AEW TBS Tournament #1

MK Fell takes a look at the first part of All Elite Wrestling’s TBS Championship tournament and the matches that unfolded.

Hello hello! I’m MK and I will be your host for this totally non-biased coverage of the AEW TBS tournament! Every two weeks (depending on how many matches we get in those two weeks) until they crown the first TBS champion I’ll be coming to you with my analysis, thoughts, and predictions on the inaugural tournament for AEW’s brand new TBS women’s championship.

The Bracket

AEW announced its long-awaited second women’s belt on October 6th, 2021, as well as a tournament to determine who would become the first TBS champion. I would be… remiss… to not deep dive into this bracket as it exists at the start. (This section was written prior to the first two matches of the bracket, if information seems a little out of date.)

We’ve got four preliminary matches to kick off half the bracket, and four byes to face the victors of those matches in the quarterfinals. If you’re wondering why it’s specifically Kris Statlander, Jade Cargill, Nyla Rose, and Thunder Rosa, that’s because they’re ranked second through fifth as of October 22nd, when the bracket was announced. (Tay Conti, ranked number one, I assume is excluded from the tourney because her being number one ranked makes her in the running for the World Championship, and they don’t want the TBS champion holding both belts. Makes sense, but Tay was sort of my pick for first champion, soooooooo.)

I want to point out some things about this bracket right off the bat. First, I get again it’s a ranking thing (and the ranking is TOTALLY arbitrary anyway) but putting the previous women’s world champion, Hikaru Shida, in a prelim match feels weird, even if it does mean she gets a rematch against Serena Deeb. Second, there are a few names notably absent from the bracket that I’m surprised about— namely Riho, who was the first AEW women’s world champion; and Skye Blue, who had a video promo when the TBS belt was announced. Which actually brings me to my third point: there’s a lot of women’s talent fighting on Dark and Elevation. Lots of great wrestlers, like Diamante and Julia Hart and Skye Blue. Many of those women’s talents aren’t signed, for one reason or another. There’s 24 women signed to AEW. Compare that to the 96 men (I’m not counting -1) who are signed, who are caught up in storylines across Dynamite, Dark, Elevation, and Rampage, and the difference becomes stark. Where’s Big Swole in the bracket? Does Leyla Hirsch have a scheduling conflict? We’re going to give Jamie Hayter a shot over Skye Blue, when Skye had a promo? What is going on?

I don’t want to diminish the importance of the YouTube wrestling shows here. I think it’s genuinely really important and valuable for all of the talent AEW has available to wrestle on the Internet, available for free and continuous replay, and I don’t think that Dark and Elevation are “lesser” in any way. It’s always lovely to watch the young talent work their asses off through YouTube and make it to television and longer stories. AEW’s main market in the Demo Wars, however, is television. It isn’t like women’s wrestling is UNpopular or anything— the women’s world championship match main evented Dynamite Grand Slam, for Pete’s sake. So the booking choices here are just. Hm. Top of a list of things making me go “hmmmmm.”

All that aside, here’s my hopeful breakdown for the opening four matches (again, written before Ruby/Penelope and Shida/Serena). Ruby over Penelope, Shida over Serena, Anna over Jamie, and honestly either of The Bunny or Red Velvet, both would be fun (though it’ll probably be Red Velvet so she can rematch Jade Cargill). That would put Ruby vs Stat, Shida vs Nyla, Anna vs Thunder Rosa, and either The Bunny or Red Velvet vs Jade Cargill.

Match #1: Ruby Soho vs Penelope Ford, October 23rd Dynamite

The match goes to Picture in Picture halfway through, as is wont to happen with women’s matches, so if you missed the middle of it don’t worry, most of us did too.

Midway through this match, The Bunny comes out to be in Penelope’s corner, which makes Ruby’s lack of support in her corner even more stark. (Give Ruby friends!) During this whole Dynamite, by the way, it seems like they reversed the heel and face tunnels, so if you’re confused as to when everyone swapped alignments, we all are.

I’m honestly really glad that Penelope Ford has been getting a push in the wake of Kip Sabian being out for an extended period of time. She gets to have a partner and we get to see two mean ladies kick ass week after week. I’m hoping they stay together for a while— maybe they can go to Impact’s Knockouts for a little tag run as long as AEW’s women’s tag division is, well, nothing.

