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What Sasha Banks' NJPW Arrival Means for Her and the Future of Women's Wrestling

Erik BeastonJanuary 4, 2023

Gone is Sasha Banks and in her place is Mercedes Mone, who debuted at Wrestle Kingdom 17.
Gone is Sasha Banks and in her place is Mercedes Mone, who debuted at Wrestle Kingdom 17.Credit: Mercedes Varnado Twitter

Sasha Banks is no more.

The artist formerly known as The Legit Boss introduced the wrestling world to her new persona, Mercedes Moné, Wednesday at New Japan Pro-Wrestling's Wrestle Kingdom 17.

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>

She made her way to the ring with all of the pomp and circumstance befitting a star of her magnitude, then laid out IWGP women's champion Kairi before announcing her intentions to challenge her fellow WWE alumna on February 18 at NJPW Battle in the Valley.

Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful.com @SeanRossSapp

"In San Jose, I'm gonna leave you bankrupt, bitch. You can bank on that" <br><br>Mercedes Mone vs. Kairi Sane is set for February 18 <a href="https://t.co/oSTYxzeYqw">pic.twitter.com/oSTYxzeYqw</a>

Moné's debut set the wrestling world abuzz, even as expectations were high for her involvement in NJPW's most prestigious event. Those expectations were heightened when she took to Twitter just before her big moment to thank WWE and key figures in the company.

Mercedes Varnado @MercedesVarnado

Thank you <a href="https://twitter.com/WWE?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WWE</a>

Mercedes Varnado @MercedesVarnado

Thank you <a href="https://twitter.com/TripleH?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TripleH</a>

Mercedes Varnado @MercedesVarnado

Thank you <a href="https://twitter.com/VinceMcMahon?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@VinceMcMahon</a>

Mercedes Varnado @MercedesVarnado

Thank you <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SashaBanks?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SashaBanks</a> 💙

What does her arrival mean for the promotion and women's wrestling as a whole? As it turns out, it could prove to be the second time the performer leads a revolution.


Star Power and A Worldwide Revolution

It would be ridiculous to suggest that WWE is the only promotion in which women's wrestling is thriving. The STARDOM promotion out of Japan has produced some extraordinary in-ring action, including a match that saw Giulia defeat Syuri that you should go out of your way to track down.

Still, there are few promotions that have the visibility that WWE does and women's wrestling has not quite been presented as equally elsewhere as it has been in the biggest company in the industry.

AEW has repeatedly struggled to create a thriving women's division. NJPW is only beginning to implement women's wrestling on its shows in an initiative that began last year.

NJPW Global @njpwglobal

In adapting NJPW to the global standard and audience expectations, we will be seeing women's wrestlers from <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/STARDOM?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#STARDOM</a> in NJPW of America rings moving forward. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/njpw?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#njpw</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/njpw50th?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#njpw50th</a>

One would be hard-pressed to find a star bigger or brighter than Moné who can lead the storied promotion's efforts to introduce women's wrestling to its audience. She is a recognizable talent away from the squared circle, thanks to her appearance on Disney+ original series The Mandalorian and other mainstream media outlets, most recently USA Network's Barmageddon.

USA Network @USA_Network

Outside the ring and doing their thing. 🤜💥🤛<a href="https://twitter.com/MercedesVarnado?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@MercedesVarnado</a> and Brie <a href="https://twitter.com/BellaTwins?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@BellaTwins</a> face off in a <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Barmageddon?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Barmageddon</a> for the ages! Monday 11/10c on <a href="https://twitter.com/USA_Network?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@usa_network</a>. 🍻 <a href="https://t.co/2iHsvA4Z9T">pic.twitter.com/2iHsvA4Z9T</a>

Her work in the rings of WWE, where she helped revolutionize the industry by elevating the role and value of women's wrestling, made her one of its most respected performers. Her matches with Bayley, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey, among others, helped establish her as one of the best wrestlers on the planet.

Coupled with the stardom experienced beyond the squared circle, it made her one of pro wrestling's hottest free agents when the calendar turned to 2023.

As one of the new faces of NJPW, she will have the opportunity to enhance the role of women's wrestling in that promotion through her work with the likes of Kairi, Syuri, Giulia, AZM, Starlight Kid and others.

The question is whether she is contracted exclusively or will have the opportunity to appear elsewhere.

Like, maybe, AEW.


An All Elite Future?

There have been plenty of teases for a major surprise tag team partner for Saraya on January 11 in Los Angeles. On that night, the former WWE Divas champion will battle Dr. Britt Baker DMD and AEW women's world champion Jamie Hayter and has hinted at a friend partnering with her for the blockbuster match.

AEW on TV @AEWonTV

Who do y'all want to see as <a href="https://twitter.com/Saraya?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Saraya</a>'s tag team partner? <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/AEWDynamite?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#AEWDynamite</a> <a href="https://t.co/4SxLJcZ7Fh">pic.twitter.com/4SxLJcZ7Fh</a>

Should Moné arrive in AEW, it would be a massive defection from WWE and instantly provide Tony Khan's women's division with the star power it does not have beyond Saraya and Baker.

It would then be up to the booker to ensure that he maximizes her value. Do not let her fade into one-off matches and meaningless programs. Present her like the star she is, right there alongside Jon Moxley, MJF, Bryan Danielson and The Elite. Give her real storylines, high-profile matches and main event spotlight.

Otherwise, she is just another talent acquired to help bolster an already bulging roster. Failure to realize how big of a star she is and treat her as such would relegate her to the role of a new toy to brag about before she settles in with the rest of the collection.

Banks is as red-hot now as she has ever been. Should she sign with AEW, Khan absolutely must capitalize on that or it could go down as one of his greatest blunders.

The in-ring work will be there. Her style has proven to mesh well with that of different opponents from various backgrounds. She will use her speed and agility against the power of Hayter and can go hold-for-hold with a technical-based competitor like Serena Deeb or Toni Storm.

She can also brawl with Hikaru Shida and has proved effective as both a heel and a babyface.

Assuming she is used correctly, Moné's future is as bright as ever. She has the potential to etch her name in the history books as one of, if not the, most significant woman in the history of her industry.

She knows her value, has taken the steps necessary to leave a situation that was not favorable for her anymore and will now look to prove she can be every bit the star she knows she is away from the machine that is WWE.

Time will tell if it was the right call.