KUSHIDA Says Mercedes Mone Helped Inspire Him To Challenge For Heavyweight Titles

Sasha Banks took a leap of faith in 2022, walking out of WWE and taking extended time away from the wrestling business before resurfacing as Mercedes Mone under the New Japan Pro-Wrestling banner in January 2023. In her much-anticipated NJPW in-ring debut, Mone dethroned IWGP Women's Champion KAIRI at NJPW Battle in the Valley last week. The end of the night saw Mone and IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada standing tall in the ring together, signifying a new era in NJPW with the women being elevated to main event status.


Mone's memorable debut in NJPW made everyone in the industry take notice. Former WWE and current NJPW star KUSHIDA said in an exclusive interview with Sports Illustrated that Mone's time in NJPW has had an impact on him and the next step for his career. The six-time former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion noted the significance of Mone's win as far as changing the perception of women's wrestling in NJPW, and he said it has inspired him to think outside the box in terms of his goals in NJPW.

"Japanese people don't like 'change," KUSHIDA said. "I want to create an atmosphere to challenge from junior heavyweight in 2023. We can change little by little.

"I think we can challenge and create change more in New Japan Pro-Wrestling America. That is why I chose this lifestyle that is back and forth between Japan and the U.S. It is great that we can challenge a lot of things in New Japan Pro-Wrestling America. That is why the top title says NJPW Strong Openweight Championship, and KENTA has that. I think that title is very innovative for Japanese wrestlers. I am looking forward to Mercedes Mone's reign, and I will show you that I can overturn the weight difference."


KUSHIDA will challenge Impact World Champion Josh Alexander on March 30 at the NJPW/Impact show Multiverse United in Los Angeles.