One of the most anticipated matches at WWE Crown Jewel 2021 will see Sasha Banks vie for the SmackDown Women's Championship in a Triple Threat match with Bianca Belair and titleholder Becky Lynch.
Banks has had her fair share of run-ins with both women over the years, giving this contest a must-see feel. The fate of the belt will also be decided, with Lynch and Belair moving to Raw in the WWE draft and The Boss remaining on SmackDown.
Regardless of the result, the night will mark yet another major milestone in Banks' career. She will join an elite group of women to have competed in Saudi Arabia since WWE started running shows over there in 2018.
From holding every active title WWE has to offer for women at the moment to headlining WrestleMania earlier this year, the 29-year-old is no stranger to making history. She's lived up to the hype time and time again and cemented herself as one of the company's most popular performers.
Ahead of Thursday's Crown Jewel, The Blueprint sat down with Bleacher Report to talk about her Triple Threat match on the show, WrestleMania dream matches she wants to have, her experience on the second season of The Mandalorian, and more.
Check out the complete audio of the interview on the next slide and read on for the highlights.
Wrestling in Saudi Arabia and Thoughts on Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch
Crown Jewel 2021 will be the sixth Saudi Arabia show WWE has run since 2018 and the first time Banks has been in action on one of them.
The Boss says she doesn't know what to expect but has been seeking advice from Bayley, Natalya and Naomi about how she can prepare for the immense culture shock.
The Boss knows a thing or two about competing in foreign countries, having participated in the first-ever women's match in Abu Dhabi against Alexa Bliss in 2017.
It's difficult for her to determine at this point how similar the two experiences will be, but she's keeping an open mind and is excited at the chance to steal the show at Crown Jewel.
"There's no relations [to Abu Dhabi] yet until I'm fully over there," Banks said. "I know when I went to Abu Dhabi, I was so much younger then during a different time period of my life. I'm going in there as The Legit Boss. My career has just taken off since then.
"I got to main-event WrestleMania 37. My mindset is just so much more different because the women have grown so much more since that event. I can't wait to go over there and create more opportunities and change and growth and showing people all over the world that women can do anything and we have been doing everything.”
Although she's been at odds with Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch in recent weeks, Banks had high praise for both of her rivals. She referred to The EST of WWE as the undisputed future of the company and was impressed how Lynch returned so soon after having a baby and in fantastic shape.
"I think those are two of the most amazing women we have in WWE," she said. "With Bianca Belair, she is just taking this place by storm. She is the strongest and the fastest, and she is making so many names and great headlines for herself. I love watching her grow. I love seeing the performer she is today, and she's going to go down in history as one of the greatest of all time.
"Becky Lynch, one of my oldest rivals and someone I grew up with in NXT, to see her growth and to see her now better than ever, to come back after having a baby and a 12-pack, it has me feeling some type of way. Do I need to lay off the pizza a bit or just enjoy my life? I don't know. She is incredible and one of my favorite opponents to be in the ring with.”
Staying on SmackDown and Why She Needs to Win at Crown Jewel
Following a four-year stay on Raw, Banks has called SmackDown her home since October 2019.
The Boss has been synonymous with the blue brand's success on Fox in that time, so there was no reason for her to switch shows in this year's draft. She was relieved to be staying put and is a firm believer that it's the best brand in WWE today.
"I absolutely love SmackDown," Banks said. "SmackDown is my home. I was just on Monday Night Raw. I can tell you there's a big difference. SmackDown is the show to watch every Friday night. Top to bottom, it has the best talent, the best roster and the best matches. It's just a good, easy show you can understand. It's two hours.
"Raw is great, too. It's nice to have that third hour for more opportunities for more Superstars you probably haven't seen, but SmackDown is the place for Sasha Banks.”
As previously noted, she is the only Superstar in the SmackDown Women's Championship match at Crown Jewel who is still a member of the blue brand's roster coming out of the draft. That would seem to suggest she'll be leaving Saudi Arabia as the new champ, but there are other factors to consider as well.
Charlotte Flair remains the Raw women's champion, so if Banks were to win on Thursday, SmackDown would have two women's titles on its show.
The Blueprint is intrigued as to how it's all going to play out, but first, she plans on doing her part and bringing the belt back to where it belongs.
"For me, this is where the real pressure comes from," Banks said. "I have two Raw Superstars, Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch, trying to come after the SmackDown Women's Championship. How is that going to make any sense? I have to make sure the SmackDown Women's Championship stays on SmackDown just for the sake of the locker room and the whole division.
"We can't be title-less, and I don't want Charlotte Flair to bring her Raw Women's Championship over. We got to figure something out, but I definitely know on October 21, the SmackDown Women's Championship is coming home to The Legit Boss."
If She Feels Pressure Helping to Carry the Women's Evolution
On the subject of pressure, it's something Banks constantly deals with when it comes to raising the bar for female wrestlers. Even after she's achieved the unfathomable, she's still searching for ways to create more opportunities for others.
She has been an important piece of the Women's Evolution since the start. From making women's matches in the main event of Raw and SmackDown commonplace to headlining WrestleMania, she's been a part of plenty of firsts and has knocked it out of the park every time.
"I would say yes and no," she said in response to whether she feels pressure to continue to help carrying the Women's Evolution. "Yes just because I want to keep the momentum going because I wanted to make sure that if I'm not in the title picture, there are more women in the title picture and there's two women's storylines going on at once.
