Photo credit: WWE.com
Sasha Banks and Naomi were at the heart of the biggest news in wrestling this week following their walkout from WWE Raw on Monday night.
There’s still so much to process given the nature of their exit, such as WWE’s unprecedented response and questions surrounding their status with the company. However, nothing reflects the leverage one holds or the conviction in your stance quite like the ability to say “no.”
Let’s face it: The WWE women’s tag team champions were already trending and making headlines before this controversial story. To put this in perspective, they were surprisingly getting more media attention than Ronda Rousey for the past month.
Banks has been making appearances outside of the company for weeks after their historic WrestleMania 38 win. The latest guest on Cold as Balls with Kevin Hart also returned to her hometown to throw the first pitch at Fenway Park on May 8 ahead of a Boston Red Sox game.
The Boss is also fresh off guest spots on snacked and Good Mythical Morning and a visit to KIPP AMP Middle School in Brooklyn, where she met the school’s Wrestling Club. Naomi also recently appeared on cheap heat with Peter Rosenberg.
The two were in high demand, and they’re certainly the first women’s tag team to represent the titles on mainstream platforms.
That goes a long way to demonstrate just how much star power they have and probably accounts for a great deal of the support they’ve received throughout the week. This is also why WWE’s attempts to paint them as “unprofessional” appear to be spiteful and fairly calculated. Without both sides of the story, this comes off as an attempt to counteract the media blitz the two went on as champions and diminish the positive buzz they created.
That’s bafflingly counterproductive because Banks and Naomi are two of their most marketable wrestlers right now. Even if we ignore the current debacle, consider that WWE didn’t book them for the last pay-per-view, and it sounds like there were no plans in place for them to defend their titles at the next one, Hell in a Cell .
The company is frankly leaving so much money on the table by failing to capitalize on the duo’s popularity. That has sadly been the case for some time with both wrestlers, but this year proved it was time to change that. The future of their product is firmly in the hands of Black women, and WWE needs to recognize that.
Black Women are at the Forefront of the Industry
Professional wrestling doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to representation or marketing Black wrestlers, especially women. However, times are changing, and the biggest companies need to adapt to satisfy their evolving audience.
Right now, Bianca Belair is the hottest female wrestler in WWE and arguably among the best babyface characters on the roster. For two consecutive years, the Raw women’s champion has delivered show-stopping performances at WrestleMania.
Her monumental main event appearance with Banks will live on as a watershed moment for the company, fans and aspiring wrestlers. The proof is in the pudding as the achievement garnered an ESPY award for the Best WWE Moment of 2021. And The EST maintained her presence on The Grandest Stage of Them All this year when she collected another household name in Becky Lynch.
Outside of the ring, Belair recently collaborated with Rihanna’s cosmetic brand, Fenty Beauty. The 2021 women’s Royal Rumble winner and Lynch also attended the weigh-in for the Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano fight at the end of April.
So, it’s not hard to see she is the key to reaching a broader audience. Amid rumors surrounding Roman Reigns ‘move to work a part-time schedule, Belair, Banks and Naomi should’ve been believable options to highlight in his absence.
This isn’t even a phenomenon distinct to WWE at the moment either. Jade Cargill is currently the fastest-rising star in the All Elite Wrestling women’s division. The TBS champion looks like a star, and more and more people are taking notice.
Tasha Steelz is also the current Impact Knockouts champion. We could go on listing upcoming noteworthy independent wrestlers you should keep an eye on, such as Trish Adora or Willow Nightingale, who both recently worked with Ring of Honor.
Black women are at the forefront of the pro wrestling industry. Major companies need to cultivate this talent and capitalize on the growing support for them. It would be easy to say that’s simply the right thing to do, but it’s becoming the most lucrative decision, as well.
Stars Too Bright To Ignore
One could argue that some of the support for Banks and Naomi isn’t sustainable or that it’s an act of rebellion against WWE. On the contrary, both have had a passionate fanbase online, and they continued to prove that audience translated to live shows.
This doesn’t feel like a moment that will pass: It’s more like the natural progression of the demand for these two stars and more women like them. WWE has something special in its women’s tag team champions. The company clearly understands that to a degree because neither of them has been released.
WWE may not truly see the gold mine it has on its hands. Nevertheless, the powers that be smart enough to realize their competitors would jump at the chance to sign them. The Boss would be a game-changer for AEW, and the company probably knew that when she went on a hiatus in 2019. That’s why Vince McMahon would n’t grant her release.
That would seem to suggest Naomi and Banks will eventually return, but not much will change if the company doesn’t wake up and change its approach with them. It would be naive to believe that the visible support for them will sway WWE to see the flaw in the way they were utilized.
Regardless, it would be foolish to ignore that Belair, Banks, Naomi and other Black women are beacons for a microcosm of fans that went underserved for too long. More to the point, the industry has to acknowledge its audience is changing and nursery that growth.
The future is in front of them, and companies can’t continue to turn a blind eye.