Sasha Banks and Naomi took their ball and went home. This is far from a work or part of WWE’s scripted episodic weekly television programming. Two of Vince McMahon’s most talented female performers walked out of Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va., and didn’t return despite being booked in last evening’s original main-event match.
This isn’t the first time WWE talents have taken themselves off camera for displeasure with the company, most notably Stone Cold Steve Austin in 2002 and CM Punk in 2014. What’s unique about Naomi and Banks’ no-show is WWE acknowledging the incident live on air the same evening and putting out a statement on the walkout. Punk and Austin’s lack of involvement were mentioned weeks afterwards, not hours after disappearing from backstage. WWE commentator Corey Graves said Naomi and Banks “unprofessionally left the arena” as part of the show, which was likely fed into his headset directly from McMahon, seated just behind the curtain.
The exact timeline of Banks and Naomi leaving the arena is unclear, as is the legitimacy of WWE’s statement, which upfront appears to save face with fans as if this could be part of the show. It’s fishy as shit. WWE claims their women’s tag team champions left the venue during the show, while multiple online reports state it was hours before, causing the company to change the script by showtime. Naomi and Banks have been silent on social media since the walkout but one theory has been shared on social media. And it’s easy to believe.
In the microscopic chance this is all a storyline, kudos to McMahon and friends for this swerve to get hype for WWE’s women’s division. But it’s not a storyline. Back on planet Earth, Banks and Naomi should be commended for taking a stand against creative decisions they feel are unmistakably bad. Yes, the duo has contracts that makes them perform on a certain number of shows a year. No, that contract doesn’t mean they have to go to the ring against their will, even if McMahon has the final say on all creative decisions.
Let’s state an obvious and hopefully not-overlooked part of this saga: Banks and Naomi are two of the three Black women on WWE’s main roster. The other is Bianca Belair, the current Raw women’s champion and one of the most marketed stars, deservingly so, in the company today. The rise Belair has seen since joining the main roster two years ago has been phenomenal and her representation is needed. Those numbers skew horribly without Banks and Naomi. Of WWE’s 24 women on the main roster, only nine are of color. That’s more diverse than the NFL head coaching ranks, but how low of a bar should I set for WWE?
Having one Black female in good standing on the company’s main roster will not cut it. WWE’s statement opens the door for their best-case scenario: turning a real-world problem into a storyline. McMahon’s endgame has to be bringing both into the fold and preventing another incident like this. This isn’t Banks’ first disappearance from WWE television. Although the circumstances surrounding her 2019 disappearance haven’t been publicly confirmed, she did take four months off from in-ring action and allegedly requested her release from the company, which McMahon declined.
Naomi is one of the longest tenured women in WWE, having signed a developmental deal in 2009, and this is the first known walk-off event from her. Can you imagine how bad a WWE idea has to be for Naomi to reject it? She was a member of The Funkadactyls and alarms were never raised as a valet for Brodus Clay?
One of the biggest differences between the walkouts of Punk and Austin from Banks and Naomi is the existence of All Elite Wrestling, legitimate competition to WWE. If you think for a second that AEW President and CEO Tony Khan wouldn’t try to sign both women if they were free agents, you’re delusional. How many big-time matches could there be with those two? Banks vs. Thunder Rosa? Naomi vs Britt Baker? Take my money!
The current WWE women’s tag team champions have some leverage here. Their absences don’t mean they have nowhere else to go, unlike previously frustrated wrestlers. Austin was never going to New Japan or CMLL and he reconciled with WWE less than a year later. Punk is stubborn and had no problem burning that WWE bridge, and has consistently found new kerosene in the years since. Punk tried MMA, and had a horrible UFC career and didn’t appear on a show with actual matches for more than seven years. Now he’ll likely be AEW’s champion by the end of the month.
Both Naomi and Banks could get paid elsewhere, and if McMahon is stupid enough not to see that, maybe he doesn’t deserve two wrestlers of their quality. They have other passions too. Banks, whose real name is Mercedes Varnado, is credited as such for her role as Koska Reeves in Disney+ series The Mandalorian. Banks and Naomi leaving WWE from this incident isn’t impossible, but still heavily unlikely. Having a high-profile public dispute in the modern era of social media is uncharted waters for WWE. Punk’s situation was different. Why do you think it took 10 months for him to say his piece on a podcast?
This won’t last long, a few weeks tops. With Bayley’s imminent return and the organic storyline about her history with Banks and the tag titles, a return to TV or total split from WWE is coming. What won’t change out of this incident is the bubble’s been burst on walking out of McMahon’s domain. This won’t be the last time it happens. Professional wrestling left McMahon behind a long time ago. And whatever help exists hasn’t shielded WWE from tangible plot holes from storylines over the last several years. If McMahon has no desire to compromise and patch things up with Banks and Naomi, he deserves breaking the levee and every consequence of letting them walk permanently.