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TBS Championship Tournament Recap #2

Welcome back to MK’s women’s wrestling corner! This week I cover the last two matches of the first round of the TBS tournament and the women’s matches during Full Gear week, but not the Women’s Championship match at Full Gear since obviously that’s a completely different storyline.

Intro — November 3rd Dynamite Promos

I want to talk about the Ruby/Kris promo from November 3rd before we get into matches, because while wrestling is, of course, at the core of a storyline, the promo is equally as important. And I love a promo where the two wrestlers involved respect the hell out of each other like this. Ruby admits that her coming match with Kris will be her hardest to date; Kris, meanwhile, confidently says she knows more about Ruby than Ruby knows about her. It’s a great promo for both of them, on a night of some already great promos.

Meanwhile, Tony presents Shida with her (newly repaired) trophy commemorating her fiftieth win, but before she can say anything Nyla and Vickie come out. Shida takes a step back with a noticeable limp— Serena, of course, attacked that knee in their match and after her loss— as Nyla and Vickie slow clap. “How long did it take you to get that? Don’t answer that,” Nyla says, regarding the fifty win trophy. We love some snarky heels— a nice little contrast to the previous promo.

Match #3 — Anna Jay vs Jamie Hayter, November 3rd Dynamite

Okay, I don’t know what Jamie’s hair was doing the last couple of weeks, but her look today is absolutely incredible. The double blonde streaks framing her face on the Farrah Fawcett blowout? The long black duster? Goddamn, remind me more that I love women.

Anna Jay also looks absolutely incredible tonight, in the pink gear that matches Tay Conti and the gorgeous eye makeup— even if the Dark Order aren’t accompanying her to the ring.

During picture-in-picture, Britt takes advantage of Aubrey being distracted by talking Jamie down to bite Anna’s face. Or like, I think she’s biting. It’s hard to tell, because the picture is so small.

Anna tries to go for the Queenslayer, but instead Rebel distracts Aubrey so Britt can tug at Anna’s ankles just long enough for Jamie to get away and take out Anna for the win. But that’s not enough for AEW’s resident mean girls, who surround Anna to beat her down. Tay runs out to defend her, getting a couple good hits in on Britt ahead of their match at Full Gear.

Match #4 — The Bunny vs Red Velvet, November 5th Rampage

The Bunny skips out alone just before the commercial break, leading me to believe she just spent the commercials skipping in circles. Red Velvet, meanwhile, doesn’t even spend a moment to let her music hit before she’s dashing down the ramp and yeeting herself directly at The Bunny to start the match.

These second two matches for the first round of the TBS Tournament are notably very, very short. All the ladies this week get a couple of really nice spots, including a brutal stairs spot dealt to Red Velvet by The Bunny, but neither match lasts longer than five minutes or so; and much of the focus of this particular match turns to Jade Cargill and “Smart” Mark Sterling, doing research on their future opponent by watching this match. (“Who writes on a pad?” asks Taz, on commentary.)

In any case, Red Velvet lands The Final Slice on The Bunny and pins her clean in the middle of the ring. The close of this match is a tense stand-off between Red Velvet and Jade Cargill ahead of their next match.

Interlude — Dr. Britt Baker, Rebel (not Reba), and Jamie Hayter vs Tay Conti, Anna Jay, and Thunder Rosa, November 10th Dynamite

Can I cover the Trios Match happening on the go-home show for Full Gear? It’s tied into this Tournament storyline, kind of, given that it was born from Anna vs Jamie as well as being tied into Tay vs Britt.

Okay, okay, you don’t have to convince me, I’ll do it.

Britt, Rebel, and Jamie Hayter all come out together, and can I just say? Rebel, I love you to bits, please protect your poor knees. The number of injuries she’s had, including that last one in the match against Nyla and Vickie that put her back on crutches… you look stellar, Rebel, now accent that fabulous gear with some bedazzled kneebraces.

