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Twisted Bliss

AEW Gets Dragged

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When All Elite Wrestling hosted its initial episode of Dynamite roughly a year ago, the weekly show seemed to promise more than just two new hours of wrestling to watch on Wednesday nights. It would be that, too, but the ambitious scale of it reflected the scope of the company’s aspirations. Two well-received pay-per-views prior to that October 3 episode of Dynamite had shown what the promotion could do, but the weekly show indicated what the promotion wanted to be. You can’t be a big-time promotion in this era without a good weekly show, and AEW wanted to be big-time enough to challenge WWE for the North American wrestling throne. As AEW prepares to celebrate a year of Dynamite with an anniversary show on Wednesday night, it’s time to consider how exactly this newest contender is doing in its quest for ubiquity. So far, it’s both broadly positive and obviously incomplete; the stuff that works really does work, but there’s still a ways to go before the promotion can deliver on the innovation promised by AEW’s brass.

One of AEW’s selling points was that it would try things no “major” company ever had. To that end, it has mostly failed, albeit with a giant, coronavirus-shaped asterisk. As the company heads into its anniversary show, three of its four major titles are held by former WWE wrestlers: Jon Moxley (f.k.a. Dean Ambrose) holds the world title, Cody (Rhodes) has the TNT Championship after winning it back from big man Brodie Lee (Luke Harper), another WWE vet; the tag titles are held by FTR, formerly the underappreciated The Revival. Sure, AEW has given a title shot to Orange Cassidy, an avant-garde fan favorite who simply could not do what he does—or, really, exist in anything like his current form—in any other major promotion, and there are storylines in the undercard that certainly point to a more distinct product plan. At the very top, though, all that wild innovation has instead looked like one proven commodity after another.

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The one exception is, unfortunately, AEW’s biggest failure to date. The AEW Women’s World Championship is currently held by joshi wrestler Hikaru Shida, who is as close to a perfect wrestler as exists in 2020. She’s got the style, the wrestling chops, and all the babyface energy anyone could ask. The problem is that, for all of its talk about inclusion and bold new thinking, AEW has flubbed its women’s division in some frustratingly conventional ways. 

The main problem here is the same one that has hobbled major companies’ women’s divisions forever: time. On average, the women’s division in AEW gets one or maybe two segments per Dynamite episode; on some episodes, that number is zero. Shida has been stuck doing squash after squash for the last few months as champion, which is a waste of both her talents and the show’s screen-time, while the division’s storylines have reliably been overshadowed by multiple, dynamic feuds between the top male stars.

To make things worse, the biggest breakout star from AEW’s women’s division hasn’t even won the title: Dr. Britt Baker (DMD, don’t you know?) was pegged to be the top babyface in the division when Dynamite launched, but she was poorly received and so did what all poorly received faces should do. The doctor turned heel, and became instantly more entertaining. Back when there were fans to rile up, her shtick was standard “trash talk the city you’re in” fare, but in the absence of fans Baker has developed a memorably cowardly troll persona and given the women’s division its first real character.

And character matters a lot. The wrestling in AEW has generally been top-notch across the board, but the reason performers get over when everything around them is uniformly good is that they stand out. That’s how Orange Cassidy and Darby Allin and the Jurassic Express all became popular before coronavirus hit, and how idiosyncratic wrestlers before them have gotten over forever. The pandemic has been an obvious obstacle for the company in this regard, as it’s harder to develop fan favorites with no fans in attendance. But the effort that has been expended in the various men’s divisions just has not carried over to the women’s division, despite AEW EVP Kenny Omega’s deep involvement and investment.

Almost all of AEW’s shortcomings ultimately resolve to the same source, which is that these men do not have a ton of experience booking different types of wrestling. Most of AEW’s most important decision makers come from pro wrestling’s most consistent sources of high-quality matches, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla; Cody came from WWE’s midcard. They have shown some care to the women’s division, and towards an undercard that doesn’t revolve solely around the same main characters—Chris Jericho’s interminable feud against Orange Cassidy, for instance—but the promotion’s day-to-day tends to be more aligned with what the market wants: wrestlers that people know, doing cool things. That’s how a promotion can get two women’s matches on the debut AEW pay-per-view, 2019’s Double or Nothing, or a Women’s World Championship match at the inaugural Dynamite, and still have the division feel like a failure. It’s clear that AEW cares about the women’s division as a calling card, but it hasn’t put in the week-in, week-out work to make it into a true foundational piece of the program.

