Inside the Mind of the Infamous Mercedes Krew

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By @Sajizzle

Pro wrestling fans are a special breed. Whether the front row hooligans who made Ric Flair an anti-hero in the Mid-Atlantic or the South Philly maniacs who turned a surfer dude into the ultimate hardcore legend, the passion of pro wrestling fans is the only thing that can turn this predetermined, politically fraught dance into something approximating a meritocracy. 

Even relative to the infamous storied history of pro wrestling fandom, one sect has reached legendary polarizing status: the self-stylized Sasha Banks/Mercedes Moné “Krew.” A fandom so rabid that mere allusions to her status can drive unsuspecting Twitter accounts into lockdown within hours. A fandom so loyal and large that an unadvertised but heavily teased appearance at WrestleKingdom drove the largest live international viewership numbers in New Japan World history and sold out their next U.S. show in minutes. And a fandom so laser-focused that Mercedes’ quarter-hour drawing power consistently topped WWE television for nearly her entire main roster run, even on shows with Goldberg, Roman Reigns, and John Cena, and often despite head-scratching booking.

So what is it about this diminutive woman that inspires that type of loyalty from a fanbase that crosses socioeconomic demographics and even transcends wrestling tribalism? Part of it is pure talent. Beginning at age 22, Mercedes carved out a Hall of Fame worthy resumé of legendary matches. Even her harshest critics cannot deny that she is in the conversation for the best American woman wrestler of all time, and discerning ones can take away the geographic and gender qualifiers. Critics will say her promo work is subpar, but while she hasn’t always recited a script as well as the Mike Mizanins of the world, when she talks, people react and pay to keep watching. And if that isn’t the ultimate goal of a pro wrestling promo, then what is?

But in 2024, there are plenty of amazing wrestlers and promos in the industry. None of that fully explains the singular connection Mercedes Varnado has with her fans. What really explains it is her lived experience.

“I came from nothing. I came from living in hotels with a brother with a disability, a single mom who did not have a job. I had to leave school just so my mom could get work. People have no idea, the struggle.” – Mercedes Varnado on the Kick Rocks Wrestling Podcast with Evan Mack in March 2024.

Mercedes Varnado should never have made it in professional wrestling. The daughter of a single mother and the older sister to a beloved brother living with a disability, Mercedes as a teenager sacrificed her education and social life to help support her family. With that heavy responsibility on her young shoulders, the only other passion she wanted to pursue was pro wrestling, an industry which is not kind to ambitious women. As a Black woman, she knew the odds were even worse.

Not only did Mercedes reach the top of the industry, she did it with her back firmly pressed to the wall. Signed to WWE at age 19, Mercedes lacked the pedigree or imposing physique of Charlotte Flair, the favored All-American blonde hair and blue-eyed look of Alexa Bliss, or the girl next door demeanor, both on camera and backstage, of Bayley or Becky Lynch. 

Instead, Mercedes brought to the table a set of inalienable qualities that historically read as obstacles in pro wrestling, namely her race & gender, along with a chip on her shoulder the size of Andre’s fist, and a drive, work ethic, and natural talent for professional wrestling that few in the industry could touch. 

That chip on the shoulder did not always rub management the right way. While Dusty Rhodes, William Regal, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, Triple H, Bret Hart, Trish Stratus, Lita, Stephanie McMahon, Arn Anderson, Ric Flair, and countless other legends heaped praise on Mercedes, and David Shoemaker of The Ringer described her in 2015 as the next Rock, WWE management always prioritized their chosen favorites over her.

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To the extent that Mercedes did get championship opportunities and main event pushes in WWE, it always felt like management was dragged kicking and screaming to that point. Even the pinnacle of Mercedes’ career, the historic and outstanding main event of WrestleMania 37, only happened because the organized Krew drove a weeks-long hashtag campaign to guarantee it. Ultimately, Mercedes’ main event opportunities were ostensibly intended to boost the careers of other chosen ones, like Charlotte Flair, Alexa Bliss, Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch, or Bianca Belair. WWE never quite bought into Mercedes as their next franchise player, even if by all metrics, the fans, media, and greater wrestling world did. 

Indeed, Mercedes’ biggest breakout mainstream moment, getting cast as the recurring bad-ass Koska Reeves on The Mandalorian, happened completely independently of WWE. Perhaps it was that success that gave Mercedes the confidence to forcibly untether herself from the WWE machine when she, alongside Trinity “Naomi” Fatu, walked out of WWE Raw in May 2022, just over a year after her WrestleMania main event. 

“I eat steak, like Vince McMahon, with vegetables. If I see myself where I want to see myself, I’m at Vince McMahon’s level.” – Sasha Banks on the Broken Skull Sessions in February 2021.

That choice, more than any other accomplishment in Mercedes’ still nascent Hall of Fame career, best explains her lasting connection to the Krew. A young Black woman with every odd stacked against her not only led the way to revolutionizing a white male-dominated company’s approach to women’s wrestling, she also had the spine to walk away from the safety of that company to pursue even more, on her own terms, with full control of her destiny. Through sheer force of will, talent, and guts, she got everything she ever wanted despite all the voices telling her, “No.” And then she went for more.

There’s never been another pro wrestler who started from further behind the starting line than Mercedes Varnado and still made it to the very top. That story is universal. It speaks to the young queer dancer in Pennsyltucky, the budding graphic artist in the suburbs of London, the Hijabi girl in Riyadh, the first-time dad picturing a future for his mixed race daughter, and the young Black girl from Boston dreaming bigger dreams than she is allowed to dream. None of them are supposed to make it, but neither was she. 

“And now to be 32, to be financially blessed, to be able to take care of my mom and my brother, it’s the biggest dream come true and the most amazing feeling in the whole world. And to know all of this comes from my love and passion from wrestling… nobody can say nothing to me.” – Mercedes Varnado on the Kick Rocks Wrestling Podcast with Evan Mack in March 2024.

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Tonight, AEW presents Big Business, a show that anyone locked into the pro wrestling world knows is built around the arrival of Mercedes Moné. It marks Mercedes’ return to weekly U.S. television, and her first foray into an American company outside of WWE. Will this new billionaire boss finally give Mercedes the opportunity to be the face and franchise of a national company? Time will tell, but the Krew will be there no matter what.

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