Sasha Banks, Naomi Walkout Has Historical Precedent—But This Feels DifferentMay 18, 2022
WWE women's tag team champions Sasha Banks and Naomi walked out of Raw on Monday night, dissatisfied with creative plans not only for the show but generally for the titles and the tag division themselves, according to Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful Select.
Originally slated for a six-woman gauntlet match to determine the top contender for Bianca Belair's Raw Women's Championship at Hell in a Cell, they reportedly took exception to the layout of the match and the lack of forethought put into the women's tag team division.
It is hardly the first time talent has walked out of WWE over a dispute with management, be it related to creative differences or something else. There is absolutely a precedent for it, but this one still feels different, perhaps due to the speed with which WWE released a statement and the media attention the walkout has received.
A History of Disgruntled Superstars
In 2002, WWE Creative booked a King of the Ring qualifying match for the June 10 episode of Raw pitting "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. Brock Lesnar. If you are thinking to yourself, "that's a dream match; a WrestleMania main event," you are correct.
Austin recognized as much and took exception to the writing team booking that match with no build and no anticipation. He balked at the idea of it being given away for free and, more importantly, Lesnar beating him on a whim. Stars like Stone Cold do not come around every day, and wasting him in a throwaway match with Lesnar that should have been properly built for a pay-per-view payoff made no sense.
So he left. Walked out or, in the words of Vince McMahon, "took his ball and went home."
Some 12 years later, CM Punk followed suit. While creative frustration over his role at WrestleMania 30 certainly played a part in it, a battered body and mind led to a very public, high-profile divorce from WWE that included a controversial podcast appearance, a lawsuit and Punk being released from his contract on his wedding day.
WWE is not the only company to have disgruntled stars walk out on them.
In 1999, Raven stood up in the middle of a meeting and walked out of WCW, disenfranchised with its impenetrable glass ceiling. A few months later, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko forced the company to grant them releases over frustration with their lack of opportunity and distrust of booker Kevin Sullivan.
In every instance, the performer(s) stood their ground and left when their opinions or viewpoints were not respected or heard by management. All were also high-profile figures in professional wrestling, regardless of where they may have found themselves on the card at the moment.
Austin came back. Punk did not. Raven went on to stints in both ECW and WWE, while Benoit and Guerrero would win world titles in Vince McMahon's company, a feat they never accomplished in their former place of employment.
Where Do Banks and Naomi Go From Here?
Walking out in protest over creative differences draws a definitive line in the sand. It is a declaration of independence, one that suggests to management that you are willing to fight for your beliefs and that you are very well aware of your worth.
Banks is a star beyond the wrestling world. She is mainstream, thanks to her role on the Disney+ original series The Mandalorian, an appearance in the opening video for the 2022 college football national championship game, an episode of Hot Ones and, most recently, an appearance on Cold As Balls with Kevin Hart.
She also knows her value to the company and believes in herself in a way she may not have previously, telling the aforementioned Austin on an episode of The Broken Sull Sessions:
"I'm done with the thankful. I'm done with the pizza. I don't need that anymore. I eat steak. Like Vince McMahon. With vegetables. Like him, because I can be that. And that's where I'm at. I'm not, 'can I please be signed?' I'm here. I'm signed, I've been here. I've put in the work and if I see myself where I want to see myself, I'm at Vince McMahon's level."
Naomi is no stranger to the creative ups and downs of WWE, either. As someone who has been on the main roster for a decade, she has seen pushes ignite and disintegrate in a matter of weeks. She has seen her role on the show enhanced, only for it to be deemphasized later.
While WWE's version is currently the only official retelling of the reasons behind the walkout, Sapp's report, coupled with PWInsider.com's Mike Johnson's, zero in on creative frustration. If that is the case, WWE officials are going to have to have to show some sort of goodwill gesture, most likely in the form of genuine plans for the tag team division, to bring Banks and Naomi back in the fold.
Even that may not be enough.
WWE has coerced disgruntled or disappointed talent back into the fold, only for things to return to what they were. Banks and Naomi may be looking for something more concrete than creative plans. Maybe they want the ear of the boss. Perhaps they want certain guarantees that the tag team they worked hard to develop in hopes of elevating a subpar tag division will not be sacrificed in the name of enhancing stars who are already over with fans.
Maybe nothing can be done. Maybe the relationship is too fractured.
That will not stop WWE officials from bringing the tag champs back. They have to recognize how valuable they both are, Banks as a breakout mainstream star and Naomi as a locker room leader. The company's rush to release a defensive statement that varied from what is being reported elsewhere, though, will make it more difficult.
The mainstream media attention this situation has received creates a different feel to prior circumstances. Perhaps the company's immediate jump on the story was in hopes of painting the performers as malcontents or egotistical. We have seen reactionary statements from the company before, but not as quickly and publicly as this.
That will not make it easier to solve the problems.
Still, it does not feel like Banks and Naomi are finished with the company. Frustration happens, and every so often, stars walk to make a point. Companies defend themselves through PR. One can only hope the two sides work things out and the two immensely talented performers can get back to entertaining the masses and further establishing their legacies.