All wrestlers have to start somewhere on the path to making their dreams a reality, whether it be a wrestling school, church basement, bingo hall, etc. From there, those wrestlers work their way up to the pinnacle of their dreams. For many, that’s a career in WWE or more recently AEW, IMPACT! Wrestling or even NJPW. But sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. In LWOPW’s newest feature, “Before They Were Famous,” we take a look at the pre-WWE careers of some of the company’s top current stars, following along on their road to superstardom. This time, we take a look at the “The Queen of Spades,” the mixed martial artist turned WWE Superstar, Shayna Baszler.
If there is one term that can be used to describe Shayna Baszler, it would be “legit.” For nearly a decade, she made her name in mixed martial arts, securing victories and accolades along the way. This success would carry over into the world of professional wrestling, where she prospered as well. In short, “The Submission Magician” isn’t smoke and mirrors. To get a better understanding of her success across various athletic endeavors, we must go back to the beginning.
Shayna Baszler in MMA
Born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Shayna Baszler developed an athletic background throughout her life. This was largely due to her father and uncle being wrestling coaches. She also recalls being outspoken as a child, though it could be argued this helped her as a confident fighter and wrestler. During the mid-2000s, Baszler began her training in mixed martial arts. She learned under current Bellator MMA star Josh Barnett, who also wrestled professionally around the world. In addition to Billy Robinson, Barnett has been credited as her wrestling trainer as well.
Baszler began her MMA career for Reality Cage Fighting, picking up a submission victory over Tina Johnson in 2003. As time went on, she began to incorporate more flair to her presentation. Not only did she make her entrances with an electric guitar, which became a hallmark of sorts for her, but she would adopt the nickname “The Submission Magician.” The genesis of this moniker was her ability to perform card tricks. The idea was that her submission game seemed so otherworldly that it was like magic.
Building a Kingdom
In the years that followed, Baszler fought for other MMA organizations. These included, but weren’t limited to, Elite Xtreme Combat, Freestyle Cage Fighting, and Strikeforce. Her submission game was becoming increasingly popular, but this wasn’t to say that “The Queen of Spades’” offense was limited. Her ability to strike and choke opponents added to her legitimacy. In 2013, however, she took part in fights that would translate to her wrestling career only a few years later.
In March of 2013, The Ultimate Fighting Championship formally announced their upcoming series, “The Ultimate Fighter: Team Rousey vs. Team Tate.” The goal of this series was to pit a number of fighters coached by Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. The following summer, it was announced that Baszler would be part of the event. After Baszler defeated Colleen Schneider, Rousey selected the former to be part of her team as the first member. Baszler went on to face Julianna Pena, but fell short in the encounter. After a few additional UFC fights, Baszler parted ways with the organization. Pro wrestling was calling her name.
The Wrestling Rookie Years of Shayna Baszler
Though Baszler appeared for Ring of Honor in March of 2015 – she accompanied reDRagon, the team of Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly – it wasn’t until the following September when she made her in-ring debut. Her first match took place at Quintessential Pro Wrestling, where she faced Cheerleader Melissa in a losing effort. The following October, she worked a few dates for World Wonder Ring Stardom‘s America tour. In her first match for the promotion, she worked with Oedo Tai members Act Yasukawa, Kris Wolf, and Kyoko Kimura. Later that month, she picked up her first singles victory in Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling, besting Nicole Matthews.
Baszler’s work across the independent circuit continued into 2016. March saw Baszler make her first appearance for PREMIER Wrestling, where she bested her past MMA opponent, Schneider. In April, Baszler debuted for Absolute Intense Wrestling against Mia Yim. The following May saw Baszler make her debut for SHIMMER Wrestling, where she picked up victories against the likes of Solo Darling and Rhia O’Reilly. In time, the hard work of “The Queen of Spades” began to pay off.
