Given my history of putting the kibosh on stuff I proclaim, I’m probably putting paid to one of the things I want most in the world. But, wrestling media and social media were alight last night with reports that Sasha Banks had secured her release from WWE. No one has confirmed it, but no one has denied it either. And the timing is, shall we say, just a bit too much wag-the-dog-like.
It was hard to not notice that the Banks story broke mere hours after it leaked that Vince McMahon is in his latest jackpot, one he’ll almost certainly escape by sacrificing his lieutenant John Laurinaitis, who also apparently paid off female employees with whom he had improper relationships, if not worse. Your mileage on the connection may vary, but the main concern for WWE was clear this morning when their stock price took a dive. What could land McMahon in serious trouble is if he used company funds to pay off this particular woman to keep hush about their relationship, as well as how many other payments to how many other women the board finds in their investigation. Still, when something like this pops up on ESPN.com, you know it’s a big deal, and it’s the kind of big deal that WWE wouldn’t want to become the major story. Especially if you buy into the buzz, which is getting years old now, that Nick Khan’s job is to pump up the sale price of the company as much as he can before an actual sale. That could be another escape route for McMahon.
So how do you pull the ultimate, “Hey look over there?” You drop, or leak in this case, the smoke bomb of one of your biggest stars leaving the company. Suddenly, very few were talking about what McMahon does in his office (there’s an image for you) and everyone was much more interested in Banks’s future.
Especially when it’s as ambiguous of a situation as it is right now. Banks is still listed on the website. Talent hasn’t been notified about any release. But again, no one who has been contacted has said it’s not true or anything like it. In the confusion, the buzz grows louder with speculation, which is probably exactly what WWE wants at the moment.
Banks is the rare WWE superstar who can, excuse the phrasing, go to the mat with the company. She can afford the kind of lawyers to find the loophole to get her out of her deal, and that’s not a fight WWE would have much of a stomach for, especially right now. If she were so motivated, there was always an out for her. It would certainly be a look for the company to continue to keep her suspended for “unprofessional conduct” and tossing her under the bus on the broadcast when, well…
If indeed Banks, aka Mercedes Varnado, has gotten her professional freedom, fans are already in a frenzy about what’s next. In the wrestling arena, there already is a debate about whether or not AEW is worthy of her. There are some who believe that Tony Khan would be willing to completely remake and rebuild the women’s division around her, and certainly there hasn’t been a woman wrestler with anywhere near her wattage on the roster before. The other side is that Banks would look at the way Khan has booked the women’s division of AEW — awfully lightly and lazily, and that’s being kind — and anticipate she would run into the same kinds of creative problems there that she did with New York. And that’s almost certainly for less money than she was making with WWE.
The debate assumes that wrestling is something Banks still wants to do, which we don’t know. She’s been mum. After a role in the second season of The Mandalorian and whispers and buzz of what could be in the offing, it’s widely assumed that a career in Hollywood awaits Banks whenever she wants it. Maybe that’s what she’s after.
If she does want to stay in the ring though, at least for a little while, in some ways her options are kind of limited to AEW now. Impact can’t pay her a fraction of what she would command. She’d be a draw on the indies of course, but who could afford an appearance? Japan is the same story, though she’s been there before. She could combine all these things for a while, but that’s an awful lot of hustling for someone who doesn’t need it.
And looking at the greater landscape of AEW, if Khan truly does care about what happens with the women’s division, this is the time. His champ, CM Punk, is hurt and out for a while. The TNT title scene is a mess right now that even the dog won’t lick up. Bryan Danielson is hurt as well. What exactly is anchoring their show right now? After the Forbidden Door PPV in 10 days, there isn’t even really a main story or two to see Dynamite and Rampage through the summer (assuming something like a Kenny Omega return doesn’t happen in those 10 days) If ever there was a time to put the women’s division more front and center, it’s right now. Obviously, Banks showing up refocuses the entire company, and that’s a good thing. And it would be worth whatever Tony would have to pay her to do it. It’s lining up in a way it might never again.
There’s still a lot of miles to travel in this story. No matter how bad things are about to get in the Titan offices, losing one of your biggest stars due to your own stupidity can’t be good for business. Even if that’s the least of what Vince McMahon is about to lose, hopefully. You can’t kill WWE, but a Banks defection would be in the “seismic” category. If it does turn out to be true, The Boss certainly knows how to take advantage of an opportunity when it presents itself.