The most recent of The Broken Skull Sessions, hosted by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, featured current SmackDown Women’s Champion Sasha Banks. It was a wide-ranging interview.
Not only did Austin once again show how much he’s grown as an interviewer, but Banks displayed her natural charisma and talents that are so often constrained by WWE writing.
Here are three takeaways from Sasha Banks’ and Steve Austin’s discussion.
Note that I won’t be giving a rundown of the interview from beginning to end, nor will I touch on her comments about former Champion Ronda Rousey; the latter deserves its own article.
Let’s begin with the first discussion point.
WWE didn’t find Sasha Banks; Sasha Banks found WWE
However, while she found them, they helped hone her talents.
She said while training at Chaotic Wrestling, WWE would use their wrestlers as extras since the owner was friends with some people in WWE (one of her trainers was actually Ivar, a.k.a Hanson). She said, “I saw the people that he chose and I was like (long pause with a surprised facial reaction)…I was like, ‘No way. He? Him? Him, over me?”
She never said who “he” was, but yeah, they were no Sasha Banks, obviously.
She said she wrote an email to the head of talent relations at the time and was chosen as an extra an hour later. “I’m not gonna sit back when I see people who can’t do it like me and get chosen over me; that’s a problem for me.” Austin replied he was going to ask about “The Boss” soon, but he could kind of see where it originated.
Austin also used this story to describe how Banks is a “go-getter,” and Austin has pretty much told every wrestler he’s interviewed that they need to fight for themselves, be proactive, be “go-getters.” He gives them advice on how not to do it based on his own mishaps.
This initiative from Banks hasn’t always seemed positive to observers, including within the company. The infamous story of Banks and Bayley throwing a fit after losing their Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania (regardless if you believe it or not, people discuss it) is one example people can turn to and say negative things about her initiative.
However, they would be wrong. Let’s put aside just how much people’s thoughts are affected by Banks being a Black woman in a White supremacist society. Let’s focus on just the wrestling aspect.
A little after this, Banks mentioned she likes to lead the action in the ring, regardless of being a face or heel. She said she’s “never not led” a match. Do you know why this is fine? She is absolutely one of the best in the ring, that’s why.
There are very few wrestlers who can match her skills in the ring. Banks calling matches is akin to the quarterback calling plays on offense. After all, everything fits her character as “The Boss.”
Speaking of, she credited Dusty Rhodes, Norman Smiley, and Joey Mercury with teaching her the most in NXT and for making her the “Sasha Banks that you see today.” She also gave props to Tyler Breeze and Xavier Woods for being so helpful with everyone in FCW/NXT.
Austin played a promo from an FCW promo class in 2012 with a young Banks giving a green promo. However, you can see the charisma, the talent, the natural aptitude for the business.
Later, she said she shouldn’t be afraid to be number one, to say she’s the best, or that she’s better than saying she’s the best wrestler in the company. When Vince McMahon discusses grabbing the brass ring, THIS is part of that process.
On a comedic note, she said her mom said Sasha Banks “sounded like a porn star’s name!”
Banks credited Bayley for changing the locker room atmosphere and that Bayley is everything in a friend/partner she dreamed she could have in WWE
Banks said before Bayley, the locker room was cutthroat to the point where people would “push you down the stairs to become NXT Champion.” Once Bayley entered the picture, she said things changed for the better.
Bayley became the person Banks said she could talk to when she really needed to have a discussion, some “real talk” so to speak. It basically sounded like Bayley almost acted like a pseudo-therapist to Banks and others.
Moving on, Austin said Banks and Bayley have developed a special chemistry, and Banks agreed. He called their TakeOver: Brooklyn match a “five-star match.” Banks actually said she dreamed of every spot in the match the night before, even saying she knew the match was going to be “so easy.”
She said, “People are signed because they were inspired by this match. People want to be wrestlers because they are inspired by this match. Men, fathers let their daughters watch wrestling because of this match.”
Austin complimented her work as a heel in the match, specifically in targeting Bayley’s hand. He also complimented her and Bayley on their ability to work and engage the crowd that evening before moving into their ironwoman match from TakeOver: Respect.
