Sasha Banks Q&A: 2018 Royal Rumble, future of women’s wrestling, becoming face of WWE

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History was made this past Monday night on Raw when Stephanie McMahon announced that on Jan. 28th, the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match will take place live at a special start time of 7 p.m. ET on the WWE Network.

I had the opportunity to chat with Sasha Banks about if she’s thought about what role she would like to play in the Royal Rumble match, which stars from the past she’s hoping will make a surprise appearance, the next step she wants to take in her career, Ronda Rousey, and why she hates Christmas.

So let’s start off with Ronda … Just kidding

“Yeah, you better not.”

Of course, this interview is about you.

As someone who has dreamt of being in a Royal Rumble match, have you thought about what role you would want to have? I assume starting first and then going on to win the match would be at the top of your list, but there is also something about coming in hot at say like number seven and eliminating a bunch of people that seems like it would be really enticing.

“I don’t know if I would want to start off first. I would have to do extra cardio to prepare and with the holiday season I’ve been eating a lot, so I don’t know if I would be ready for that … just kidding (laughs).

Honestly, I would rather get that lucky number 30 and throw everyone out that’s left. I don’t want to sweat my makeup off. I want to look good! But no, I haven’t seriously thought about it or had a chance to because I’m still kind of in that shock moment and I’ve been more thinking about what legend could be in the match or if we’ll have girls from NXT be in the match because with [the] SmackDown and Raw [rosters] we don’t have enough to get to that 30 number yet.

The potential of what legend can I work has me more excited than which number I’ll be in the Royal Rumble match, but I think when I get closer to the actual Royal Rumble, that’s when I’ll get more of my nerves. I don’t want to say I’m in shock because I guessed that this would happen, but it’s still so crazy to kick off 2018 knowing that the women are going to have a Royal Rumble match at the Royal Rumble. It’s really cool.”

Do you know how many girls are going to be in the match?

“I don’t. I would hope 30, right? Just like the guys.”

I would think so, but when I counted all of the active women on the main roster, I realized almost a third of the match would be legends and NXT girls if that magic 30 number was going to be hit. So perfect time to ask this; is there anyone from the past that you can’t wait to hear their music after the crowd finishes their countdown?

“I would love to hear Trish Stratus’ music. Of course Lita, Molly Holly, Jazz, Jacqueline, man even Victoria. It would be an honor to be in the ring with any of those girls.

Beth Phoenix. Of course I want to win it, but at the same time, I would just want her to pick me up and throw me over the top. I would mark out, but I would land on my hands and go back into the ring like Kofi Kingston (laughs).

Any of those girls would be incredible, but of course I would love to see girls from NXT get the opportunity, but of course they wouldn’t win it because I would be the last person standing.”

What about any girls from the Mae Young Classic?

“I mean a lot of the girls from the Mae Young Classic were signed to NXT, so I guess it would be any of the girls who are in NXT now.

My girl Lacey Evans, she was in the Mae Young Classic and she signed with NXT. I have like a women’s crush on her because she reminds me of Sailor Moon, so I really like her (laughs).”

You talked about wanting to sit in the ring at your old wrestling school and reflect on your career recently. I wondered how much the thought of reassessing your personal goals and figuring out where you’re going to go next with your character played a part in wanting to do that.

“For me it’s always been the goal of wanting to be the best and wanting to make a name, my statement here in the WWE. I want to go down as a legend and as the greatest of all time, so those goals have always been a priority for anything I can do.

If I’m even given a five-minute match, I want it to be the best match on the show. Things like that are easy, but for me the hardest thing is to actually think back about all of the things I have accomplished because with how fast things go here in the WWE, we’re on the road every single week, we do live TV every week, it’s hard to actually get to sit down and reflect on where I came from, where I’ve been and how much I’ve done in the company already and I’ve only been on the main roster for almost three years now and I’ve been with WWE for five.

It’s crazy to actually try to have the time to reflect and not get overwhelmed. Like wow dude, look at all of the stuff you’ve done in three years, but it’s crazy because I just want so much more because I’m never satisfied. Of course after the Royal Rumble, the next goal is to main event WrestleMania, to have a singles match at WrestleMania. To main event WWE house shows is a goal.

There are just so many goals … like we keep talking about this women’s evolution, but I just want it to become normal where it’s not just interviews talking about the women, I just want it to be Sasha Banks the WWE superstar. Being the face of the company.

There are so many goals … what I’ve done in these three years is almost like a haze because sometimes I’m like is this a dream? There’s been a lot of stuff (laughs).”

I feel like it’s only going to take time to get people to realize that the women’s revolution or evolution, whatever you want to call it, was a period of time that was needed to get to a point where it’s normal to have women featured in the main event of any show and it’s not a big deal that needs to be pointed out. The storyline will have dictated the placement.

“Exactly and that’s what the number one thing is. I don’t just want something to be given to us just to put that little stamp like ‘Oh look the women are doing it now it’s cool.’ No.

My goal is to main event WrestleMania and if we’re going to main event it, I need it to be the greatest storyline ever. I need the fans to be invested. I just don’t want to get handed something because they’re putting a first time ever [match] for women. I want it to be a good storyline and I want the crowd to care because those are the moments that …

I feel like the reason people talk about the Brooklyn match [I had] with Bayley so much is because of the history between me and Bayley. You know that she fought from the very beginning to get the women’s championship and for me, I fought to keep that and to show people that I’m the best.

People are invested in the storylines more than just putting a name on something and bam! First time ever, you know what I mean?”

