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No Briefcase Required: Bianca Belair Is the Biggest Star in the WWE Universe

The current ‘Raw’ Women’s champion is operating on a different level than the rest of the WWE, and we have the stats to prove it

WWE/Ringer illustration

Bianca Belair has won a Royal Rumble match (then lasted 56 minutes in another), a Survivor Series match (as its Sole Survivor, no less), the Elimination Chamber, and two WrestleMania title matches.

Since the beginning of last year.

Oh, and that first WrestleMania championship match was also the company’s first main event in front of a live crowd in over a year, on top of being her WrestleMania debut. And, because of the pandemic—and the Thunderdome of it all—her victory over Sasha Banks was also her first time ever on the main roster in front of a paying crowd. At this year’s WrestleMania, Belair and Becky Lynch—the only other woman to win a WrestleMania main event—anchored the first evening as the last legitimate match on the card before the grand opening of Stone Cold’s Whoop Ass Emporium (featuring a special appearance by TV’s “Kevin Owens”!) at AT&T Stadium.

Following that match, Belair sits undefeated at 28-0 (with one no contest), including two Raw Women’s Championship defenses at the last two premium live events. I’m telling you all this not to remind everyone I spend far too much time on, but to make this next sentence as clear as possible. No one in the Institute of Kayfabemetrics—which may or may not consist of me and my cats Hank and Dean (the VenPurr Bros.)—was surprised when the EST officially became the center of the WWE universe after giving Carmella the K.O.D. during the WWE’s Money in the Bank premium live event. OK, maybe Hank was; he’s a sweet boy, not that bright though.

But even he saw her ascension to the top of the WWE Power Board.

We’ve been calling her the Revolutionary Force in Sports Entertainment for a reason, and it’s not just the ’90s nostalgia hits it gives us to reuse an old catchphrase. What she’s doing is, essentially, unprecedented, and unlike some of the previous performers who have been in her position in the company hierarchy, she also happens to be one of the best in-ring performers of her generation.

Speaking of which, it’s probably bad form in a piece about the greatness of Bianca Belair to compare her to Kevin Nash, but the only way out is through. And there’s a 6-foot-10 man wearing tasseled leather pants standing in our way of understanding WWE’s favorite way to make megastars. This is because Nash was the first performer on record to ever receive the “Diesel Push.”

As you may in fact have figured out on your own, the Diesel Push is named after Kevin Nash’s truck-based character—never forget, kids, that Diesel is “that which makes a Mack truck go”—and his insane 1994 through 1995: After eliminating seven men to start off the year in the ’94 Royal Rumble, Diesel won the Tag Team and Intercontinental titles, then eliminated four men and eventually the entirety of his own team at Survivor Series four days before beating Bob Backlund for Nash’s first (and only) WWF Championship, which he then held until the next year’s Survivor Series.

In comparison to Belair’s, Diesel’s accomplishments seem relatively minor—he didn’t win the Rumble (and only spent 15 minutes in it, despite being mythically remembered for dominating it) or the Survivor Series match and never main-evented a WrestleMania—but for the time, it was one of the most dominant runs any young wrestling fan had ever seen before someone won the title. It also represented an evolution as to how WWE built up competitors in the eyes of the fans.

Familiar to us here in the future, the Diesel path usually starts with the Royal Rumble, which is known around these parts as the WWE’s State of the Union. The goal of the show (in its best years) is to set a kind of public agenda for the WWE’s plans, at least through WrestleMania season (which in nearly every way functions as the WWE equivalent of a political party convention). From there, familiar stops like SummerSlam flops—where Nash lost the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship after a Michaels-related mishap, while Belair lasted 26 seconds after being blindsided by Becky Lynch—and dominant Survivor Series performances act as touchstones for fans. Even now, as the PPVs have become PLEs and fill in every month of the calendar since Diesel left.

