A young peasant girl comes home from uni to watch SmackDown. An injury to the Women’s Champion necessitates an impromptu title match in her hometown. The fighting is short but fierce. Punches. Kicks. Heads bonk together. Great feats of strength are performed by a woman on one leg. Finally, a beautiful British lady wrestler wins the match, becomes the Women’s Champion of the World and starts screaming over and over. On the opposite side of the world, the peasant girl watching on television also starts screaming over and over. To this day, she is still screaming.
That young peasant girl was me.
And that lady wrestler was Layla.
Fair dinkum I yelled so loudly when she won the title that my father came running in thinking I’d hurt something. (“I’m fine Dad, some sheila just won on the wrestling,” I say, as he rolls his eyes.) Then I’m pretty sure I ran around the house high-fiving my mother. I was an amazingly cool 19 year old.
I’m embarassing myself like this just to demonstrate how completely head and shoulders in love I am with Layla. You better get your ponchos out because – in a stark departure from the rest of my pieces – I am going to gush like a geyser.
You see, when Victoria left WWE in January 2009 she left a decidedly Victoria-shaped hole in my heart. If you recall, Victoria showed me that in wrestling, I like my heels like I like my women: goofy and clever and showing a whole lot of ass. (A line so nice I’ll use it twice.)
Anyway, cue Layla. She’d been around since winning the Diva Search in 2006 and already showed a lot of potential, but when she hooked up with Michelle McCool and formed LayCool she embraced her inner Victoria and became the bumpiest, stoogiest, goofiest heel of all time. It was like I dreamt her into existence.
She had a deadset smorgasbord of shtick. She would mock and taunt and poke and prod, and then scream and run away in terror when anyone came after her. She loved to jump into Michelle’s arms, or hide behind her. And when she was REALLY threatened, she would… curl up into a ball on the floor. Like a toddler, just turtle up and hope that “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me!” still works as an adult.
Then she’d get caught and just EAT some shit in the most glorious way.
What a bumper she was! By the time we get to LayCool she is absolutely eating offense for lunch and bumping like crazy. She made everyone look good, particularly someone like Beth Phoenix, who would fold her completely in half. They had a match on Superstars that is basically a five minute snapshot of peak Layla – Laycool cut a promo belittling Beth, who came out and chased Layla around, Layla stooged her bits off until she was caught and bumped into another dimension as she cried and begged for mercy. I have watched that match about fifty million times. It is pure, unadulterated fun.
That’s what Layla was, really. Fun. She was the silly one that brought all of the ridiculous, over the top hamming to the LayCool act and their segments. She definitely brought that stuff out of Michelle McCool, who had always struggled with promos and showing personality before this. I already went into how much Michelle needed Layla to fully develop as a wrestler. In turn, Layla needed Michelle too; Michelle brought credibility and her Terminator-ness to the act and allowed Layla to goof off to her heart’s content. Working with Michelle also helped Layla become a much better wrestler, and honestly by 2010 I think Layla had an even better year in the ring than Michelle did.
But that’s me splitting hairs because they were both fantastic in 2010. Well, really for the entire LayCool run. I remember they would have these nifty little tags with any combination of the blondes on SmackDown – Kelly Kelly, Tiffany, Beth, Natalya – these matches were usually only two minutes or so, but they were just about the best two minute tag team matches you could possibly have. LayCool got pretty well hosed when it came to match time on SmackDown, but in true Diva fashion they always made the most of any time that they got.
On the rare occasion that they got time they really shined, taking the time to bust out old school heel tricks and use the referee to get some proper heat going. They had a random tag team match on Superstars that for some inexplicable reason was the longest women’s match in WWE since literally the 1980s. Absolute manna from heaven. This thing was just after TLC where Nattie put them both through the table, and seriously, Michelle and Layla sold the aftermath of that one table bump more than people like Shane McMahon sell leaping 30ft to their untimely deaths.
LayCool did it all as an act – promos, skits, short matches, slightly less short matches. They even managed to sneak in some epic, long term, Breaking Bad-esqe storytelling as well. And it was Layla’s character and her acting of it that drove the story of their eventual break up – it was all about her vulnerability and feelings of inadequacy compared to Michelle. For such a goofball who spent all her time cracking bad jokes and cartoon bumping her ass off, she was doing some legit character work at the same time.
