If the latest reports are to be believed, and given the quality of those doing the reporting they should be, Mercedes Varnado is headed to New Japan Pro-Wrestling shortly after we all ring in the new year in a couple weeks.
Fightful Select was able to confirm that Varnado’s exit from WWE was negotiated over the Summer, mostly likely around the time that Raj Giri of Wrestling Inc. reported that she had been released from the company.
All of this, of course, stems from the May incident where Sasha Banks & Naomi walked out on Monday Night Raw after laying their Women’s Tag Team Titles on the desk of the (former) Head of Talent Relations.
Despite coming to an agreement with the company, Sasha Banks is still listed as an active competitor on WWE’s website — mostly likely due to a non-compete that expires at the end of the year. Fightful noted in their report that Varnado was contractually unable to take any wrestling related bookings until January 1st and then confirmed the rumors that Mercedes has a date with the Tokyo Dome next month.
“The New Japan Pro Wrestling deal is a go, and was agreed upon as far back as the last week of November. Those that we’ve spoken to familiar with that deal said that they haven’t heard of anything regarding All Elite Wrestling and Mercedes yet, but also stated that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”
Here’s what we know for sure. There are a lot of people who owe Raj Giri an apology for what they said about him through out this entire process. And Sasha Banks is done with WWE. For now, and possibly for good.
This should come as a surprise to absolutely no one.
When Triple H took over as the Chief Content Officer for WWE, I believed his first official act should have been to pick up the phone and call Sasha Banks. He needed to do absolutely everything he could to mend those fences before one of his biggest crossover stars left for potentially greener pastures.
As the days, weeks and months fell off the calendar, it became evident that Sasha Banks was not returning to the company. Any and all hope of that happening went up in smoke when The Boss did not make an appearance at Survivor Series, which was held in her hometown of Boston.
She did show up at the TD Garden, but that wasn’t until a few days later when the Celtics were home to take on the Miami Heat.
Sasha Banks pulled up to the Heat-Celtics game pic.twitter.com/zrEPc7fzgd— B/R Wrestling (@BRWrestling) December 1, 2022
Being a man who prides himself on knowing what’s best for business, Triple H did pick up the phone. Negotiations were held to bring her back into the fold and ultimately, the two sides reached an impasse.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer said on his show a few days ago that money was an issue.
“[WWE] were talking to her about a return and they were very far apart on money. That was the last that I had heard. Again, could AEW afford her? She wanted a lot. What she was asking for was a very high number for a WWE woman wrestler but again, if you look at the amount of money WWE takes in, she still would have been underpaid.”
Unlike the NFL, MLB, NBA or any other sport in the world, there is no database that allows me to pull up the details of someone’s deal with WWE or any other pro wrestling company. Even the money figures we supposedly know, vary depending on which site you read. It’s mostly a mystery what each talent makes.
In the case of Sasha Banks, the latest update from Wrestling Observer is that she was seeking a number comparable with Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair. WWE said no. Apparently Banks is not viewed internally as someone who would “be on top” for the next five years and did not come close to her asking price.
WWE’s top brass believes Banks has “peaked as a star” and her return wouldn’t move the needle much past the initial honeymoon phase.
That’s a disheartening report to read for those of us who see what WWE, apparently, does not. Her mainstream appeal alone should have the company salivating at the thought of bringing her back.
The woman is nothing short of an absolute star, and a potential crossover megastar on par with The Rock once Hollywood really gets a hold of her. And just like their predecessors, it appears the new creative regime is going to miss the boat on tapping into that star power.
Despite all her accolades, including being one of only five women to ever main event a WrestleMania, Sasha Banks never reached her full potential in WWE. And while money may be the key sticking point in these negotiations, the bigger issue is that WWE seemingly doesn’t know who they are set to let walk out the door.
Sasha Banks knows exactly who she is and what she brings to the table. She knew that enough to flip the largest wrestling company in the world the metaphorical middle finger (possibly even a couple literal ones) this past spring. And its already paying off.
The Boss walked out of WWE and straight onto the red carpet at Marvel Studios’ premieres and the catwalk at New York Fashion Week. She landed another acting role on the heels of her successful debut in the Star Wars Universe. When she hopped on Bayley’s livestream this week, Varnado mentioned that she has her own make up line that’s about to launch in a couple weeks and that’s probably just scratching the surface of what she’s cooking up.
Mercedes Varnado could walk away from professional wrestling today and have a wealth of new career endeavors to choose from. It appears she’s in high demand everywhere except the place that needs her talents the most. Even if they don’t realize it.
Now, it’s entirely possible that WWE is simply playing hardball in hopes of getting the best deal for their bottom line. They are a business after all. But that’s a dangerous game to play with someone who has options and wants something you can’t provide.