Because in the WWE, like the PGA Tour or the ATP/WTA tours, wins at certain shows matter more than others. This, on some level, is the core conceit behind what we do each week on the Power Board: try to reverse-engineer how WWE values its properties and shows to create a numerical hierarchy. Unlike, say, baseball, the goal of these numbers isn’t to tell you who is objectively the best—though in Belair’s case, she almost certainly is—but to determine who the WWE wants you to think is the best.

In fact, the best way to think about it may be the reverse: If baseball worked the way wrestling does, every team would want the player they want to be the most popular to get the game-winning hit whenever it made sense for them business-wise. And in the WWE, a win at a house show is the wrestling equivalent of a single, while a win at WrestleMania is the equivalent of a grand slam, with everything else fitting in somewhere in between.

Which is why, without holding both titles at the same time, Roman Reigns would have succumbed to Belair’s considerable momentum long before this week. If not for Roman’s double championships (and their accompanying surplus/bonus value in our system), Bianca would be no. 1 in our rankings. Even if Reigns was just Universal or WWE champion, she’d still be no. 1.

Belair’s core strength—outside of her actual core strength—is the sheer number of nights she works. Behind only Drew McIntyre’s 156, Bianca’s 139 matches are the most since tracking started on January 1, 2021. With 25 more than the currently idle Charlotte and 11 more than the Usos, she’s put herself in a unique position that not even the Scottish Warrior finds himself in because, unlike McIntyre, most of her time in the ring has had significant stakes attached.

This, of course, brings us to the very edge of the weeds: Part of our formula includes placing a value on title and certain other gimmick matches that then creates an average to tell you how important the matches in which someone consistently finds themselves are. Put as simply as possible, if you were to have a score of 0 in this, it would mean you’ve never worked a world title match, and if you had a score of 1, it would mean you worked only world title matches. For Bianca, this number is more than double per match—.466 to .179—what Drew is pulling in.

And although her stats in this one specific area still lag behind Flair and Lynch (for now), they have also been on TV much longer, and have more famous names and brand equity that gets them put into big matches by default (either because they are the current champion or because they make the most marketable challenger for a live event). Which is a nice way of saying that they are often in title matches for showin’, while Bianca’s title match appearances are almost uniformly for goin’.

A more apples-to-apples comparison would be to the recently dethroned SmackDown Women’s champ, Ronda Rousey. Like the Rowdy One, Belair has been on the main roster for only two years, but unlike Rousey, she’s not a historically significant women’s athlete and/or pay-per-view star outside of wrestling. She has, instead, established herself at/above Rousey through sheer force of will and a metric ton of matches.

With more one-on-one championship matches (39) than non-title singles matches total (31) and only slightly fewer overall championship matches (76) than the average number (82) of all matches for each performer we track, the WWE has created a scenario in which you will see Bianca in as many matches that matter as anyone else on the roster has matches, period. And that matters, both in our system and in real life.

If you are constantly sold on the importance/greatness of a product (in this case, an incredible wrestler) and after paying to receive the product, it performs exactly in the way it says on the tin, that helps build brand loyalty for both the performer and their promoters. But, of course, there is a caveat: This can happen to only one or (now, with two weekly shows and two separate divisions) maybe two people at a given time.

So what other models exist for success in the WWE?

It’s a question we ask ourselves often in the Palace of Wisdom (if you must know, it’s our “thinkin’” room at Kayfabe HQ): How else does WWE project someone’s value outside of their win-loss record? The best answers we’ve been able to come up with have been the aforementioned bonuses for title holders/matches and time, the latter subject we’ll address at another ... time. (Really backed ourselves into a corner, huh?)

From the company’s perspective, a championship functions almost entirely as a prop for promotional purposes the same way “new” and “improved” does for a copywriter. A staple of house show advertisements and video montages, a championship’s true purpose is to provide added value to the top half of the company—those either holding or regularly competing for them—and, by extension, give them a distinct promotional (and in our system, numerical) advantage over their peers.

