FanPost

State of the AEW Women's Division: June 2021

AEW

Here we are, a month into the Era of DMD, a new dawn in the oft-neglected AEW women's division. How is it so far? Pretty bad, if I'm being honest! The naïve hope I had going into Britt Baker's reign as AEW Women's World Champion was that with a champion that Tony Khan clearly actually cares about far more than anyone prior, more attention would be given to the division as a whole. There'd be a championship story, and a couple of stories in the undercard to start building up people as legitimate challengers. As it turns out, believing that would happen was as stupid as believing in trickle-down economics. More attention to the person on top actually just means the person on top gets more attention, and no one else benefits.

For all of June, up until the literal last episode of Dynamite for the entire month, no women's match was advertised more than a couple of days ahead of time. No other match was advertised the week before, as was the norm for several months. A couple of the matches given barely any promotion were set up on Dark or Elevation, but a couple just happened for no reason with no build and no announcement the week prior. And the one match that was given plenty of advertisement? Hahaha! Haha! We'll get to that one, don't you worry! In any case, none of the other matches had any stakes or set up any stories for the division. Still fine matches, but no actual moving parts within the division to speak of.

Also worth noting is who wrestled on Dynamite this month, especially in the last match of the month. Before we get started properly, here's a small sample of the people on the AEW roster who didn't wrestle on Dynamite this entire month. Keep this list in mind as you're reading this piece:

  • Hikaru Shida
  • Tay Conti
  • Serena Deeb
  • Riho
  • Big Swole
All of them people I would comfortably consider top stars in the women's division, none of them on Dynamite this month. Now, to be fair, most of the people who were on Dynamite certainly deserved television time as well, but a couple...well, let's just get into it, shall we?

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-The first question mark going into Dr. Britt Baker, DMD's reign as AEW Women's World Champion was who would be her first challenger? Given that AEW management actually seems to care about her, it was pretty obvious that they'd build up a story instead of hotshotting someone based on the rankings and doing little work to make a story around it, like they have done quite frequently in the past. Despite being the top heel of the company, Baker is very popular and gets cheered by crowds, or at least has so far in her reign. The obvious choice would be to turn Baker face, but thankfully AEW seems to be sticking to their guns and keeping Baker heel, which suits her character better anyway. So, AEW needed to establish a babyface challenger, put some real effort into building them up and getting the audience to cheer them. Someone the audience would want to see topple the still-extremely-a-heel Dr. Britt Baker, DMD. Who did they pick for this first challenger?

Nyla Rose, the other top heel of the women's division. And they're not turning her face, either, because she's still paired with Vickie Guerrero (who will never not get booed) and doing the extremely heelish bit of putting "I got my ass kicked by Nyla Rose and all I got was this stupid t-shirt" shirts on felled opponents. Extremely good bit, but also not something a face would typically do. So, AEW's first big storyline in the much-vaunted Era of DMD is...a heel-versus-heel matchup where there's nobody to root for. Booker Of The Year, Tony Khan, everyone!

Actually, I'll be fair; people will almost certainly be cheering for Baker. Which...AEW shouldn't want, I don't think? Because she's supposed to be a heel, and she's still cutting heel promos and doing heel things so you can't really argue she's turned face or even tweener. Hell, this little feud was started by her having a burger party courtesy of Burger King (has the support of a monarchy, very heelish) with all the heels in AEW, and pretending to give free burgers to everyone in attendance but PSYCHE actually she's keeping all of them. So, yeah, not exactly making her out to be likable or worthy of support. The segment ended with Nyla Rose throwing some burgers around and leaving in a huff, which is admittedly, unfortunately, more build up than most women's championship stories have gotten up to this point. I would argue that Nyla Rose is actually a better heel than Baker is because at least Rose is getting booed, which is the response a heel is supposed to be getting.

Anyway, Baker's sole match this month was a tag match on June 30, her and Rebel (why are we still using Rebel as a wrestler?) vs. Nyla Rose and...Vickie Guerrero. Yes, Vickie Guerrero used a favor owed to her from getting Andrade El Idolo into AEW to book herself in a tag match against the champion. Why did she book herself in a tag match? Why didn't she just get her client a championship match, which she should really already have as a #1 contender who, unlike Baker, actually fought some people worth a damn to earn it? When did I die, and what sins did I commit in life to deserve an eternity in hell? If I knew the answers to any of these questions, the world might be a better place.

