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Sasha Banks Debuts in NJPW as Mercedes Moné at ‘Wrestle Kingdom 17’

Eight months after walking out of WWE, Sasha Banks has returned to professional wrestling.

The former WWE star reemerged on Wednesday by making her New Japan Pro-Wrestling debut at Wrestle Kingdom 17. Now going by the name Mercedes Moné, Banks confronted IWGP women’s champion Kairi to set up a future title match between the two. That match will happen at NJPW’s Battle in the Valley event in San Jose on Feb. 18.

Banks attacked Kairi in a post-match angle following Kairi’s title defense against Tam Nakano at Wrestle Kingdom. Declaring herself as “the standard, the conversation, the blueprint and the CEO” of the women’s division, Banks announced that she’s coming to both NJPW and its sister promotion Stardom. (Stardom is a Japanese promotion that exclusively features women’s wrestling.)

Kairi is also a former WWE wrestler who went by the name Kairi Sane during her time in the company.

The 30-year-old Banks, whose real name is Mercedes Varnado, was able to appear for NJPW after becoming a free agent at the start of 2023. Banks and her tag team partner Naomi walked out of an episode of WWE Raw in May after taking issue with their planned creative direction. Banks and Naomi were indefinitely suspended by WWE following the walkout and vacated the WWE women’s tag team titles.

Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer reported last month that, after going through a regime change with the retirement of Vince McMahon, WWE and Banks were in negotiations this past fall for her to return to WWE, but the two sides were far apart on money and didn’t come to an agreement.

During her time with WWE, Banks was one of the biggest stars and most influential wrestlers in the company, helping to revolutionize women’s wrestling and elevate its status. Banks was a seven-time women’s champion for WWE and a three-time women’s tag team champion. In 2021, Banks and Bianca Belair made history by becoming the first Black women to headline WrestleMania.

Banks tweeted out a series of thank you messages on Tuesday night ahead of making her first post-WWE appearance at Wrestle Kingdom. WWE, Vince McMahon, and Paul “Triple H” Levesque were among those who she thanked.

Wrestle Kingdom is NJPW’s biggest event of the year, taking place at the Tokyo Dome annually on January 4. Full results from Wednesday’s show can be found here.

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