It’s not uncommon for two movies on similar topics to come out at roughly the same time — like Armageddon and Deep Impact, or Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. It’s rarer for two wrestling promotions to each give a wrestler the same gimmick — or at least, it’s rare to see without one wrestler being either an intentional rip-off or a parody of their rival’s gimmick in another promotion.
But, that’s exactly what’s happened on WWE Smackdown and AEW Dynamite lately, with both Smackdown Women’s Champion Bayley and top AEW heel Dr. Britt Baker running variations on the same character: the heel “role model.” What’s not surprising, given the difference in booking philosophies between WWE and AEW, is that one of these “role model” characters has gotten over to a far greater degree than the other.
For Bayley, her “role model” heel character was a carryover of her babyface persona. As a face, Bayley’s character was a legitimate role model and “hugger” who appealed to children with her friendly persona, trademark side ponytail and upbeat entrance featuring colorful “Bayley Buddies” (a.k.a. inflatable tube men). When Bayley began turning heel in September 2019, her character became a hypocrite. She’d execute dastardly sneak attacks on other wrestlers in support of Sasha Banks, then drop promos about how she was still a role model for children because she was showing what it meant to be a good friend. In October 2019, she ditched her babyface persona for good, cutting off her ponytail, dying her hair a villainous shade of black, ditching her upbeat entrance music and literally hacking her Bayley Buddies to ribbons with a knife. Since then, she’s remained a hypocritical heel champion who insists she’s still a good role model, not just for children, but for the rest of the Smackdown women’s locker room.
Dr. Britt Baker’s development into a hypocritical “role model” also came as the result of a heel turn, but represented a starker departure from her previous character than Bayley’s heel turn did. Baker began her run in AEW as a generic female face whose biggest problem was not having any defined character traits beyond being a generic face who happened to wear dentist-themed ring gear. Fans failed to connect with Baker’s character (or lack thereof), and AEW responded by turning her heel on Chris Jericho’s Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Rager cruise in late January 2020.
Just as she had been a generic face, at first, Baker appeared to be turning into just another generic heel. She was awkward on the mic, and mostly looked to build heat by being mean to Tony Schiavone and hurling lame insults at the crowd about being better than them. Despite her early struggles as a heel, AEW committed to giving Baker sustained screen time to develop her character, and its faith in her paid off.
She grew visibly more comfortable on the mic, and her jabs at the crowd grew stronger. A diss against the Whataburger franchise in front of a Texas crowd drew legitimate heat from the audience, and Baker began evolving her generic “arrogant heel” character into a very specific take on the heel “role model.” After struggling to use Baker’s real-life background as a dentist to get her over as a face or build a heel persona around a simple “arrogant over-educated dentist” gimmick, Baker’s heel character took off when it combined her arrogance over being a dentist with a delusional belief that her superiority over the unwashed masses makes her a role model for the few worthy Dynamite viewers lucky enough to benefit from her all-around greatness.
Once Baker committed to this take on her gimmick, the character took off. She gave condescending lectures to Dynamite crowds about oral hygiene and advised Tony Schiavone not to smile because his teeth were too ugly. She started giving self-congratulatory “tips” on how to be a role model centered on how special people (like herself) could learn to cope with living surrounded by their inferiors. On the April 29 episode of Dynamite, she did a fabulous pre-taped segment introducing the audience to her kayfabe dental clinic, which featured shots of a tv in the waiting room running endless highlight clips of Baker’s matches, numerous “motivational posters” of Baker with messages about accepting that some people are simply meant to be greater than others, and a bit where Baker privately corrects her personal makeup artist (whose name she gets wrong) on how to talk up Baker accomplishments in her talking head interview.
The genius of Baker’s “role model” character lies in the details. It took a generic starting-off point — a heel who believes that they’re a role model while remaining a total hypocrite — then built a believable psychology to explain why that character believes themselves to be an admirable role model and what traits make them a hypocrite. For Baker, it’s clear how the character’s arrogance, self-absorption, and condescension combine to form a character who genuinely believes that she’s better than everyone else. It’s also clear that when Baker’s character gives out her role model “tips,” she’s not speaking to the bulk of the audience, but to the few potential “future Britt Bakers” out there who are also struggling to live in a world surrounded by fat, stupid, ugly people with snaggle teeth. Baker’s character knows exactly who she thinks she’s a role model for, Baker commits herself totally to that character, and it’s gotten Baker over because the audience can feel it.
While Baker’s character has evolved from that initial jumping-off point and grown into something unique and interesting, the biggest problem with Bayley’s character — and the biggest reason why it’s still failing to get over over half a year into her heel run — is that it hasn’t done any of those things.
Bayley’s character began as a generic heel champion who does villainous things, then says “I’m doing them because I’m a role model.” Six months later, not only has her character not grown in any significant way, but it might even have gone backwards, since it’s dropped the half-formed justification about being a good friend to Sasha Banks that it began with. Where Baker commits to a fully-formed character rooted in definable traits, Bayley’s heel character still hasn’t moved beyond declaring themselves to be a role model and leaving it at that. If WWE wants to get Bayley some help moving her character forward, it might want to listen to some of the “tips” another role model is handing out each week over on AEW.
WWE and AEW both have female heels using the same gimmick, but one has gotten over far better than the other has.