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Marina Shafir is somewhat of a polarizing wrestler in AEW. As someone who absolutely loves Shafir, I can understand why her detractors may not see what makes her so great. Part of the issue I think these people take is with her character and the other is her “unorthodox” (as JR is often one to say) style in the ring.
I think as a character, there’s a bit of an incongruence between her bad ass ‘The Problem’ persona and her results in the ring. Since making her way off AEW Dark, Shafir has had the following matches on Dynamite/Rampage:
- Win over Skye Blue (2:24)
- Loss to Jade Cargill (11:41)
- Loss to Thunder Rosa (8:26)
- Loss to Toni Storm (7:22)
- Loss in Tag Team match (with Nyla Rose) to ThunderStorm (9:07)
Now, the easy thing for Tony Khan to do would’ve been to give Marina Shafir an undefeated streak as her introduction to the AEW fanbase. Come out of the blocks with win after win, gradually moving up the roster. The problem with this style of booking is it quickly becomes transparent. In WWE, one of the most common issues with their booking was new wrestlers coming to in and as they start peeling off wins but the wins had no credibility. This is because as a fan, you’ve seen this before. The dreaded “3 week push”.
This type of booking places an anvil above the wrestler’s head. So much air is let out of the act the second the undefeated streak is over. Coincidentally, I will add this is not the case with Jade Cargill. I think Tony has navigated her streak rather deftly. In AEW’s more recent history, we’ve seen Tony Khan give new additions to the roster a loss early on.
Clearly, Tony Khan has a lot of faith and interest in Marina Shafir. I have to think that he has some kind of “pivot point” planned for her but for now, I can see why she might struggle to draw heat in her matches. And, let’s face it, AEW fans want to understand where everything is going and how everyone will get over all of the time in perpetuity. As a collection of people, we’re not the best at dealing with ambiguity.
Her style in the ring is another matter. Anyone who’s watched enough wrestling, whether they’re aware of it or not, gains a feel for the cadence of a match. And when something doesn’t go smoothly or a maneuver is performed that has an unfamiliar delivery, it breaks your immersion. Not the immersion of “I’m watching an actual fight” but the immersion of “I’m watching two performers cooperating to tell a story”. That break in immersion causes a lot of educated fans to decree “Botch!” because it appears that Marina just hurt her opponent. That’s kinda the goddamn point of pro wrestling.
But the thing about Marina Shafir is her style depicts a closer representation of how these moves would actually be performed. Her throws are sudden, fast and stiff. She grabs an opponent’s arm and in a jerking motion, whips them over her hip, straight into the mat. Her opponent’s bodies don’t flow over top of hers in that familiar arc. They don’t bounce in the ring like we’ve become accustomed to. It’s just a thud.
The true art of Shafir in the ring is her submission game. I don’t know if she’s telling opponents to make it look like they’re trying to resist or she’s just so good at manipulating limbs until she finds a path to a hold. It’s not uncommon for it to look like she arranged her body parts or her opponent’s body parts incorrectly but rather than smoothly sinking in a submission like how Jungle Boy effortlessly and fluidly does the Snare Trap, Shafir is like a spider, manipulating elbows and knees and changing positions faster than her opponent can figure out what she’s trying to do.
Admittedly, Marina’s offence can look “clunky” but that’s because it isn’t made to look like she and her opponent are working together. Think about a simple German Suplex. You’ve got your garden variety German Suplex where both wrestlers are hunched forward, knees bent, and the wrestlers receiving the move jumps. They get released and their flight path is in a beautiful arc across the ring. Now think about Pac’s German Suplex. He lifts his opponent’s feet off the ground, stalls for a second, and then arches his back, snapping the dead weight of his opponent onto their neck.
Realistically, in the same way wrestlers need reps, I think it’s just going to take some time for fans to get used to seeing Marina Shafir perform these moves and eventually they’ll clue in that “Ohhhh it just looks like she fucked up someone’s whole life”.
With all that having been said, surely there’s still lots of room for growth for Shafir. Without knowing her career inside and out, it feels like her pro wrestling development has been a bit “stop and start” for 3 years. Not for nothing, there’s been moments when she’s selling where I look down the road and I think about a heel Marina torturing some poor white meat babyface, then they hit a jaw breaker on her and she gets all wobbly legged and it starts a path of momentum for the baby face. Hopefully she isn’t drawing on past experience but Marina sells “potentially concussed” extremely well. It reminds me of Kenny Omega talking about how he looks to pro sports to see what it looks like when athletes are injured, rather than mimicking other pro wrestlers.
So if you’re someone who’s been struggling to understand why Tony Khan keeps sending Marina Shafir out on TV most weeks, I hope this will give you pause. Without understanding what her long-term direction might be, I get that it can be difficult to fully invest in Shafir.
- Maybe Tony is planning for her to be a part of a stable
- Maybe this tag team with Nyla Rose is going somewhere
- Maybe she’s going to turn Nyla Rose babyface
- Maybe she’s been factored into being a big part of ROH’s Women’s Division
- Maybe she’ll get a new manager and that’ll give a storyline reason for her to start winning big matches
- Maybe a coconut will hit her in the head and she’ll think she’s a superhero
Whatever her future plans are, for the moment I’m very excited for her as a prospect. It doesn’t mean that it’s a guarantee she’ll be at the top of the division – that’s what a bet is – but taking that gamble is part of the fun of watching wrestling. We’ve all felt the aggravation of getting behind someone only to see the wrestling booker not get behind them. But it’s so gratifying to feel like you got in on the ground level when they make it.
If you’re someone who doesn’t watch Dark or Elevation regularly, you may have missed some of Marina’s best work role more level with her character. Check out Marina Shafir vs Reka Tehaka (link below). Take in the physicality and emotional heft of just the opening tie-up. And then how Marina dares Reka to come at her but her cockiness gets the best of her. Watch how she sells, and then uses a leg scissors submission not to try and win the match but simply to buy time to recover from a headshot. And to finish the match, she learns from the previous kick that nearly knocked her block off and this time captures Reka’s leg and submits her. It’s goddamn beautiful. And even after the match, she looks like someone who’s trying to hide how dazed they are but the signs are peeking through. She’s so good.
Anyway, that’s all the gushing over Marina Shafir I think anyone could stand. Hopefully I’ve convinced a couple fans to at least give her some time. Thanks for reading and, as always, make sure you tell the women in your life how much you appreciate them.