Five Ways to Fix AEW's Women's Division Submitted by Damn Fine Wrestling on 01/08/2021 at 05:03 PM
Welcome to the only wrestling column that lives inside a dream match. Follow me on Twitter! https://twitter.com/JBMandrake. I'm not good at social media...
What the hell do I know, I'm just a stupid mark, right? Sentiments likely shared by readers whenever an opinion writer inserts their armchair booking. However, to become a writer/booker in the wrestling business, one doesn't go to college for this. One can't take a few classes and earn a certificate in "Wresting Booking 101" (though it's not a bad idea). If you just happen to be in the industry and in the coveted "wrestling bubble", you have an in, no matter what your background or qualifications.
While this will make great material for a future article, this focus is on AEW's women's division. It hasn't received much love, has it? As a fan of All Elite Wrestling who has bought the PPV's, cashed in on AEWShop deals for more T-shirts than I need, and following suit in my stupid diehard markdom for the promotion -- their women's division is their biggest blemish right now.
It doesn't help that I've been a big fan of women's wrestling for decades.
My background for commentating on the state of women's wrestling in AEW? I'm a former journalist, a published writer, and two college degrees. What, that doesn't count? Regardless, from my fandom of Manami Toyota and Molly Holly through discovering Shimmer (I once spoke to MsChif on a radio show and could barely hold myself together) to my current love of Stardom (currently marking out for Giulia and the Cosmic Angels) -- AEW Women's Division has been an unfortunate let down.
This is not on the talent, either. Fixing AEW Women's division isn't a small feat, but one that needs to be address in a serious manner as crowds will undoubtedly start to come back in bigger numbers to AEW shows. They can do this in five easy steps, and of course, this is where I tell you how to do it...
1) Sign Tessa Blanchard
While recent news has AEW brass divided over whether or not to bring her in due to her alleged past backstage behavior, this is simply an opportunity that the company cannot fail to pass up. Tessa Blanchard would bring the much needed buzz to the division that is currently lacking. This is a situation where everyone needs to put their reservations aside for the future of All Elite Wrestling and how their women's division evolves.
Talent is slim right now, and while injuries kept Statlander and Baker out for a period of time, and the pandemic kept Shanna and Bea overseas (who would later be released), there needs to be more than one solid pillar in the division that can hold down the fort in case of emergency. As an example, in WWE (a promotion I'm not a fan of) when Becky Lynch left to have a baby, Bayley and Sasha Banks stepped up and led the way. Asuka held her ground as a division-carrying champion as well. Now Charlotte Flair is back, further strengthening the current division.
AEW simply doesn't have enough depth in the division to put the focus on another talent if one goes down to injury. Blanchard not only brings instant legitimacy to the division both in name and talent, but she will likely make others around her that much better with her already vast industry experience.
Besides, it's not as if we're seeing anyone else right now as is. With the exception of one-off/occasional appearances on dynamite, we rarely see the likes of Big Swole, Allie (as a wrestler), Nyla Rose, Penelope Ford, and Anna Jay -- the latter two sans the Brodie Lee tribute show. A name like Blanchard books itself -- as much like Rob Van Dam never need the ECW Championship pre-2001, Blanchard wouldn't necessarily need the AEW Women's Championship right away to make her and whoever she feuds with feel important.
2) Teddy Long This Shit
While parodied now as the mixed-tag master booker, this is much needed in the AEW women's division. It's one of the most simplistic, yet effective booking techniques to cross-promote multiple feuds, yet AEW rarely, if ever, jumps on this for their women. They have no problem booking 12-man tag matches with interlacing feuds for their men, but we never really get that on the women's end -- not even a Thunder Rosa/Shida vs. Baker/Abadon match before Rosa had to be pulled due to a possible Covid-19 contact.
Instead, we get seemingly random matches, like Tay Conti vs. Serena Deeb. Don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to this match, but is it going to serve a storyline purpose? Not likely. Promoting multiple feuds beyond short segments and one-on-one matches will go a long way in making this division feel like must-see wrestling. It also accomplishes an easy way for MORE EXPOSURE of the division's talent, which is highly needed.
