On the Aug. 12 episode of Raw, Sasha Banks returned to WWE television. She's now a full-fledged heel, which is the best possible decision.
It's a change of pace for her character, getting her back to what she excelled at. It also reinvigorates a women's division that's been starved for meaningful competition, and it preempts the criticism and backlash that may have resulted from her extended absence.
To place this into context, WWE audiences haven't seen Banks since WrestleMania 35, four months prior to her most recent appearance. At that pay-per-view, she and Bayley, then the inaugural Women's Tag Team champions, dropped the titles to the IIconics, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce.
The Boss 'n' Hug Connection held the titles for a mere 49 days, and in the aftermath of that match, rumors circulated about how poorly Banks and Bayley—particularly Banks—took the loss.
According to Ryan Satin of Pro Wrestling Sheet, both women protested the decision, vocally and publicly, even going so far as to lie down on the floor of the locker room. According to Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Elle Collins of Uproxx), Banks threatened to quit on the spot when she first learned of the planned result. She had the perception that herself and Bayley would be given a lengthy run with the titles to lend them both prestige and stability.
Rather than accept her resignation, WWE reportedly gave Banks time off to make a more careful, measured decision, and cooler heads prevailed.
Banks returns to a women's division that has squandered most of the potential it had coming out of WrestleMania 35. In the wake of Becky Lynch's main event victory and Ronda Rousey's leave of absence, it was the perfect time for WWE to push a new female Superstar to the top of the card.
Instead, WWE over-pushed Lacey Evans—who, although has stage presence and charisma, lacks the necessary experience to excel in the spot—on Raw. WWE placed Bayley in a feud with Alexa Bliss, who already had multiple title runs. As a result, a host of talented individuals were left at the wayside, including Mandy Rose, Sonya Deville, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan.
Nikki Cross was relegated to being Bliss' lackey. Ember Moon mostly sat in catering until her recent title shot at SummerSlam, and it's unclear whether she'll have any momentum from here on out.
In a karmic twist of fate, the Women's Tag Team Championships that started all the trouble became an afterthought. The IIconics barely defended it, and the tag team that most WWE fans assumed would win them did not; Asuka and Kairi Sane are stuck in tag team hell. These two women both held the NXT Women's Championship, and they should be leading the singles division, not trying (and failing) to win the tag team belts.
Banks is needed—not necessarily because she was irreplaceable when she left but because WWE has botched its booking so badly in the interim. Rather than add to the monotony of the current women's division, WWE made an inspired decision to turn Banks heel. She's average as a babyface, but she's brilliant in her new role.
One thing you'll notice if you rewatch the new clip of Sasha attacking Natty and Becky is her Cheshire Cat grin. That's one of the best things about Banks' heel persona—she has swagger. In a division filled with scowling heels, it's refreshing to see someone who takes visible pleasure in being bad.
We know what Banks is capable of as a heel thanks to her run in NXT, when she first created the Bo$$ character. She stood out and contrasted beautifully in a field of traditional babyfaces.
Her match against Lynch at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable was a standout in the early days of the Women's Evolution. Her match against Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn is considered a bonafide classic; both women will fight for the rest of their careers to top it.
Banks' best heel work was at NXT TakeOver: Respect, when she targeted Bayley superfan Izzy by taking her headband and then throwing it back on her. Izzy burst into tears, and the NXT crowd, mostly comprised of older fans who would root for a heel just as easily as root for a face, immediately turned on her. If we get a fraction of that type of heel heat from this latest Banks run, this would have been worth it.
Most likely, we'll get a whole lot more.
There's also a meta-reason for why Banks' heel run is perfectly timed, as she will be facing an inevitable backlash from smarks, who resented the performer for threatening to leave the company and thought she should have shown more grace in doing the job.
Had she been booked as a babyface, we would hear the crowd's boos mixed in with the cheers. Now since she's a heel, the boos for the character and the boos for the performer are indistinguishable. With a couple of worked shoots, discussing her real-life dissatisfaction with WWE, they'll eventually become one and the same.
It seems, based on the night's beatdown, that Banks will face Lynch at Hell in a Cell. Could she be the one to take the Raw Women's Championship from her? If so, a dream champion vs. champion match between Bayley and Banks at Survivor Series won't be far behind.