Shayna Baszler | WWE

Shayna Baszler is coming back to Game Changer Wrestling’s “Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport.”

Barnett himself made the announcement Tuesday, marking the out WWE star’s return to GCW on July 28 after a brutal, impressive debut during WrestleMania Week in Philadelphia earlier this year.

Her match against TNA star Masha Slamovich on that card drew rave reviews and generated an atmosphere rarely felt in pro wrestling. It was a huge deal to see Baszler step into a non-WWE ring because of WWE’s staunch separation of itself from other spheres of pro wrestling over the last 20-plus years.

WWE indeed began softening that stance over the previous year with Shinsuke Nakamura and Charlie Dempsey working matches in Japanese promotions Pro Wrestling Noah and All Japan Pro Wrestling respectively. Seeing that walled garden penetrated in the U.S. represented something completely different.

The matchup itself served as a bit of foreshadowing as well given the recent working relationship hatched between WWE’s NXT brand and TNA Wrestling. TNA stars like Jordynne Grace, Joe Hendry and Frankie Kazarian have appeared on NXT programming over the last month while NXT star Tatum Paxley returned the favor on TNA programming.

As more teases come on both companies’ TV shows, I can’t help but look back to the images of Baszler and Slamovich battling one another and see a seed being planted. Even if the idea wasn’t present in the minds of WWE and TNA executives, watching the two match each other in viciousness on one of the most popular independent wrestling cards of the year revealed the specialness of these kinds of crossovers.

But that match represents much more when focusing specifically on Baszler. The “Queen of Spades” found success in WWE, winning multiple championships during her tenure in the company, yet the image of her walking down the aisle, flanked by tag team partner Zoey Stark, toward a ring with no ropes and the expectation for a different style of pro wrestling communicated something different.

That moment took on a heightened sense of realness in an art form defined by simulating realness. Baszler didn’t just seem at home in the Bloodsport environment, it felt like a home she already owned. Part of that is obviously due to her history in MMA prior to pro wrestling and her close relationship with Barnett, but it was something more.

While positioned as an intimidating competitor on WWE programming, Baszler carried the aura of a monster during her afternoon in GCW. She was embraced by the established Bloodsport audience yet she drew fans, particularly LGBTQ fans, who don’t always feel connected to the hyper-masculine aura Bloodsport emanates.

Baszler is by no means the first out LGBTQ pro wrestler to feature on Bloodsport cards (Lindsay Snow, “Speedball” Mike Bailey), but Baszler opened the door even further for LGBTQ fans to get in on the shoot-style fun.

That more than anything is why Baszler returning to Bloodsport feels like a huge deal. WWE loosening its restrictions and the promise of seeing Baszler trade hits with another tough-as-nails woman are great, but what her presence means to those who don’t feel like they have a place within that audience supersedes all of that. If she owns that house then many others feel like they can cross that threshold.