Of the seven superstars drafted from NXT to Raw and SmackDown in the 2016 draft, few could have imagined that Alexa Bliss would be the biggest instant success. It's not to doubt her enthusiasm or potential, but with no title reigns to speak of in NXT, and most viewing her as a raw prospect in need of some experience, her meteoric rise has come as the single most pleasant surprise in the women's division of late.
After becoming a two-time SmackDown women's champion during her time on Tuesday nights, Bliss cashed in big-time on her first title shot on Raw by defeating Bayley on Sunday night at Payback to become a three-time women's champion and the first woman to hold both the Raw and women's championship since the brand split.
Bayley and Bliss traded offense early in the match, and as has been the case in most of her matches, Bliss' expressions and yelling at the audience alone were enough to drive the already partisan hometown crowd for Bayley into a frenzy. After taking everything that Bayley had to give out, a stiff forearm on a running Bayley sent the Raw women's champion crumpling to the ground.
It was the first of three key blows to the head that would ultimately cost Bayley her championship. After five minutes of Bliss throwing her body around to maximize the effect of her offense, Bayley regained the momentum and held control of the match for much of the rest of the proceedings thanks to a cutter while Bliss was trapped between the middle and top rope.
A side suplex led to a two-count, but a Bayley-to-Belly was countered as Bliss threw Bayley head-first into the middle turnbuckle -- another significant moment. Bayley quickly recovered on this occasion, though, attacking Bliss as she sat on the top turnbuckle, poised for a top-rope Bayley-to-Belly to end the match.
But once again Alexa countered, hopping off the turnbuckle to hit a modified Canadian Destroyer for a two-count. Bayley countered a series of flips and offense from Bliss, hit a shining wizard and then a Macho Man-style flying elbow, only for Bliss to kick out at two. A subsequent roll-up attempt by Bayley led to a kick-out from Bliss that sent Bayley crashing into the ring post -- the final major blow to the head.
Bliss hit a dazed Bayley with a spike-DDT in the middle of the ring and got the three-count victory, to the stunned silence of the San Jose, California crowd. While certain parts of Bliss' in-ring style still need some sharpening -- and that'll come with time and more experience against other top competitors -- the strides that Bliss has made over the course of a single year are staggering. Her flips and the precision of her strikes, during which she throws her body around, maximizes on what she can do as a smaller competitor.
She's the perfect villain for Bayley, Sasha Banks and the rest of the Raw women's division to chase, and could be the perfect match to ignite the conflict between Bayley and Banks as well.