That’s not to say championships don’t have value to the performers or fans, but to state simply that the value those groups inject into belts are very rarely shared with the promotion (outside of their world championships, at least for certain companies). That is what makes the Money in the Bank contract so magical. A title without the obligation of regularly defending it, the briefcase affords its holder the iconography of success without many of the trials and tribulations that come with it—something that’s especially true when you’re the champion of a fictional fighting league.

In addition to its inherent aesthetic values, the very nature of the briefcase’s game mechanic–esque execution provides the performer with a massive boost that is, for all intents and purposes, unprecedented in the history of the medium. And, by doing so, it has helped open a new—albeit less inherently stable—path to stardom.

For someone like Liv Morgan, the massive boost that both winning the Money in the Bank briefcase and cashing it in successfully is almost entirely how they’ll find their way onto our Big Board (and, in very much the same way, as meaningful title contenders going forward). To try to put Morgan’s Money in the Bank 2022 performance in context, winning both matches in the same night (as well as beating Ronda Rousey in less than a minute of total match time) was the equivalent of a WrestleMania title victory in terms of momentum. Bursting forth with even half that much power can cause issues on reentry and have even exploded almost immediately after launch (as was the case with Missssssttteerrrrrrr Kennedy).

Which means it may not make you a WrestleMania–main-eventing superstar instantaneously. However—and as a proud (former, as they all seem to be) New Jerseyan, Morgan will likely appreciate this reference—becoming Mr. or Ms. Money in the Bank is the fastest way to a superstar getting “made” in the organization. Edge and Daniel Bryan Danielson cashed in chances for their first championship reigns and used the momentum from those relatively brief runs to carve out unique trails to WWE Hall of Fame–worthy careers. But, at least on the men’s side, for every Edge or Danielson, there’s a Damien Sandow or Baron Corbin who fumbles away their chance at instant stardom and, in the case of the former, can even see the trajectory of their entire career plummet sharply downward after their failures.

In Theory’s case, this is the fear that he’ll likely carry with him (presumably on a piece of paper inside the briefcase? To be honest, it’s up to him). Although we would presume Vince has a higher opinion of the Georgia native than either of those other two men, for someone like him who has been established as a middle-card heel of the kind with which WWE likes to populate the fatty parts of their cards, this is the worst-case scenario. It is also an odd choice for the kind of star they seem to be building Theory into. Unlike Morgan (whose appeal to fans is “what if Jeff Hardy was also Ricky Morton, only more so?”), Theory’s strengths as a performer seem to be much more in tune with what the WWE is selling with Belair.

This is why, before Money in the Bank, Theory was much, much better positioned to be a world champion than Morgan. As reigning United States champion (a title far less sullied with mid-card stink than its Intercontinental cousin), Theory could find himself just a hop, skip, and a jump away from a world championship match (see: Lashley, Bobby).

But instead, he’s had a ticking time bomb placed in his hands, with the hope that whatever happens with it, the explosion doesn’t go off in his face. Because the same things that help in our system—most specifically the “squash match effect,” wherein cash-ins often get treated like squash matches mathematically because they are usually extremely short—can engulf entirely the momentum they gained from the opportunity in the first place.

Theory now has to win or it will send a signal to fans that whatever the WWE told you about him was, if not a lie, an exaggeration, up to and including the idea that he’s Vince’s chosen one. Whether or not that would be the truth, success in the WWE has almost always been about the perspective through which the audience is able to view you. And a failed cash-in would stamp Theory as another Vince McMahon misfire.

Bianca Belair, though, would never be put in such a position. And in that sense, the numbers don’t lie. By nearly any measure, statistical or otherwise, Belair has the company’s trust. More importantly, they trust us to understand the role she plays in the WWE Universe: as a star composed of GENERATIONAL talent and seemingly unlimited charisma, around which everything else will revolve for the foreseeable future (whether it intends to or not).

Nick Bond (@TheN1ckster) is the cofounder of the Institute of Kayfabermetrics and provides weekly updates to The Ringer’s WWE Power Board.