I may not know her personally, but I feel very comfortable saying that Mercedes wants to be someplace where she is center stage, under the biggest spotlight imaginable. She wants to be treated like the top draw she believes herself to be.
Let’s be honest. If Sasha Banks returned to WWE tomorrow, she’d instantly be the third babyface on the depth chart on Monday Night Raw behind Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch. Dreams of her being a surprise winner of the Royal Rumble next month are just that - dreams.
Triple H may be running the show now, but it appears WWE is on trajectory to book the same two Women’s Championship matches at WrestleMania 39 that Vince McMahon would have put on the card himself.
- Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch for the SmackDown Women’s Championship
- Bianca Belair vs. Charlotte Flair for the RAW Women’s Championship
Rumors are there’s a strong push for Rhea Ripley to get the nod against Bianca, and frankly you can sign me up for that right now. Even if they go that direction, I wouldn’t be surprised if Flair ends up in there somewhere as well. A Triple Threat match could always be a possibility. To be honest, I don’t hate that idea either.
Just keep Charlotte away from Ronda Rousey. That’s a feud that has run it’s course and does not need to be rekindled any time soon. Especially now that both women are heels. It just wouldn’t work. Rousey desperately needs a Batman to her Joker, which is why SmackDown is the perfect home for Sasha Banks.
Some people may think otherwise, but the Blue Brand is not short on talent in its Women’s Division. It is however, short on talent that is over with the audience. SmackDown needs Sasha and it needs her badly while WWE continues to build up women like Raquel Rodriquez, Tegan Nox, and Emma and works its way around to Liv Morgan’s next singles push.
Let us not forget. A possible catalyst for Banks’ issues with the company, which led to her walkout months later, was when Ronda Rousey was brought back to win the Royal Rumble and face Charlotte at WrestleMania 38. A spot that appeared to be Banks’ before WWE Creative brought in the Baddest Woman on the Planet.
The hard part is done. The storyline has been written. Put those two on television together and let them cook. I’d love to see Rousey vs. Banks II. In my opinion, Sasha has gotten the best match out of Ronda Rousey in her entire WWE tenure and I don’t think it’s relatively close.
But ultimately, as great as the story and match has the potential to be, Banks would likely just be a place holder. A building block in another Becky Lynch\Ronda Rousey WrestleMania showdown.
What could Triple H possibly offer her, besides the Charlotte & Becky-sized bag of cash she reportedly wants, to come back? Outside of Trish Stratus or Bayley, is there a WrestleMania program juicy enough to entice her to forgo her upcoming big paydays from NJPW and rush back to the company?
Whether WWE truly doesn’t view Sasha Banks as a top level Superstar or they simply don’t have a spot on the card to justify cutting that large of a check right now, she is not getting the payday she wants.
So if you’re Varnado, why not go do something you’ve always dreamed of and wrestle in Japan?
Voices of Wrestling reported that Banks’ deal with NJPW is on an per appearance basis and she has multiple dates lined up. The bigger headline is that parent company Bushiroad shelling out more money to Sasha than they ever have — for anyone. Even Chris Jericho, who Wrestling Observer had reported was getting paid $100,000 a show when he worked for NJPW [Editor’s note: Jericho has since tweeted that those reports are “completely wrong” and he was never paid a flat fee per event].
Which goes to show you that it’s not always about how much you can pay, but sometimes how much you can pay relative to everyone else.
And sometimes your value to a company means more than the monetary value they can provide you. That’s why no one should be surprised if Mercedes Varnado (or whichever new name she chooses) shows up in AEW in the very near future. Maybe even as soon as the January 11 episode of Dynamite.
Varnado would be a game changer for AEW’s Women’s Division, and arguably the biggest free agent signing in the history of Tony Khan’s company. And it’s a signing I hope comes to fruition.
We live in a healthy wrestling universe. It’s a thriving community where talent, for the first time in a long time, has multiple viable options to make a good living with their craft. That’s all anyone, in any field, could want.
Just a few short years ago, Varnado would have had little to no choice to accept WWE’s lowball offer if she wanted to stay in professional wrestling. Now she has an opportunity to go out and prove to WWE that they have the wrong opinion about her. A formula that worked well for Cody Rhodes.
If you’re a fan of Varnado’s work, follow her to which ever company is lucky enough to land her services. Get tribalism out of your heart. It’s all wrestling and it’s all awesome, even when it’s not. I just want her back wrestling on my TV screen. I don’t care what company owns the ring.
At just 30 years-old, Varnado is already a guaranteed Hall of Famer and someone who has left behind a legacy that will inspire generations of future professional wrestlers. I’m glad her contributions to the business are not coming to an end just yet.
Will we ever see Sasha Banks back in WWE? I believe the answer is yes. But it’s very likely that Boss Time(!) won’t be happening any time soon.