Vickie Guerrero in a wrestling match in 2021 is such a nightmare scenario with no reason to exist that most people, including myself, assumed there must be a bait and switch and someone else would be subbed in at the last minute for Vickie Guerrero. Perhaps someone from Impact finally crossing through the Forbidden Door, or literally anybody in the entire world besides Vickie Guerrero, but no. This match, the only women's match to get advertised more than a couple days ahead of time, hell it was announced 2 episodes of Dynamite ahead of time, occurred exactly as promised. And as you would expect from that promise, it was really bad, arguably a worse booking decision than just not having a women's match at all. I think the smart thing to do if you really absolutely had to put on this match for some reason (lost a bet, maybe?) was to have Guerrero never get tagged in, just have Nyla Rose completely clean house before getting the pin against Rebel. Instead, Guerrero not only gets tagged in, but in fact loses the match for her client by getting the lockjaw applied to her. And the world collectively says, "why the hell did this match happen at all?" I keep seeing people defending the shitty booking of this division with "oh, the network doesn't want more women's matches" but if anyone at WarnerMedia asked for Vickie Guerrero to get a wrestling match, they deserve to get fired. Out of a cannon. Into the sun.

Britt Baker is set to defend her belt against Nyla Rose at Fyter Fest Night 2, on July 21. If nothing else, the garbage tag match AEW decided to end the month with ensured that the bar is so low for that matchup that Rose and Baker are almost guaranteed to clear it.

-Nyla Rose, Ranked 1st, actually did a lot more than just participate in an incredibly bad tag match on Dynamite at the end of the month. She actually wrestled on two separate episodes of Dynamite this month, also taking on Leyla Hirsch on the June 11 episode of Dynamite. It was a solid enough bout of Hirsch's babyface fire being thwarted by a combination of her anger (Nyla Rose had been making fun of her height in the lead-up to the match, and left a stool labeled "Legit Shorty" on the entrance ramp) and Rose's superior strength. It was good, but seemed to slow down a little towards the end, especially the ending sequence where some very slow and not very convincing strikes led to an admittedly very cool avalanche beast bomb for the pinfall.

Otherwise, Nyla Rose scored a couple dominant wins on Dark and Elevation against Missa Kate, Charlette Renegade, Megan Bayne, Delmi Exo, and Holidead, five matches which lasted a combined 5 minute 46 seconds. Only one of them broke the 2 minute mark, and one of them was an "I'm gonna play with my food a little" finish which dragged it out a bit. Not much to say about them besides the fact that I found it disappointing that Holidead, a fantastic wrestler, made her first AEW appearance getting completely squashed. I understand they're trying to make Rose look strong, but there's a lot of enhancement talent in AEW and I would have loved to see Holidead really show what she can do.

Rose is a great wrestler in my opinion, and because of the pandemic starting and the belt being put on Shida she didn't really have a chance to be champion during her first reign. I'd be alright with seeing her with the belt again, but I don't see Baker dropping the belt on her first defense. Rose certainly seems destined to remain near the top of the women's division for the time being, as her match against Baker at Fyter Fest Night 2 will mark the 6th time she's competed for the belt since it's inception. We'll see if AEW gives her a story or feud to keep her up there, or just keeps giving her squash matches on YouTube.

-Tay Conti, Ranked 2nd, has mostly stayed on this list through momentum following her championship match loss to Shida on the April 21 episode of Dynamite, a match which I will remind everyone should have been the main event of the episode until I become blue in the face and die. This month, Conti has had matches on Dark against Natalia Markova, Willow Nightingale, and Charlette Renegade. All solid, but also pretty standard showcases, only worth checking out if you really wanna see Tay Conti. Which, hey, I wouldn't blame you.

The CSS Rankings Roundup piece a few weeks back pointed out that Tay Conti has the most singles wins in AEW so far this year, which puts her in similar standing to Shida a year ago. Which is fitting, I think, both are fantastic wrestlers getting over with audiences through natural charm and wrestling skill. Tay Conti's absence from Dynamite this month, along with the fact the company isn't doing much with her besides showcase matches on YouTube, is a real disservice to her skill, hard work, and dedication, and I hope it's remedied soon. Of course, I could say that about the majority of the women I talk about in this piece, so y'know.

