The answer to the question of, “Which wrestler in the WWE had the best 2015?” is a tricky one. Do you go with Roman Reigns, who seemingly has the might of the entire company backing his rise to the top? Do you go with John Cena, who still moves mind-blowing amounts of merch and had a ton of great matches? Is it Brock Lesnar, who continues to be the most interesting and exciting figure in a company of larger than life individuals?
All solid choices, but the actual correct answer to the question is Sasha Banks AKA The Boss, and she's not afraid to tell you all about it.
“Did you not see my year in NXT? I dominated it,” Banks tells us over the phone from San Antonio, where the WWE is getting ready for another night of TV. “I put NXT on the map. Everyone was talking about NXT, and everyone was talking about Sasha Banks.”
NXT is the WWE's development brand, and the most exciting thing to happen to the company in forever. It's mix of simple storytelling and great in-ring action has made it fan favorite, and in 2015 it was the launchpad for current WWE superstars Kevin Owens, Tyler Breeze and Kalisto. The best thing to come out of NXT, however, is its emphasis on women's wrestling, treating it with just as much respect as it does the men's side of the business.
It helps that it had a wrestler like Banks on their roster for much of the year. Not only was she the NXT Women's Champion for over half the year, but she was a part of four Match of the Year Candidates, one which many might argue was the best of match held under the WWE name in 2015, her battle with Bayley at the NXT Takeover event in Brooklyn. That night Banks and Bayley stole the show, which lead to what is one of the most important women's matches in North American wrestling history, their rematch at NXT Takeover: Respect, which saw a women's match headline a WWE-branded PPV/special event for the first time in company history.
“2015 was one of the best years of my life. I got to do so many things that I only dreamt of as a little girl,” Banks says. “From getting to main event a so-called PPV for the WWE to being NXT Women's Champion, and to have that magical match with Bayley in Brooklyn in front of all those fans. I'll never ever forget that moment.”
While she may have “only” headlined an NXT special, she sees no reason why women couldn't headline a proper WWE PPV event.
“I think we need to be given the opportunity and given the ball and when that happens we're going to set the world on fire,” Banks says. “I want to put women's wrestling on the map, and just change the perception of what women can do in this business, and just keep making it bigger and better and have everyone talk about women's wrestling.”
As gifted in the ring and on the mike as Banks is, it doesn't seem impossible. Fans have really taken to her, and it's not unusual to her them chant her name, even if she's not in a match.
“I feel like it's more of a respect thing because of what I've done in NXT. I think the fans know what I bring to that ring so they want to see that, and when they don't get to see that they chant it,” she says.
“I don't know how to explain the feeling. My heart always starts to flutter a little bit. Who wouldn't want that, right?”
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Local fans have a chance to see Banks this Friday night as the WWE returns to Houston for the biggest non-televised event in recent memory. Not only are superstars like John Cena and Dean Ambrose on the bill, but Houston gets a rare non-TV appearance by Brock Lesnar. This is all part of the warmup for Wrestlemania 32, taking place up the road in Dallas later this year. It's going to be a very good year for Texas wrestling fans.
And Banks says it's going to be a pretty good year for her too.
“2016 I promise you will be the year of The Boss. 2015 was just the beginnning. Everyone heard the buzz from it, but 2016 I'm making my name, making my statement, and I am taking over. So be prepared.”
The WWE returns to Houston at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Toyota Center, 1510 Polk. For information, call 713-758-7200 or visit houstontoyotacenter.com. $20 to $105.