3) Multiple Segments/Matches
As stated above, the large majority of AEW women's material is stuffed into a 10-minute block of the show, never to be heard from until next week. I'm still confused as why Baker's 'Waiting Room' segment on Dark isn't on Dynamite, and why even the Rosa/Baker feud up to this point has been limited to a few short backstage or ringside scuffles with no promos for additional build.
I understand that a second weekly show will give AEW the opportunity to feature more women's talent, but that shouldn't be a fallback excuse. There are matches on weekly shows that could have been replaced with women's matches, like Dustin Rhodes vs. Evil Uno, for example. Giving the women a fighting chance to do more than one short match per week will only help the division become stronger. While AEW Dark features more women, not everyone tunes into see it, and we don't get much for character building and storytelling as is. Instead it's mostly squash matches involving Leva Bates, Red Velvet, and KiLynn King going over -- who we don't even see on Dynamite...
4) Stop Trying to Make Joshi Happen, It'll Never Happen!
As mentioned, I love Stardom, and I love Joshi -- but it doesn't do well in the states. Asuka, Io Shirai and Kairi Sane were literally three of the best women's wrestlers to come out of Japan recently, so their success in WWE was predictably good. But even then, Asuka and Io had rocky parts of their WWE runs, and Kairi never hit her full potential before receiving multiple injuries at the hands of Nia Jax. While Hikaru Shida may be on their level in regards to pure talent, Riho, Emi Sakura, and Yuka haven't translated into consistent draws (pre-pandemic). When Riho was AEW Champion, we barely saw her on a weekly basis as is.
It's extremely hard to match the intensity of Joshi with American wrestlers, and I think it's time Kenny, Tony, or whoever is booking the women, to look toward passing the baton to someone else fairly soon. I would rather see AEW sign Jordynne Grace and Taya Valkyrie than bring back wrestlers from their Joshi pool, or put the entirety of the division on Shida's back. This isn't to say I wouldn't want to see a returning Riho, or a debuting Cosmic Angels -- but they don't have to be the focus of the division.
5) A Deep Focus on Character Development
Over the past year we have seen the evolution of Kenny Omega into "The Cleaner", Orange Cassidy turn into a legitimate main event threat, the rise of the Dark Order, the drunken and tortured millennial in "Hangman" Adam Page, and even the tweener tight-rope of The Young Bucks. However, we've seen little, if anything from the AEW women in regards to character development.
Britt Baker is about the only bright spot when it comes to a talent who has fully realized and grown into her character. For those who do make appearances more than 2 times a month on dynamite, their character largely stays the same. Allie went from 'The Bunny' to Allie, and back to 'The Bunny' again for no real reason. Jade Cargill started a feud with Brandi Rhodes, who had to leave the storyline due to pregnancy, but when Red Velvet seemingly took her place weeks ago, we haven't seen her since.
In fact, besides Baker, Abadon is about the only ongoing developing talent as a Living Dead Girl who will literally try to bite her opponents and bleed in as many places as she can. No character development from Anna Jay as a potential up-and-comer within the Dark Order, nothing from Big Swole after her feud with Baker, and not a peep from Penelope Ford other than being Kip Sabian's fiancÚ. Even the rift between Vicki Guererro and Nyla Rose from weeks back has faded into the void.
For fans to take notice and care about their women's division, you need to build successful characters. Again, I will drive home the wonderful character development from Bayley and Sasha Banks over the past year or so, and even the recent work of the darker, "fiendish" version of Alexa Bliss. There is no excuse not to start developing the characters of your women's wrestlers, and whether it takes injecting the division with new talent, multiple focused Dynamite feuds, or extreme gimmick changes, something needs to be done here.
(sidebar)...and for Odin's sake, can we PUSH ANNA JAY TO THE MOON?
In conclusion AEW Women have a lot of talent in their midst, but no direction. You could easily build must-see programming with Baker, Rosa, Deeb, Swole, Abadon, Statlander, Anna Jay, and the hopeful future signings up Blanchard, Grace, and Valkyrie.
But none of this matters if AEW management continues to fail to make this division feel important. Right now, it simply doesn't feel important, and that's the biggest takeaway from what this division is right now. Until then, I'll raise a glass to an optimistic bright future, and a Tessa Blanchard run-in during Wednesday's Conti/Deeb match.