TOKYO -- The former Sasha Banks made her first appearance since leaving WWE on Wednesday at a major professional wrestling event in Japan.
Mercedes Varnado, who has been one of WWE's biggest women's stars for years, showed up at New Japan Pro-Wrestling WrestleKingdom 17 at the Tokyo Dome. She came out after the IWGP women's championship to confront titleholder Kairi, a former WWE athlete and current wrestler for Japanese women's promotion Stardom. Varnado is going by the name Mercedes Mone.
"I am here in New Japan and Stardom to make more [history]," Varnado said on the microphone in the ring.
The appearance set up an IWGP women's title match between Varnado and Kairi at New Japan's Battle in the Valley event Feb. 18 in San Jose, California. New Japan and Stardom are both owned by parent company Bushiroad.
In addition to her work in pro wrestling, Varnado is an actress, with a role in the Star Wars show The Mandalorian, and a model.
Varnado's appearance Wednesday was not advertised, though it was first reported by pro-wrestling website PW Insider. WWE star Bayley and Trinity Fatu (formerly Naomi) were in the crowd in Tokyo to watch her.
Earlier in the day, Varnado sent a series of tweets thanking WWE, retired chairman and CEO Vince McMahon and current promotion chief content officer Paul "Triple H" Levesque, among others. That list of thank yous included Varnado's former persona Sasha Banks.
Varnado and Fatu unexpectedly departed WWE in May, giving up the WWE women's tag team titles. It was said on the air that the two had walked out. Neither has commented on the matter. This is Varnado's first wrestling appearance of any kind since then.
Varnado, 30, is a multiple-time former champion in WWE and one of the catalysts of the current popularity of women's wrestling in the United States. She and WWE star Bianca Belair won an ESPY last year for being the first Black women to headline WrestleMania.