Yeah, and it leads me to this, on the Steve Austin podcast you opened up about the idea of women’s tag team championships as a way to help create storyline options for women and give fans more reasons to invest in the division, which led me to this thought. If there was only going be one title on each show, what about having contender’s rankings, so that way every match has a consequence for the winner and loser. It feels like the crowd is able to check out quite a bit on both men’s and women’s matches because there is no reason to invest in the finish of the match.

“Yeah I can hear that, but at the same time … sometimes you get to the matches and they’re like there’s no story to it, but the main story is that you want to win and the more wins you get, the more management sees you as being a potential to go for a championship, so it’s just more about putting on good matches and having fans invested because every single week I want to win, dude. I don’t want to lose.”

You’ve said that the ‘Boss’ character has given you confidence outside of the world of WWE, but has it helped to give you the confidence to fight for something with your character when you disagree with a direction?

“Absolutely. It’s pretty much we within myself that is someone I always wanted to be because I was very shy growing up. I kept to myself. I didn’t have the confidence that I have when I’m in that ring. So if it’s a storyline or things that I want to do in a match, I can be very opinionated, which sometimes sucks because I have a mouth on me.

You learn to pick your battles and to really feel out what’s important to me because you can’t fight for everything, but the things you do fight for should mean something.

I try to fight for the things that have the potential to make something incredible.”

The last thing I have is, what, if anything, is on your Christmas list?

“Well if you were a fan, you would know that I do not like Christmas.”

(Writer’s note here: I didn’t see this topic come up in any of my research, so yes I felt like a stupid idiot here.)

I did not know that (nervously laughing).

“I don’t like Christmas. I don’t care for it at all. If anyone wants to buy me anything for Christmas, I do love makeup. I love Starbucks gift cards because I’m a coffee addict. I don’t mind getting the gifts, I just don’t like buying people gifts because I feel like they are always so ungrateful.

I would always go to my grandmother’s house for Christmas and she had some money, but every time she wanted me to write her a list, I would write WWE action figure and not a stupid Barbie and she would always buy me a Barbie and it would always hurt my feelings, which is another reason why I don’t like Christmas.

But it’s cool now because I now have an action figure and I have a Barbie, so take that grandma.”

You showed her didn’t you?

“I did (laughs). But the nicest thing I did was I actually surprised my husband with a Christmas tree because that’s how much I dislike Christmas.

He never had one, so that was his Christmas present. He saw it today and he cried.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

What was going through Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque’s head during Daniel Bryan’s return?

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*Note* This is a small part of an interview with Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque that will be published in full later on today. 

So Daniel Bryan’s return on Tuesday. By now everyone knows his road back and how much it took for him to get cleared, so when I saw him get physical in the ring for the first time in two years, I was obviously thrilled, but also incredibly nervous because of his medical history and scared due to the nature of the business. What was running through your head as you watched that segment unfold on SmackDown?

“So one thing that I have learned as an athlete over all of these years is that you have to learn to trust the process of the medical professionals. When I came back from my quad injury, there was a point in time when they told me that, ‘You’re good to go,’ but still in your mind you’re wondering ‘should I be tentative? Should I not do this, should I not do that?’ You second guess things and you have to realize that you have to get that out of you. You’re either good or you’re not. There’s no, ‘oh you’re pretty good, you should be OK!’

If you approach it and say, ‘I gotta do this and protect this and I have to do this differently than I have before,’ and I’m not talking about changing your style, I’m talking about just protecting yourself and not committing yourself 100 percent. If you do that, you’re almost insuring yourself if something were to go wrong.

My hope was that Daniel would go all out. Having seen him at various points of his journey back, I really wasn’t afraid of the fact that he was going to hold back because I had already seen him at that level. It was emotional watching it. It was exciting watching it. I was thrilled for him.

Am I a little nervous? Yeah, that’s the human part of it, but I have to trust the medical people to say we don’t believe it’s in your best interest physically to do this anymore and some of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do in this business is look talent in the eye and tell them that.

To be able to trust the medical professionals and have them say that with everything that has happened and where we are right now that he can do this again is awesome. It really is awesome. For him as a human being to have a second opportunity at his dream when he thought it was gone is a rare thing.

That’s going to make a lot of people out there go, ‘Well what about me?’ But that’s a rare, rare, rare, rare thing and I don’t know how many people will ever get that opportunity.”

Twitter: @ScottDargis

Daniel Bryan medically cleared to return to WWE

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After more than two years of medical evaluations, Daniel Bryan has been cleared to return to in-ring competition by neurosurgeons, neurologists, and concussion experts including Dr. Robert Cantu, Dr. Javier Cárdenas and Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher.

The final key was Bryan being cleared by WWE’s medical director Dr. Joseph Maroon and today that hurdle was leaped.

Even though Bryan was forced to retire from in-ring competition after a series of concussions in 2015 and 2016, he never gave up on his dream of returning to the ring.

Bryan tried every resource he could to get his mind and body in a position where he could be cleared by Dr. Maroon, but as of a few months ago, it looked like Bryan’s on-screen role as the general manager of SmackDown was going to be his permanent placement until his contract ended in the fall.

Bryan hinted at working in Mexico (CMLL), Japan (New Japan Pro Wrestling), and the U.S. (Ring of Honor) after his WWE contract came to an end, but now that has completely changed.

What Bryan’s role will be at WrestleMania is up in the air right now, but it makes sense for him to tag with Shane McMahon against Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, as the four have had a long-term on-screen storyline.

Twitter: @ScottDargis