Tay and Anna come out in their matching bright pink gear; every time I see it I’m even more in love with it. Thunder Rosa follows after them and she’s ALSO matching them in bright pink. It makes me so happy to see. All three of them look amazing in bright pink!

After all six women just start beating on each other— and that’s always so nice to see— the first matchup in the ring is Britt and Rosa… and boy, do you feel the history hang in the moment before they charge for each other. Please, please, PLEASE, AEW, give me their explosive bloody feud again. 

Match goes to picture in picture… again. I’ve gotta start thinking of things to say when the match goes to picture in picture. Let’s talk about Tay for a minute, I guess, since I won’t get another opportunity to talk about her during the rest of the tournament. I love when Tay Conti gets mad and her shoot-fighting background comes out. She genuinely is one of the most powerful looking women’s wrestlers in the AEW division. I’m glad Tony Khan recognized the talent in her and hired her when he had the chance, and I really hope she gets a good push soon.

Anyway, Tay gets the pin on Rebel and immediately goes for Britt, who’s already halfway up the ramp clutching the belt to her chest like Tay’s gonna steal it out of her hands. Don’t worry, Dr. Baker, that won’t be til Saturday! (I harbor no illusions that Tay will win, but one day.) 

Interlude #2 — Full Gear Buy-In Match, November 13th

Makes sense they’re going to shelve the the tournament on pay-per-view weekend. No one can stop me from talking about the buy-in, then, which was Nyla Rose and Jamie Hayter vs Thunder Rosa and Hikaru Shida.

Nyla comes out first, followed by Jamie with an incredibly powerful look. Then Shida, and then Thunder Rosa with a deafening pop. All four ladies are still in the tournament, and Excalibur notes that Rosa is the clear favorite for the belt. 

Match starts with Nyla and Rosa facing off in the center of the ring. Nyla has the clear size advantage between both of her opponents, but Riho and Rosa are both proof that size isn’t everything when it comes to wrestlers. (By the way, the shrieking you hear throughout this match is Vickie Guerrero; the mic for this match was red-hot.) 

Nyla gets the advantage over her opponents by suplexing both of them… at once. This gives Jamie the chance to beat down a little on Rosa ahead of their quarter-final match, but Rosa gets a tag out to Shida to a nice little pop for Shida. Taz points out Serena Deeb is watching at ringside— to see the results of her attack on Shida following their match, perhaps? 

Let’s talk about the last few minutes of this match. Shida comes face to face with Deeb at ringside, which gives Vickie a chance to get a cheap shot at Shida’s injured knee with her own kendo stick. This gives Nyla a chance to get Shida back into the ring and give Jamie the tag. Jamie superplexes Shida off the middle rope, giving Nyla the opening to go for a Frog Splash and the attempted pin— but in comes Rosa to break it up. She throws Jamie out of the ring, so they can’t interfere when Shida thwarts Nyla’s Beast Bomb finisher and jackknifes her into the pin. 

Shida immediately flees up the ramp to join Rosa, away from Nyla, Jamie, and Vickie— probably leery of getting caught for a beatdown on an already injured knee. It’s a smart move, putting space between them as they all start shouting at each other from a distance. We get a final shot of Serena Deeb— who looks incredible tonight, by the way— and Excalibur wonders if the feud between her and Shida may not be over. I hope not, because it absolutely rocks. 

Closing Thoughts

  • All in all, I went 3 for 4 on my first round picks, which isn’t bad, even if I’m still confused as to what Hayter’s doing in this tournament.
  • AEW announced the first Dynamite to be filmed for TBS will be January 5th, 2022. I imagine the TBS champion will be crowned that night, if not the next week.
  • I’m glad to see Tony Khan acknowledge the importance of the TBS championship belt and the quality of the women’s division in the pre-Full Gear media call. I might talk shit about the size of the division, and I still think it’s important for AEW to sign more women if possible, but the talent we do have is some of the best in the world. Compare the quality of the women’s storylines on television now to that of the beginning of this year. There’s still a ways to go, for sure (the pre-Full Gear Rampage had yet another women’s match that was two minutes long, which is not doing Jade Cargill any favors) but the difference is notable.

