Report: Sasha Banks' NJPW Contract Surprised WWE Writers; Believed She'd Be at Rumble

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 4, 2023

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 15: Mercedes Varnado aka Sasha Banks attends the world premiere of Marvel Studios' upcoming new series "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on August 15, 2022. (Photo by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)
Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney

Some WWE creative writers were reportedly surprised by Sasha Banks' decision to leave WWE and join both New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Stardom.

According to Fightful Select (h/t Subhojeet Mukherjee of Ringside News), the writers were caught "off-guard" by the move, and one had even expected her to make an appearance at the Royal Rumble premium live event later this month before she instead chose to sign with New Japan.

Banks' NJPW debut occurred on Wednesday at Wrestle Kingdom 17, as he attacked Kairi following her successful IWGP Women's Championship defense against Tam Nakano and challenged Kairi to a match at the Feb. 18 NJPW Battle in the Valley event in San Jose, California:

njpwworld @njpwworld

IT'S MERCEDES MONÉ!<a href="https://twitter.com/MercedesVarnado?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@mercedesvarnado</a> is in the Tokyo Dome!!!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/wk17?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#wk17</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/njpw?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#njpw</a> <a href="https://t.co/PD54lqLr1L">pic.twitter.com/PD54lqLr1L</a>

In addition to changing her look, Banks also changed her name for her NJPW debut, now going by the moniker Mercedes Moné.

There has been no shortage of speculation regarding the future of Banks in recent months, especially once it seemed likely that her WWE tenure was over.

Wrestling Inc.'s Raj Giri reported in June that WWE had released Banks, and it was later reported by Fightful's Sean Ross Sapp that she was free to negotiate wrestling bookings with companies outside of WWE as of Jan. 1, 2023.

Regarding the relationship between Banks and WWE, things went awry for all parties involved in the hours leading up to the May 16, 2022 Raw. Banks and Naomi, who were the reigning WWE women's tag team champions at the time, had been scheduled to compete in a six-pack challenge to determine Bianca Belair's opponent for the Raw Women's Championship at Hell in a Cell.

Instead, the match was changed to a singles bout between Becky Lynch and Asuka, and the Raw commentary team labeled Sasha and Naomi as "unprofessional" for walking out before the show.

Fightful Select (h/t H Jenkins of Ringside News) reported that the plan was for Naomi to win the six-pack challenge before losing to Belair at Hell in a Cell.

Banks and Naomi reportedly expressed concern over what the situation meant for their future as tag champs and left when WWE refused to make any creative changes.

During the May 16 Raw, WWE released a statement on the matter, saying that Banks and Naomi placed their titles on the desk of then-head of talent relations John Laurinaitis and left the building:

B/R Wrestling @BRWrestling

Sasha Banks and Naomi walked out on tonight’s Raw after Banks had issues with “creative ideas pitched,” per <a href="https://twitter.com/PWInsidercom?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PWInsidercom</a><br><br>WWE issued a statement afterwards <a href="https://t.co/c7PZc3K4KL">pic.twitter.com/c7PZc3K4KL</a>

On SmackDown later that week, WWE announced the indefinite suspension of Banks and Naomi and also stripped them of the WWE Women's Tag Team Championships, which they had won at WrestleMania in April.

Banks, 30, signed with WWE in 2012 and went on to become one of the most decorated female Superstars in WWE history.

In addition to competing in the first Iron Woman match and women's Hell in a Cell match in WWE history, Banks is a five-time Raw women's champion, one-time SmackDown women's champion, one-time NXT women's champion and three-time WWE women's tag team champion.

She also headlined Night 1 of WrestleMania 37 against Belair, which was the first one-on-one women's main event in WrestleMania history.

The Boss has even become a crossover star by appearing in the hugely popular Star Wars Disney+ series The Mandalorian as Koska Reeves.

Those factors seemingly would have made re-signing her a huge priority for WWE, but it is possible Banks already had her sights set on Japan.

Now, NJPW and Stardom have another of the top women's wrestlers in the world on their roster, and a chance to gain greater exposure than ever before thanks to Banks' crossover appeal.

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