Mercedes Moné (Sasha Banks) should have left WWE long ago

Mercedes Moné, formerly Sasha Banks, put on a show in her debut match for NJPW.
Photo: NJPW

If you were like me, and god help you if you are, and you needed some sort of wrestling cleanse after WWE barfed up WWE things on Saturday, then Mercedes Moné came to your rescue late in the night. Mercedes made her return to the ring in NJPW’s Battle In The Valley in San Jose, wrestling Kairi (the former Kairi Sane in WWE) for the newly-created NJPW Women’s championship. And if this is the type of match that Mercedes had been aching to bust out while under New York’s supervision, and if this is what she’s going to be providing going forward and more, then maybe she should have struck out on her own a while ago.

There’s always been a suspicion, one that clearly Ms. Moné carried herself given her walkout, that her WWE career never quite mined everything she was capable of. Whether it was a lack of dance partners who could stretch her creatively, Vince McMahon’s aversion to the women’s division or anything different from his vision of wrestling, or just simply the stars not aligning. Mercedes always clearly wanted to do a lot, thought she could do more, and only briefly ever got to flash all that was in her holster.

Some of Moné’s best work in WWE came during the pandemic when she carried both the tag titles and eventually the SmackDown women’s title when the company was either into experimentation or simply not caring and just let their performers go. She ran a great match with Io Shirai and others in NXT, started yet another brilliant feud with Bayley, actually let Asuka be Asuka, and week-in week-out put on great matches. But of course, there were limits to what anyone could do in empty arenas filled with screens.

The last great moment for Sasha Banks came in her Mania match with Bianca Belair, which unquestionably stole both nights of the event. Belair provided enough versatility, personality, and athleticism to do all the things that Banks wanted to do, and the produced a classic. And yet it was only 17 minutes.

Everyone knows the story from there. Banks was sunk into the women’s tag division where she and Naomi did their best to liven up a scene that quite simply WWE did not care about, and eventually, they walked out because of the lack of attention paid to it (and also because Ronda Rousey sucks). And all of it left a feeling, as great as Banks was in WWE, that there was so much left on the table.

And they was right

Saturday night proved anyone who felt that way correct. It’s startling that after nine months out of a ring, Moné could return and in her first match produce a 27-minute banger that somehow blew a Kazuchika Okada-Hiroshi Tanahashi match off the screen (and the latter was very good!). When did Moné ever get 20+ minutes with WWE? Maybe one of the Charlotte matches all the way back in 2016?

Mercedes showed off a wide range of skills and influences against Kairi, whether it was a lucha transition:

Or some Joshi acrobatics, or Mercedes’s flair for putting herself in as much danger as she can:

Or a new finisher that whips all the ass:

It must be said that Kairi is the perfect opponent for Moné, given their chemistry, Kairi’s stiff work now that she’s back in Japan, and her ability to make just about everything look fatal, whether she’s taking it or giving it. We have to hope this is far from the last time these two will dance.

The match touched every nerve of Moné’s storytelling capabilities, as she was able to waver from her cutthroat Boss persona to the everyman hero she is now thanks to standing up for her principles and back again. She even got to hit some historic beats, whether it was using bestie Bayley’s belly-to-Bayley move or paying tribute to Hana Kimura with her gear. Give her time, she’ll put everything into the stew.

What happens now is still something of guesswork. The NJPW women’s division so far has consisted of three matches spread over months. If Moné is going to take the NJPW title with her into Stardom for more matches, that is still a website and portal that isn’t really up to taking on a whole new audience that Moné will provide. There is still no English outlet for Stardom for fans to pick up who’s who and what’s what.

And people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come if this is the quality of match that Mercedes Moné is going to produce with all the shackles off. Now she can do whatever she wants, and that looks to be a very full folder indeed.

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