Can’t Knock The Hustle: Can Mercedes Show AEW The Moné?

(Writer’s Note: Originally, I was going to write about something else this week. I didn’t want to do another consecutive WWE-themed column, but the situation between Roman Reigns, Cody Rhodes, and The Rock simply couldn’t be ignored. Well, I found a way to ignore it, anyway. I just didn’t want back-to-back columns on this site, posted on back-to-back days, to be on the same topic. It was covered yesterday, so I’m going in a different direction here. Just know that I do feel bad for Cody, but that I’m also torn on the subject, as a whole, because I’ve been wanting to see Roman vs Rock since Cody was feuding with Brodie Lee over the AEW TNT Title. This week’s WrestleMania Kickoff press conference is going to be a must-watch, though. I know that much. I’ll probably end up writing about the storyline shift at some point if things don’t end up changing soon.)



It seems like we’ve been playing the game of “WWE or AEW?” with Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado for a decade now. Would the woman who became world famous as Sasha Banks in WWE return to the company that she walked out on in 2022? Could she make a big splash by signing with AEW and adding some major star power to their women’s division?

The latest reports say that she will be making the jump to AEW, with a tentative debut date for the company being in March, either at the Revolution pay-per-view or soon thereafter.

If the news is true, and if she really is AEW-bound, what does it mean for her, for AEW, and for WWE?

Let’s start by looking at what it means for her.

This is an opportunity for her to show the wrestling world that the gamble she took by walking out of WWE and betting on herself was worth it. When she and Naomi walked out, it was a big risk. They both could’ve been labeled as malcontents, and not “team players,” fairly or unfairly.

Mercedes hasn’t exactly been the most active of performers since leaving WWE. She sat on the sidelines for about seven months before being officially done with the company. After appearing at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 17, she would begin working for New Japan, Stardom, and NJPW Strong. In her fifth match since leaving WWE, she would break her ankle in a match with Willow Nightingale, and here we are, eight-plus months later, and Mercedes has yet to return to the ring.

That five-match run was very entertaining, as she was allowed to wrestle longer matches with a lot more freedom than she had in WWE. It’s a shame that it hit an injury pothole so early on.

I don’t think it’s exactly unfair to say that the average WWE fan doesn’t really know a lot about what goes on outside of the WWE “bubble.” Not a knock on them. There’s simply more “casual” fans, and a lot younger fans, that aren’t going out of their way to track down the latest NJPW Strong show and things of that nature. Do you know what that means? To a lot… A LOT… of fans, Sasha Banks was one-half of the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions one day in 2022, and then disappeared off the face of the planet the next day, and hasn’t been heard from since. “Sasha” showing up in AEW, while still outside of the aforementioned WWE “bubble,” is going to get a lot more attention than her previous post-WWE moves, and could very well get those WWE fans to notice.

The move to AEW itself is a risk. Again, it’s not unfair to say that WWE is a bigger stage than AEW. You can argue whether or not WWE is a BETTER stage, but nobody can argue that it’s a BIGGER stage. Taking her talents to AEW is going to be seen as a downgrade… again, fairly or unfairly… by a lot of fans. What happens if, say, Mercedes has a “bad” match or two? How about if AEW pulls out all the stops for her debut, but as Tony Khan’s booking always seems to do, she is almost forgotten about after a few months and several women are ahead of her? Do you think that would make her look like she made the “right” choice?

For AEW, this is one of the biggest moves in company history, and I say that with zero hyperbole. The AEW women’s division has its fair share of very talented in-ring workers, including some that initially made their name in places like Japan or even in WWE. However, Mercedes would be the biggest addition to the women’s division in the history of the company, and frankly, it isn’t even close.

AEW, like most wrestling promotions, doesn’t have the most consistent of track records when it comes to its women’s division. There will be stretches of time when it looks like the company really and truly cares about the women, and they’ll be pushed as big deals. Then, there will be stretches of time when the women will be lucky to get crumbs on any particular episode of television. Recently, we’ve seen AEW go through more of the latter.