Ruby’s always great to watch, though again— half this match ended up in picture in picture. I’m very much hoping that we get to see Ruby in a good feud with these two beyond the tournament (assuming Ruby doesn’t win the TBS belt, which is a strong possibility). She’s such a strong promo, as her inaugural feud with Dr. Britt Baker showed, and she’s an excellent pull for the women’s division. 

The Bunny tries to sneak Penelope her signature brass knuckles to finish off Ruby, and Rick Knox is everyone’s hero for kicking them away, thereby giving Ruby the opportunity to roll Penelope into the pin. After the match closes, The Bunny jumps into the ring so she and Penelope can come for Ruby on both sides, and my prayers to give Ruby a friend are answered as Red Velvet runs in to even the odds. Penelope and the Bunny dash out of the ring before either of them can land a hit in, though we of course are reminded that Red Velvet will be the Bunny’s opponent in their preliminary match, sometime next week.

Match #2: Serena Deeb vs Hikaru Shida, October 27th Dynamite

Caveat here: I had the joy of watching this match LIVE. As in I was at the show and wrote this recap on the train on the way home. It was so great live. I actually saw the whole match! Like, the whole thing! Wrestling matches are actually really good start to finish without a picture in picture break in the middle— who knew? 

Also new information to me: you don’t get commentary during the live show, so everything I say is based on what I could see and the YouTube clip of the end of the match. Anyway. Enough of that. Serena comes out first, and they show a clip from the last time she and Shida met in the ring, when she broke the trophy that was meant to commemorate Shida’s fiftieth win over her head. Interestingly, her gear tonight is pink, inverting the sky blue gear she wore that night. 

Shida comes out… holding the pieces of that trophy, and missing her trademark smile. Uh-oh. Playtime’s over, folks— Shida’s ready for war. 

For most of the match the crowd is on the side of both women, which is fun; and they’re evenly matched, trading control back and forth and getting a couple of VERY close near falls. Serena and Shida bring out the very best in each other; you can see it in the intensity of their gazes and their moves. Their feud is red-hot even after just the one match, and that trophy sits in the corner where Shida left it just begging to be picked up. Serena gets a few submission holds on Shida, including a Figure Four on the ringpost that made me wince; and when Shida’s attempt at using a chair to get her height on a dropkick is thwarted she just uses the ringsteps instead. 

It’s right at the end of the match, when Serena breaks for the trophy and Shida takes it out of her hands, that the audience goes wild; for the most part everyone’s begging her not to use it (a move which would surely disqualify her from the match and therefore the tournament), though a few folks near me were egging her on. In the end, she hands the trophy over to Aubrey, and after that point the audience is firmly on her side. Serena goes in to try and finish it up and… well… just watch it.

After the bell has rung, Serena catches Shida in the back with a chair and locks her up in the Serenity Lock, forcing the referee team to run out and separate them. (The guy behind me was yelling for Tay to come out to help Shida, which would also have been really good. If you don’t remember their very short tag run back when Shida was still champion, you should go back and watch it, they were great together and I wish it had lasted longer.)

Closing Thoughts:

With my reservations about the bracket out of the way, I can have some fun with this. I do very much think AEW is making strides towards a stronger women’s division, though of course they still have a long way to go. To close out this first week of the TBS championship bracket, here are some of my thoughts that are too short to make into sections in their own right:

  • Feels good to be 2/2 on my first round calls.
  • Jade Cargill in the bracket means they’re either setting her up to win the whole thing OR get her first loss in AEW. Both are very interesting options.
  • My God do I want Stat to win this whole damn thing. She’s my favorite wrestler in AEW so maybe I’m biased.
  • Abadon isn’t in the tournament because Creative knows they’d squash everyone else and they’re afraid of that. Actually, wait, can Abadon go against Jade Cargill? I’d love to see that match.
    • Addendum: I wrote this before I saw the October 29th Rampage taping. My point stands. 
    • Addendum #2: By the way, Abadon uses they/them pronouns.
  • My dream is for Thunder Rosa to take the belt off Britt when it comes time for that title to change hands (and if they do I hope they give the story the time it deserves, especially in the wake of their Lights Out match from St. Patrick’s Day) so while I love her to death and want to see her with a belt I’m lowkey keeping my fingers crossed that it’s not yet.
  • Are they gonna have one of the tournament matches on Full Gear? That could be cool. If they do, I look forward to seeing who it is.

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