X

The Sasha Banks and Naomi Walkout Shines Light on One of WWE's Biggest Problems

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2022

WWE

By now, the discourse around former WWE women's tag team champions Sasha Banks and Naomi walking out on an episode of Raw has covered a broad range of topics. 

But there's a potential elephant in the room worth addressing: This feels like it was inevitable. 

Inevitably, Superstars were bound to tire of how champions and championships themselves within WWE get treated. The company has a moments problem in which it tries to shock and create viral situations that hamper long-term booking, but it's long had a titles problem, too. 

To back it up a bit, Banks and Naomi walked out on the May 16 edition of Raw, prompting WWE to put out a statement that included language such as "They claimed they weren't respected enough as tag team champions."

Since then, mostly speculation and rumors have filled in the gaps, suggesting both women would go on to challenge for individual titles and not defend the tag belts for months on end. WWE then stripped them of those titles and will hold a tournament to crown new champions while their fate, as of this writing, remains up in the air. 

Banks and Naomi won their tag titles at WrestleMania 38 and defended them just twice, once to best Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan and then to defeat Natalya and Shayna Baszler. Taking a quick look at the booking, it's pretty clear there were no other teams that would challenge for their titles, meaning no future tag defenses. 

And let's be honest, the rest of the company's titles aren't getting much better treatment. Which, for the most part, means the Superstars themselves aren't, either. 

Look at the very top of the company, where Roman Reigns holds both the leading men's titles. His feud with Brock Lesnar derailed the entire run to WrestleMania 38, including landmark events such as the Royal Rumble. Now clutching both, the company doesn't have a good way to get one of the titles off him and set things right for the men's main event scene—and could well keep things this way through the next 'Mania. 

Farther down the card, the United States title didn't even get defended on a two-night WrestleMania. Neither did the intercontinental title. Both could be used like stepping stones as Superstars ascend to the main event scene, yet somehow both feel about on par with the 24/7 title despite their prestigious history.

Things aren't much better on the women's side. Raw women's champion Bianca Belair has a fun feud set up with the likes of Asuka, at least. But Ronda Rousey's flimsy reign lacks notable challengers and general interest after she lost during her first chance at the title in a middling feud with Charlotte Flair, only to win it later. 

Keep in mind things are so-so enough around both women's top titles that WWE's speculated plan was to ignore the tag titles on Banks and Naomi outright in order to freshen those feuds and titles scenes up. 

Even the men's tag title scene now is one big question mark, with The Usos holding both the Raw and SmackDown belts. There's obviously an attempt at a storyline there alongside Reigns, but it isn't helping the rest of the division much. 

One can begin to understand why Banks and Naomi might have been frustrated with the idea of not defending their titles for months on end. The Boss was there at the beginning when the belts were created in early 2019, and her hope to win them at 'Mania this year and actually defend them made sense.

Having them be little more than props on the way to the ring for solo matches, cheapening the number of days they were champions in the record books in the process, only made the outlook worse. 

What's frustrating from a fan perspective is it doesn't have to be this way. Reigns vs. Lesnar didn't need both titles to feel special and it was understandable to feel WWE didn't have a plan with that angle, anyway—which has seemingly been confirmed because they didn't even unify the titles. 

Not too long ago, major names would actually compete for say, the U.S. title and hold open challenges. The prestigious history of the intercontinental title shouldn't need much of an explanation, either. Heck, a longstanding criticism of WWE tag wrestling has been that it often feels like the company randomly slaps two names into a team when it has nothing else for them to do, just to fill time and fulfill the necessity of actually having tag titles in a wrestling company. 

So the fix? Treat the titles seriously. Have major names gun for non-main event titles. Savvy long-term booking would be nice, but WWE struggling so much with simple storytelling in recent years that even just having champions consistently defend would be nice. It only takes one Kevin Owens debuting against John Cena's open U.S. title challenge (a classic must-see weekly moment WWE would be wise to bring back) to make magic for a moment and the long term. 

WWE doesn't need magic, of course. It needs booking around championships that respects the titles, the Superstars and the fans. They're not just props. And if the Banks-Naomi situation tells us anything, it's that Superstars feel much closer to how the fans feel than they might be permitted to let on publicly. 

This problem does walk closely alongside the general booking and storytelling issue, but it's a simpler fix by making the titles desirable and defended often, with actual placement on cards, especially at the biggest events of the year, no less. 

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.