-Thunder Rosa, Ranked 3rd, is also mostly on this list because of an on-paper strong record going into the month and a couple of squash wins on the internet shows. I'd recommend her match against Megan Bayne if you want some good wrestling. I'd recommend her match against Katalina Perez if you want to see her almost eat shit during her entrance. I've chosen to be kind with the match I embedded in this article.

As far as I'm concerned, the question is not if Thunder Rosa will dethrone Baker for the AEW Women's World Title, but when. Rosa is still under contract with NWA, which NWA owner Billy Corgan has said lasts "through 2021". Whether that means just until the end of 2021 or if it extends into 2022 isn't known as far as I'm aware, but I think it's very unlikely Baker drops the belt to anyone else considering the history these two have. And I doubt AEW will want to give the belt to someone not actually signed with their company, even someone who feels like as much of a lock to sign with them as Rosa is.

Honestly, it's almost a problem, since much like Kenny Omega's title matches kind of lack stakes because we know he's going to drop the belt to Hangman Page and no one else, Baker's title matches will likely suffer from everyone knowing she's not losing the belt to anyone besides Rosa. I'm still looking forward to that match, but it does mean something of a holding pattern until Rosa gets officially signed. Maybe we get swerved and someone else gets the belt from Baker, but I doubt it.

-Kris Statlander, Ranked 4th, was in the best of the Dynamite matches this month in my opinion, taking on Bunny in a poorly advertised but still fairly big match for the women's division. The match ended with Statlander...getting shoved out of the way so that the real star, Orange Cassidy, could get beat up by 3 dudes. I initially wrote a tirade about the only story set up by a women's division match the whole month being for Orange Cassidy, who I legitimately enjoy a great deal but extremely does not need it, sucked a ton, but in fairness they've booked an intergender tag match for next week between Kris Statlander and Orange Cassidy vs. The Bunny and The Blade. Now, I'd be more excited if it was a proper mixed tag match like Riho/Omega vs. Ford/Sabian from the Jericho Cruise on Dark last year, but it'll probably be the lame WWE style "men only fight men and women only fight women" version like Velvet/Rhodes vs. Cargill/Shaq from March of this year. Which is disappointing, but Tony Khan is a notorious coward, so what do you expect.

Statlander also racked up 3 wins on Dark and Elevation this month, against Robyn Renegade on the June 1 episode of Dark, Queen Aminata on the June 7 episode of Elevation, and Renee Michelle on the June 21 episode of Elevation. The Renee Michelle match was the best of the bunch, but ultimately all three are worth watching if you like Statlander, but also not something essential that you need to go out of your way to watch.

Once again, as I could say about many of the women in AEW, Statlander is someone who deserves to have more done with her than she gets. As I've mentioned, she's set to be featured in an intergender tag match at Road Rager on the 7th of July. We'll see if that leads into a longer program with Bunny or if it just transitions the focus over to the men's division, which I unfortunately see as more likely.

-While I noted earlier that Hikaru Shida, Ranked 5th, hasn't been on television for the entire month, and I am disappointed by that, I honestly don't think it's awful that they're having her stick to Dark and Elevation for a few weeks or even months. She was the champion for a full year and change, and while she was hardly utilized to the degree her talents warranted, giving her some space to breath and show off her wrestling skills in front of live audiences again will hopefully help address the fatigue some people had with her underwhelming (through no fault of her own) championship reign.

Hikaru Shida had two matches this month, both of them on Dark: Elevation. On the June 6 episode of Elevation, she faced off against Diamante in the night's main event. It was significantly better than their Dynamite match from nearly a year ago, but still never quite hit the stride necessary for it to go from "very good" to "great." Probably because even a year later, in the main event of the program, Shida and Diamante were still only given about 5 minutes. Honestly, it's a wonder the match was as good and competitive as it was considering how little time they got to do it. Oh also, quick side note: this was the first time Hikaru Shida has main evented anything in AEW. Which, considering some of the people that HAVE main evented AEW shows before, is a damn shame and should have happened much sooner, and on Dynamite at that. I mentioned the Conti match earlier, right? Yeah that should have main evented that episode of Dynamite.

Later in the month, on the June 28 episode of Dark: Elevation, Shida had a 4-minute match against Reka Tehaka. More of a showcase than a competitive bout like the Diamante match was, Shida and Tehaka still put on a good show for the meager time they were given. Not much to say here, to be honest! Good match, Shida looked great, Tehaka impressed with some good Samoan stuff. Headbutts, foot stomps, all the classics that are ingrained enough into pro wrestling that I'll get shit if I say anything about pacific islander stereotypes or something. Good match, but not essential.

