Multiple sources have now confirmed that Sasha Banks (Mercedes Vernado) is set to make an appearance at NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 17. The main show is scheduled for January 4 at the Tokyo Dome, in Tokyo, Japan, while a second night has been announced for January 21 at the Yokohama Arena in Yokohama, Japan. It remains to be seen which show Banks will appear at.
Banks is being brought to Wrestle Kingdom 17 by NJPW, but there’s no word yet on if she will actually appear in front of the crowd that night. It’s been reported that Banks’ NJPW appearance is not booked by WWE, so if the appearance isn’t blocked legally by WWE, then Banks will be a free agent by that date. WWE can still sign Banks, but NJPW officials believe she will be free and clear to do what she wants by January 4.
A new report from Wrestling Observer Radio notes how there’s practically no one within NJPW who knows anything about Banks coming in, including several top insiders. This is in line with an earlier report that noted how NJPW sources would not confirm or deny the news of her booking, which is usually something they’ll quickly deny if not true. The booking has since been confirmed.
However, there’s speculation on a possible big title match in the near future. Wrestle Kingdom 17 is currently scheduled to feature inaugural IWGP Women’s Champion KAIRI (fka Kairi Sane) defending her title against Tam Nakano. While word on Banks was quiet from within NJPW, it was revealed that the current plan for the women’s champion coming out of Wrestle Kingdom is for their next title defense to take place at NJPW’s first major international event of 2023, which is Battle In The Valley on Saturday, February 18 from the San Jose Civic Center in San Jose, CA.
A Wrestle Kingdom appearance by Banks, and a successful title defense by KAIRI at the same event, could set up a potential Banks vs. KAIRI title match at Battle In The Valley.
On a related note, Banks revealed on Instagram how she recently spent a month living in Mexico so she could train at Bandido’s Gym in Mexico City, owned by the AEW star. Banks posted a video of highlight photos from her time in Mexico and thanked several people, including Juventud Guerrera, Hercules, Ricky Marvin, and others.
Banks captioned the photo and mentioned her comeback, writing, “A month living in Mexico [Mexico flag emoji] #luchalibre #thecomeback thank you @bandidos_gymcdmx #Hercules @mambasan @elmr.iguana @rickymarvinoficial @juventudguerrera @mimoluchador @jorgeriverasoriano and everyone in between”
It was recently reported that the WrestleCade promoters tried to book Banks for their Thanksgiving weekend convention, but were unsuccessful. Despite a high asking price, WrestleCade promoters were confident Banks would yield a return, and they were planning on booking her. However, talks went on and the promoters were told that Banks is not taking any pro wrestling bookings until after January 1, 2023, which makes the Wrestle Kingdom booking even more interesting. Speculation also points to another significant event that takes place after January 1, which is the AEW Dynamite from Los Angeles on January 11. That episode is to feature Saraya and a mystery partner vs. Britt Baker and AEW Women’s World Champion Jamie Hayter.
There are said to be multiple companies interested in Books’ status and if she will be available for appearances, even one-off bookings, but there’s no word yet on what she has planned past the NJPW appearance. WWE sources indicated last week that there’s nothing new on her status there.
Banks has been away from WWE since she and Naomi walked out of a RAW taping in mid-May due to creative issues, while the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions. It’s been rumored that Banks and Naomi were on their way back to WWE at different times, but that obviously has not happened yet. Banks and Naomi both remain listed as active Superstars on the WWE roster.
As we’ve noted here and here, Banks recently filed to trademark several names under her Soulnado Inc. company, including her real name, Mercedes Varnado. Banks and Naomi have also pursued non-WWE projects as of late, including modeling, while they’ve also booked convention appearances.
Below is the aforementioned Instagram post from Banks:
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