Oh, wait, I get to do round 2 predictions now. Hell yeah. 

  • Ruby vs Stat is such a tough choice because they’re both so good and I want them both to move forward. Honestly, I wish this one were a semifinal match. Have to pick Statlander, though; I just love her too much. (That said, I will not be disappointed to be wrong.)
  • Nyla vs Shida has a LOT of history behind it from their Women’s Championship days; I honestly think it’s still one of the stronger feuds in the women’s division, besides Thunder Rosa and Britt Baker. I sort of don’t want to say it, but I can’t imagine Nyla doesn’t get the win, especially in the wake of Serena’s attack on Shida’s knee. I sort of hope I’m wrong though.
  • Hayter vs Rosa is an easy one for me— Thunder Rosa goes over; even though I still want her to get the world championship belt push she deserves, she’s just incredibly popular with the audience. Any other opponent, maybe she doesn’t? But having her lose this particular matchup is a little inconceivable to me.
  • FINALLY we get the Jade Cargill vs Red Velvet rematch. I’ve been waiting for this since their mixed tag match way back in March. Like, I think it’s going to be Jade no question, but Red Velvet’s gonna give her a run for her money and we’ll see the first strains of weakness in Jade. 

These predictions all assume that all four of the first round byes are the ones who progress to semi-finals. It’s a little unfortunate. Of the four making it from the first round prelims, I would say Ruby is the most likely to be the surprise swerve from my prediction. Shida’s next up, but I doubt they’ll put the TBS belt on the woman who was last women’s world champion. As for Red Velvet, though I desperately want her to beat Jade Cargill, I don’t think it’s now. 

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AEW TBS Tournament #1

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. 

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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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RingCrashers Editorial: How Do I Explain Why I Like Wrestling?

It’s all about the love of wrestling, writes MK Fell (Credit: All Elite Wrestling)

I’ve gotten a lot of responses from people when I tell them I like to watch wrestling. Let me add a key word here— I’ve mostly gotten the same responses from people when I tell them I like to watch wrestling.

It’s Wednesday night. Wrestling fans, you know what that means. I started watching Dynamite regularly the day the Forbidden Door was kicked open, back in February 2021. I didn’t even know what a Forbidden Door was, but let me tell you watching a twist like that live is a hell of a gateway drug. In the nine months since then I’ve watched Dynamite every week, caught three AEW pay-per-views, watched some of the most incredible queer deathmatch wrestling, watched wrestlers of all genders split their faces open for their craft, and loved every second of it. And every time I tell people I like wrestling, I get the same variations of the same response.

“I didn’t expect you to be into wrestling!”

I try to not be like “I’m not like other girls” mostly because one, I’m not a girl, and two, I know that’s all bullshit. But I also know I’m not the kind of person one would expect to be into not only wrestling, but deathmatch wrestling. I’m tiny. I present as feminine (most of the time). There are not many people who look like me who you see in wrestling crowds, especially not deathmatch wrestling crowds. But the people who say these things to me are not strangers taking my appearance at face value. These are people who know me.

I usually say it’s about the violence. That’s… mostly true, actually, it’s why I love deathmatch wrestling so much. The thing is— it’s more than that. I just don’t ever know how to explain it in words.

“I didn’t expect you to be into wrestling!”

It’s Wednesday night. It’s the first night of AEW’s Grand Slam, in Arthur Ashe Stadium. We’re about to get a dream match in Kenny Omega versus Bryan Danielson; if you had told me back during Wrestlemania weekend, when Daniel Bryan was main eventing with Roman Reigns and Edge, that we would get this match I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are. It’s a non-title bout between two of the best wrestlers in the world to determine who is the best in the world, and it is anyone’s match. I can usually tell you who’s gonna win a match based on what I think the trajectory of a storyline is (wrestling is fairly predictable in this regard) but this is a match that is anyone’s game. It can really go either way.

