I’m glad that people can see it.”
Baszler has a 15-11 career record in MMA, including losses to all-time greats Amanda Nunes and Cris “Cyborg” Justino. She was trained by former UFC heavyweight champion and current pro wrestler Josh Barnett and catch wrestler Billy Robinson when she first got into the sport. She said Barnett trained people who wanted to be pro wrestlers and pro fighters the same way, often letting the two worlds cross over.
Barnett, who later helped Baszler start her wrestling career, gave her the “Queen of Spades” nickname because of her ability to do card tricks. Barnett had her carry a guitar, which she can play, to the cage for a touch of theatrics. There was also no playing nice or giving boring interviews prior to fights — much like wrestling promos.
“You’re not going to ever see someone that’s trained with Josh that is going to go on an interview for a mixed martial arts fight and say, ‘I hope to win by knockout or submission,’ ” Baszler said. “Or in my case, ‘I hope to just show that women can fight just like men.’ Every other single person is gonna say that.”
Fellow former MMA fighters Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir, who are part of a group dubbed “The Four Horsewomen of MMA” with Baszler and Rousey now that they have transitioned to pro wrestling, have not come along to Raw with Baszler after working with her in NXT. Though Baszler said she would love to have her friends at work with her, she’s happy Duke and Shafir are getting their own professional opportunities.
“I think it’s kind of cool that the four of us as a team have our tentacles in kind of everything,” she said. “We are not secluded in one place. I think it’s exactly where it needs to be.”
Baszler’s initial stint on Raw and SmackDown, before a prominent turn in the Royal Rumble, was part of an NXT invasion angle for Survivor Series. Since then, the NXT women’s division has been given an even bigger spotlight.
NXT champion Rhea Ripley is defending her title against Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania. Flair recently went to Full Sail University for a match on NXT television against Bianca Belair. Baszler has taken notice of the “cool” extra attention NXT has gotten.
“You’ll notice there was nobody on Raw or SmackDown that was challenging the NXT title when I was champion,” Baszler said. “So I don’t know what it says about that.”
Baszler is one win away from securing her own spot at WrestleMania, and her eyes now are on Elimination Chamber, Lynch and the Raw Women’s Championship. But Baszler is still listed on the NXT roster, and she won’t rule out showing up in NXT again.
“If there is something I feel needs to be done there, I’ll go and do what I need to do,” Baszler said. “Right now, I have this. Plan all the way to the end. That’s one of the laws of power. I have this going on and we’ll see what happens when this is done.”
Source: Read Full Article