Bleacher Report catches you up on the latest news from the WWE Universe.
Sasha Banks Moved to WWE.com Alumni Section
In a likely sign that Sasha Banks is officially gone from WWE, her WWE.com profile has been moved to the alumni section.
While moving Superstars to the alumni section has been done accidentally or for storyline advancement at times in the past, that likely isn't the case when it comes to Banks.
On Wednesday, Banks made her New Japan Pro-Wrestling debut under the name Mercedes Moné at Wrestle Kingdom 17 in the Tokyo Dome. Mercedes interrupted Kairi following her successful IWGP Women's Championship match against Tam Nakano, attacked the champ and challenged her to a match at NJPW Battle in the Valley in San Jose, California, on Feb. 18:
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&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#wk17</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/njpw?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#njpw</a> <a href="https://t.co/PD54lqLr1L">pic.twitter.com/PD54lqLr1L</a>
Banks had been with WWE since 2012, but prior to an episode of Raw in May 2022, she and Naomi walked out due to creative differences.
WWE subsequently suspended both Banks and Naomi, and stripped them of the WWE Women's Tag Team Championships. Neither of them have been seen on WWE programming since then, and Mercedes' appearance at NJPW was the first wrestling-related appearance for either of them since May.
While WWE never gave any indication that Banks was gone until now, Wrestling Inc.'s Raj Giri reported in June that WWE had granted her a release from her contract. Fightful's Sean Ross Sapp then reported that part of the release agreement was that Banks could not start taking wrestling bookings until Jan. 1.
Now that Banks has appeared for NJPW and has a match scheduled, there is speculation that she could wrestle for other companies as well, such as AEW.
AEW has been advertising a mystery partner for Saraya against Britt Baker and Jamie Hayter on next week's Dynamite in Los Angeles for weeks, but Saraya chose Toni Storm as her partner this week.
That doesn't necessarily preclude Banks from appearing, but Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Subhojeet Mukherjee of Ringside News) reported this week that WWE does not expect her to appear for AEW and believes she will return to WWE once her NJPW commitments are done.
Regardless of what the future holds for her, it does now seem clear that Banks no longer has any contractual ties to WWE.
Naomi, WWE Reportedly Still in Contract Talks
While Banks is now working for NJPW, Naomi reportedly still could return to WWE at some point.
According to Meltzer (h/t Felix Upton of Ringside News), negotiations between Naomi and WWE are "ongoing," but nothing had been signed as of midweek.
Like Banks, Naomi has been gone from WWE programming since walking out in May, and there has been a great deal of uncertainty regarding her future with the company, as well as her contract status.
Although Banks established herself as one of the greatest female Superstars in WWE history with 10 overall title reigns, Naomi is perhaps even more ingrained in the company.
The 35-year-old veteran first signed a developmental deal with WWE in 2009 and later made her debut on the main roster in 2012. She went on to become a two-time SmackDown women's champion and one-time WWE women's tag team champion, plus she won the WrestleMania Women's Battle Royal at WrestleMania 34.
Additionally, Naomi is married to one half of the undisputed WWE tag team champions, Jimmy Uso, meaning WWE has been a family affair for her over the past several years.
Naomi may not be viewed as a revolutionary performer on the same level as Banks, but she is a Superstar who showed up when little emphasis was placed on women's wrestling in WWE, and she helped bridge the gap to the WWE women's wrestling boom of today.
She is also among WWE's most athletic female wrestlers, plus she was popular with the fans due to her "Feel the Glow" gimmick.
Naomi would give the women's division a shot in the arm and even more depth to work with, so it would behoove the company to get a deal done with her at some point.
WWE Reportedly Interested in NJPW's Hikuleo
An influx of new and returning talent has arrived in WWE since Triple H took over as head of creative in July, and the company is reportedly now targeting a New Japan Pro-Wrestling star.
The 31-year-old Hikuleo has been with NJPW since 2016, initially joining Bullet Club before branching off as a member of Guerrillas of Destiny with real-life brothers Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa.
Hikuleo is the nephew and adopted son of former WWE Superstar Haku, and he is an imposing figure in his own right at 6'8", perhaps making him an ideal fit for WWE.
He has also already had some exposure to American audiences beyond NJPW thanks to appearances in AEW and Impact Wrestling since 2021.
Fightful noted that while it is unclear if WWE has directly reached out to Hikuleo, it is expected that intermediaries have made him aware of WWE's interest.
NJPW has announced an upcoming "Loser Leaves Town" match between Hikuleo and Jay White, which could potentially be a sign that Hikuleo is leaving the company, although his contract situation is not publicly known.
If Hikuleo does make the move to WWE, it will undoubtedly lead to speculation regarding Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa following suit as well.
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