The biggest name in professional wrestling hasn’t been in a ring since May, but that doesn’t mean fans aren’t obsessed with every move she makes.
Mercedes Varnado, f.k.a. WWE superstar Sasha Banks, has been the talk of the business since she and Naomi relinquished the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championships and walked out on the May 16 episode of Monday Night RAW. Her absence from competition hasn’t stopped fans from endlessly speculating about her future. Mercedes has been mostly quiet about her plans, only occasionally dropping hints on social media. But she’s once again sent the wrestling world into a frenzy with a Christmas Day tweet wishing everyone a “Monè Christmas.” This got fans talking because “Mercedes Mone” was among several trademarks filed by Varnado in November. It didn’t take long for fans to start guessing this would be her new in-ring name. Combined with the recent reports that she will make an appearance at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 17 on Jan. 4, the tweet has everyone talking about her possible re-emergence in 2023.
According to Fightful, Varnado actually exited WWE “months ago,” though the company hasn’t made any official announcements about her status and likely won’t. WWE very rarely issues official statements on the release or exit of its superstars. In the fall, Fightful reported that Mercedes wasn’t taking wrestling bookings until January, with the decision being “contractual.” Connecting all the unconfirmed dots leads me to speculate that Varnado and WWE negotiated a non-compete that ends on Jan. 1.
The truly frustrating element in all this are the reports that things didn’t work out with WWE because of money. Dave Meltzer reported in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter that Mercedes was asking for a deal similar to what counterparts Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair receive, but the company thinks that she’s not on their level.
This assertion is just ridiculous since Sasha Banks came into WWE the same time as Becky, Charlotte and Bayley, with the group dubbing themselves the Four Horsewomen. They’ve all gone on to multiple title reigns and notable feuds with one another, re-igniting women’s wrestling in the process. Sasha and Bayley’s match for the WWE NXT Women’s Championship at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2016 is widely considered the most influential women’s match of the last decade. She’s been a fan favorite since she became The Boss, with her music causing a huge pop from crowds every time it hits.
“She and WWE did not reach terms for a new contract. WWE directly wouldn’t say anything about her but those in the company over recent months had said the sides were not close on money,” Meltzer wrote, per Inside the Ropes. “She and WWE reached an agreement in the summer regarding her leaving and the agreement was they would release her to be a free agent rather than freeze her deal, but she couldn’t do anything with wrestling until the start of 2023.’
“She was said to be seeking a number along the levels of Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair and those internally have said she wasn’t offered numbers close to that,” he added. “They said that she’s not seen internally as somebody who would be on top for the next five years, but is seen as someone who could get a singles or tag team title run, but has peaked as a star aside from the reality that was acknowledged that if she would return, there would be a ‘honeymoon’ period where people would go nuts for her.”
Adding another interesting layer to this story is the crazy anticipation that Mercedes could be Saraya’s mystery tag team partner on the Jan. 11 episode of AEW Dynamite. It’s completely possible that current AEW stars Toni Storm or Thunder Rosa could be Saraya’s partner, but don’t forget that AEW has a working relationship with NJPW, while Mercedes and Saraya have history together from their time in WWE. If WWE passed on Mercedes because of money and she goes on to become a huge star in other promotions, while also building a burgeoning acting career, this will go down in history as their biggest miss ever.
On the other hand, the new regime, led by Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, could see the backlash, reconsider their position and Sasha makes a triumphant return at the Royal Rumble on Saturday, Jan. 28. Honestly, this is all speculation and none of us will know anything for sure until we see Mercedes on our TV hitting people with Tornado DDTs and double knees in the corner.