Sasha Banks is making headlines again as fans and insiders speculate about what she will do next.
The Legit Boss hasn't entered the squared circle since May. Nevertheless, the former WWE women's tag team champion has been a trending topic all year, which is a testament to the name she has built inside and outside of the pro wrestling bubble.
Still, the 30-year-old seems primed to take another giant leap forward in 2023.
Following her abrupt exit from WWE in May, many fans expected her to eventually return to the company where she made a name for herself.
Instead, though, Banks has appeared at red-carpet events, taken part in stunning photo shoots and filmed her first movie.
That shouldn't be a surprise as she seemed destined to head to Hollywood following her role in The Mandalorian.
However, it quickly became evident that she wasn't done with wrestling just yet. In November, the women's grand slam champion revealed she had been living in Mexico for a month to train at Bandido's Gym.
Finally, a new update stunned the pro wrestling world as Mike Johnson of PWInsider reported that Banks is set to show up at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17 on Jan. 4. This lines up with a report from Fightful Select in July, which stated she wouldn't be available for wrestling-related appearances until Jan 1, 2023.
The news raises many questions about her status with WWE and what she plans to do next. Regardless, it's not hard to see that The Blueprint could be at the forefront of the next major shift in women's wrestling.
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A Landmark Year for Joshi Wrestling
Wrestle Kingdom will be a historic event. At New Japan's biggest show of the year, the inaugural IWGP women's champion Kairi will defend her title against Tam Nakano.
NJPW is a subsidiary of Bushiroad, which acquired Stardom in 2019. As a result, wrestlers from Stardom have been a part of the event for the last two years. Even more, the blossoming partnership laid the groundwork for potential inroads into the U.S. market.
During NJPW's 2022 Business Strategy Presentation on Thursday, its president Takami Ohbari announced the roster would also compete at NJPW of America shows moving forward. This led to the creation of the company's first women's championship, a mantle to defend in Japan and the U.S.
In October, Kairi and Mayu Iwatani advanced to the finals of a seven-woman tournament to crown the first champion. On Nov. 20, the former WWE star defeated Iwatani to win the prize at the first NJPW x Stardom show. The monumental victory grants her the chance to be the first woman to defend it at the Tokyo Dome on Jan. 4.
The inception of the IWGP Women's Championship is one of many developments that suggest 2023 will be a landmark year for Joshi wrestling. Stardom has grown exponentially under Bushiroad, and the promotion is producing some of its best shows. It feels similar to the beginning of NJPW's rise in popularity in the early 2010s.
To that end, many of its most noteworthy stars are becoming more visible among fandom in the United States. World of Stardom champion Syuri claimed the No. 1 spot on the 2022 PWI Women's 150 list. This achievement makes her the first Japanese star from a promotion outside of the U.S. to appear on the list.
Tokyo Joshi Pro has also made waves this year thanks to Maki Itoh and Miyu Yamashita's appearances with AEW. Additionally, Thunder Rosa and Hikaru Shida competed at Summer Sun Princess in July.
Expect to see more talent exchanges between the two companies next year.
A Fortuitous Opportunity
During her appearance on Steve Austin's The Broken Skull Sessions in February, Banks said she dreamed about wrestling in Japan before she signed with WWE. So, it almost feels too good to be true that she would be a free agent at the perfect time for her to debut in The Land of The Rising Sun.
According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, her "WWE contract is set to expire at the end of the year, and the last he had heard, the two sides were far apart on money. While a deal with NJPW has not been officially signed, Banks has agreed to terms for multiple dates in 2023 with the promotion."
Having one of Stardom's biggest stars and a recognizable name in Kairi will be beneficial. However, The Boss brings an unparalleled reputation and mainstream buzz that will give the new women's title much more exposure.
To put this in perspective, she's one of five women who have headlined WrestleMania. She also competed in the most influential women's match of this era with Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015.
New Japan couldn't ask for a better option to help it build a new legacy around the IWGP Women's Championship.
The Boston native will likely stake her claim to the title ahead of the next Wrestle Kingdom show at Yokohama Arena on Jan 21. Of course, that's just a guess, but you don't bring in a major star like Banks to be a spectator when trying to create a legitimate source of women's wrestling.
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An Unexpected Alliance
The report that Banks will be at Wrestle Kingdom also sparked discussion among fans because it came the day after another story developed. On the latest episode of AEW Dynamite, Britt Baker challenged Saraya to a tag team match at the Kia Forum on Jan. 11.
It seems peculiar that AEW would book the match so far ahead and make it evident there would be a mystery partner. Now that we have reason to believe The Boss is accepting bookings outside of WWE in January, it has to be her, right?
After all, Banks is also important to Saraya's journey back to wrestling. She infamously delivered the kick that reaggravated her neck injury in her last WWE match.
During a recent appearance on The Sessions with Renée Paquette, the English wrestler revealed that her former colleague was the first person she called when she found out she was cleared to wrestle.
Seeing the two team up for the first time since 2017 would be a powerful moment. It would also be a game-changer for AEW. Viewers have regularly criticized the company's use of its women's division, but this could be another necessary shot in the arm.
There has been notable progress since All Out, but a major star such as Banks would be a huge asset. It would be worth it even if she's only interested in a per-appearance deal similar to her agreement with NJPW.
It's still unclear why her negotiations with WWE broke down. Many expected Triple H to remedy the situation by the end of the year. Maybe she's simply planning to check some things off her bucket list and raise her profile in hopes of eventually returning for a bigger payday.
Mercedes Varnado debuted with NXT 10 years ago. In that time, she has accomplished everything there is to do with WWE and then some. She has already cemented herself as one of the greatest women's wrestlers ever.
The Boss has made history time and time again. It could be time for her to bet on herself again and help to advance women's wrestling elsewhere.