Have no fear, though, as things do look like they could be getting better. Thunder Rosa is back from injury. Serena Deeb is back from injury. Deonna Purrazzo is there. Mariah May is there. Queen Aminata has been very impressive. Jamie Hayter is potentially set to return from injury soon. This might be the healthiest, and the deepest, that the division has ever been.

Now they’re adding Mercedes Moné to the mix?

There are no excuses for the division not to be heavily featured and showcased on all AEW programming now. This will be a very important time in the booking career of Tony Khan. He has received a ton of hate for the way he has handled the women’s division. Even some of AEW’s most diehard fans will freely admit that the way the women are booked is the missing piece of the puzzle for the promotion.

For WWE, this is a move that stings a bit. It won’t lead to the end of the company or anything, but you know it has to irritate certain people within the company if they lose out on any high profile free agents, no matter the reason.

WWE could use Sasha, without a doubt. The current storyline with Damage CTRL almost seemed like it was being written with the specific end game of Sasha returning to help Bayley after Bayley gets kicked out of the group. It isn’t just that, though. Sasha has never gone one-on-one with Rhea Ripley. That’s a license to print money right there. There are also a bunch of women on the roster that Sasha has either never faced before, or at least hasn’t faced in years.

Again, losing out on bringing Sasha Banks back is going to sting for WWE, but it isn’t going to be a game-changer.

How do I feel about the whole thing?

Well, first and foremost, I hope Mercedes, the human being, is happy. Reports over the last few months have said that her asking price has been really high. If she has signed with AEW, that either means Tony Khan was willing to meet that price, or that she decided to ask for far less money. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that it’s more likely that TK agreed to pay her what she wanted. In that case, she’s probably very happy, as she should be. She has earned every bit of whatever AEW is paying her, as she has proven, time and time again, to be one of the biggest stars in all of women’s wrestling, as well as one of the better in-ring performers in all of women’s wrestling.

If I had my way, we would’ve seen the return of Sasha Banks in WWE, though. The only reason I feel that way is my inability to trust Tony Khan, especially when it comes to women’s wrestling. I have infinitely more faith that a second Sasha Banks run in WWE would go better than a Mercedes Moné run in AEW would when all is said and done.

Whether it’s a Sasha return or a Mercedes debut, what really matters is that a first ballot Hall Of Famer is set to become a regular on our televisions again. For that, I am very thankful.


Your turn. Are you excited about the imminent debut of Mercedes Moné in AEW? Do you think she’ll be used in the best manner? Or, are you disappointed that we aren’t getting the return of Sasha Banks? As always, feel free to hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.

Let’s keep the ball rolling with my Weekly Power Rankings, followed by wrapping things up with the list of music I was listening to when I put this column together.



Weekly Power Rankings

Ilja Dragunov vs Trick Williams: I continue to be amazed at the rapid ascension of Trick Williams. It really wasn’t that long ago when he was viewed as nothing more than a slick talking manager-type for Carmelo Hayes, who could occasionally get in the ring and get physical if the story called for it. Now, he has legitimate “future WrestleMania main event guy” vibes. He continues to get better and better in the ring, capable of handling his own against some of the best names in all of NXT, and more importantly, live crowds have completely fallen in love with him. As far as what happened to Trick after the match, it was very well done, even though we all knew it was coming. Keep Trick away from television for at least a few weeks to sell his “injury” and when he returns, set up the obvious Trick vs Melo match at Stand & Deliver that could end up being NXT’s Match Of The Year.

Daniel Garcia & FTR vs Christian Cage, Nick Wayne & Killswitch: Checklist time once again. Collision? Check. Some variation of a tag match? Check. FTR being involved? Check. 20+ minutes to work with? Check. Hate if you want, but the formula works, so I don’t blame AEW for using it every week.

Bryan Danielson vs Hechicero: I’m still not really sure that I care about any sort of “invasion” story with CMLL and AEW, but this was a lot of fun nonetheless. Even in a loss, this was quite the showcase for Hechicero, who doesn’t exactly wrestle like your typical Luchador. He can use more of a power game, but he excels with his technical work, which made him a great opponent for Danielson here.

