Minneapolis made an indelible impression on Sasha Banks when she was only 13 years old.
In 2005, the lifelong Eddie Guerrero fan showed up to WWE Raw at the Target Center with front-row tickets she’d won in a contest. Walking into the arena, she saw fans holding “R.I.P. Eddie” signs, and she thought maybe Guerrero was scheduled to wrestle the Undertaker. She hadn’t heard that the man who’d hooked her into wrestling had been found dead of heart failure in his Minneapolis hotel room the day prior.
“Minneapolis has such a special place in my heart, but it’s also a very sad place because I got to go to the Eddie Guerrero memorial show,” says Banks. “Finding out my favorite wrestler had just died there killed me, but looking at it now, to go back [to Minneapolis], it’s just goosebumps knowing that I’ve performed in that arena now.”
Banks lived in Richfield from 2002-2005 -- a time period during which she began to see wrestling as a legitimate way forward. The same year she walked into the Target Center for Guerrero’s memorial, she began reaching out to local wrestling academies asking to begin training. She remembers emailing former AWA wrestler and world-renowned trainer Eddie Sharkey begging for him to take her on. Sharkey thought she was too young, and so did every other grappling academy in the Midwest.
“I had to be 16 or 18, so they all turned me down,” Banks remembers. “So that's when I started doing MMA in Bloomington to try to get me ready for wrestling.”
It wasn’t until five years later, after moving to Massachusetts, that Banks debuted in the ring in New England Championship Wrestling. She signed with WWE developmental promotion NXT in 2012, and Banks has since metamorphosed into the Legit Boss -- a brash fan-favorite who’s won the NXT Women's Championship once and reigned four times as the Women's Champion on WWE’s flagship brand, Monday Night Raw. On October 22, Raw will come to the Target Center for their annual TLC (tables, ladders, and chairs) pay-per-view. The event will mark the first time Banks has wrestled in the Gopher State since August 2015.
“As a girl, I always used to go to F1RST Wrestling shows across the street from the Target Center,” Banks says, referring to the local indie promotion that puts on shows at First Ave and, most recently, the Cabooze. “I remember being online to buy tickets to go see any promotion, and then looking across the street and seeing the Target Center and knowing one day I would perform there. I remember climbing up to the nosebleeds and being so far from the ring. Now I climb into the ring and I'm like, 'Wow, now you're here.’”
Though Banks’ past in Minnesota is bright with nostalgia, her future here is far less optimistic. Backstage reports have suggested Banks is unhappy with her current booking, and she isn’t set to perform during the main show at TLC.
The women’s wrestler everyone’s buzzing about at the moment is Asuka, the Japanese dynamo who comes to Monday Night Raw on a historic 182-match winning streak. Asuka will debut at TLC in Minneapolis, facing off against Australian heel Emma in her inaugural match. It’s a bitter pill for Banks to swallow, as the Boss lost her chance to welcome the so-called Empress of Tomorrow to WWE when she was pinned by Emma in a five-way match in early October. Instead, she’ll have to settle for a pre-show match against Alicia Fox.
But the chaos of the wrestling industry has never deterred Banks. Even without a match on the TLC card, the Legit Boss is salivating to prove that her Minnesota-born fire has not been dimmed by her snub from the hardcore pay-per-view.
“I wanna see the Boss versus the Empress of Tomorrow, that’d be amazing,” Banks says. “The match between her and the Legit Boss would prove to the world that I am the greatest NXT Women’s Champion of all time and the greatest women’s wrestler of all time.”
“I say bring it on,” she adds with Guerrero-like cocksureness.
IF YOU GO:
With the Shield, Finn Balor, Asuka, and more
6:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22
$27-$502; more info here