During the latter half of 2016, Baszler captured various championships. As she claimed the PREMIER Women’s Championship in July and the AIW Women’s Championship the following September, her resume steadily grew. She would go on to win the QPW Women’s Championship from Christina Von Eerie in October, only to drop it back to her later during the same event she won it. Baszler would wrap up the year with additional SHIMMER appearances, aligning herself with Nicole Savoy and Mercedes Martinez. Up until 2016, Baszler wrestled in North America alone. This would change the following year.
In 2017, Baszler returned to Stardom, this time in the organization’s home country of Japan. Most of her bouts were in tags and multi-person scenarios, though she had a few singles contests to speak of. Case and point, in February, she challenged Io Shirai for the World of Stardom Championship. In what many viewers considered the match of the night, Shirai retained. With that said, this wouldn’t be the final time that they would square off.
Back in the states, Baszler’s resume continued to grow. In April, at the WrestleCon Women’s SuperShow, she won the DDT Ironman Heavymetal Championship. The following May, she made her way across continents toward Australia. It was here she debuted for New Horizon Pro Wrestling, where she competed in the Global Conflict Tournament. By defeating Madison Eagles, not only did Baszler win the tournament but the IndyGurlz Australia Championship as well. By July, she started wrapping up her independent dates, including a few appearances for Bar Wrestling. “The Submission Magician” was WWE-bound.
The WWE Debut of Shayna Baszler
Baszler made her WWE debut in a historic way. Enter the inaugural Mae Young Classic, which brought women’s wrestlers from around the world to compete under a single banner. To say Baszler was formidable would be an understatement. From Yim to Candice LeRae and beyond, Baszler was equal parts dominant and dangerous. It didn’t hurt that she had the support of her “Four Horsewomen” comrades Rousey, Marina Shafir, and Jessamyn Duke, who cheered her on in the front row. Though Baszler lost to Kairi Sane in the finals, the former mixed martial artist would go on to become one of the most successful women’s wrestlers in NXT history. She wasn’t shy about going to the extremes to win, even if it meant sacrificing an arm or two.
In April of 2018, at NXT TakeOver: New Orleans, Baszler bested Ember Moon to become the new NXT Women’s Champion. Her first run was incredibly strong as she picked up victories over Dakota Kai and Nikki Cross, just to name a few challengers. By August, Baszler would be without the title, as Sane triumphed over “The Submission Magician” at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV. Baszler ensured that Sane’s only NXT Women’s Championship would be short-lived; in October, at WWE Evolution, Baszler claimed the title for a second time. In addition to being the first wrestler to hold the NXT Women’s Championship on more than one occasion, she held the title for a total of 549 days, the most of any titleholder.
Shayna Baszler’s Move to the Main Roster
As much as she thrived in NXT, Baszler was primed for the main roster. While she was still an NXT talent, she made sporadic main roster appearances. She was part of the women’s scene during the build to Survivor Series in November of 2019. On this show, she faced RAW Women’s Champion Becky Lynch and SmackDown Women’s Champion Bayley in a triple threat match, which concluded with Baszler picking up the win. The following January, Baszler participated in the Women’s Royal Rumble. She racked up a record-setting eight eliminations, disposing of names including Xia Li, Toni Storm, and WWE Hall of Famer Beth Phoenix.
This past February, Shayna Baszler made her debut as an official member of the main roster. She viciously attacked Lynch during an episode of Monday Night RAW; this would set up their RAW Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania 36 the following April. Before then, she had a dominant showing in the Women’s Elimination Chamber match in March. She succeeded in eliminating the five other competitors, which was another record-setting moment. In just a matter of months, the WWE Universe at large recognized the power, aggression, and most importantly, the submission game Baszler had become synonymous with.
With a renewed focus on RAW, who knows what the future holds for Shayna Baszler? She may not have the immediate success on the main roster that many expected, but with this new fire, “The Queen of Spades” seems to be playing with a brand-new hand. How long will it be until she’s not only holding championship gold once again but reigning supreme across the WWE women’s division? Time will tell, but those that stand in her way are sure to be in for a world of hurt.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.