KAIRI vs Moné: Believe Me Now?

To say that Mercedes Varnado has had a unique and special year in her life…well, that’s an understatement. From walking out of WWE with Trinity Fatu to debuting at Wrestle Kingdom 17, the Boston native has lived her dream, and that very dream was meant to continue. She could have the world, be deep in Hollywood and in fashion and in her CEO position for CBD products at Kanndela, she’s had a lot going on. Yet she also chooses to stick to the medium she’s loved since she was a child – from Eddie Guerrero to All Japan Women tapes, this was for her. It’s her soul.

She had every reason to walk out of the company she poured her heart and soul into. Sasha Banks gave it her all in acclaimed matches and worked with both good booking and bad booking. Alongside Bayley, she carried the WWE product through some shoddy pandemic television and events, broke boundaries from NXT to the main roster, and would try her best to help elevate other women so that everyone could rise as stars in a division once held back by stereotypes and misogyny. Among the many great women to pave the way, she can rest knowing she was not the problem. It was the company who undervalued her.

When she got noticed by Hollywood, it was not by the media giant that was the WWE, it was because she caught people’s eyes by eating hot wings. Being cast as Koska Reeves on the Star Wars spin-off, The Mandalorian, Mercedes’s popularity was not capitalized on, save for media calls. This wasn’t making WWE money, and as such, they weren’t going to promote her. Be sure to see Dave Bautista in A Knock at the Cabin, John Cena in Fast X, and Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam, though! 

When Mercedes’s contract for WWE expired, she had a lot of goodbyes to make, the last of which was a bittersweet farewell to Sasha Banks. She had nothing left to prove there, for she had done so much already, so she set out for another dream. Wrestling in Japan.

The debut of Mercedes Moné at Wrestle Kingdom 17 turned some heads on an already stacked and historic card. Moné traipsed down the ring and made a statement to former brief rival, KAIRI, to set up a match for the Pirate Princess’s IWGP Women’s Championship, following her triumph over Tam Nakano. The match was set for NJPW’s Battle in the Valley in San Jose, California. 

The moves that Moné had made and continues to make continually shakes the wrestling industry, as what is thought possible is being put into question. She was still the conversation, but would she be a blueprint in a world she hadn’t wrestled in front of live? Will this change of scenery prove not so easy; will the grass not be as green on the other side? 

Some still had their doubts. Fans had seen outside talents act whichever way they saw fit, thinking they were above the business and above “doing the job” if need be. Pro wrestling involves a lot of shady politicking, after all. Not to mention that Mercedes mentioned shaking up NJPW’s women’s division and World Wonder Ring Stardom – the former of which puzzled many, for as of yet, NJPW doesn’t have a women’s division. And yet, here she was (we’ll get back to this later).

KAIRI, her opponent, faced her before in WWE during the pandemic, so this made for a fitting reunion. The title holder had made her way back home to Stardom, sporadically appearing and facing competitors new and old, carrying her history on her like a grizzled seafarer. Her treasure map brought her to gold, but she had to keep that fortune or face the waters of defeat. 

After a beautiful Tokyo Cyber Squad entrance paying tribute to the late, great Hana Kimura, Moné was ready. Not a single eye was dry of the internet friends. It was time to show everyone what Mercedes was made of. Mine certainly isn’t. The crowd loves this, and to know Kimura’s love and legacy from a wrestler she mutually admired is reciprocating that same feeling…There’s no fucking thing like professional wrestling. I’m having a hard time seeing through streaming eyes, even on rewatch. Commentary puts over her accomplishments beyond WWE, giving so much more love than she was given previously.

KAIRI emerges, confident that this world she has more of a headstart in will help her retain her riches. Mercedes Moné is about to swashfuckle around and find out.

The crowd watches hungrily in anticipation – salivating over what Mercedes can do in a NJPW ring and after a quick lock-up, she fires off with some Latino Heat, displaying lucha libre offense, putting her might against Davy Jones’s Enemy Number One. The pirate fires back with flying headscissors. She’s just started her reign, she’d rather fall upon her cutlass than to go down quickly. There’s no honor in a quick death.

The familiarization process subsides, and it’s a war of attrition, the likes of which is giving me Guerrero/Misterio Jr. Halloween Havoc vibes. The CEO would be put into a lock on the turnbuckle in a Tree of Woe, which she evades with supreme core strength. Moné uses an international style, working with precision, going so far as to try surgically removing KAIRI’s arm from the equation. She strikes quickly and maintains holds that reads as though she means to crush KAIRI to brittle and dust.

Moné repays KAIRI’s Tree of Woe with one of her own, and it becomes an all-out brawl on the outside. The drama reaches alarming levels as the 20-count approaches its climax, but the women save themselves. The marks of this match display like tattoos of malice upon their skin, especially in KAIRI, who is sustained by fighting spirit. She unsheathes the sword that is her elbow – one that Mercedes has tasted the blade of before. 

KAIRI drives Mercedes to the limit, but the pastel colored blueprint soars and lands a vicious Meteora that would normally win her the match, but KAIRI refuses to give in. The CEO’s shriek is a little haunting – she was incredibly sure of herself earlier. It was a perfect Meteora too.

The two trade holds, with a very close crossface from Mercedes still not being enough, and she’d meet the mat when her foe slashes with a backfist, but her Cutlass misses its mark – the wound would not cut deep. 

KAIRI is unforgiving, but Mercedes is sly and quick to the draw, landing a tribute to friend Bayley with a Bayley-to-Belly, and for some more damage control, she delivers another tribute from Eddie Guerrero via The Three Amigos. Not enough, but Mercedes Moné is closer now than before. The agonized face of KAIRI screams as much.

A strong style trade of forearms and elbows would careen out of control, incapacitating a referee. Boiling blood boils in KAIRI, to the shock and terror of Mercedes, assaulting her all the way to the entrance that would see Moné slammed through a sturdy and merciless Japanese table. An Insane Elbow is teased to finish the job back in the ring, but Mercedes blocked it in a split second with her extended feet. KAIRI would reciprocate with her own knees to avoid an incoming Frog Splash.

The adrenaline and fire of war burns in a prolonged crossface from KAIRI, all for naught.

With a refined MonéMaker that breaks the night, Mercedes firmly pins KAIRI for the three-count and Moné would be afforded a new acquisition in the IWGP gold. Through tears and jubilance, she smiles. This is a woman liberated from professional wrestling. She fought her heart out, and silenced the skeptics. Look at her smile, and know this is someone who in that moment feels whole – her heart warm, her throat tight, and her mind clear. It’s over, and she’s made history once more.

The sportsmanship of a handshake and an embrace seals the envelope of this beautiful thing called professional wrestling. A tribute to the fallen and to friends in other pastures, and for a gracious, grateful San Antonio crowd. 

When Mercedes mentions the NJPW Women’s Division, this is her mission, coalesced with the promotion’s. Whether or not it’s a literal women’s division, or a symbol of women’s wrestling in general, this is what she fought for. 

Professional wrestling isn’t one person’s vision. It’s several. It’s a shared vision. It’s blinking and changing and filled with many different images. On this cold, February night, it was this. It was the crowning of a special moment in time. It didn’t need a huge arena of crowds, it didn’t need anything, save for one thing.

It needed a statement. Mercedes and KAIRI gave it one.