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Being a supporter of the AEW Women's Division has not always been easy. While I often think criticism of the division is too harsh and there has been improvement it has, admittedly, been slow. Sometimes frustratingly so. That said, I think Full Gear was a bit of a breakthrough.
Full Gear 2023 was the rare instance of us getting not only getting two women's matches on a PPV, but two fully competitive matches, backed up by actual storylines that fans were invested in. Yes, we've had PPVs with a pair of women's matches before, but usually the second one was a Jade Cargill match.
No knock against Jade, I've complimented her for her obvious star power often, but she kind of existed in a pocket universe separate from the rest of the division. Her matches rarely had any significant build beyond "Can this month's tomato can end the streak?" and the bouts themselves were usually well below the standards of AEW, and even the rest of the women's division. So, yes, there were two women's matches on most PPVs during the Jade era, but there were rarely two matches to actually get excited about. This thankfully wasn't the case with Full Gear.
Toni Storm vs. Hikaru Shida featured one competitor who's doing some of the most entertaining and inventive character of any woman in the entire industry. Timeless Toni storm is a delight and came into the match with a strong wind at her back. That said, Shida has had a bit of a renaissance too recently -- after years of being under-appreciated, she climbed back to the top of the AEW Women's Division in recent months, becoming the first three-time champ, competing in high-profile matches, and even getting some mic time (something she was always denied during her first reign). Shida has also kind of had Toni's number, which they smartly referenced in the buildup to Full Gear. The match itself wasn't a technical classic, but was hard-hitting, fun, and fully captured the crowd by the end.
Kris Statlander vs. Julia Hart vs. Skye Blue was, in some ways, even more noteworthy, in that it featured three "home-grown" talent, two of which (Hart and Blue) started at absolute ground zero in AEW. It's hard to express just how far they've come since their greener-than-green beginnings mostly wrestling on Dark. Now all three of the women in this match have confidence, momentum, and even fairly developed characters in the case of Hart and Blue. Again, while this wasn't a 5-star all-time classic, it was a pretty complicated three way, and everyone played their part. Everyone was in the right spot for everything. If you had told me six months ago that Kris Statlander, Julia Hart, and Skye Blue were going to get 12 minutes on PPV, I would have been concerned, but they absolutely pulled it off.
So yeah, Full Gear was encouraging, and I think things are going to get better. It's pretty much an open secret that Mercedes Mone is coming in once she's healthy, and hey, it seems like Ronda Rousey wants to keep wrestling. Yes, I know, boo hiss about the latter, but just like she did in WWE, she'd bring a huge spotlight to the division, and screw it, I still find her compelling. There are also tons of returns likely coming up in the next few months. Thunder Rosa, Jamie Hayter, and hopefully a more healthy and productive Britt Baker all come to mind.
As for the TBS title scene, I'd love to see it continue to be a place where younger upcoming talent compete, and there a lot of young names champing at the bit. Billie Starkz, Mariah May, Willow Nightingale, and others could start shaking up the division at any time.
Didn't mean to write an essay here, so we'll bring this to an end. For all the negativity the AEW Women's Division absorbs, I think it's important to acknowledge when positive steps are made, and I'm more optimistic about the future than I've been in a while.