We’ve seen some very intriguing shifts within the free agent market and that might continue into early next year. With the return of Randy Orton, and the re-signing of Kairi Sane and CM Punk respectively, the landscape of the WWE ahead of the start of Wrestlemania season looks to be very compelling, especially because for the first time in several years there’s an organic consensus that anything can happen with the direction of the product.
Will Ospreay, one of the stalwarts of New Japan Pro Wrestling, announced at the Full Gear pay-per-view last month that he will ink a contract with All Elite Wrestling after his NJPW deal expires in March. The British grappler competed against Chirs Jericho at All In at Wembley Stadium this past August, and with the organization’s plans to return to London in 2024, it would suggest that there are big plans for him as a featured performer in AEW next year. Ironically, Mercedes Mone was shown in the crowd during the broadcast from England, prompting speculation that she might be the next free agent to join the company.
As we know, the former Sasha Banks infamously walked out of the WWE during a Raw taping in May of last year with Naomi, who has since joined Impact Wrestling. The duo were the Women’s Tag Team champions at the time, but disagreed with the direction of their characters within the organization. It wasn’t the first time that Mone had a dispute with management about the scripting of her persona, as she took a four-month hiatus from the company in 2019. Eventually, she was granted her release from the WWE and made her New Japan debut at the Tokyo Dome earlier this year. She set up a match with the previously mentioned Sane, who returned to WWE at Crown Jewel, and had a short run as the IWGP Women’s champion before there were plans for her to win the NJPW Strong Women’s title. However, in that match with Willow Nightingale, she suffered an ankle injury and had to call an audible for Nightingale to win the title.
After just five matches for a deal that reportedly made her one of the highest-paid performers on the New Japan roster, Mone’s tenure with the Japanese league was cut short because of the injury.
Just recently, she posted pictures on social media training in the ring, which fueled speculation about her return to in-ring action and specifically where she might go next. According to The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer, she doesn’t have any matches left on the Japanese deal, and if that’s the case, she can sign anywhere without restriction. It goes without saying that a star of her level isn’t going to step into the ring for anything less than top dollar so the two options will naturally be an AEW debut or a return to WWE.
The fact that Mone was in attendance for All In was a clear indication that there were negotiations between the two sides. Granted, it was a historic event, but she could’ve watched the show on pay-per-view, she wouldn’t travel to England unless there were serious talks about serious money. Furthermore, it’s doubtful that she would’ve watched the show in public view and be shown on the broadcast unless there was progress made in some form or fashion with the discussions to sign her to a contract.
There are a lot of layers to this situation, especially given the current climate of the wrestling business. Reportedly, there was a match with top Stardom performer, Giulia planned before Mone got hurt, but that was scrapped when she was on the sidelines. More recently, there were rumors that Giulia might also be on the WWE radar for a contract offer. If one of the opponents she planned to work with could be on their way to WWE, it might not necessarily persuade Mone to re-sign there, but it would be something to at least consider in the grand scheme of things as far as who she’d be working with based on where she signs next. As mentioned, AEW is on the table, but as far as the potential to land another major talent, particularly within the women’s division, it might be a tough task for Tony Khan.
Quite simply, the All Elite female division has been an absolute mess and even the best women under contract are very underutilized in the company. Quite frankly, if Mercedes Mone signed a deal with the Khan organization, Tony wouldn’t know what to do with her, and given her track record of being unsatisfied with a stagnant position within the rankings of a promotion, it could sour quickly for her. Don’t get me wrong, there are talented women on the AEW roster, but nothing about the current state of the division would be a reason for a major talent to want to be a part of the half-hazard approach that is taken with the product.
On the flip side, the WWE’s women’s division is arguably the most consistent aspect of WWE programming. There are several top-notch performers on the roster and thus many quality opponents for a returning Sasha Banks. It’s quite clear that a return to WWE gives the real-life Mercedes Varnado the biggest platform, the brightest spotlight, and the best money in the industry. But, it’s not quite that simple when you take into account her rocky exit last year. Obviously, if CM Punk can return then the door would theoretically be open for Sasha Banks, but if it would be a successful comeback depends on how much common ground there is between Varnado and management. When she walked out, the company buried her on live TV since they were going to put their corporate spin on it. It might be scummy, but if they did it to Stone Cold when he left, they are going to do it to anybody. Pro wrestling isn’t known for its ethics or moral standards, this is the business the talent chose. Assuming Varnado can overlook the public attempt to throw her under the bus as she walked out the door, perhaps a return is possible. Usually, the right price can mend fences, just ask CM Punk.
At 31, Varnado is in the prime of her career and someone with as much talent as she has, not to mention the level of star power should be on a major stage. At the same time, she was known for her ego, with videos of her snuffing fans or being hostile at signings online. Plus, there was the ridiculous C2E2 convention incident in Chicago a few months after her WWE release when fans paid hundreds of dollars to meet her only to be told they had to stand several feet away from her for the photo-ops. As I wrote at the time, if she had health concerns with the pandemic, that would be completely understandable, but then the answer would be not to agree to appear at a public convention with thousands of people in the venue. The cringe worthy photos that surfaced online gave the impression that Varnado thought she was too much of a star to be within five feet of the fans, but didn’t mind taking their money in the process.
I doubt just a year and a half away from the company is really enough time for her to change her perspective on WWE. Don’t get me wrong, Sasha Banks had a very valid point, the way she was used during the majority of her tenure in the company didn’t fully utilize her skills. She often had to play second fiddle to Charlotte Flair because management wanted her to rack up as many championship reigns as fast as possible so that she would eventually be in a position to break her dad’s record. As a result, Sasha was used as a transitional champion on more than one occasion, and her ability as a performer is much more than that. Still, when she walked out of the company, it proved that if she doesn’t agree with the direction of her character she might refuse to do her job so there will technically be a risk if the company decides to invest TV time and promotional dollars into her persona again. What if Sasha Banks is the Women’s champion ahead of a featured match at Wrestlemania and doesn’t want to lose the title? When she walked out last year, she established that she is willing to leave if she disagrees with the plan so the office might have to be careful how much stock they put into her.
However, and this might be the biggest piece of the puzzle for the entire situation, Vince McMahon is supposedly not involved with the creative direction of the company at all. Assuming that’s true, Sasha Banks had her biggest success under the direction of Triple H in NXT and with him as the head of creative now, it might give her an assurance that her character will be presented in a more productive fashion if she returns to the organization. Comparatively speaking,Varnado might trust her career under the direction of Triple H instead of another stint with Vince McMahon as the one with the power to make decisions.
If I had to guess, I’d say that Sasha Banks will return to the WWE at some point, but I don’t think it will be anytime soon. Truthfully, given the massive publicity the company has right now with the returns of CM Punk and Randy Orton, along with the already stacked women’s division, they don’t need Banks on the roster unless everyone involved is on the same page. If she’s going to be on an ego trip or a hassle to deal with, why would the company re-sign her? At the same time, Mercedes Mone doesn’t need WWE either, she has enough star power to be able to make major money from multiple promotions. Maybe she wants to return to Japan to get a proper run there? She could decide to work a few big money matches in Mexico. Plus, All Elite Wrestling is always an option, and Tony Khan is from a billionaire family so you know he will offer a lot of cash to sign her to a contract.
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
E mail email@example.com | You can follow me on Instagram, Facebook, & Threads @jimlamotta89