POLLOCK’S NEWS UPDATE: WWE’s handling of Sasha Banks & Naomi story

John Pollock looks at WWE's handling of Naomi & Sasha Banks, AEW Rampage note for next week, title change at NOAH card, Cardiff ticket sales.

Photo Courtesy: WWE

POST IT NOTES

**Rewind-A-SmackDown is available for POST Wrestling Café members with a 90-minute show covering SmackDown & AEW Rampage. Off the top, we discuss WWE’s handling of the Sasha & Naomi story on SmackDown and later take your calls.

**Eric Marcotte will have coverage of the UFC Fight Night card on the site. The show will feature Holly Holm fighting Ketlen Vieira in the bantamweight main event and Michel Pereira taking on Santiago Ponzinibbio in the two main fights.

**Be sure to check out Karen Peterson’s latest edition of Dream Slam Weekly covering the Joshi scene and discussing the recent NOMADS’ Freelance Summit, Stardom’s Grand Prix field, and a look at all the promotions across Japan.

**Karen Peterson is also the guest on this month’s edition of POSTmarks with David Meyers & Bruce Lord.

**The N.W.A. Podcast is out with Nate Milton, Kris Ealy, and Andrew Thompson for the month of May.

SASHA BANKS AND NAOMI

The biggest news following Friday Night SmackDown was WWE opting to address the situation involving Sasha Banks & Naomi with Michael Cole tasked with the requirement of delivering the message. Just before the main event, Cole announced that the two were “indefinitely suspended” with the titles to be decided in a future tournament. He stated that Banks & Naomi “let us all down” including the WWE fans and fellow talent while reiterating that they were supposed to be in a Six-Pack Challenge on Raw and left the building after handing over the titles.

In coordination with the announcement, their merchandise has been pulled from WWE Shop.

The future of the two in WWE is obviously in doubt but it appears their careers are in limbo until a decision is made on whether WWE will cut them or try to repair this relationship. Despite WWE positioning themselves strongly through their channels, Banks and Naomi have remained silent.

I have lived through and covered enough of these stories to know better than to cast judgment when the talents have yet to address their issues and have their side accurately portrayed. One can certainly say that walking out of a live television broadcast is unprofessional, but it bears asking, what led to the walkout? Odds are it was growing for a lot longer than eight hours that day.

The disparity of power and leverage between the company and an “independent contractor” is immense, so when a talent tries to utilize any ounce of theirs, it is often struck down and in this case, the company is sending a very obvious warning to any other talent questioning creative or testing their limits of leverage.

We often use the term “unprofessional” when it comes to talent but skip over that term when it goes in the other direction. Is it unprofessional to advertise talent for a show they won’t be appearing on? How about changing plans on the fly during an episode or not having a concrete format in place the day of the broadcast? One moment’s promise is another’s distant memory for a professional wrestler and sometimes talent reaches a breaking point and has no other choice but to make the decision with the most dramatic effect possible.

When one breaks this story down, it comes off as WWE sending a message to its locker room more than the audience. While it sounds dramatic to state that two talents walked out of an “advertised main event”, there were literally zero tickets sold for this match that was announced while fans were in their seats and the audience at home was alerted of the match and several segments later, told of a change, which happens plenty of times. That said, if you are the company, you cannot have the threat of talents disagreeing with a direction and potentially leaving you hanging in the midst of a broadcast and some will be sympathetic, others will back talent no matter what.

There is merit on both sides for what happened. Where WWE lost a lot of public backing was the press release that was beyond aggressive and based on reporting, incredibly misleading given how they tried to position Banks & Naomi as having issues with two unnamed performers. That didn’t add up nor did WWE offer a reasonable rationale for that conclusion on their behalf.

This doesn’t absolve Banks and Naomi from finding an alternative solution but walking out tells me that the situation was irreconcilable. If we’re going to clamor about the rights of independent contractors broadly but adjudicate their actions as employees for something specific, then which is it?