We thought, at the start of this match, that we might get one of the little heel cheats Omega has resorted to in the ten months since he took the AEW belt. We thought we might get Don Callis, in all his carny POS-ness, distract the ref for long enough that Kenny could get a chair shot of some sort in.

That isn’t what we got.

“I didn’t expect you to be into wrestling, cause like the writing on it is pretty bad.”

Wrestling is storytelling. I’m not talking about promos here, I’m talking about the matches themselves. To talk about the promos being the only component of a wrestling storyline is reductive and detrimental to the work being done in the ring. Wrestling is messy, violent, sometimes improvised storytelling— choreography can only get you so far— but it is storytelling all the same. 

Words are not the only language of storytelling. Imagine this: you’ve gone to the ballet, to see a new work performed by some of the best ballerinas in the world. The two lead dancers are meeting on the stage for the first time, and the way they look into each others’ eyes is electrifying. They do not need words to express the connection they have to each other. They are two binary stars on stage, in constant orbit, growing ever closer to the moment they collide.

This is how it feels to watch Kenny Omega and Bryan Danielson lock eyes across the ring. I’ve felt this before watching wrestling— Labor Day weekend, watching CM Punk meet Darby Allin at All Out. There’s a crackling intensity in how their eyes meet that makes me wonder if lightning is going to burst across the ring.

All at once, I know this match is going to time limit draw.

“I didn’t expect you to be into wrestling!”

All my friends are so predictable at this point. 

I watch Kenny Omega and Bryan Danielson grapple across the ring. I watch the control of the match flip easily from one hand to the other, every few minutes, like clockwork. I am entranced. Ballet tells its story in the grace of dance, and wrestling tells its story through the grace of violence. There is no real difference between the two— it’s just that in wrestling, the bodies collide faster. It’s storytelling at its finest.

It’s eighteen minutes in when I finally wonder what the time limit is, and how long the match has been going on. Eighteen minutes. It only feels like five. I haven’t been able to tear my eyes away. Omega has been targeting Danielson’s neck; Danielson has been meeting Omega blow for blow. The red across Danielson’s chest is so vivid it looks as though he’s been clawed. The crowd is losing their minds, and so am I. 

“Why do you like wrestling so much?”

Imagine this: you’re at a concert for a new piece from an up-and-coming composer whose work you’ve heard before. His work contains melodies and motifs that carry from piece to piece. Tonight, though, you hear something you’ve not heard in a long, long time: the melody you’ve grown familiar with, you’ve grown to love so much, has a counterpoint to it. More than that, you recognize that counterpoint. It’s a motif from the very first piece you ever heard by this composer, and haven’t heard since. It stops your breath in your throat, to hear it again.

Twenty-five minutes into the thirty minute match. Omega and Danielson are clearly at their limits. Danielson has evaded the One-Winged Angel, Omega’s finisher, which commentary states no one in AEW has ever kicked out of. (They have not specified the in AEW before. There is history here.) Omega heads to the corner and slowly, slowly, levers himself up to the top rope. There is a moment where he pauses, his back to Danielson, and the world holds its breath as it realizes what’s about to happen. And then he twists himself into the Phoenix Splash, the finishing move of his former New Japan Pro Wrestling tag partner Kota Ibushi— the specter hanging over his head, the name he refuses to speak, and the only person to ever kick out of the One-Winged Angel.

Omega has never successfully landed the Phoenix Splash. He has never successfully used the finisher of arguably the most important person in his wrestling career. He does not successfully land it now.

There is history in every move. Kenny Omega and Bryan Danielson do not do anything without reason.

The bell rings to signal the match has drawn to time and Omega and Danielson keep fighting, either unaware of the bell or not wanting to stop. The rest of Omega’s Elite and the other referees come down to the ring to separate the two, eventually devolving into a full-on brawl. I half-notice this happening. My heart is pounding. I am overcome.

“Really? Wrestling?”

I’ve stopped trying to figure out where people are coming from with this.

I’m still thinking about the Phoenix Splash.