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Last week, the now infamous “Book The Women’s Division Better” sign shined a harsh light on some fan’s disapproval of Tony Khan’s handling of AEW’s women’s division. This week at least felt like a renewed focus of sorts. Although I cannot stress enough that one week doesn’t fix everything. It takes months of sustained focus and improvement to build a division up. But this week across AEW’s Women’s Division was certainly worthy of being labelled “the turning point” should we see things followed through upon.
To add to Tony Khan’s challenge, it was reported by Fightful that Jamie Hayter would not be back in time for All In at Wembley Stadium. In fact, even a return before 2024 looks doubtful. Bringing back Hayter would’ve been a “cheat code” to raise the interest in women’s wrestling in AEW. With that out of Tony’s toolbox, I thought I made a great pivot.
Dynamite: The Vibes Are Immaculate
There’s been a long held sentiment amongst AEW fans that Hikaru Shida’s over year long reign with the World Title was somewhat bitter-sweet as she did the bulk of that in front of no fans. I think we all penciled in Jamie Hayter regaining her belt from Toni Storm at Wembley. When that was no longer a possibility, I felt like there was a hard shift into this “Pandemic Champion” narrative right in time for the 200th Dynamite. It felt to me like there was a good possibility of Shida winning but whether it was fans feeling burned by this women’s division or wrong-footing themselves into thinking they’re being wrong-footed, I don’t think any of the podcasts I frequent thought Shida winning was a possibility.
This moment felt big. It was purely unintentional but Shida celebrating her win with half her face spray painted green reminded me of Chyna, half her face covered in flour, after winning the WWF Intercontinental Championship. For me, the vibes in both those situations were similar. As much as I love Toni Storm (who I’ll get to later), Hikaru Shida is enshrined into AEW lore as a Ricky Steamboat-type character: A perpetual, unassuming and honourable babyface. The final minutes of this match was true heart-in-your-throat stuff where it truly felt Shida had been bested by dirty tactics but Shida kicked out. And before the luxuriating in that moment could subside, Shida reverses a pin attempt, locks in a deep stack and pins Toni Storm for the win. Confetti. Crying. All overlaid with Mikey Rukus’ awesome new walkout music for Shida. Commentary reminds us that Shida will now hold this title in front of 80,000 in Wembley. Immaculate vibes.
ROH: Athena Anoints Diamanté
Athena, who is singlehandedly carrying Ring Of Honour on her back on a lot of nights, had a great match with Diamanté the next night. But that’s just another day at the office for Athena. What really struck a cord though was the post-match. Because of the disciplined approach Tony Khan has had to using Athena in ROH, it was essentially a huge rub when Athena decided not to attack Diamanté after the match.
It was a “real recognizes real” type of moment. But what really got me excited was the post match interview. That having been said, ideally you’d have Athena kicking ass on Dynamite or Collision. She’s continually raising her stock but it’d be nice to see her do that on a bigger stage. As for Diamanté; The direction instantly felt fresh and like she’d been given a big shot in the arm that really paid off in her post-match attack of Kris Statlander on Collision. Diamanté and Mercedes Martinez just fit so well together. I love this development.
Rampage: Solid women’s wrestling
Anna Jay vs Skye Blue was 7+ minutes of snappy snug action that utilized over character traits. Given it didn’t have any storyline build, it had an uphill climb though. It’s a double-edged sword when you book a match on Rampage as a fixture of the sport, rather than a feud. On the one hand, Rampage was getting too predictable as so often we’d see [person who’s in a storyline getting pushed] vs [person who isn’t]. This was a departure from this formula, which is something I’ve been advocating for for some time.
Given the run Skye Blue has been on of late, I’d say Anna Jay winning came as a surprise to many. At the same time, unless a match card captures fan’s imaginations on its own (Big Bill vs Orange Cassidy would be a good example of this) it can feel cold. I like sporting fixtures in wrestling, there should be “matches for the sake of having matches” if this were a sport. I just think you need to have the match graphic and then find a way to heat it up in the interim. Regardless, a good match where they were given time.
Collision: great match, great developments
Sometimes with women’s wrestling, I feel like there can be an overabundance of spots that are holdovers from the WWE Divas Era with soft maneuvers, using involving participatory looking leg scissors stuff and weak looking kicks. Kris Statlander vs Mercedes Martines was extremely not that. This was smash mouth, powerhouse shit. Lots of overhead throws, hard kicks, and stiff shots. Even right down to Statlander going face first into a turnbuckle after Mercedes dodged her running attack felt credible.
I feel like with each match I keep saying “that was Statlander’s best match since she’s been back”. Whether it was a bit of rust or whatever the case, Statlander improves every match. This match in particular, I felt like Statlander really exhibited her flexibility, getting visibly folded in-half a few times, highlighted by her bump off Mercedes’ Spider Suplex and also in Stat’s winning pinning maneuver. Actually, this might be a “hot take” but I thought this was the best women’s match of the week and given how good Shida vs Storm and Athena vs Diamanté both were, that’s stiff competition.
As I said earlier, I think Mercedes Martinez & Diamanté feels like an inspired match. I love both Statlander and Willow Nightingale individually. We’ll wait and see how they play off each other.
Lastly, I’ll touch on this absolute beauty of a performance put in by Toni Storm. She channelled her inner actress from the golden era of film having a mental breakdown. She was perfectly over-dramatic, threatening, and unhinged.
I dare say, Toni Storm felt like more than just “one-third of The Outcasts” and more like her own entity entirely. I’m excited to see what direction this heads in.
You can let me know what you think in the comments below or on Twitter at @aew_one. Thanks for reading and, as always, make sure the women in your life know how much you appreciate them. 🙂