WWE fans are used to plenty of drama occurring on screen, and during the wrestling company’s shows, we often see ‘behind the scenes’, where just as much drama can take place.
Of course, these scenes are all written and crafted into the bigger WWE narrative, and are not usually an accurate representation of what happens behind the curtain.
But this week, some very real drama occurred backstage at Monday Night Raw, WWE’s biggest weekly programme.
Sasha Banks and Naomi - two of the company’s biggest female stars - reportedly walked out of the arena, just hours before they were due to headline the show in a main event match.
This left WWE scrambling to rewrite the show, throwing together a new match and finding themselves unable to provide the headline bout they’d advertise for audiences.
But why did the pair walk out, will they be back, and what happens next?
Here is everything you need to know.
Last night’s (16 May) WWE Raw began with several new fights being revealed to be taking place on the show, including a six-pack challenge to decide the #1 challenger for the Raw Women’s Championship in the main event slot.
The original bout was intended to pit Naomi and Sasha Banks, the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions, against Asuka, Becky Lynch, Doudrop, and Nikki A.S.H, the new determine a new challenger to Bianca Belair’s Raw Women’s Championship.
However, early in the programme, that match was abruptly switched to a singles contest between Becky Lynch and Asuka to determine the #1 contender.
On the programme itself, there wasn’t much explanation as to why the match was changed, but recent backstage reports have provided some insight into what happened.
Sasha Banks reportedly took issue with certain creative ideas pitched for the show’s main event, according to PWInsider.
She requested and was granted a meeting with WWE head Vince McMahon, but when he refused to make changes to the script, Banks decided to leave the arena.
According to Fightful, she was joined in leaving the show by tag team partner and fellow Raw Women’s Tag Team Champion Naomi, who was reportedly planned to win the match and become Bianca Belair’s new #1 challenger.
Why did they walk out?
A lengthy Twitter thread posted by an account followed by both Banks and Naomi (suggesting legitimate connections), shines some light on the reasons for their departure.
Apparently, Banks and Naomi were unhappy that they were told they would be embarking on separate runs of singles matches, in order to make the company’s female champions look dominant.
While they were losing to the current champions, Banks and Naomi would continue to “carry” their tag team championships, although with their solo storylines, it would have been unlikely time could have been found to continue showcasing the women’s tag division on TV.
Banks and Naomi were reportedly unhappy with this, believing the women’s tag division would have suffered from their absence, and expressing a desire to continue working as a team to help build up the next wave of wrestling stars.
But the pair’s issues go back further still: their titles really haven’t had a decent storyline to focus on over the past few months.
What have WWE said?
In a rare moment, WWE did actually acknowledge the situation live on air, something they wouldn’t usually do.
While no specifics were given, WWE commentator Corey Graves said shortly before the main event that Banks and Naomi “summarily and unprofessionally left the arena.”
WWE has since issued a statement clarifying the matter, stating that the tag team duo resigned their Women’s Tag Team Championships prior to the walkout.
The Women’s Tag Team Champions are believed to have left their belts on John Laurinaitis’ - head of talent relations - desk backstage before leaving the venue.
WWE has said: ”When Sasha Banks and Naomi arrived at the arena this afternoon, they were informed of their participation in the main event of tonight’s Monday Night Raw.
”During the broadcast, they walked into WWE Head of Talent Relations John Laurinaitis’ office with their suitcases in hand, placed their tag team championship belts on his desk and walked out.
“They claimed they weren’t respected enough as tag team champions. And even though they had eight hours to rehearse and construct their match, they claimed they were uncomfortable in the ring with two of their opponents – even though they’d had matches with those individuals in the past with no consequence.”
Despite WWE’s announcement, Naomi and Banks did not claim they didn’t want to work with ‘unsafe’ opponents, according to backstage insiders close to the matter.
It has also been mentioned that until WWE’s statement, fellow wrestlers had not heard that Banks or Naomi considered anyone "unsafe."
Have Banks and Naomi left WWE?
The incident is the first widely reported walkout of a top WWE star since CM Puk left the company in 2014, after being dissatisfied with the creative direction of his character and the treatment he was receiving from the company.
Punk would be away from professional wrestling for seven years, finally returning to the sport for upstart WWE rivals AEW, a bigger star than ever.
So many fans are wondering, could the same happen with Sasha Banks and Naomi?
Sasha Banks has unfollowed a number of major WWE accounts on Twitter in recent days, and while this may or may not be related to her leaving Raw, it’s worth noting that she has unfollowed WWE, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon and other top wrestlers.
Could this be a sign that she is done with the company? This isn’t the first time McMahon and Sasha Banks have clashed over how certain situations should be handled after all.
Banks previously stated that when she requested her release from WWE after WrestleMania 35 in 2019, McMahon urged her to take a long vacation instead.
It should be noted that at the time of writing, neither has officially left their contract with WWE. Until we get official statements from the two performers, or WWE itself, the situation will likely remain unclear.
It’s also worth noting that, in the case of CM Punk, he was “officially” suspended for two months after walking out on the company; Punk claims that after that suspension was up, nobody from WWE attempted to contact him.
So whether we’ll see Banks and Naomi in another promotion like AEW remains to be seen, and WWE will likely be scrambling to get the pair back to live events.