Gunther vs Kofi Kingston: I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating… I’m pretty sure that even I could step in the ring with Gunther and be taken to a match that ends up in these very Power Rankings. He’s so good at what he does, capable of creating art with an incredibly wide variety of opponents. Congratulations go out to him for passing the 600-day mark as the Intercontinental Champion. If he makes it to February 18th with the title, he will pass Pedro Morales for the most overall days as the Intercontinental Champion. Insanity.

Bayley: The segment where she made her WrestleMania decision was well done, “borrowing” from Batista’s WrestleMania decision in 2005. It has been a while since Bayley was treated like this big of a deal, and it’s refreshing to see. I do have one complaint about this, though, even if it isn’t Bayley’s fault in the slightest. For a while now, we’ve seen Iyo Sky, Asuka, and Kairi Sane be relatively discreet about situating themselves away from Bayley. On this episode of Smackdown, though, they were obnoxiously obvious about it, from inexplicably revealing their plan in English during a backstage segment to the terrible “mean girl” acting behind Bayley as she started her promo. They looked like doofuses. Doofii? Whatever. The point is that it was dumb, but I am looking forward to Iyo vs Bayley. I’ll say again, though, that this story really seemed like it was being written for a Sasha Banks return, with the three Japanese members of Damage CTRL breaking off, while Dakota Kai sides with Bayley, allowing for Sasha to come back and even the odds. As the Shona people in Zimbabwe famously say, though… c’est la vie.

Damian Priest & Finn Balor vs DIY: While Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa continue to receive quieter reactions from live crowds than expected, they’re still putting on some very entertaining matches. There just hasn’t been a reason for the average Monday Night Raw fan, who is statistically proven to not be a viewer of NXT, to care about either man beyond “they’re not bad in the ring.” Shame.

Roman Reigns vs The Rock (Maybe): I’ve been wanting this match, and have been calling for this match, for years now. We might be on the verge of finally getting it… but at what cost?

Sami Zayn vs Drew McIntyre: It feels like these two have had 92 Raw main event matches against each other, and it feels like these two have had 92 good matches together. Not much else to say, really.

Carmelo Hayes & Trick Williams vs Bron Breakker & Baron Corbin: There’s some buzz that perhaps the ring ropes weren’t tightened properly for the match, which could be why everyone was seemingly battered and bruised by the end of things. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know that some sloppy moments prevented this match from being great and achieving a higher spot here.

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy: Mick Foley says that he wants to lose 100 pounds and wrestle one more Deathmatch for his 60th birthday. First and foremost, his 60th birthday is 16 months away, so he’s got time to lose the weight. My issue is a simple one. Have you listened to any episodes of Mick’s Foley Is Pod podcast? If so, you would recognize the line “help me out here, Conrad.” You’ll hear that AT LEAST once every episode. Why? Because Mick will find himself stopping in the middle of a sentence, completely forgetting where he was going, and he’ll need co-host Conrad Thompson’s assistance to remind him of where he was going so he can finish his thought. Is that bad? It’s not good. Mick’s brain is already paying the price for the damage he has done to it through the years. While losing weight will help his body out, it’s also not great that he has a terrible time moving around these days, to the point where he specifically requests that him standing up and sitting down isn’t shown on-camera, if at all possible. Unless you’re someone who harbors a deep rooted hatred for Mick Foley and want to see the worst possible things happen to him, why the fuck would you want him to wrestle again, ESPECIALLY in a Deathmatch scenario? This is a terrible idea that will be made even more terribler by having Matt Cardona as his opponent. Yuck.

Tiffany Stratton: She has officially been called up to the main roster, “signing” with Smackdown. From the first time I called her the “next Bianca Belair,” I’ve been saying she had some major things in her future. Now, she has her chance to prove me right.

“Hangman” Adam Page vs Toa Liona: Another “AEW Special” that sees a top-of-the-card name face off against a bottom-of-the-card (or lower-middle-of-the-card, at best) name, with the outcome never being in question, but the match still ends up being entertaining. It would be super cool if that didn’t seemingly happen ten times a week across AEW programming, but as the people of the Menominee Native American tribe famously say, though… c’est la vie.