Shida had a quiet June, all things considered. Clearly still considered a top star of the division, but definitely in the background at the moment.

- And now, for the rest of the division:

  • Outside of her occasional YouTube appearances, Jade Cargill has spent June doing TV promos alongside her manager, Mark Sterling. I don't think Cargill really needs a manager, personally, she was doing perfectly fine doing promos on her own and I don't think it fits her character. If anything, based on the not-bad-but-kinda-lukewarm-for-a-featured-act response she got from a live crowd on Elevation, I think pairing her up with MJF's former lawyer might be doing more harm than good. In any case, Cargill has spent the month showing off how hot a commodity she is by getting sponsorships and promotional offers from checks notes the company she works for that wants to make her seem like a big deal, and some of the companies that work alongside the company she works for. Yeah, I dunno, I was kind of interested in where the "make an offer if you wanna be my manager" thing was going, but nobody really seemed to show much interest besides Sterling and this new schtick isn't doing it for me. At least she's on TV a lot?
  • Speaking of on TV a lot, the only wrestler to have multiple matches on Dynamite this month besides Nyla Rose was The Bunny, who first had a match against Red Velvet on the June 4 episode of Dynamite following her use of brass knuckles to win a tag match against Velvet and Big Swole alongside Rose on Dark. Velvet vs. Bunny was solid, but mostly notable for the moment early on where Velvet almost died landing on her head during a Tope Suicida, but thankfully it seems it was less damaging than it looked on the broadcast. Bunny's other match of the month was against Kris Statlander, which I talked about in her section. Bunny's character at the moment seems to be "she's craaaaaaaazy", which I'm pretty blasé about, to be honest. Bunny is an okay wrestler in my opinion, and a generic character like she has isn't really enough for me to get invested in her. Not that she's doing much to get invested in, much like the division as a whole.
  • Penelope Ford also had a match on Dynamite this month against Julia Hart, which was apparently set up on one of the YouTube shows, but to be honest I didn't catch where that happened. The match was pretty good, which I honestly credit almost entirely to Ford. I've been less than flattering towards Ford in the past, but watching her face Hart after watching Hart face an enhancement talent on Dark, you can really tell how good Penelope Ford is at making an extremely green performer look good. My main issue with this match was that, much like Statlander/Bunny the following week, the match apparently happened to set up something in the men's division rather than the women's division, in this case a TNT title match between champion Miro and Brian Pillman Jr., which...hey, someone must think Pillman should be getting title shots, I guess.
  • I suppose Ford's opponent in that match deserves a section too, huh? Julia Hart is a newer face in AEW that the people in charge clearly see potential in, as she's been racking up wins against enhancement talent on YouTube while Tony Schiavone repeatedly reminds the audience that cheerleading is definitely totally a real sport that takes a lot of effort and training to be good at and prepares you for wrestling, please take her seriously guys. To be clear, I'm not saying this to talk down on cheerleading at all, it's just funny how Schiavone oversells the athleticism involved every time Hart appears on screen. Anyway, Hart is...extremely green. I rewatched her match against Ford shortly after checking out one of her Dark wins, specifically against Dani Jordyn on the June 14 episode of Elevation, and hoo boy that gives me a real strong idea of how much carrying Ford did in their match on Dynamite. Hart is certainly athletic, and her cheerleading skills give her potential to be a good high flyer, but boy howdy she is not there yet at all.
  • Leyla Hirsch hasn't made an appearance in AEW, or anywhere else, since losing to Nyla Rose on the June 11 episode of Dynamite. If she's been injured, she hasn't said anything about it as far as I can find. Hope to see her again soon!
  • Abadon continues to be in a steady stream of good showcase matches on the YouTube shows, having 3 matches this month on various episodes of Dark. AEW clearly wants to maintain the mystique around Abadon and continue keeping her strong, as she can still claim to have only been beaten by Hikaru Shida. I'll admit that beating Ryo Mizunami is a pretty impressive claim considering how strongly Mizunami was booked in her time in AEW, but otherwise it's been a lot of jobbers, so it's maybe not as impressive as AEW wants it to be. That said, I do think it'd be interesting to see her challenge for the title and see how Baker reacts to the idea of shoving her fingers into Abadon's mouth.
