Sasha Banks in Japan Update
This is a big week for wrestling fans in Japan, as all the promotions end up having their big shows. This is akin to what WrestleMania week has become in the United States. And the big event of the week, the WrestleMania of Japan, if you will, is happening tonight…New Japan Pro Wrestling is presenting WrestleKingdom and the worst-kept secret in wrestling is that the former Sasha Banks in WWE is set to make her debut tonight after the conclusion of the IWGP women's match.
On January 1st, the former Banks, real name Mercedes Varnado, officially became a free agent. The latest news on Sasha's name change is it might be Moné Banks. She trademarked that name recently, after previously trademarking phrases like “Mercedes Mone’,” “Mone’ Talks,” “Bank Mone’,” and “Statement Maker.”
There was a tease at this weekend's Choko Pro show that one of Mercedes' Japanese opponents will be Mei Suruga, considered one of the best wrestlers in Japan.
Also interesting to note that PWInsider reported today that WWE star Bayley is flying to Japan, likely not appearing on camera, to support one of her best friend's debuts. The former Naomi, Trinity Fatu, also posted that she is in Japan.
It's very heartwarming to see Sasha's friends support her for this big debut. But could it be more than just an appearance? I posted this theory on my Squared Circle Pit Twitter account:
What if Mercedes is ending the match and becoming the new IWGP women's champion? Can you imagine the insane publicity?
The action starts tonight (technically Wednesday morning) and 3am on the east coast, midnight on the west coast. The IWGP Women's Match is scheduled as the second match. I have more of a preview below. The video is posted on demand shortly after. You can register at NJPWworld.com now, to avoid any crashing around show time. It's 9.99 yen, which ends up being around $7 USD.
Highlights from Monday Night Raw
The first WWE Monday Night RAW of 2023 was last night and I feel they were saving all the heavy-hitting angles for next week. Still, there were a few noteworthy moments on the show. Country star Hardy was in the house and announced as performing at WWE Royal Rumble in a few weeks. He also got involved in the Music City Street Fight between Elias and Solo Sikoa and it did not go well for Hardy:
There was a hilarious promo by Dominick Mysterio where he pontificates that he is a hardened criminal now that he's been in jail. He has a toothpick now!
They keep teasing Alexa returning to her role with Bray Wyatt with random guys in Uncle Howdy masks appearing to distract her:
Bianca and Alexa had a fun match, where they paid homage to Scary Movie:
Raw began running video packages for Cody Rhodes' return. He is expected back at the Royal Rumble, and one of the front runners to win it.
Wrestle Kingdom 17 Preview
As I mentioned above, the biggest event of the year in Japan, Wrestle Kingdom happens tonight/tomorrow morning.
Here is the full card. The matches in bold are the ones I am most looking forward to.
- IWGP World Heavyweight title: Jay White defends against Kazuchika Okada
- IWGP United States title: Will Ospreay defends against Kenny Omega
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight title match: Taiji Ishimori defends against Hiromu Takahashi, El Desperado, and Master Wato in a four-way match
- Keiji Mutoh, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Shota Umino vs. Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, and BUSHI
- NEVER Openweight title: Karl Anderson defends against Tama Tonga
- NJPW World TV title: Ren Narita vs. Zack Sabre Jr. to determine first champion
- IWGP Tag Team titles: FTR defend against YOSHI-HASHI and Hirooki Goto
- IWGP Women’s title: KAIRI defends against Tam Nakano
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles: Francesco Akira and TJP defend against Lio Rush and YOH
- Antonio Inoki Memorial Six-Man Tag: Togi Makabe, Satoshi Kojima, and Yuji Nagata vs. Tatsumi Fujinami, Minoru Suzuki, and Tiger Mask
- Opening match: KOPW 2023/New Japan Rambo
- Opening match: Ryohei Oiwa vs. Boltin Oleg in an exhibition match
The two things that most excite me are the debut of Sasha Banks (as I mentioned above) and the return of Kenny Omega to Japan! It's going to be incredible to hear his old New Japan theme music and see him back in full form, with the hair extensions, the cosplay entrance and all. He and Will Ospreay had some great interviews at the press conference earlier today.
Okada and Jay White have their work cut out for them to have to follow this match, which will be a total banger. But Okada and White have always delivered, and always with a different pace and style as Omega and Ospreay do typically in their matches.