As Stephanie McMahon recently said, “We own all of the IP”. For talent, they only have one “IP” that they need to protect and preserve for their entire career and yes, you’re going to take the handling of your booking and creative a lot more seriously and sometimes overthink it, because of the stakes involved.

In this instance, Naomi was scheduled to win with both expected to challenge for the respective women’s titles at Hell in a Cell. On its own, it doesn’t strike you as poor treatment of the two but was this isolated, or was this brewing with many unknown factors?

The counterargument is that the women’s tag belts would be shelved for this pay-per-view cycle, both are theoretically losing in two weeks and a match like Ronda Rousey vs. Sasha Banks should probably be built up for more than two weeks. For the sake of argument, you’re coming off Rousey’s matches with Charlotte Flair that was among the top WrestleMania programs and a future match down the line between Rousey and Becky Lynch that could be one of next year’s feature ‘Mania programs while Banks was looking at a two-week build-up to Rousey and then move on.

It’s a unique set of circumstances as WWE doesn’t want to cut two marketable stars that could be valuable elsewhere, however, they want to keep the two on ice with an indefinite suspension. It was the same tact used with CM Punk in 2014 where he was technically suspended but never villainized on television in the immediate aftermath – although, it would get nasty between the two sides behind the scenes. With Steve Austin in 2002, it was a very strong reaction from the company than ran down its biggest box office star on programming with the famous line that “he took his ball and went home” and dedicated an episode of Confidential to his walkout and using close friend Jim Ross, who described it as one of the hardest things he was ever tasked with and seemed incredibly uncomfortable in that episode.

The future is anyone’s guess. Months after his walkout, Austin returned, although was levied with a major fine as a message to the locker room, and with CM Punk, he was ultimately released and will likely never step into a WWE ring again.

There is also the potential for legal action from either side. If WWE attempts to ice their contracts, it has always been speculated how that tactic would hold up in front of a judge and whether it’s something that could be enforced when talent is injured or in this case, suspended. You have two performers in the prime of their careers that are temporarily on hold and if getting back to work is a priority, the power once again is greatly in WWE’s favor to dictate how they can resume their careers and we circle back to the beginning of the disparity between promoter and talent.

WRESTLING NEWS

**During the SmackDown broadcast, they announced that over 40,000 tickets were sold for Clash at the Castle at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. It is a good number but well below the expectations after WWE had touted that over 85,000 ticket requests had been made several weeks ago. The general reaction has been the prices were astronomically high and scared people off. The stadium capacity is listed at 74,500 but that doesn’t account for the staging of a major WWE event and how many production kills will bring that number down. One would think prices would slowly drop if the number stays in this range with the idea that pricing the tickets so high would be a success as many fans would not be scared off by the high price points and buy regardless.

**On AEW Rampage, a graphic was displayed promoting next Friday’s episode for a 5:30 p.m. ET start time with the TNT schedule listing the same. The problem is that next week’s show is a live edition from Las Vegas and if that is the start time, it means the audience would need to be in their seats by 2:30 p.m. local time. What’s even stranger is that they are promoting the ‘Countdown to Double or Nothing’ special at 10 p.m. ET on TNT meaning that AEW programming is airing in the Rampage slot and it’s not even a case of the NHL bumping them.

**New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors resumed on Saturday with a card from Aomori in front of 1,720 fans, which would be their highest attendance on the tour and tops the opening figure. In the main event, IWGP junior heavyweight champion Taiji Ishimori submitted Alex Zayne with the Bone Lock while Hiromu Takahashi stayed unbeaten by handing Ace Austin his first loss of the tournament. YOH beat Yoshinobu Kanemaru with the Direct Drive, Ryusuke Taguchi beat Francesco Akira, and SHO pinned Clark Connors.

Ishimori and Takahashi are tied with six points on top of the A Block standings followed by Austin, Zayne, and YOH with four points each.

