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AEW ‘Dynamite’ review: It’s looking like Sasha Banks isn’t going to be All Elite

Chris Graham
sasha banks
Sasha Banks at a WWE live event in 2022 in Charlottesville. Photo: Crystal Abbe Graham/AFP

Toni Storm was announced last night as Saraya’s “mystery partner” for a tag match with Britt Baker and AEW champ Jamie Hayter on the Jan. 11 “Dynamite,” seemingly ending the speculation that the mystery spot would be filled by the former Sasha Banks.

Banks debuted with New Japan on Wednesday as Mercedes Moné, challenging the NJPW women’s champ, Kairi, to a title match at the company’s “Battle in the Valley” event in San Jose, Calif., on Feb. 18.

Banks – her real name is Mercedes Varnado, so I’m going to switch now to referring to her by her real name – had been speculated as the fourth participant in the Jan. 11 “Dynamite” match since the Dec. 8 segment that had Baker issuing the challenge to Saraya.

It’s fair to assume that Tony Khan had at that point intended for Varnado to be the mystery tag partner in the match, that back in early December he thought he’d be able to get her to sign once her WWE deal expired on Dec. 31.

And that now, for whatever reason, Varnado ended up deciding against committing to a long-term deal with AEW, forcing Khan’s hand.

Varnado is reportedly on a short-term deal with New Japan, and the sense is that she signed that deal to be able to maintain career flexibility – whether her future continues to be in pro wrestling, in acting, or a combination of the two.

On the flip, it wouldn’t make sense for Khan to invest in Varnado for a short-term run, at risk of upsetting the order of business with AEW’s women’s division for what would basically be hotshot booking to put Varnado over, then watch her leave.

There’s still the possibility that, wrestling being wrestling, the announcement on last night’s show that Storm is the “mystery partner” could be a swerve to get us off the track.

If so, kudos there.

But that’s not looking likely.

AEW News and Notes

Darby Allin won the TNT title in the main event last night, with a clean fall over Samoa Joe. How about that for sticking a fork in the rebuild of Wardlow?

Nice win for Ricky Starks over Chris Jericho, who of course had to get something back from the clean fall loss with a post-match beatdown. The match made Starks come across as strong, particularly the spot that had Starks in a lengthy Walls of Jericho that included him taking a shot from a baseball bat from “Daddy Magic” Matt Menard.

Khan teased a tag title change when Jeff Jarrett hit The Stroke on The Acclaimed’s Anthony Bowens, and Sonjay Dutt knocked Bowens’ foot off the ropes, leading to a three-count and an official announcement that Jarrett and Jay Lethal were the new champs. But because a group of refs had been called to the ring to eject Satnam Singh, Aubrey Edwards was around to see the chicanery, and convinced the match ref, Stephon Smith, to continue the match. The Acclaimed went on to get the win. Good storytelling here all around.

Bryan Danielson was super over with the hometown Seattle crowd for his win over Tony Nese, which was the setup to a mic battle with AEW champ Maxwell Jacob Friedman that set up the next few weeks for the main event scene. The gist is: Danielson will be wrestling on “Dynamite” each week through Feb. 8, and the main event at the “Revolution” pay-per-view on March 5 will be an IronMan Match. Good news on all counts there.

Swerve Strickland and AR Fox put on a helluva match. It’s great to see Swerve as a single and as a heel, and we need to see more of this AR Fox guy, who somehow is just now seeing the light of day on TV 15 years into his career. One observation on the new faction Khan put together for Strickland: why have him with two guys who look like leftovers from the Jan. 6 insurrection? It looks so out of place to have a guy who embodies the name Swerve with guys from the Aryan Nation.

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Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham, the king of "fringe media," is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].