I am curious to see how the Japanese crowd reacts to FTR. Seeing Mutoh will be interesting. I am sure Karl Anderson and Tama Tanga will gel well and the junior matches will be really fun.
This is going to be a very exciting event. You can register at NJPWworld.com now, to avoid any crashing around show time. It's 9.99 yen, which ends up being around $7 USD.
What else is on TV this week?
WWE NXT is tonight at 8pm on the USA Network.
- Apollo Crews vs. Carmelo Hayes
- Alba Fyre vs. Isla Dawn in an anything goes match
- Trick Williams vs. Axiom
- Charlie Dempsey vs. Hank Walker
- The Grayson Waller Effect with guest Bron Breakker
AEW has a big show from Seattle as well tomorrow night on TBS at 8pm:
- Ricky Starks vs. Chris Jericho
- TNT Champion Samoa Joe defends against Darby Allin
- AEW Tag Team Champions The Acclaimed defend against Jeff Jarrett & Jay Lethal
- Bryan Danielson vs. Tony Nese
- Jade Cargill & Red Velvet vs. Kiera Hogan & Skye Blue
- Swerve Strickland vs. AR Fox
- MJF appearance
- Medical update on Hangman Page
Impact on Thursday at 8pm on AXS TV has:
- Anthony Greene vs. Black Taurus
- Masha Slamovich vs. Taylor Wilde
- Matt Cardona vs. Chris Sabin
Here's what's scheduled for the first Smackdown of 2023, Friday at 8pm on Fox:
- Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship: The Usos (c) vs. Drew McIntyre & Sheamus
- Royal Rumble qualifying match: Ricochet vs. Top Dolla
AEW Rampage is Friday at 10pm on TNT.
- No matches announced yet.
AEW has a second hour of live action, Friday night at 11pm it's Battle of the Belts V. One match is confirmed:
- Orange Cassidy will defend the All-Atlantic title against Kip Sabian
What else is going on in wrestling?
FanTime, the service that hosts the former Mandy Rose's fan account, congratulated her on earning a million dollars in December on the service. Rose lost her job at WWE after some racy content from the private service leaked on Twitter.
That Mountain Dew Pitch Black match that I assumed was going to be the gimmick for Edge vs. Finn Balor will actually be the gimmick for Bray Wyatt's first match back, against L.A. Knight.
AJ Styles broke his ankle at the house shows this weekend. While surgery is not required, he's going to be out about five or six months, recovering.
Shinsuke Nakamura returned to Japan in grand fashion at the big Pro Wrestling NOAH January 1st show, defeating the Great Muta in Muta's final singles match. Nakamura had a grand entrance and the finish to the match was awesome.
The Young Bucks are not in Japan this week and won't be on AEW Dynamite. They're taking the week off to vacation with their families.
On this weekend's episode of The Extreme Life of Matt Hardy, Matt suggested his brother Jeff might not be coming back to wrestling. "It’s just very unfortunate, the things that happened with Jeff. Hopefully it’s something that he is going to make into a positive and he’s going to turn everything around in his life, and he can come back and be better. We’ll see, I don’t know, I don’t know. Maybe he comes back, maybe he doesn’t, but we were scheduled to do all kinds of things during the summer and it really sent me down a big path of detour following that, but it is what it is. It’s pro wrestling where you have to adapt and change on the fly, and I’ve made the most of it and tried to do what I can."
Max Caster spoke about his interaction with John Cena on The AJ Awesome Show, "Well, John Cena is a huge inspiration. That’s right, you can’t see him. I’ve never met him. He reaches out to me from time to time. He’s been very, very nice and for my hero, as a teenager, to reach out to me and in the midst of people saying, ‘Oh, you’re a Cena ripoff. You’re just doing something that’s old. We don’t wanna see this in wrestling now.’ For him to reach out and say, ‘You’re doing it the right way.’ Sometimes he says I do it better than he did. It’s his opinion. I don’t know if I wanna agree with that but I believe in myself 100 percent and his confidence in me only boosts me up. I don’t know if he knows how much that means, but it means a lot and so he’s my inspiration back then and now still."
Do you enjoy pro wrestling? Knotfest Wrestling has a bi-weekly column filled with wrestling news. Read previous editions of this column here. You can always follow me @robinjection on Instagram and Twitter and @Squaredcirclpit.