The B Block show streams on Sunday morning at 3 a.m. ET from Akita with the following card:
*B BLOCK: El Desperado vs. Wheeler Yuta
*B BLOCK: El Phantasmo vs. Titan
*B BLOCK: BUSHI vs. Master Wato
*B BLOCK: El Lindaman vs. TJP
*B BLOCK: Robbie Eagles vs. DOUKI
*Shingo Takagi & Hiromu Takahashi vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Taka Michinoku
*SHO & Dick Togo vs. Taiji Ishimori & Gedo
*YOH, Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Jado vs. Alex Zayne, Clark Connors, Ace Austin & Tiger Mask

**Pro Wrestling NOAH held its card at Ota Ward Gymnasium on Saturday in front of 924 fans. The show included the returns of Keiji Muto and Kazuyuki Fujita after their respective ailments. For Muto, his legendarily ailed knees are now supplemented by hip issues that forced him to vacate the GHC tag titles with Naomichi Marufuji while Fujita tested positive for COVID-19 and had to vacate the GHC heavyweight title. In the main event, GHC champion Go Shiozaki pinned his 6/12 challenger Satoshi Kojima in the six-man main event, which was a curious decision unless Kojima is winning next month, which is entirely possible. Shiozaki was paired with Kaito Kiyomiya and Masato Tanaka against Kojima, Marufuji & Muto.

There was one title change on the card as Michael Elgin & Masa Kitamiya became the GHC tag champions defeating Rene Dupree & Hijo de Dr. Wagner Jr., who had just won the tag titles less than three weeks ago. It marks Kitamiya’s sixth reign with the GHC tag belts and Elgin’s first and demonstrates that Elgin will be a featured foreigner moving forward with NOAH.

HAYATA retained the GHC junior heavyweight title against Extreme Tiger, Yoshinari Ogawa & Chris Ridgeway wrestled Yuya Susumu & Seiki Yoshioka to a no-contest, Kenoh beat Simon Gotch by referee’s stoppage, and Fujita’s return match saw him beat Kinya Okada in the opener among the featured matches.

**The former LA Knight (Shaun Ricker) made his Friday Night SmackDown debut as talent agent Max Dupri. He had been testing out the character in various dark match segments recently while paired with Mace and Mansoor, who were not part of Dupri’s introduction. Dupri will be running “Maximum Male Models” with talent that can headline both WrestleMania and Paris Fashion Week, which Andre the Giant could not accomplish. In all seriousness, Ricker is a tremendous speaker and could be a great mouthpiece even with a silly character but that’s often a plus, such as Butch, who gets matches every week playing a dog.

**Game Changer Wrestling presents ‘Maniac’ tonight from the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Los Angeles and streams on FITE TV at 11 p.m. ET. The card will feature:
*GCW Tag Team Championship: Effy & Allie Katch (champions) vs. Juicy Finau & Journey Fatu
*GCW Extreme Championship: AJ Gray (champion) vs. Ninja Mack vs. John Wayne Murdoch vs. Cole Radrick vs. Jack Cartwheel vs. Jimmy Lloyd
*Bandido vs. Nick Wayne
*Speedball Mike Bailey vs. Masha Slamovich
*Blake Christian vs. Kevin Blackwood
*Biff Busick vs. Jordan Oliver
*Drew Parker vs. Joey Janela
*Dark Sheik vs. LuFisto

**Monday’s episode of Raw from Evansville, Indiana will include Cody Rhodes taking on The Miz, Bobby Lashley putting Omos and MVP through a challenge, and Becky Lynch reacting to Asuka’s win last week.

**Brandon Thurston has the quarter hours from Dynamite. The high point for overall viewership and 18-49 was between 8:30 and 8:45 p.m. ET for the segment with the ending of Hangman Page vs. Konosuke Takeshita, post-match with CM Punk followed by Swerve Strickland & Keith Lee vs. JD Drake & Anthony Henry and set up for the tag title match at Double or Nothing. The segment averaged 983,000 viewers and 449,000 in the demo. The show dropped in the final quarter to the lowest of the two hours with 777,000 and 378,000 for the ending of Serena Deeb’s promo, Adam Cole vs. Jeff Hardy, and the show-closing angle with Sting being injured. When the second hour started, there was a seven percent viewership drop and a two percent loss in 18-49 coinciding with the start of the Golden State Warriors vs. Dallas Mavericks.

