Athletes Unlimited raises $30 million in new funding
AU has had a big year.
Wrestling superstar Sasha Banks stopped by the Just Women’s Sports podcast to talk with Kelley O’Hara about her storied WWE career and longstanding passion for the sport.
As a kid, Banks would stealthily watch wrestling on her family’s television, going against her mom’s instructions, who thought she was too young to take in the sport. But Banks says from the moment she saw wrestling, she “was hooked like a fish.”
“I was just obsessed,” Banks says, adding that as a child, she immediately thought, “When I grow up, this is everything I want to be.”
Banks would forgo hangouts with kids her own age to study up on wrestling at her local library. By the time she was 13 years old, she was calling wrestling camps, pleading with them to take her on.
At 18, Banks started training with Chaotic Wrestling, competing under the ring name Mercedes KV, a shortened version of her real name, Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado.
From the moment she started with the company, Banks felt she had a chip on her shoulder, given that the sport was still a bit of boys club.
“I just wanted to prove to the guys every single night that women can wrestle,” she tells O’Hara, adding that, “In 2010… men didn’t really respect the women.”
After a year with Chaotic, Banks won the women’s championship at the company. The title, Banks says, was created because of her presence at the facility, with the hope of attracting more women to the company. Still just a teenager, Banks was already breaking ground for women in wrestling.
“Not only am I creating something and making something happen, I am giving women an opportunity to show their skills at one of the top companies,” Banks says of that time.
As Banks advanced to the WWE, she continued to expand the wrestling paradigm, starting with the creation of her WWE persona, Sasha Banks.
“Sasha Banks is everything that I wanted to be and what I needed as a kid,” she tells O’Hara. “I needed someone that was confident, who was fierce, who was a bad ass, who was sexy, who could stand up for herself, who won’t take ‘no’ for answer. I needed who I am today as a kid.”
Banks quickly took that energetic persona into the ring, forming important rivalries that propelled her up the ranks of the WWE.
“We all had the same initial goal of making this division the best division we possibly could,” she says of fellow female wrestlers, including Charlotte Flair, who she got to train with and fight against in her early days with WWE.
In 2021, Banks’ ascendance reached new heights as her and Bianca Belair became the first Black wrestlers to face-off in WrestleMania’s main event.
Banks says it was both a watershed moment for the sport and the culmination of a childhood dream.
“The biggest thing that I got to check off was my biggest dream in my heart,” she says.
Though she’s won nine WWE Championships and broken every imaginable barrier, Banks is still just 29 years old. At some point, she might run of childhood goals to complete. Until then, she’ll continue living her dream.
You can listen to Sasha Banks’s full conversation with Kelly O’Hara here.
AU has had a big year.
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