When Austin mentioned it was a first-ever women’s match, Banks replied, “You just saying it again like it’s first-ever, I can’t believe how many ‘first-evers’ I’ve been in.” It’s true: Between this, her Hell in a Cell match that was also the first time women main evented a pay-per-view, being in the Elimination Chamber, the Royal Rumble match, first modern Women’s Tag Team Champion, Banks’ list of “first-ever” moments is long.
That’s partially disappointing it’s taken this long for so many to happen, but also amazing for Banks to think she’s been involved in so many historic benchmarks. Bayley, her dream partner, was involved in many with Banks. How apropos.
Back to the match, Austin once again complimented heel Banks for snatching a headpiece from noted Bayley superfan Izzy, which actually caused Izzy to cry. She also noted she didn’t know the whole locker room would be on the stage for her departure. Side note: this is still my favorite NXT match.
Banks’ chemistry with Bayley didn’t end in NXT, of course. Even though Bayley arrived later, Banks’ best matches and rivalries (even if overdone at times) have been with Bayley. The past year has been a great example. They were rivals, then tag partners (and Champions), then rivals again.
Sure, some of Banks’ scripting has been suspect recently, but Banks and Bayley anchored SmackDown for months, getting some help from the return of Roman Reigns. Their matches together have also kept a high standard, even if only they hit that standard more often than not.
Yes, most of us already know they’re so good together, but it’s great to hear just how much Banks respects and loves her friend from the woman herself.
Sasha Banks suffered depression, which led to her asking to leave WWE
Banks said as her and Bayley won the Women’s Tag Team Championship and Bayley’s trajectory was going up, Banks just felt herself going down and down. She said it was due to depression.
She said for seven years, she didn’t even hear her own name, Mercedes, anymore; she only heard people call her Sasha Banks. She said she didn’t even know what her real hair color was at one point. She said she lost all the light in her eyes and she didn’t know who she was anymore.
When Austin asked if it was business-related, burnout, or fatigue, she replied, “Everything…I wanted to make sure I didn’t lose myself.” She said one of the hardest things she had to was ask to leave WWE.
She said, “Vince (McMahon) said, ‘No,’” before she busted out laughing and Austin said, “He always says no!” Banks did say McMahon gave her 30 days to think about it and that she took more time. Austin said he took six to eight months.
This was when she traveled to Japan and trained with Joshi wrestlers. Banks said her dream before WWE was to be wrestling in Japan, but WWE “called her first” (presumably after she “found” them).
Banks said she messaged the amazing, legendary Meiko Satomura to ask if she could train with them, and Satomura said yes. More importantly, Banks said the experience made her proud that she was brave enough to “listen to myself, listen to my dreams and listen to my fears and listen to how I was feeling.”
The time away, including therapy, helped instill new goals for Banks, mainly her legacy and the bigger picture of the impact she can have.
Mental health is still a sensitive and sometimes taboo subject in society. In professional wrestling, we’re hearing more discussions, but there are still enough people who spout utter nonsense about people suffering from mental health issues as “soft” that people are still hesitant to raise the issue.
Banks, with her stature in WWE and her growing appeal through her role on The Mandalorian, is a powerful voice made even more so by her openly discussing her depression. Again, we’re not even discussing her being a Black woman in our society, and we know that adds even more stress.
She’s letting people know, if they already didn’t or just need reinforcement, that it’s OK to take time for yourself. Sure, not all of us can afford to take five, six months off, but what about a minute or two every day?
The fact that we live in a society that says we need to maximize every waking second with some sort of efficiency quotient leaves no time for individuals to just be. Banks, stepping away from her only life goal (she repeatedly said she had no “plan B”) to the point of wanting to actually leave WWE is another example that what’s most important is your sense of self.
It was an informative 90 minutes with Austin and Banks. Yes, there were some things we already knew, but the added details from Banks made it a worthwhile listen. Banks speaking on her mental health struggles was a powerful moment.
The only negative? How the hell am I supposed to take Banks as a heel after such a babyface interview!? I’m joking, of course…kind of.