Unpacking the Sasha Banks and Naomi Drama: What Happened and What's Next?
The May 16 edition of WWE Raw looked like any other on paper.
The sell for WWE Hell in a Cell was beginning for big matches like Cody Rhodes vs. Seth Rollins, and Bianca Belair was supposed to find her challenger in the winner of a Six-Pack Challenge featuring Sasha Banks, Naomi, Becky Lynch, Asuka, Nikki A.S.H. and Doudrop.
However, that announced women's match was abruptly scrapped. and the main event was changed to Asuka vs. Lynch.
Rumors throughout the night were proved true by an official statement from WWE:
"When Sasha Banks and Naomi arrived at the arena this afternoon, they were informed of their participation in the main event of tonight's Monday Night Raw.
"During the broadcast, they walked into WWE Head of Talent Relations John Laurinaitis' office with their suitcases in hand, placed their tag team championship belts on his desk, and walked out.
"They claimed they weren't respected enough as tag team champions. And even though they had eight hours to rehearse and construct their match, they claimed they were uncomfortable in the ring with two of their opponents – even though they'd had matches with those individuals in the past with no consequence.
"Monday Night Raw is a scripted live TV show, whose characters are expected to perform the requirements of their contract. We regret we were unable to deliver, as advertised, tonight's main event."
What happened? What could cause such a bold action by two of WWE's longest tenured female wrestlers or this direct statement from the company denouncing them both?
As reported by Fightful Select, Sasha Banks and Naomi walked into the Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia, where they found they would be a part of a Six-Pack Challenge to determine the No. 1 contender for the Raw Women's Championship.
While not everything is known about the plan for the booking, the same article stated Naomi was expected to win and face Belair at Hell in a Cell on June 5. However, the booking frustrated Banks, who took her issues directly to Vince McMahon.
When the WWE chairman would not budge on his plan, both Banks and Naomi left the arena, per Mike Johnson of PWInsider. This was confirmed when commentator Corey Graves publicly denounced their decision to leave the event early.
WrestleVotes noted there are far more details left to come out about the whole situation that had been simmering all day before the walkout.
Asuka would go on to win the modified main event, but it is unclear what will happen with regard to the actions of the WWE women's tag team champions.
What Sasha Banks and Naomi Have Been Doing
Banks and Naomi won the WWE women's tag team champions at WrestleMania 38. Since then, they have defended the titles twice: They helped break up Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan and then defeated Natalya and Shayna Baszler.
No team has been built as future challengers to the champions, so there is a legitimate chance that one or both of the titleholders was set to face off against the women's champions of Raw and SmackDown.
While there are plenty of interesting rivals for Belair, The EST vs. Naomi is a money match WWE has never done. Meanwhile, Ronda Rousey is very short on contenders for her SmackDown belt.
While the company has never put too much stock in the gold these women carry, both have worked hard to elevate the titles by always bringing them to publicity events throughout the United States.
The Boss and Naomi have put their careers behind these titles. Banks has fought for these belts to matter ever since she and Bayley became the first holders in February 2019, and any disrespect could have been the last straw.
What Will WWE Do Next?
WWE's statement in relation to the actions of Banks and Naomi comes off as damage control. If there is more to come, it could well paint company management in a bad light.
Belair already has her next challenger, and Ronda Rousey will find someone to feud with going into Hell in a Cell. There is too much talent for WWE to miss a beat while changing direction.
However, the situation with the Women's Tag Team Championships is far less clear. WWE could strip the champions of the gold for unprofessional behavior or attempt to reconcile with the two talented Superstars.
Arguably, WWE has stumbled onto its biggest angle in the women's division. If the company can turn this around, it would be a perfect way to spark the women's tag team division. Everyone is talking, and capitalizing on the publicity would drive attention to Raw and WWE as a whole.
However, it is just as likely the company will take this too personally and throw the entire story away.
This real-life mess can still evolve into a great scripted angle while appeasing two disillusioned wrestlers.
What Will Sasha Banks and Naomi Do Next?
Naomi has always been one of WWE's most popular but underused stars. This tag team title reign was the first real spotlight she has had in years, after twice being SmackDown women's champion.
Banks is arguably the biggest star in the women's division outside of Lynch and Rousey. She had a successful role in the Disney Plus series The Mandalorian, with plenty more acting roles likely to open up further down the line. Inside the ring, she has won more gold than most of the women's roster combined.
However, neither woman has ever quite been respected for their true ability. Banks should be protected at the level of Charlotte Flair, but she has been taken for granted. Naomi has had it even worse, spending large stretches on the sidelines despite being at full health.
Both women have genuine grievances regardless of what happened on Monday, but they are too valuable for WWE to remove from the roster. However, their future is now cloudy.
While WWE has not been afraid to release talent, it has held back on occasion for the right talent. If Mustafa Ali could not talk his way out of his contract earlier this year, Banks and Naomi will struggle even more as their value is undeniable.
Still, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin once walked out on Vince McMahon and never returned. This may not be at that level, but the situation has an eerily familiar quality. If the issue is irreconcilable, it will grow increasingly apparent over the next few weeks.
It seems inconceivable that WWE would let two of the best talents in its women's division go. Perhaps Banks and Naomi will be left home for a while. Perhaps they wait out their remaining contracts in silence.
For the sake of every fan, a compromise needs to be found quickly.