Mercedes Varnado, who wrestled in WWE as Sasha Banks, made her debut for NJPW at Wrestle Kingdom 17. Her premiere had been all but confirmed for weeks, but it was still surreal to watch as Mercedes Moné strutted to the ring in the Tokyo Dome. For now, the eyes of wrestling fans will be focused on her immediate future. Moné challenged KAIRI to a match for the IWGP Women’s Championship at Battle in the Valley, which is set to take place on February 18 in San Jose. New Japan is clearly hoping Moné’s time as Sasha Banks in the United States will help pull eyeballs to their California event next month. That the way she changed the perception of women’s wrestling in WWE can occur once again for NJPW.
Here, we’re taking more of a long-view approach. We want to examine Sasha Banks’ legacy in WWE and determine whether she should be inducted into the Hall of Fame when her career eventually winds down. It feels like she’s been wrestling forever, but the reality is that Moné won’t turn 31 until later this month. She could conceivably wrestle for another 15 or 20 years, meaning that the former WWE Women’s Champion may only be one-third of the way into her career. The question here, then: if Sasha Banks never steps foot inside a WWE ring again, would she make it into the company’s Hall of Fame?
Arguments Against Sasha Banks Making WWE’s Hall of Fame
The assumption Banks and WWE are 100 percent through is bold but necessary for this thought exercise. If she returns and has another stellar 10-year run with the company, then there wouldn’t be a conversation worth having about her Hall of Fame worthiness. She’d be a slam dunk. As close to a sure thing as possible for a Hall of Fame that isn’t maintained via public voting structure. WWE selects its own all-timers based on no specific criteria.
One of those invisible touchstones is that a wrestler needs to, at the very least, be in good standing with WWE. In 2023, it’s tough to determine whether Banks would check that critical box. She publicly thanked multiple WWE backstage officials and wrestlers on Twitter before making her NJPW debut, which appeared to be an olive branch of sorts. Still, Banks is no longer with the company because she walked out on an episode of Raw in May 2022 over creative differences. It’s difficult to overlook that fact less than a year later.
Time has mended more seemingly mortal wounds than this one between WWE and Sasha Banks, though. Alundra Blayze dumped the WWE Women’s Title into a trash can upon making her WCW debut, but still eventually made it into the hallowed Hall. But, operating with the stipulation that Banks will never work for the company again, her walkout is the only real sticking point. Is that worth keeping her out of the Hall of Fame over? It’s tough to imagine a scenario where, in the year 2035—pick whatever year, it’s arbitrary—WWE would induct Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, and Bayley into the Hall of Fame while letting Banks sit at home. In an industry rampant with injustices, that would be a real and heavy one.
Arguments For Sasha Banks Making WWE’s Hall of Fame
The other clear-cut criteria for WWE’s Hall of Fame is straightforward enough: be one of the all-time greats. It’s not hyperbole to say that the character of Sasha Banks helped change how WWE fans and casual wrestling fans in general viewed women’s wrestling. An entire pre-existing audience needed to have their expectations for female performers reconditioned, and the Four Horsewomen made that happen, night in and night out. Banks, along with Bayley, Flair, and Lynch, all changed the game forever. Walk out or not, that isn’t something that WWE could or should deny Mercedes.
Their matches in NXT redefined what women’s wrestling could be, and with the backing of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, that led to a major shakeup on the main roster. Out with the days of women constantly being the cool-down match and in with main evening WrestleMania. Think back over the last decade of NXT stars and subsequent call-ups. How many of them have had the impact of Sasha Banks? That list is short, and the likes of Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, and Seth Rollins didn’t change the landscape of professional wrestling for better and for always. Banks, Lynch, Flair, and Bayley did. They weren’t alone, of course. Stars such as AJ Lee and Paige had already started pushing back on the bra-and-panties match expectations that still oozed over the edges of the Attitude Era. But the Four Horsewomen scraped that carcinogenic gunk away, set it ablaze, and never looked back.
The phrase “trailblazer” probably gets tossed around too often in professional wrestling and sports in general. In 2023, there isn’t a lot of untrodden ground left. Everything has been done and said before. Go back deep enough into wrestling history, and everyone is a copy of a copy of a copy. The top stars put their spins on things, sure, but the ability to create truly unique characters died along with the territories. Sasha Banks didn’t just shatter that idea. She created a brand-new set of expectations for WWE fans and women’s wrestling in general, ushering in an entirely new era.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, there’s not a single good reason why Sasha Banks shouldn’t have her name immortalized in the WWE Hall of Fame when her career is over. Carve her name into wet cement next to Lita, Trish Stratus, and Alundra Blayze, let it dry and remember her as one of the generation’s eminent, most influential wrestlers.
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