***Before we get into this week's rambling, a quick look at the unfolding AEW Women's Eliminator***
As a feminist, and as someone who has watched women's wrestling go from objectification and misogyny through the 90s to its present day strength, I take the divisions quite seriously. Women's wrestling is the ultimate "f*** you" to the patriarchy -- as to say "we can do this bigger and better" than the men. Equality is sexy, and this had historically been an industry where equality is hard to come by.
While the recent women's revolution shows this to be the case, the train has slowed down over the past year, and I'm waiting for AEW (who is putting out a superior product to just about anyone right now) to have just as strong of a women's division.
So far, this hasn't really been the case.
With Wednesdays's announcement of Riho vs. Serena Deeb in the first round of the AEW Women's Eliminator we now know that:
A) The full extent of brackets aren't likely even known yet
B) There will be a "Japan" bracket, as the graphic alluded to
This doesn't seem to leave much to the imagination in regards to storyline and character development through this tournament.
As a sports community, we love March Madness and the NFL Playoffs -- not so much for the sport itself, but the wonderful stories that are woven into each tournament. Whether it's two rivals meeting up in the big game, a Cinderella team who is upsetting and taking down the league's goliaths, or former teammates facing off in a championship -- a tournament allows storylines to play out. You can do the same in professional wrestling, but unfortunately, it doesn't seem like AEW is too keyed in on doing this right now.
But hopefully, I'm wrong. However, with Yuka Sakazaki having a date for TJP on Feb. 11, and her likely entry into this tournament, it's clear that one or both of the following are true:
A) This tournament will drag out over months
B) There will be one side held entirely in Japan.
It again leaves Hikaru Shida with a likely random opponent at Revolution, and more neglect of this division as 2021 unfolds. (When was the last time the AEW Women's Champion was even on Dynamite?) With a tournament built mostly on Joshi talent, it takes away potential storylines as well, and the progression of your local talents. Again, I hope I am proven wrong, but this doesn't look good at the moment...
Does AEW Need Tessa Blanchard?
According to recent reports, there is a pull in the AEW locker room to bring in Tessa Blanchard into the company. Blanchard allegedly has a history of racist remarks and general difficulty to work with -- but mind you, these are only alleged rumors. What this boils down to is the cost/benefit analysis of Mrs. Blanchard and if she's worth the risk of signing if the above alleged remarks are true.
Blanchard does bring instant star-power to the women's division, and it's becoming clear -- especially with the women's eliminator -- that Omega and Khan aren't ready to push up-and-comers from AEW Dark even into a first-round spotlight. This seems to be the case if instead of reaching for names like KiLynn King, Red Velvet, Madi Wrenkowski, and Leyla Hirsch, they're going to go with 4-5 Joshi wrestlers (not already in AEW) -- likely unknown to anyone that isn't a nerd like myself and follows Stardom, Ice Ribbon, TJP, etc...
The point here is that the division still remains without pillars. Britt Baker is easily the flagship name of the division, but once you move past Britt, you run into wrestlers that the average fan may forget about due to a lack of exposure. We know that Big Swole and Nyla Rose have been with the company since the beginning, but we haven't even seen them on an episode of Dynamite this year. Kris Statlander is a wonderful talent, but likely won't be fully recovered from an ACL injury until Spring at the earliest. Ivelisse and Diamanté have been in AEW for quite a while now, but they are still working mostly on Dark.
When you boil it down even more, the likes of Thunder Rosa and Serena Deeb have other obligations between Deeb as the NWA Women's Champion, and Thunder Rosa running Mission Pro Wrestling -- where a lot of AEW Dark talent comes from.
There isn't anyone beyond Britt Baker that can carry the division on their back (so to speak) and become a true face of the division. This is where Tessa Blanchard becomes extremely valuable. Tessa can become a staple of the division by mere name recognition and talent. Think of the WWE women right now. If you had to name the top 5 women's wrestlers in that company, most would say (without much thought) Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Bayley, and Asuka.
If you ask yourself the same with AEW, you'll likely get Britt Baker, Hikaru Shida....
And this is nothing against Tay -- she's fabulous -- but the point is that there still exists a lack of true star-power in this division due to a lack of exposure and lax booking. There's nothing saying that names like Big Swole, Nyla Rose, Anna Jay, Penelope Ford and Abadon can't be considered a division pillar, but the way the division has been booked makes this very hard. Booking an entire side of a tournament in Japan and overlooking what wrestlers you already have also doesn't help.
And this is why AEW needs Tessa Blanchard
If AEW isn't going to build stars in the women's division and instead take "baby steps", then they need to bring in the star-power. Unless they have secret deals to bring in Jordynne Grace and sign Taya Valkyrie, Blanchard is a welcome and much needed addition. Omega's ultimate goal is to have a separate weekly women's show for AEW much like Joshi promotions -- and that's fantastic -- but the names aren't there right now, and it doesn't seem the booking is setting a foundation for that to ever be the case.
Do you risk bringing in Blanchard to possibly fracture relationships backstage? I think you have to. Let's say everything Tessa said to La Rosa Negra (who works for Thunder Rosa's MPW promotion) is true, and that causes an immediate rift between Thunder Rosa and Tessa (and Khan and Omega). Let's also say that Ivelisse is vocal about the signing as they also have alleged beef.
Could they not work it out for the greater good of women's wrestling?
The only reason WWE isn't bringing in Tessa right now is because her price-tag is likely going to be fairly high, and they simply do not need her right now. Sure, the state of the division is mediocre at best, but you still have Banks, Bayley, Charlotte, Asuka, and to a lesser extent, Nia Jax and Shayna Bazsler. They are also still trying make Lacey Evans happen (it's never going to happen).
With a strong NXT Women's Division, it would be hard to see where Blanchard fits in over at Stamford, which seems like a good reason for Taya Valkyrie to head to Jacksonville and sign with AEW instead. In fact, why not have all three aforementioned powerhouses from Impact Wrestling sign with AEW? (Assuming Jordynne Grace's contract is up soon)
The bottom line is that Blanchard is too young and too talented to not at least TRY to sign her to a lucrative deal and work out past issues in a professional and forward-thinking manner. As I alluded to above, women's wrestling has been through the patriarchal ringer -- and if we let issues get in the way of continued progress of the sport, we lose focus of what makes women's wrestling great, and how great it truly can be.