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She may have spent her childhood far from the lights of Hollywood, but thanks to her real-life ties to a certain hip hop titan, WWE Superstar Sasha Banks has always had a special connection with the West Coast’s blinged-out lights and sights. Contrary, though, to the smack talk lobbed at her in the ring from some of her fiercest WWE rivals, Banks started earning her own Legit Boss status on her terms before getting an assist at the big time from her famous cousin.
We’re talking, of course, about Banks’ family relationship with Calvin Broadus, Jr., better known to pretty much everyone on the planet as Snoop Dogg. Each is a superstar in their own right these days, but those family ties date back all the way to 1992 — the year Banks was born, even as her cousin was just hitting it big as the complementing voice alongside Dr. Dre on Dre’s early-1990s masterpiece album "The Chronic." Now, while Snoop is busy hosting NBC's "American Song Contest" alongside Kelly Clarkson, he still takes the time to be there for his younger cousin.
Born Mercedes Justine Kaestner-Varnado, Banks is related to Snoop on her father’s side, and she fell in love with wrestling when she was still a kid. It served as a fantastical escape through a tough childhood (Banks’ single mother moved the family around a lot to seek medical treatment for her younger brother), during which she became absorbed in the huge personalities and heroes-vs.-villains storylines that her childhood wrestling idols such as Eddie Guerrero brought to life each week on TV.
While Snoop was slinging gold records in California, Banks’ family eventually settled in Iowa during her pre-teen years. In her very own in-depth episode of Peacock’s "WWE: Evil," Banks explained she felt isolated as the only Black child living in her small town and decided then and there that she’d grow up to become a wrestling star. Banks did manage to catch up with Snoop during her childhood whenever his busy celebrity schedule made time, as reported recently by "The Athletic." The Doggfather was already a huge wrestling fan, so the fan duo would attend the occasional major event together while Banks was still a kid.
When she was just eight years old, Banks told her megastar first cousin that she’d someday be a wrestling pro — and after rising through the amateur ranks and finally getting a big break via the WWE’s NXT franchise, that’s exactly what she did. Those early days where Mercedes Varnado honed her wrestling persona were some of the toughest, but as Snoop explained on Banks’ "Evil" episode, there was something smart and tenacious, even in childhood, about how she approached her dreams: “She was infatuated [around WWE superstars] but professional at the same time,” he said. “It was fascinating to me.”
In her early career, Banks wasn’t the mean, win-at-all-costs mayhem machine that her Boss moniker signifies today. When she decided to retool her stage personality after joining the WWE’s development system in 2012, she took a big cue from the braggadocious hip hop life that Snoop and other genre stars such as Kanye West and Nicki Minaj embodied. As she explained in "WWE: Evil," that’s when the light bulb finally went off in her head that she could actually spin her family connection with Snoop into something more: “Uh, Mercedes, hello! Snoop Dogg is your cousin,” she reminded herself. “People used to call him the boss. I want people to treat me like that. Let me take that. I’ll call myself ‘The Boss.’ I was going to be the bad guy.”
As every fan knows, that decision proved to be one of the smartest career moves in WWE history. Through epic rivalries with Charlotte Flair, Bayley, and Becky Lynch, Banks has been a huge part of the WWE’s girl-powered success story, ticking off one franchise first after another — including her appearance alongside eventual winner Bianca Belair in the first-ever WWE main event (at WrestleMania 37) to ever feature two Black female athletes.
Despite (or, more likely, because of) her bad-girl stage presence, Snoop is Banks’ number-one fan these days, rolling out her bespoke musical entrance theme while making joint WWE appearances that double up on the star power. “Being the Boss, sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do,” Snoop explained as part of Banks’ "WWE: Evil" episode. “And that’s what makes her who she is — that she’s willing to take that chance and be different…and be on the dark side.”
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