Around the Loop: Building a Mystery

Wrestling fans love a good mystery. See, to casual fans and observers, wrestling storylines seem simple. Bad guy hates good guy for wrestling reasons. They fight (and fight and fight and fight and fight) until an ultimate victor is decided. The winner goes on to challenge someone else for other wrestling reasons, ad infinitum, ad nauseaum, Klaatu Barada Nikto. But when given the opportunity, wrestling fans will jump aboard that kayfabe Mystery Machine with an eagle-eyed vengeance.

Case in point: Saraya’s mystery tag partner’s identity at the AEW Dynamite in Los Angeles on January 11. Many people are expecting Mercedes Moné, formerly known as Sasha Banks during her WWE run, to show up at Saraya’s side. It makes sense. Mercedes is a free agent who recently showed up in New Japan Pro Wrestling, a company on extremely friendly terms with AEW.

During an interview segment with Tony Schiavone on the January 4 episode of Dynamite, Dr. Britt Baker, DMD said something that made astute fans take note. “Jamie [Hayter] is the champion,” Baker said. “I’m the boss.”

“The Boss” was Banks’ nickname during her time with WWE. The sound of commentator Michael Cole shouting “It’s Boss Time!” every time Banks walked down the ramp is seared into my brain. It haunts my dreams. It’s no wonder fans jumped on Baker’s comment as an obvious clue.

Not more than 45 minutes later in a different interview segment, Saraya announced that her partner would be none other than former AEW Women’s Champion Toni Storm. This news was upsetting to another former Women’s Champion, Hikaru Shida, who was sitting right there when the bombshell was dropped. It was disrespect on an international level, and Shida was pissed.

In the aftermath, wrestling journalists began throwing conflicting information onto the internet. While some claimed that Moné was internally scheduled to be Saraya’s partner, others alleged that Moné would not show up in an AEW ring anytime soon. A tizzy had been created, a conundrum that Scooby-Doo and the gang would have a difficult time solving.

A lot can happen between now and the LA Dynamite, and most fans have theories. No one really knows what’s going to happen besides AEW president and head booker Tony Khan. After all, Khan was the mastermind behind the return of CM Punk. While never officially announcing Punk’s return to the squared circle, the possibility that Punk might show up at Arthur Ashe Stadium was enough to sell out that venue. It also created some of the highest ratings in AEW Rampage history.

Khan is the king of keeping secrets. When directly asked who Saraya’s partner would be during a December interview on Grapsody, Khan demurred. “Well,” Khan said, “in January, you’re definitely going to find out who it is. You will know in January. But right now is probably not something that probably serves my interests well.”

It’s possible that Khan has worked himself into a shoot with this situation. If he can’t deliver Moné, he can always fall back on the “we never said Mercedes was coming” line of reasoning. But if Saraya’s secret partner is anyone else, the fans are going to be as mad as Ric Flair taking off his clothes and screaming at Eric Bischoff. Even the surprise return of a popular performer like Thunder Rosa would be a hellacious let-down. Imagine you’re at an old WWE show expecting Hulk Hogan to make his entrance and, instead, Tatanka comes down the ramp. That’s no slam against Tatanka but brother, he ain’t the Hulkster.

That Mercedes. She’s so hot right now. After essentially telling WWE to take their contract and rectally subsume it, Mercedes trained in Japan and in Mexico (in the latter case, with recent AEW signee Bandido). She’s been putting in the work, and any fan of the sport should respect that. Mercedes is one of only two workers I can see believably ending the Goldberg-like streak of TBS Champion Jade Cargill (the other one is Athena, if you’re curious). An appearance by Mercedes Moné on an AEW program would be a guaranteed ratings pop.

Everything can change in the blink of an eye in wrestling. There are multiple ways this can play out. Do I want to see Shida beat the Gold Coast tanlines off of Toni Storm with a kendo stick in a shakily-filmed backstage spot? You bet your sweet bippy, I do. It may not happen, but I would be all over a Shida heel run like Al Pacino on a brightly-colored kerchief.

Red herrings and misinformation, unreliable narrators and Three-Storyline Monte. That’s how you build a mystery in wrestling, and AEW is doing a bang-up job with the Saraya storyline. But this one feels more tenuous than the non-surprise of Punk’s arrival in AEW. If Mercedes Moné shows up on Dynamite next Wednesday, that’s fantastic. Everyone wins. But if it’s someone else, anyone else, well, allow me to quote AEW ring announcer Justin Roberts.

Ladies and gentlemen, the shit’s about to hit the fan.

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