I want to get back to those bumps for a second. I still can’t get over Layla saying that the first bumps she ever took were ON TELEVISION during her first match on SmackDown. (Chorus: Fuck this company!) But the truly crazy thing about it is that you would never, ever know.
She looked SO GOOD in that battle royal, brief as it was. I watched it before I even knew Layla had said that, and I just kept saying to myself how astonishingly solid she looked for her first match. And she continued to do so whenever they put her in the ring, which was only sporadically for the first 12 months. But really, I shouldn’t have been surprised she turned out as good as she did, because she sure showed a lot of promise pretty much from the get go.
She had debuted as a babyface after winning the Diva Search, but this woman was a born heel. Once Extreme Expose broke up on ECW (R.I.P.) and Layla began wrestling as a heel she immediately seemed to get it. One thing I noticed in particular is that no matter the match or how much time they got, Layla always took the time to target a body part and take over the face by working an arm or leg. Like the world’s hottest Arn Anderson.
I’m sure the six months she spent working with William Regal as his valet didn’t hurt her education in villainous bodypart work either. I really only mention this pairing just so I have an excuse to bring up the time that Layla threw her shoe across the whole ass ring at CM Punk and nailed him right in the fucking head.
But I digress.
Layla became a babyface again after LayCool ended in tears (R.I.P.) and she wasn’t quite the same, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Well, Layla tried, anyway. The company, not so much. LayCool were horrid people and completely unlikeable and they never made any effort to rehab her character once it was over, so she never got much in the way of sympathy. But Layla did her best by buying all the way into WWE’s Smiling, Dancing Babyfaces Just Want To Put Smiles On The Faces Of The WWE Universe policy. She smiled, she danced, she joked around in the ring, and she got a new sickeningly cheesy theme song. From the world’s hottest Arn Anderson to the world’s hottest R-Truth.
In the ring she made a great effort to switch it up her style and work as a babyface. Heel shtick was replaced with Smilin’ Babyface shtick, and she brought in cool, lucha-inspired moves like the double pump springboard crossbody and her wacky running rollup. And even if she never truly got over as a face, she sure had a lot of good matches as one. Great PPV matches with Beth Phoenix, great title bouts with Eve Torres. Her and AJ Lee even opened a SmackDown episode with a women’s match for the first time in, well, actually ever, I think.
The final few years of her career were mainly frustrating, as injuries and other issues kept pulling her away from TV. We just get little glimpses of Layla, like the feud with Summer Rae over Fandango and the ensuing tag team with her that stole my poor gay heart. Or when she turned heel on Kaitlyn in 2013 and immediately started partying like it was 2010, bumping and stooging away for a hot minute until she vanished again. Layla was one of the few to have fun matches with Tamina during this time, and even her second last match was a cool romp with Emma in the UK. I always missed her like crazy when she was gone, and marked like a mofo when she came back. They really could have used her a LOT more in those years.
But alas, Layla quietly retired in late 2015, having spent nine years on the roster, which at the time was the longest full-time run for a women’s wrestler in WWE history (Nattie and Foxy have outlasted her now). Not bad for someone who didn’t even start wrestling full-time until the age of 30.
It’s no secret at this point that I love a lot of these women, so sometimes it’s hard to tell one of my loves from another. But apart from Trish Stratus herself, I think Layla is the Diva that I loved the absolute very most when she was around. Certainly I’ve never marked harder for anyone winning any title in wrestling than I did for Layla winning hers. I can still remember watching it clear as day, sitting in this room, in the exact same spot on this earth that I’m in now.
In some ways, I really haven’t stopped screaming since.
It’s hard to come down from Layla, so I say don’t come down, just keep mainlining Divas! So next week I’ll be making another deep dive straight into my bloody, beating heart.
Check it out:
Layla vs. Melina (Smackdown, August 14th 2009)
Layla vs. Beth Phoenix (Superstars, April 8th 2010)
Laycool vs. Kelly & Tiffany (Smackdown, May 21st 2010)
Layla vs. Tiffany (Superstars, August 5th 2010)
Laycool vs. Beth & Natalya (Smackdown, December 31st 2010)
Layla vs. Beth Phoenix – Divas Title (Over the Limit 2012)
Layla vs. Beth Phoenix – Divas Title (No Way Out 2012)
Layla vs. Eve Torres – Divas Title (Night of Champions 2012)
Layla vs. Natalya (Smackdown, November 14th 2014)
Layla vs. Emma (Main Event, April 15th 2015)