For over three years, it seems that for everything All Elite Wrestling has gotten right, the one thing that has seemingly been a constant point of contention with many has been the iffy booking of the women’s division. It’s gotten to a point where rants criticizing AEW’s handling of the women like the video below from The Mark Order Podcast’s Kate Elizabeth have become rallying cries of sorts for many in regards of wanting to see progress for AEW’s women:
“There’s no excuse anymore. It’s just the lack of caring”, Kate notably pointed out in the aforementioned video. And as a fan of AEW and their content, that lack of caring for the women’s division has become increasingly more glaring and harder to ignore. This editorial should not be taken simply as an “AEW Sucks” piece. There are harsh truths involved, but it comes from a place of wanting to see a better product from the company, especially when it comes to the women.
An End to “One Match Per Show”
Perhaps the biggest and most notorious issue that’s plagued the AEW women’s division has been the infamous trope of “one women’s match” per show on Dynamite and Rampage. This match in question is usually placed in the 9:15-9:30 slot just before the rundown for the following week’s show and the main event. It’s a formula that’s been followed through the letter for most of Dynamite’s run without fail. And unfortunately, it’s a formula that Tony Khan isn’t in any hurry to grow out of, given the ratings his flagship show on Wednesday tends to attract.
Take, for instance, this week’s episode of Dynamite, which featured a relatively short 2:24 match between Marina Shafir and Skye Blue that was essentially a showcase squash meant to put Shafir over as a credible challenger for TBS Champion Jade Cargill. On paper, an admirable concept, but the execution left a lot to be desired, unfortunately. Aside from a hype package or two that showed Shafir’s matches on the YouTube shows, she hasn’t really had time to endear herself to AEW audiences.
That, along with two short backstage promo segments featuring Toni Storm and Jamie Hayter (1:04), plus Thunder Rosa and Nyla Rose (1:06), respectively, meant the women only accounted for only a mere 4:34 of airtime this week. And this was for a show with a much-advertised overrun, too. This week’s Dynamite had a total of twenty men in six featured matches, versus the one match with two women. Something is not right with this picture.
Simply put, it’s just not good enough any more. Especially after three years and 132 episodes of Dynamite. To see things stuck at this formula more often than not is honestly disappointing.
You can’t say the women are given a fair shake when they can’t even get enough time other than the one match on Dynamite every week.
Moving forward, two matches per show with a few women’s segments dedicated to highlighting up and coming talent or furthering feuds has to be the norm for Dynamite. One of these matches can be a squash if necessary, so as long as the other women’s match is a competitive affair that’s given ample time.
Hell, they could easily book an all-women’s episode of Rampage that fits within the one-hour time frame of the show if given the chance. It’s a simple solution to a not-so-complicated problem.
As it stands, there are currently twenty-five listed women wrestlers on the AEW website, and that’s not counting the many uncontracted women wrestlers who’ve become regulars on AEW’s YouTube series, Dark and Dark Elevation. Compare that the over one-hundred men signed to the company, and that shows a severe disparity between the two divisions.
It’s hard to say that Tony Khan is giving equal time for the women when the imbalance between the men and women roster’s is there for the world to see.
The excuses might say that AEW’s women’s division doesn’t deserve the time because they’re “too green”, but that could not be any further from the truth.
Of those twenty-five women wrestlers listed on the site, nearly everyone has proven to be quality talent. Whether they’re up-and-coming stars like Kris Statlander, AQA, and Anna Jay or established veterans like Serena Deeb, Ruby Soho, and Mercedes Martinez. There’s an embarrassment of riches on the women’s roster. The fact that AEW isn’t using them regularly, is rather embarrassing in of itself.
A Champion Worth Looking Up To
It’s no secret that AEW Women’s World Champion Thunder Rosa has looked anything but a champion since winning the title in a memorable steel cage main event a few weeks ago. Almost immediately after winning, she’s been thrusted into a rather weak feud with Nyla Rose, done with the intent of making Rosa look like a worldbeater by rising to Nyla’s challenge.
Unfortunately, the feud has been very limited to interview segments and a baffling go-home angle ahead of their title match at Battle of the Belts, which involved cake.
Suffice to say, things could be better for the Women’s World Champion. Instead of sticking Rosa in a go-nowhere feud with Nyla (who should be a face at this point) as her first title feud, why not pit her against Serena Deeb (who’s sporting a 7-0 record) and could provide an interesting first challenge for Rosa. Even a Rosa vs. Jamie Hayter feud could be fun to see, with Hayter trying her hand at something that her friend Dr. Britt Baker failed at by attempting to win the Women’s World Title for herself.
As of now in AEW, there are exactly two feuds for the women that do not revolve around championships: the Hikaru Shida vs. Serena Deeb rivalry and Kris Statlander vs. Leyla Hirsch. Unfortunately, the latter storyline seems to be sidelined largely due to Hirsch’s recent injury, which leaves Statlander in a bit of limbo.
