Sasha Banks, multiple time WWE Women’s champion and one of the top stars of the company, walked out of Raw this week after frustrations with the scripts for that night’s broadcast, including the main event six-way bout of the show. Reportedly, Sasha and her tag team partner, Naomi met with Vince McMahon before they decided to inform Head of Talent Relations, John Laurinaitis that there were leaving the building, putting their title belts on his desk before the exit. The company actually acknowledged the incident on the air and subsequently posted a statement online to explain that the contracted talent refused to perform at the event.
Obviously, this news made waves around the wrestling world, but it shouldn’t be all that surprising.
Let’s be honest here, the WWE stock price and the corporate conference calls can enhance the image of sports entertainment for the advertisers, but the bottom line is, the pro wrestling business, much like any other form of live entertainment, is usually a chess match between the promoter and the talent in some form or fashion.
In short, talent has had grudges with promoters for as along as there has been a pro wrestling industry.
This particularly situation is a little more complex, mostly because of the current dynamics of the industry, and it will be very intriguing to see if this situation shifts the narrative of talent that work for the global corporation. We’ve seen more often in recent years, particularly with the addition of All Elite Wrestling to the landscape of sports entertainment, that wrestlers have more of a chance to make a full-time living outside of the WWE bubble. We’ve seen talent publicly request their release from the organization, a social media experiment that yields mixed results. Make no mistake about it, in terms of leverage for a job, the Vince McMahon empire doesn’t have the same amount of power it did a decade ago. That being said, despite the sluggish ratings during the pandemic era, the WWE machine still offers the biggest main stream exposure in the industry.
WWE's statement on Sasha Banks and Naomi pic.twitter.com/DrNS84QfxX
— Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful.com (@SeanRossSapp) May 17, 2022
As mentioned, this scenario isn’t anything new. Most famously, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin quit the company for eight months when he refused to do the job for Brock Lesnar on Raw because he wanted to maximize business for the bout on pay-per-view. Austin had the right concept, but the wrong approach, and has since said that it was the worst mistake of his career. The point being, if the WWE will let Steve Austin walk, they are prepared to let anyone exit, which is one of the advantages of the brand itself being promoted ahead of any specific talent.
— Italo Santana (@BulletClubIta) May 17, 2022
Sasha as one of the central figures of this story makes the news a little murky, as far as what side of this exit will gain public support. Keep in mind, Sasha attempted to quit the company in 2019 because she didn’t approve of losing the tag team titles and spent a four-month hiatus away from television. It’s tough to tell if this story is someone on an ego trip or a competitor standing up to the company, especially because details are sparse, and as of this writing, very little was said publicly about it. Don’t get me wrong, Sasha Banks is an absolute star and has all the skills to be one of the top draws for the company. The look, the charisma, the mic skills, and the in-ring ability truly makes her one of the best performers of the modern era. That said, she wouldn’t be the first talented star to think that they are more important to the success of the promotion than they actually are in the grand scheme of things. Brock Lesnar signed an extended no-compete clause in 2004 because he thought he was going to walk onto an NFL team. Low Ki is one of the most talented athletes of his generation, but was also his own worst enemy and he never became more than a big fish in a small pond.
Considering the speculation online for the past few years that Sasha has a reputation of being hard to work with, prehaps this is a situation where her ego got in the way of business. Again, this isn’t anything new in the history of the industry. That’s not to say that the booking hasn’t been terrible because as I’ve written the past few years, most of the time, it almost seems like the WWE product is on autopilot because of the massive TV deals. Regardless, walking out is probably the worst way to handle a disagreement with the office because a contract is a contract. The fairness of pro wrestling contracts is a different discussion for a different time, but the fact remains that the company has much more leverage in this disagreement since there are agreed upon terms of the deal. Granted, if a talent ultimately refuses to work for the WWE, Vince McMahon isn’t going to usher them to the ring, but management could freeze the contract and thus keep the talent out of the spotlight to diminish their market value before an agreement on the release. Pac sat on the sidelines for several months after he quit the company before he was actually released from his contract.
How Sasha decides to handle her WWE deal at this point remains to be seen, but she will have to decide if she wants to continue to be a pro wrestler. If not, she could theoretically sign a non-compete similar to the original Brock Lesnar stipulation, and eventually get an official release. On the other hand, the WWE could decide to keep her under contract for the duration of the deal, which might lower her public profile without the usual TV exposure. Don’t get me wrong, if Banks has enough money to be financially secure then she should stay home, but there are times when some former WWE talents overestimate their value outside of the WWE empire. Banks had a role in The Mandalorian so maybe acting is an option for her, but again the office might choose to keep her under contract.
I really doubt that she will get a simple release from the company for the same reason those releases are rarely granted, management doesn’t want to set a precedent that a talent can threaten to quit if they want to change a storyline. My two cents on the situation is that Sasha should be willing to return to the show, continue with the company until her deal expires, and then pursues any other career options she wants outside of WWE. The reason being is a signed contract gives the company the advantage and it makes more sense to have the easiest exit possible than to have the prime of her career stalled during a dispute for a release. All that being said, this whole thing could be moot if the dispute is resolved within a few weeks. Remember, Zelina Vega wanted to leave the company, but eventually resurfaced on Smackdown, and Charlotte had backstage problems before it was resolved.
I find the Naomi portion of all of this a little more puzzling. Considering that Sasha is usually a featured star, I would say that she has less of a gripe than Naomi as far as how their character is presented on television. Naomi is very talented and has the ability to be in the same conversation as performers like Sasha, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte. However, when you take into account that she’s a part of the Fatu family, it seems like there would’ve been a more productive way to handle the disagreement than walking out of Raw. We all know pro wrestling is a very political business so it wouldn’t be shocking if Roman Reigns was asked to speak up on behalf of his family, especially because of how talented Naomi is on WWE programming.
It will be very interesting to see how this unfolds, and while I’m just guessing, I have to say that I think this dispute is about more than just the status of the Women’s tag titles. Anyone that knows the WWE product, including its own roster, knows that the tag team division is rarely a priority on any show. In fact, the argument could be made that the vast majority of the championships on Raw and Smackdown are meaningless because of how the champions are portrayed on television.
I’m guessing you will see Naomi back on television before Sasha, and this dispute might be an extended disagreement. Again, it’s tough to filter through the social media spin because on one hand, it’s very easy to want to support a talented performer that might be underutilized if they stand up to the corporate machine, but on the other hand, this could be a situation of an ego trip. The whole “quit if you don’t like it” routine ultimately isn’t the way that you draw money or generate business. It’s a harsh reality, but WWE has all the cards in this situation because of the signed contract so Sasha has limited options unless she’s given a release. That said, if she doesn’t want to work for WWE then she has the right to stay home, but if management let Stone Cold walk then even Sasha Banks is expendable to the product.
What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.
Until next week
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