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Happy to see the world talking about the shortcomings they are giving their women's division.

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It's about time people called a thing a thing. AEW promised a ton of fan service when they started: fair pay to the wrestlers, no "stupid" WWE-style storylines, touting how great their women division would be, even going as far to say that they wouldn't be hiring models & training them to be wrestlers (which didn't sit well with me), basically going out of their way to say they'd be the anti-WWE. Their product is cute but at the end of the day, AEW is a vanity promotion and that hasn't changed. It exists so Cody, Kenny, Brandi, The Bucks, Tony Khan, etc, can live out their Vince, Triple H & Stephanie fantasies.

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AEW's booking of their women's division is truly the drizzling shits. They did so much grandstanding and made so many promises and all they did was set themselves up for failure. The fact that women are running to sign with Impact over them is depressing. I understand a bunch of stuff has gone wrong for them but they aren't even really trying to do the best with what they have. They truly just gave up the second it got slightly inconvenient.
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Their biggest thing, for me, is their complete inability to handle criticism. So many instances when I've seen fans remark on social media, they either come back with a sassy quip, or completely deactivate. There is such a delusion that everyone in management are bigger than what they are, and that's simply not the case now. The only one who I can say would be Moxley, and that's because he seems to steer clear from all social media. Cody and Brandi can't handle criticism, I've lost all respect for Jericho, and Kenny and the Bucks have not done much since they've been involved in the company. Kenny had so many accolades in Japan, and yes starting up a rival wrestling corporation is an amazing accomplishment, but when people focus on what you've done before you returned to North America, that says a lot.

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Who needs an AEW Women's division when you have Dr. Britt Baker carrying it on her back? Queen shit.

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3 hours ago, Ninja Balenciaga said:

It's about time people called a thing a thing. AEW promised a ton of fan service when they started: fair pay to the wrestlers, no "stupid" WWE-style storylines, touting how great their women division would be, even going as far to say that they wouldn't be hiring models & training them to be wrestlers (which didn't sit well with me), basically going out of their way to say they'd be the anti-WWE. Their product is cute but at the end of the day, AEW is a vanity promotion and that hasn't changed. It exists so Cody, Kenny, Brandi, The Bucks, Tony Khan, etc, can live out their Vince, Triple H & Stephanie fantasies.

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I can't believe they had the audacity of saying this when Brandi Rhodes out of everyone is actively competing and in a position of power in the company. They truly are a lost case.

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everyone is making good points so i'll just say it was the sexism for me

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The way "everyone" fought for that Britt and Swole match to make the actual PPV and it really did no favors and was panned. Le Kiki!

But they really have some stars in the making brewing up on AEW Dark they just really need to cut down on these extra long ass matches and try to work them into the main show and write some damn characters up for them. Shida also needs to do more with the title or bounce. I'm sick of every champion (only 3 so far) getting 100+ reigns but nothing is really noteworthy nor will stand the test of time.

Give Britt the belt and start building up other face characters. Also do away with this trash ranking system because most of the Top 5 is a non-threat and non-factor to the weekly on goings. I mean Abadon is #4 based on AEW Dark wins and even she has been missing for like a month. Point of this? Nyla Rose just got Vickie Guerrero of all people in her corner and is the #1 contender but I feel like they are at a loss for someone who was a front runner at the beginning as a staple women's feature (along side Britt who's holding it down with character work and Allie who has now also disappeared.)

 

I'm trying to make it though with the wealth of men's talent both established and up & coming. But as a women's wrestling fan first... Year 2 needs some prayer and funding.

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12 hours ago, Messiah said:

I like the women's division. 

Sounds about right: :culture:

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the main points have been summarized, but let’s not forget how they rallied around Nyla Rose when she was signed as an emblem of their division despite being underprepared and green, and once she fell out of the spotlight so did all the other women. truly they put in the minimum effort to prove they were trying to build an inclusive division and then gave up when they realized they didn’t have the talent and their fans were all misogynistic white men who don’t deserve to see women thriving in the first place.

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