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Seth Rollins: The week started with Seth making a very strong case for why Cody Rhodes should choose him, and not Roman Reigns, for a match at WrestleMania 40. Everyone nodded their heads, saying that Seth made a ton of sense with what he was saying, but also that there wasn’t a chance in hell that Cody was facing Seth at Mania. Welp.

Eddie Kingston vs Bryan Keith: After another entertaining performance with the company, it was announced that Bryan Keith is officially All Elite. It’s a well deserved spot, as he has been killing it on the independent scene for a while now. As always, though, there’s the fear that he’ll get lost in the mix as a member of AEW’s 1,374 person in-ring roster.

Carmelo Hayes & Trick Williams vs Joaquin Wilde & Cruz Del Toro: Wilde and Del Toro continue to do really good work, but it doesn’t really lead to much of anything. Will that change? Only time will tell, but I have my doubts.

Montez Ford: This was a big week for him. “Love & WWE: Bianca & Montez” debuted on Hulu to good reviews, with even people who aren’t fans of the “reality TV” genre saying that the show is entertaining and paints both Montez and Bianca in a positive light. Then, Tez dropped his new album, GOD IS GOOD, on streaming services everywhere. I haven’t had the chance to watch Love & WWE yet, but I plan on watching the first episode, at the very least. I’m not a fan of those types of shows, but as a fan of both Montez and Bianca, it does look fun. I did, however, check out GOD IS GOOD. It was better than I expected it to be. As a Chicago native, Tez sounds like he’s rapping over the beats of fellow Chicago native, Kanye West. Well, the early years of Kanye’s sound, at least. That old school soul influenced sound.

Top Flight vs Private Party: Much better than their previous match against each other. The level of athletic ability in a match with these four men is off the charts. Not much else needs to be said.

Drew McIntyre: After playing something of a “tweener” for a while, he is a full-fledged heel now, and his trolling act has been entertaining as hell so far. From saying that he prayed for CM Punk’s injury to his social media usage of memes, he has been quite dastardly.

Queen Aminata vs Serena Deeb: It’s good to see Serena Deeb back in the ring for AEW. She provides quite a bit of veteran leadership out there, and is precisely the type of opponent that someone like Queen Aminata needs to be facing.

Hashtags: #WeWantCody was seemingly trending on every possible social media site in the aftermath of what went down on Smackdown. Then, #WeWantRocky began trending in response. People need to pump their brakes when it comes to assuming this will mean anything in the long run. Remember when people thought the #FreeAli tag was going to make a difference in Mustafa Ali’s WWE career? It started off fine, but it turned into a bunch of dorks adding #FreeAli to all of their tweets and posts, even if it had nothing to do with Ali, or even with wrestling, and it merely became obnoxious and annoying, causing most people to rebel or to ignore them completely. I guess we’ll see where #WeWantCody and #WeWantRocky take us, though.



This Week’s Playlist: “Turn The Lights Back On” by Billy Joel… “Point Em Out” by That Mexican OT & DaBaby… “Burning Down The House” by Paramore… “Ocean” by Zacari… “Cure” by ERRA… “Barely Breathing” by From Ashes To New & Chrissy Costanza… “Serotonin” by Normandie… “In The Middle – Vol. 2” by The Veer Union… “Flava In Ya Ear (Remix)” by Craig Mack, LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, Notorious BIG & Rampage… “Burnout” by Green Day… “Longview” by Green Day… “Welcome To Paradise” by Green Day… “Basket Case” by Green Day… “She” by Green Day… “When I Come Around” by Green Day… “DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar… “Heartbeat” by Taana Gardner… “When I Think Of You” by Janet Jackson… “Best Of My Love” by The Emotions… “Ain’t Nobody” by Chaka Khan… “When Somebody Loves You Back” by Teddy Pendergrass… “The Payback” by James Brown… “Curious” by Midnight Star… “Typewriter” by Louie Rankin… “Backshot” by Spragga Benz & Lady Saw… “It A Ring” by Tonto Irie… “The March” by Ky-Mani Marley… “Rain” by Ky-Enie… “Things’ll Never Change” by E-40 & Bo-Rock… “Ambitionz Az A Ridah” by 2Pac

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