I’ll admit I was one of the ones that had hope. While the WWE product had left me cold at best for a long while, and utterly bewildered at worst, when Triple H took over creative I had hope. After all, my re-entrance to wrestling fandom was due to HHH’s NXT on WWE Network. Indirectly, and he’ll never take responsibility for it, but HHH was the reason I found NJPW and eventually AEW. That’s because his NXT incorporated so much and was so enthralling you had to watch it all and felt motivated to find more stuff like it. While I never expected him to turn the main roster into that NXT, I hoped that there would be strong elements of it.
It was not a good weekend for anyone who had the belief that WWE could be better now. And that mostly centered around the news that HHH and WWE lowballed the former Sasha Banks, soon to be Mercedes Moné or Mercedes Varnado or something else in other companies. While negotiating her return to New York with the new regime after walking out on Vince McMahon, Banks wanted to be paid like the top female stars in the company. They balked. They said she wouldn’t be the same star she is now in five years. They said she wasn’t the same star as Becky Lynch or Charlotte.
For a company that specialized in some of the wackiest bullshit for decades or more, this one will register near the top. And it might take the cake if Sasha/Mercedes has a chip on her shoulder and is hell-bent on proving just how wrong they were in her sojourn to NJPW/Stardom or if should she arrive in AEW. While Becky Lynch or Charlotte may be bigger stars, and that’s hardly an automatic, neither are the in-ring worker that Sasha is. They would tell you that. Lynch is good, and can produce a classic with the right dance partner. She’s got an outsized personality for sure. Charlotte too is capable of great matches…the four times a year she actually tries.
Banks can work with anyone and produce a good to great match with everyone. She never takes a match off. You can tell how dedicated she is to her craft by how often she’s gone to live in Japan or Mexico to train in a different style. She loves wrestling in a way that certainly Charlotte can’t match. Sasha is probably still the women’s division’s only in-ring general.
And it’s not like she lacks personality. Or was that someone else who booked a regular character on The Mandalorian off an appearance on Hot ones? Her “Boss” character was the greatest thing that HHH’s NXT produced, full stop. How could he of all people not recognize her worth? Wonder what could be the difference between Sasha and Becky/Charlotte? Might take a second to figure that one out. Especially as we watch Ronda Rousey wander through yet another match with a giant, “I’M HERE FOR THE CHECK” sign over her head. That’s what WWE wants to build its women’s division around?
As historic as Becky’s run and Wrestlemania main event was, the two best women’s Wrestlemania matches still involved Sasha Banks (the first triple threat with Charlotte and Becky in 2016, and then her main event with Bianca Belair in 2021). That’s no accident. Just go back to Sasha’s match with Io Shirai during the pandemic and ask if any of the women who are considered top in WWE’s mind could produce that. My ass (and I love Becky! But let’s be honest here). There would be lots who tell you that Becky’s best match during her run on top of the whole company was the Hell In A Cell with Sasha.
It is stunning, and beyond perplexing, that WWE and HHH are simply going to let Sasha walk wherever she wants. It is likely she will make Stardom what NJPW was five or six years ago, the cult favorite among wrestling fans that rapidly grows in popularity in America thanks to matches that get everyone talking and everyone has to see. If Tony Khan is willing to put up the money WWE wouldn’t, and he would have to be completely off his ass not to, she will absolutely redefine what AEW is. And AEW will get a Mercedes that is determined to have every kind of match she’s ever wanted to, not just the same WWE style he had to put on for years. When was the last time we saw her with an opponent who could throw her through the roof? Have we? Jamie Hayter, Nyla Rose, Jade Cargill, and eventually Kris Statlander will be lining up to do so. Then she can have a Joshi match the next week with Riho or Hikaru Shida. And then perhaps just a straight-up work-rate classic with Toni Storm or a returning Thunder Rosa or Ruby Soho. Perhaps she’s the mean girl heel that kickstarts the Willow Nightingale white meat babyface run that we all know is coming. She can do anything she wants. Watch how a Sasha Banks that can do anything she wants takes over the wrestling world. Somehow, that’s not worth a couple extra hundred grand to a company raking in billions.
Was WWE worried that she would eventually heed the call of Hollywood? When has WWE ever had a problem with that? Aren’t they going to fistfuck The Rock into the next WrestleMania main event? Isn’t John Cena going to be there? Why is Sasha being punished for even just the possibility of that?
It wasn’t just the Sasha Banks nonsense. Late last week the company fired Mandy Rose for some photos she had leaked off her FanTime site. We know WWE has had that policy restricting the other outlets their performers can profit from, shutting down some Twitch streams or the like. And yet WWE didn’t have a problem with what Mandy was doing until some things out of her control broke.
Nude photos were a violation of Rose’s contract. And yet it looks awfully strange that WWE got so much mileage out of how Rose looked, which was still the main crux of her character on NXT (though she was more than competent in the ring, but it was not the main feature). Here WWE had a wrestler that they constantly billed as a sexbomb, happy to promote her Instagram photos, and yet they blanch when she starts making more money off of that than they were paying her? The idea that WWE didn’t know what Rose was sharing on her page until it leaked publicly is pretty laughable. The whole “Won’t Someone Please Think Of The Children?!” act wears thin given Rose’s presentation for over a year on NXT, and as champ.
It’s not that it’s all been a loss since HHH manned the conn. WWE still has the best story going in wrestling with Sami Zayn and the Bloodline. Except you can’t help but feel it won’t live up to all it can be when they force The Rock into WrestleMania, even though Zayn-Roman Reigns would be the far better wrestling story. Raw is still a stale mess where nothing ever ends (Judgement Day vs. A.J. Styles and crew until Edge is healthy, which we’ve already seen, the top title on the show is just three guys, etc.) None of the names HHH has brought back have made a huge impact on either show, except for maybe Dakota Kai, and she and Iyo never defend the tag titles. The matches get more time to breathe, which is good, and there are better matches on TV more consistently. And yet it feels like it could all be so much more.
And they let so much more just walk out the door, for their own convoluted (or not all that convoluted) reasons. Feels like we’re going to be waiting on the change we hoped for a while longer yet.