**Thursday’s episode of IMPACT Wrestling averaged 119,000 viewers and 0.04 in the 18-49 demographic ranking #93 among cable originals. It was down a minuscule amount from last week’s figure of 125,000 but up from 0.03 in the demo.

**FTR defending the ROH tag titles against Trent Beretta & Rocky Romero has been added to Dynamite next Wednesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. The semi-final match between Kris Statlander and Ruby Soho will take place on next Friday’s Rampage.

**AEW Double or Nothing is up to eleven matches with the three additions announced on Friday with The Young Bucks vs. The Hardys, Jade Cargill vs. Anna Jay for the TBS Championship, and House of Black vs. Death Triangle.

**The WWE stock closed at $60.91 on Friday and wasn’t affected in any way by the news of Stephanie McMahon’s temporary departure.

ON THIS DATE

While it’s never going to be acknowledged by the company because of who was involved, one of, if not the best match in the history of Raw took place on this date in 2001. In San Jose, Chris Jericho & Chris Benoit won the WWF tag titles from Steve Austin & Triple H in front of a rabid audience and a thrilling final stretch. The downside and what is most remembered is that Hunter tore his quad after setting up for a sledgehammer shot while Jericho had Austin in the Walls of Jericho and would force Hunter to miss the rest of the year. It was the most solid footing Jericho & Benoit had been placed on since joining the company in 1999 & 2000 respectively with each poised for programs with Austin & Hunter. Instead, Austin defended the title against both in a three-way match at the King of the Ring and it was evident that Vince McMahon lost faith in the babyfaces and created a makeshift program between Austin and Spike Dudley on the television leading into KOTR. Right after the San Jose match, Jericho & Benoit got to television the next day and were told they were doing a TLC match on SmackDown, and was the match Benoit really messed up his neck and required fusion surgery after the King of the Ring.

*****
THE N.W.A. PODCAST
Nate, Kris and Andrew Thompson reconvene to discuss Andrew’s trip to Dallas for WrestleMania, Bianca Belair’s big night, the return of Cody Devante Rhodes to The Fed, and more.
*****
AEW Rampage & Friday Night SmackDown POST Show
John Pollock & Wai Ting review AEW Rampage and WWE SmackDown as WWE addresses the Sasha Banks-Naomi situation on-air, and AEW releases footage of Bryan Danielson getting his foot stuck.
*****
POST DAILY NEWS: Stephanie McMahon-Levesque taking temporary leave from WWE
John Pollock is joined by Brandon Thurston of Wrestlenomics to discuss Stephanie McMahon-Levesque’s announced temporary leave of WWE.
*****
POST PURORESU: Kota Ibushi & NJPW. State of NOAH, Forbidden Door
John Pollock & WH Park discuss the saga between NJPW and Kota Ibushi, the state of NOAH, Forbidden Door, Stardom, KUSHIDA leaving WWE & more.
*****
THE WELLNESS POLICY: The Comedy Episode
Jordan Goodman & Wai Ting are joined by psychotherapist Sarah Kalny and “comedy analyst” Eli for a special discussion about the role of comedy in our lives.
*****
REWIND-A-DYNAMITE
John Pollock & Wai Ting review AEW Dynamite: Wild Card Wednesday featuring reveals of men’s & women’s Joker entrants and their quarter-final matches in the Owen Hart Tournament.
*****
REWIND-A-WAI #110: WWF Thursday Raw Thursday
John Pollock & Wai Ting look back at WWF Thursday RAW! Thursday (February 13, 1997) as Shawn Michaels vacates the WWF Championship through his now-infamous “lost my smile” speech.
*****

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About John Pollock 3868 Articles
Born on a Friday, John Pollock is a reporter, editor & podcaster at POST Wrestling. He runs and owns POST Wrestling alongside Wai Ting.