The biggest moment (so far) in the career of Sasha Banks seemed to be improvised. The current NXT Women’s Champion won her jewel-encrusted belt last February, during a grueling Fatal Four-Way match at NXT TakeOver: Rival. In it, she faced off with Bayley, Becky Lynch, and then-champion Charlotte for a shot at the most prestigious women’s belt in professional wrestling. The match’s climax occurred in minute 13, as Banks locked Charlotte into her trademark Banks Statement submission hold, torquing the champ’s head backward beyond a normal human’s breaking point. It would not have surprised many to see Sasha become the champion with that move, but longtime wrestling fans understand these types of matches rarely end so simply. And so, instead of relying on the move that got her there, she used the leverage that she had gained over Charlotte to roll the exhausted champ onto her shoulders for a quick pin. Thus began the reign of The Boss.

That’s Sasha Banks: charismatic, brutal, and creative enough to separate herself in a crowded women’s division that sees considerably less on-air opportunities than their male counterparts. She’s "The Boss,” a self-appointed title that nowadays feels more like a coronation than narcissism. That’s not how it always was for the 23-year-old born Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado. She arrived at NXT in 2012 with some impressive indie federation cred—she was the longest-reigning women’s champion in Chaotic Wrestling, based out of her native Massachusetts—but was stuck in NXT’s lower rungs, serving as a stepping stone for the “more important” talent surrounding her because her acting skills and connection to fans were not as developed as her in-ring pacing and physical abilities.

To become the protagonist she is today, Banks worked with the legendary Dusty Rhodes, a.k.a. the American Dream,

channeling her frustrations at being passed over for important programs into her persona. The best characters in wrestling are the ones that take the performer’s real personality and crank it up to 11, and this was certainly the case for Banks. Already confident that she was the best, she transformed herself from “Sasha Banks, Anonymous Wrestler No. 4,” into The Boss. And it worked.

Image via WWE

In the last year, Banks has been constantly in the spotlight as women’s wrestling receives a much-needed overhaul. As part of NXT’s Four Horsewomen (a non-canonical stable featuring the four women from the aforementioned Fatal Fourway match), she has elevated not just the technical wrestling quality of women’s matches, but also the storytelling. Following the lead of her childhood idol, Eddie Guerrero, Banks developed a cult following as a heel too talented to be truly hated. Instead of lying, cheating, and stealing like Eddie, however, she focused on throwing shade left and right, turning old friends into hated rivals. Her match with Becky Lynch at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable is arguably the greatest WWE women’s match ever, a brutal clinic in attempted arm-mangling (at one point, it looked like Sasha was going to rip Becky’s arm out of its socket) and technical proficiency that had the wrestling world buzzing about a true revolution for women in wrestling. 

This Saturday, her two-year running feud with Bayley culminates with a match for Banks’ championship, and it’s hard to name a story as powerful or elaborately built as this on any wrestling show, not just NXT. Additionally, Banks was promoted to the main roster of WWE last month as part of an ongoing “Divas Revolution,” which hopes to change how mainstream wrestling fans think about women’s wrestling. The climax of that story takes place this Sunday at SummerSlam in the form of a massive nine-woman, triple-team elimination match. Despite the inclusion of both Becky Lynch and Charlotte, the only constant between NXT’s biggest night and WWE’s second-largest pay-per-view is Sasha Banks, and for good reason: She’s the baddest diva in wrestling, and she’s not afraid to let you know.

We caught up with Banks a few days before her double feature and discussed her meteoric rise, her role as a role model for young female fans of WWE, and what it’s going to be like to wrestle in both the “WrestleMania of NXT” and her first-ever SummerSlam.