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Shayna Baszler's Road to WrestleMania

Pro Wrestling

Shayna Baszler’s Road to WrestleMania

The Queen of Spades’ road through MMA and NXT, from carrying around guitars to biting Becky Lynch’s neck.

Shayna Baszler was born August 8, 1980 in South Dakota. She was a fan of professional wrestling growing up, citing Shawn Michaels and the Ultimate Warrior as her favorite wrestlers during her formative years. She attended Mid America Nazarene University and got a degree in religion; shortly after she would start training to be an MMA fighter. With Josh Barnett as her coach, she wanted to have her style to be akin to the catch style of wrestling.

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The first of the two main styles she has trained in is Muay Thai. She has the label Khun Kru (meaning “trainer”). Muay Thai is a martial arts style known as the “art of eight limbs” due to not only striking with both fists and both feet, but also hitting with knees and elbows. Muay Thai is focused on a battle of attrition with both fighters exchanging blows. Often hits involve the full movement of the body with each strike. The influence of Muay Thai is easy to spot when watching Baszler, especially at the beginning of a match.

However, Shayna’s true style shines through with her training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu; it is the one which has most obviously influenced her move set. Brazilian jiu-jitsu breaks down a fight into three stages: the striking phase, the grappling phase, and the groundwork (or in pro wrestling mat work) phase. Brazilian jiu-jitsu has a strong emphasis on the groundwork phase and being able to get the fight there as fast as possible. It teaches that through grappling one can take a larger, stronger opponent ground and then force them into submission through choke holds and manipulation of joints.

Baszler started her career before professional wrestling in MMA. Through 2007-2015 she fought in various MMA promotions such as Elite XC and Strikeforce. She actually would come out to each fight carrying a guitar and would try to add some spice and flavor to her interviews. She very much embraced the idea of having a gimmick while still outside of the professional wrestling world.

Shayna Baszler's Road to WrestleMania
Shayna coming out for an MMA fight, guitar in hand.

In 2010 she would compete in a tournament where she became FCF Women’s Bantamweight Grand Prix Champion. She also impressed the MMA world by winning multiple matches with a twister submission. (Something which I have NO idea how to describe here but here is an interesting howcast video on how to do one.)

In 2013 it was announced that Shayna would be on UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter, where she was drafted to be on the same team as Ronda Rousey. She pulled out just before the finals, however, due to injury. She would fight a few more MMA matches before she transitioned to professional wrestling in 2015.

In an interview she discussed her transition and her philosophy on professional wrestling. She describes going from MMA to pro wrestling as a rather easy transition. “That’s not to say I went into fighting thinking, ‘I’m going to be a pro wrestler’….. back in [Josh Barnett’s] training and lineage, you had to fight before you could pro wrestle. And so I kind of always knew where it came from, so I just figured I was already a pro wrestler.” She stresses that the real difference for her is the pace of matches: where in MMA your goal is to win, in pro wrestling you need to take your time to convey emotion and to properly tell the story.

Shayna’s personal philosophy for herself having come from an actual combat sport has been to offer as realistic of a match as she can. “There’s fans out there that, there’s still a lot of them that are like, ‘Why would I watch that fake stuff when I could watch the real stuff?'”. This mentality can be seen throughout her work.

She began in pro wrestling working the indies and had matches with some extremely notable women as well as others she would later wrestle in WWE. She lost a match to Mia Yim in Absolute Intense Wrestling but had a rematch with her later that year, earning a victory in a different promotion. She earned the AIW women’s title from Heidi Lovelace (now known as WWE’s Ruby Riott) and then successfully defended it against Britt Baker. At one point she went up against Kylie Rae (AKA Smiley Kylie) and she teamed up with Mercedes Martinez as well. She challenged (although unsuccessfully) for Io Shirai’s World of Stardom Championship.

During her time in the indies, she held a title but her win/loss record was fairly balanced. There was no real indication how dominant her character would become when coming into NXT. Baszler made her in ring debut for NXT by defeating Dakota Kai due to referee stoppage. However, that didn’t stop Baszler from continuing to destroy Dakota after the bell until finally Ember Moon ran out to save Kai. A furious Baszler got a title match against Moon during TakeOver Philadelphia. The rematch would prove more successful for Baszler as she took the title from Moon in New Orleans, April 2018.

The year that followed was Baszler’s complete and total destruction of anyone who dared challenge her. Her brutal submissions and take downs always proved too much for her challengers, including Mia Yim, Io Shirai, Dakota Kai, and Nikki Cross. Eventually, Kairi Sane was able to actually get the win from Baszler and take her belt; yet it wouldn’t be long before Baszler came back with a furry and won it back in a brutal 2 out of 3 falls match. This made Baszler the first, and so far only, person to hold the women’s NXT title twice.

Shayna Baszler's Road to WrestleMania
Baszler choking out Nikki Cross.

Baszler continued her reign up to the end of 2019 when the newest rising star, Rhea Ripley, was able to unseat Shayna from her throne. In the end Shayna held the title for a total of 416 days, coming in second for longest held, after Asuka of course.

At the beginning of this year Shayna made it very clear what her next goal was: the Raw Women’s Championship. Attacking Becky during one of her promos, Shayna bit The Man on the neck, leading to a lot of solid vampire jokes on Twitter the next few days. At Elimination Chamber, she dominated against the remnants of the Riott Squad and Natalya, only having a little difficulty taking out Asuka — putting to rest any doubts which of the two former NXT title holders was more dominant.

It will be interesting to see how Becky, a striker, fares against Shayna, someone whose entire move set is designed around moving out of the striking phase of a fight as quickly as possible, transitioning to the ground.

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