The AEW Women's Division Needs an Identity Submitted by Damn Fine Wrestling on 02/02/2021 at 04:22 PM
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Last Friday I delved into the highly-contested question of whether or not All Elite Wrestling needs Tessa Blanchard. It was a question I answered with an eventual "yes" -- but only due to the below-average booking of the women's division and lack of constructed division pillars (aside from Britt Baker, who is amazing). As always, this question boils down to whether or not Tessa is worth the risk in bringing her into a young locker room only to potentially fracture it with her past alleged controversial remarks towards other talents, and being allegedly difficult to work with.
The article received an overwhelming response (it even became a meme on the Simpsons Wrestling Facebook Page), which to that I thank everyone for reading. While many fans were advocating for the need of a star-powered wrestler like Blanchard, many also pointed to her alleged backstage issues as reasons not to bring her in. Results were mixed.
Let's set the record straight: We wouldn't even really be discussing this if there wasn't a question to how much AEW truly values their women's division based on past and current booking. If the tables turn in the right way (unlike what Motley did to Jumpin' Jeff Farmer), the answer suddenly turns from a "yes" to a resounding "no" -- they don't need Tessa. Of course AEW would have to stop taking "baby steps" with their women's product, especially when WWE's women's division is starting to rev into 'full gear' headed towards Wrestlemania.
The main question we run into with "Does a promotion need X-Wrestler" is Does he/she have a role in the story being told?
Division narratives is a term that I don't even believe exists in the wrestling industry, and it's an important one to create. Essentially, this boils down to a division's identity, and how its champions are booked along those lines (men's women's, tag team, etc.). There are various paths any division narrative can take, and they can change over time. A division's formula usually leads to what stories are being told, if it's a good story at all.
-Superhero Formula: (popular: early-NWA/80s WWF/early 90s WCW - Current AEW) [One champion is valued as the flagbearer for the company/region - lengthy and repeat title reigns are common. There is generally a heel/face dynamic]
-Shades of Grey Formula: (popular: 1990s) [The lines are 'blurred' with heels and babyfaces -- leading with a characters-first approach over a hero/villain dynamic]
-Shock the System Formula: (Vince Russo/99-01' ECW) [Shock value and explosions are favored over long-term storytelling; see: WCW 2000]
-Faction Formula: (popular: 1990s - Present) [Divisions tend to be dominated by factions. Mostly over in Japan, but is seen in current day WWE and AEW]
-Chase the Villain Formula:(popular: late 90s - present) [A heel is a dominant champion and holds the belts for longer while babyfaces give chase]
-Backstage Politics Formula (popular: late 90s WCW/early 2000s WWE) [Divisions dominated by those with political pull/creative control within company]
If you know exactly where a division falls in these categories you can find it's identity, and therefore, tell the story that comes out of it. If there is no division narrative identified, there's a chance that little, if any, (good) stories are being told.
When we look at the AEW Women's division, we don't see an identity. Hikaru Shida is a fantastic talent, and easily one of the best women's wrestlers in the world. However, I wouldn't consider her a flagbearer for how little she's on-screen. She's a "face" of the division, but at the same time, she's not really there. In fact, the division doesn't really fall into any category.
We see champions on-screen and involved in weekly programming all of the time for both promotions -- except for AEW. Kenny Omega, Darby Allin, The Young Bucks -- they are on-screen in some form EVERY WEEK. Yet Hikaru Shida has only been on television sporadically throughout her entire championship reign.
This is the dynamic that has to fundamentally change for AEW to not "need" a top-tier, yet controversial, talent like Tessa Blanchard. If AEW adapts the Superhero formula, then we should see multiple challengers clamoring for a shot at Hikaru Shida and calling her out at any chance they get. If it's the Shades of Grey formula, then we need to see multiple and unique personalities all vying for this coveted women's championship -- and for multiple stories to form out of these characters. If it's the Factions formula (something I would assume Omega would like to re-create a la Stardom) then we need to start seeing factions form and fight for dominance within the women's division.
Right now we are better off having Britt Baker as a dominant heel champion with babyfaces like Shida, Deeb, and Shanna giving chase. Right now would be a good time for the division to split into factions and create alliances (and pull some talent from Mission Pro). I will fantasy book this faction idea in another article...
The women's division has the talent to create such an identity and direction, but we see literally none of this right now.
In conclusion, All Elite Wrestling doesn't need Tessa Blanchard, or any other big names like Taya Valkyrie or Jordynne Grace, IF they find their identity. Unfortunately, they have not as of yet, but I am hopeful that with the unfolding AEW Women's Eliminator that an identity will quickly start to form. You can argue that even if Tessa, Taya or Jordynne did sign with AEW, that they may end up as directionless as the rest of the division right now.
I guess we'll see if anything changes come Wednesday night -- IF Tony Khan is listening to the suggestions and greivances of thousands of disappointed women's wrestling fans.