"I just want more, more, more for the women, and I feel like we've been doing that. For me, it's nothing new. I feel the pressure less and less because they believe in me so much that I don't have to put pressure on myself anymore."
As for what other goals Banks aims to achieve, she teased the possibility of challenging Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship and proving she's the face of Friday nights.
After all, she's basically done all she can do in the women's division, which she feels has never been bigger or better than it is today.
"I feel like we've been knocking down every door that's been closed in front of us," Banks said. "If they keep making more doors, we're going to keep knocking them down.
"The WWE women's division is the best it's ever been. I think it's the greatest of any era from top to bottom and I can't wait to see what more the future brings, even from NXT 2.0. To see how many women are down there from when I first started—there was only a group of eight and now there's maybe a group of 30—just to see the growth from then to now is so beautiful."
Her Change in Attitude and Having Fans Back
Before the bell rang for Banks vs. Belair in the main event of Night 1 of WrestleMania 37, both women were seen getting emotional.
The Boss portrayed more of a babyface version of herself heading into that clash, but thankfully, she's been back in heel mode since returning to the ring over the summer.
Banks has bounced back and forth between the two roles over the course of her career, but she's always been in her element as a villain.
When asked about her change in attitude of late and whether that was always the endgame, she stressed that she's always been The Boss no matter what.
"For me, it's just to always be more of a boss, to be bigger and to always have the spotlight on me," Banks said. "For me, it's nothing new. People may see it a little differently, but I'm still my same self. I'm still booked and busy and the boss of WWE. I'm the greatest of all time, so that's nothing new.
"I don't know what the changes are. I'm still the best, the greatest. I'm better than Becky Lynch, I'm better than Bianca Belair, I'm better than Charlotte Flair. I'm better than every single person on this women's roster. That's just what I am.”
Fans unfortunately weren't present in the building when she had her big babyface turn last year during the pandemic. However, she did receive a raucous reaction for betraying Belair in July and reverting back to her heel roots.
Much like the rest of the roster, she has loved being able to compete in front of fans again, especially as someone who has always fed off the audience so well.
"We can't do this without our audience," Banks said. "I missed them the whole year and a half, that raw, real action and energy. That's the cool thing about the WWE Universe. Everybody has somebody they like, but everybody comes together and it makes for the craziest noise and energy and give us the greatest show ever.
"Having the fans back is amazing, and it makes my matches and segments more exciting because I have people to cheer for me or boo me. It's a much more real feeling than just looking at screens.”
WrestleMania Dream Matches and Her Experience on 'The Mandalorian'
Despite wrestling on The Grandest Stage of Them All six times since 2016, Banks has yet to win a single match at WrestleMania. She's been part of some fun multi-woman matches and had an instant classic with Belair in the main event this year, but she's still searching for her first victory at the event.
It was around this time last year when she went on the record in saying she wanted Belair at WrestleMania 37, so if she could envision herself headlining next year's installment this far in advance, three notable names come to mind.
"I see myself main-eventing WrestleMania either against Nicki Minaj, Charlotte Flair or Bayley," she said. "Those are my top three picks. If I predicted that one last year, I feel like any of those are a WrestleMania-caliber match."
WrestleMania 38 will be staged at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and any of those matches (specifically the special-attraction bout with Minaj) would make the marquee. That's assuming she'll still be active in the ring by then and won't be taking more time off to focus on her acting career.
Banks became an even bigger star with her role on the second season of The Mandalorian last year. She wants to continue pursing roles after her experience on the show proved to be a game-changer for her.
"First of all, thanks for trying to get that out, but I'm not on the next season," she said. "But it was incredible being on The Mandalorian on Star Wars. To be on a franchise that is so huge and so loved, just look at the reception from fans outside of the WWE Universe. It was the best feeling of all time. The projection of that show was overwhelming. I legit felt like I was in a galaxy so far, far away. I felt like I was on a different planet.
"It was something I will always take with me and I took so much of what I learned from acting with them and being with so many great stars to WWE. It really helped my confidence as well when I came back from doing The Mandalorian two years ago. It was such a learning curve and something I wasn't expecting, but now I'm in this whole new Hollywood world and it's going amazingly. I'm so excited for the fans, and I can't wait for my fans to see what's next.”
As for her scene with Luke Skywalker in the Season 2 finale, she admits to knowing a bit about it beforehand (despite other actors from the show saying they were in the dark) but mostly enjoyed watching the memorable moment unfold with everyone else when it hit Disney Plus that day.
“I was in the scene as well, so I had to know a little bit, I read the script," Banks said. "But it was so cool watching it as well because every time The Mandalorian came on, it was always on a Friday so it was right before I went to work at SmackDown.
"I was watching as a fan with everybody else and freaking out even though I'm on the show and then I walked to work. Everybody backstage was freaking out, and it's just so cool to see your co-workers freak out about something that's not just wrestling. It's usually, 'Great match!' or 'Great segment!' Instead it's, 'You're on freaking Star Wars, The Mandalorian.' That episode was so cool and I was like, 'Yep, of course I am.'"
Catch Sasha Banks at WWE Crown Jewel this Thursday, streaming on Peacock and WWE Network at 12 p.m. ET.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.