The point I’m trying to make is that not every feud for the women in AEW has to have a championship belt as the central focus. It’s perfectly okay for certain storylines to just be about rivalries or a good old fashioned stable war.
On the latter point, there were hints of a stable forming this week with Red Velvet and Kiera Hogan sitting in Jade Cargill’s ”Baddie Section”, which could produce interesting matchups down the line. What I’d love to see is another faction created to fight this prospective alliance. Maybe a couple of the regulars on the YouTube shows decide to make a team in order to make an impact on the mainline shows?
We’ve seen how much attention and care AEW can give to certain feuds, like with CM Punk vs. MJF and the current Wardlow saga. With those two, it paid off in a big way with fans hanging on to every moment that happened in those angles. In short, it’s really not that hard to get people invested into storylines if you give it adequate time and attention.
With that in mind, why not throw some of that attention towards the women’s division? Theoretically, the Shida/Deeb feud could be this right now, but it’s a storyline that isn’t really built on the regular, with developments happening irregularly.
Instead, the feud should be built up with multiple segments that happen every week. For instance, why not give Shida a match on Dynamite or Rampage with Serena watching in the audience, and vice versa. Or better yet, have a segment happen outside the arena where Serena is teaching a wrestling class as “The Professor” and she’s interrupted by Shida and a brawl unfolds at the wrestling school Deeb is teaching at.
I love the Deeb/Shida rivalry, but there is untapped potential that hasn’t been exactly followed through upon.
There are a lot of ways putting effort into the stories of the women’s division, AEW just needs to employ them to the best of their ability. And that comes with finding a way to make an entire division something that is can’t miss every week.
Make the Women’s Division Worth Watching
As with the equality issue, you can’t really say that AEW has done a good job in regards with making the entire division (with the exception of a select few) feel important.
During Dr. Britt Baker DMD’s run as AEW Women’s World Champion, it was clear that the rocket was strapped firmly on Britt’s back as the face of an entire division. This often meant that others had to be sacrificed at the alter of the DMD, so to speak. Through 7 of her 8 title defenses, those matches often involved the rigid formula of a new challenger being pitted against Britt, with the Champion retaining usually through the same cheap tricks. It’s a sign of the double-edged sword in that AEW stepped up to make Britt Baker feel important… but often did so at the expense of the other women in the division.
On the other hand, Jade Cargill has been given a huge opportunity by being made the cornerstone of the TBS Championship. And it’s worked largely in her favor. She’s gotten over with a dominant unbeaten streak and a charisma factor that’s put her in a good spot at the moment.
Point is, if AEW can find time to devote their energies in making wrestlers like Britt Baker and Jade Cargill into bonafide stars, then they sure as heck can do the same for others in the women’s division.
Circling back to Marina Shafir and her Dynamite match, the reason why her match against Skye Blue was met with general apathy could be because that the fans haven’t been given much to care about Marina. Prior to Wednesday, Shafir was only given two video packages and immediately thrusted into a TBS Championship match. Sure, she’s been winning matches on Dark and Elevation, but given those shows aren’t really mentioned on mainline AEW programming (other than a lower-third ticker mentioning results), fans might not be given any reason to actually care about them at all.
The solution to this problem would’ve been just to have Shafir’s matches play out on Dynamite and Rampage so that fans could get invested in her rise to the top so that by the time she’s ready to face Jade Cargill, it’d be a match to look forward to.
Taking this further, a scenario where Shafir amasses a bit of a win streak that echoes Jade’s impressive run and their eventual title match becoming a battle of win streaks would provide an intriguing story opportunity.
Alternatively, AEW can easily create underdog stories worth following. In the instance of Shafir’s Dynamite opponent, Skye Blue, she is winless in her appearances on mainline AEW programming. Why not parlay that into a storyline where Blue seeks out a mentor in the form of someone like Ruby Soho? Establish it through matches where Blue is accompanied to the ring by Soho and wins through her guidance and gradually build her up as an underdog babyface to root for.
Obviously, the solutions mentioned here won’t be an instant fix to a problem that has lingered for the three years of AEW’s existence, and it’ll take time and attention to commit to improving the women’s division. As I noted on a previous editorial about the women’s division, it falls largely on whether or not Tony Khan will actually care to work on it in the first place. And if it’s something that he can’t do himself, maybe it’s a situation where a steady hand to guide the women’s division is needed to be given the book. Simply put, the AEW women’s division has the potential to be the best in the world. It’s all just a matter of finding the time and the tools to reach that peak.
Marc Quill is the editor of RingCrashers, GateCrashers’ home for all your All Elite Wrestling and indie wrestling needs. He’s also the web novelist behind Skye Emery: Bluebird, which you can read here. You can chat with him about wrestling, comics, and stuff in general on @MarcQuill on Twitter.