Rising WWE star Sasha Banks is out to prove that strong, fit women can dominate sports entertainment as well as the guys–ALYSSA SHAFFER
DON’T CALL Sasha Banks a diva. While the 24-year-old upand- coming WWE star— better known by her moniker, “Legit Boss”— has plenty of style and swagger, she considers herself an athlete rather than eye candy. Fans have responded not only to her bluster but also to her athleticism, with thousands chanting, “We want Sasha!” before each match. WWE enthusiasts label her “the best female performer on the roster” and a “once-in-a-generation talent,” a title Banks is only too happy to take on.
“WWE is legit everything—it’s physical, it’s drama, it’s larger than life!” says Banks. “You get to be an athlete and a superstar. What’s better than that?”
The 24-year-old Banks (real name: Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado) has dreamed of competing in WWE from the age of 10, when she first saw a WWE match on TV. “My mother made me turn it off, so I snuck into my brother’s room to watch the rest. Ever since that moment, I became obsessed!” A track-and-field star growing up (she was termed “the Fastest Girl in the State of Iowa” at age 11), Banks was always active. But her plans for an athletic career were sidetracked in seventh grade, when she started helping to look after her younger brother, who is autistic. “My brother actually helped turn me into the person I am today—I had to learn patience, and when I stayed home to help him, I discovered a lot about myself.”
Still, Banks never lost the spark to become a future WWE star. She began working on the independent circuit in Boston, and after participating in a WWE tryout, she signed with WWE’s NXT. From there, the Boss was born. “When I first started in NXT, Sasha Banks was a nobody—just a happy-go-lucky girl who was excited to finally have gotten signed. I needed something to get noticed,” she recalls.
Enter rapper Snoop Dogg, who just happens to be Banks’ cousin and a huge WWE fan himself. (Snoop was recently inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.) “Snoop always called himself ‘the Boss,’ and I had this realization that I should call myself that, too, because I know that I am the best female Superstar WWE has ever seen—they just had to give me the opportunity to prove it,” says Banks. “I needed the confidence to go out and show them that I’m the boss.”
Snoop has supported his cousin on her rise to the top (he even escorted her into the ring at WrestleMania this past April, performing during her entrance before the crowd of more than 100,000). But Banks, who stands at a petite 5’4″, says the most positive feedback comes from her female fans. “I think women look up to me and think, ‘If Sasha can do it, so can I.’ I was told so many times when I was trying to get into WWE, ‘You’re too small’ and ‘You’re not good enough.’ But I kept coming back because I wanted to be here. Being the boss is showing everyone that you never give up and always follow your dreams. Legit because you don’t ever let anyone tell you, ‘No, you can’t.’ ”
Banks backs up her words with hard work. She’s in the gym most days for about 90 minutes at a time doing a mix of cardio and strength training like kettlebell swings, burpees, and box jumps. “It’s hard to get to the gym when we’re on the road so much, but it’s so important that I make the time to keep up with it.” Last year, Banks was one of the first women to main-event a 30-minute “Iron Man” match, which had her increase her training to two cardio workouts a day plus resistance training to build strength and endurance. She also credits her work at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando for helping master her signature moves, which include her latest, “the Bank Statement” and “Bankrupt.”
As the success of the women’s division continues to grow in WWE, you can expect to see even more athleticism spotlighted. (Fellow WWE stars Charlotte and Eva Marie come from a sports background: Charlotte played college volleyball; Eva Marie was a college soccer player.) At WrestleMania 32, the Divas division was officially retired (along with the purple butterfly title), replaced by the WWE Women’s Championship. “The fans used to call the women’s matches a bathroom break—now they are actually buying tickets to watch the women wrestle. That speaks volumes about how far we’ve come,” says Banks, who says she’s just getting started.
“I want to show the world that women belong in WWE. Every time I go out and hear my name being chanted, it gets me so excited,” she exclaims. “I just want to keep showing everyone that I am here to be the best.”
HOW SHE DOES IT
At the gym four to five days a week, running on the treadmill plus total-body strength moves.
On the menu:
“I try to eat clean even when I’m on the road.”
Egg-white omelet with feta, onion, and turkey. Salad with chicken for lunch. Protein smoothie for snack. Salmon and asparagus for dinner.
Beef jerky, tuna packets, fruit.
Ramen noodles, pizza, and burgers. “Sometimes all in one day!”
In her suitcase:
Workout clothes, ring gear, sunglasses, and lots of bling, including a “Legit Boss” necklace and rings. Plus a “blinged out” jacket. “The TSA guys all know me by now.”
Watching Korean movies, anime, and playing video games.
“ I THINK WOMEN LOOK UP TO ME AND THINK, ‘IF SASHA CAN DO IT, SO CAN I.’ ”
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