  • Red Velvet's only wrestling this month was that Dynamite match against The Bunny. She's also appeared at least once otherwise as a second for a tag match with Big Swole and KiLynn King. I'm glad she's officially signed to AEW now, even if she also isn't doing too much right now.
  • Diamante suffered a pair of losses against Red Velvet on Dark on the 1st and in the main event of Dark: Elevation against Shida on the 7th. Both good matches, both worth watching. She also got a win over Ashley D'Amboise on the June 22 episode of AEW Dark to maintain her as-close-to-midcard-as-this-division-gets status.
  • After starting Double or Nothing with a show-stealer last month, Riho finally made another appearance on Dark: Elevation on June 28, in a match against KiLynn King that I enjoyed enough that I actually am going to recommend it to you all to watch. Riho is a fantastic wrestler and I'm glad she's in the US full time now. Hopefully the long wait between her DoN match against Serena Deeb and this match against King was to give her time to get settled, and we'll be seeing her more often going forward.
  • After being part of the fantastic pre-show match against Riho at Double or Nothing, Serena Deeb dropped the NWA World Women's Title to Kamille at the NWA When Our Shadows Fall PPV event on June 6. She hasn't wrestled anywhere since, as far as I can find. I don't know what's keeping her off our screens, but I certainly hope she brings her veteran skill back to AEW soon.
  • Similarly, Big Swole won a tag match alongside KiLynn King on AEW Dark on June 8 and hasn't made another appearance since. Red Velvet, Big Swole, and KiLynn King have been very fun as the trio RSK, and as I mentioned last month they're making a convincing argument almost single handedly for women's tag titles. I hope Swole's absence isn't anything serious, and that we can see her again soon.
  • Not exactly for this month, but Yuka Sakazaki is going to make an excursion to the US in July! She's expected to return to Japan in time for a show on August 7, so taking into account Japan's mandatory 2-week quarantine when entering the country, her excursion shouldn't be longer than 3 weeks. We'll see what plans AEW has for her in the coming weeks.
  • Ohp, almost forgot. Shanna was quietly removed from the AEW roster page at the beginning of the month. Shortly thereafter, there were rumors of her mistreating the enhancement talent in AEW along with a resurfacing of old islamophobic tweets of hers. It's unfortunate, but ultimately if Shanna was a toxic individual backstage, it's for the best that she's gone.
  • I once again thank and commend the enhancement talent working opposite the more established stars of the division and making them look as good as possible. Thanks to Willow Nightingale, Megan Bayne, Ashley Vox, Delmi Exo, Robyn Renegade, Charlette Renegade, Valentina Rossi, Ashley D'amboise, Reka Tehaka, Queen Aminata, Dani Jordyn, Katalina Perez, and all the rest.
As is unfortunately becoming a common refrain for these pieces, the quality of the wrestling and the obvious hard work of everyone in the division, but especially those being kept on Dark and Elevation, are the only thing keeping this month from being a total wash. The only feud going on is Rose and Baker for the championship, a story with a fairly obvious outcome that ended the month on a trash fire of a match that anyone could have seen was going to be bad from the jump but somehow was the only match that AEW deemed worthy of proper advance advertisement all month. Cargill is on TV every week, but only so her manager can claim she's a hot commodity with crossover appeal because they made up a promo code for AEW's online store. The only storytelling that happened in the division was focused more on tangentially related male wrestlers than the women who actually fought in said matches. Nothing else of note is happening in the division, no stories are being told, and if anything less effort seems to be put into the wider division than when Shida was champion, somehow. More than ever before, I feel stupid for having had hope that things would be changing. The only reason I'm giving a grade as high as I am is in acknowledgement that since Dynamite spent most of the month outside it's normal time slot, they seemed to coast through the month in general and not just in the women's division. That doesn't mean the month wasn't a poorly done mess that was a step backwards for the division in almost all respects.

GRADE: D

What do you all think? Too harsh? Too lenient? Do you think we're just warming up to when "The Era of DMD" will really take off, or are the steps backwards in June just the new normal? Let me know what you think in the comments! I'd love to know if anyone has good arguments for why things might actually start swinging upwards again. Heaven knows I could do with the morale boost.

The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Cageside Seats readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cageside Seats editors or staff.