Riho’s role in the AEW women’s division is still unclear

TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 17: RIHO enters the ring during the 'Stardom' Women's Pro-Wrestling at Korakuen Hall on July 17, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - JULY 17: RIHO enters the ring during the 'Stardom' Women's Pro-Wrestling at Korakuen Hall on July 17, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Etsuo Hara/Getty Images) /

When Riho first debuted in AEW, there was a lot of hype surrounding her. By this point, there were a few other favorites signed to the company to come from the independent circuit and the identity of the women’s division was beginning to take form.  A lot of fans were familiar with Riho’s history and many more were skeptical.

That made it an interesting situation when Riho became the inaugural AEW Women’s World Champion. A lot of fans were satisfied with the development, but there were even more fans who were less than thrilled with how the company started off with the women’s division.

When looking at Riho for the first time, she had an over-the-top good girl persona and it seemed like she was just an extension of everything a wrestling fan wouldn’t want in a superstar. Even as Riho returned, there were still a lot of questions and not a lot of answers for what this means as she remains on the roster.

The polarizing effect Riho has on the women’s division in AEW.

During her first reign as AEW women’s champion, it was a split reaction with many fans not being on board. Criticisms ranged from her size, how she was booked, or her having no true personality to push forward storylines. Even though Riho gained consistently strong reactions from the crowd at nearly every AEW show, it was more complicated than that.

It didn’t help that some wrestling pundits took to their platforms to show they weren’t on board with Riho either. In many cases, it was the only common ground these wrestling pundits had with most fans.

It made it very easy to be open on social media and for fans to say that they aren’t a fan of Riho for whatever reason. The problem Riho has had was very much storyline driven and it’s a problem many stars in AEW and many other wrestling companies face.

With the direction of the women’s division and the conversations had about how much the talent is not displayed fully on Dynamite, the booking of Riho only added fuel to the flame. It caused fans to wonder if they would get a full program as long as she remained champion.

Even after Riho lost the AEW women’s championship to Nyla Rose, there still were a lot more questions than answers when it came to the superstar. This included whether she would return to the title picture with her winning a second women’s championship quickly.

Riho continued to be a person in exhibition match-ups with no specific storyline or build-up to them. She kept doing that until she got injured and took some time off away. During that time, Athena, Saraya, and Toni Storm took their rightful place in the women’s division.

As time went by, the division took a different direction and it was hard to imagine where Riho would fit in since the women’s division became even more storyline heavy in the last few months alone.

Riho recently made her return and the reaction was strong after not seeing her for a very long time. Riho took out Dr. Britt Baker and Jamie Hayter and it seemed like she was back in the spotlight. It was good to see Riho back in the spotlight once more, the same questions pop into our heads about where she would fit in.

Riho went against Jamie Hayter, who’s on a completely different path and got over organically with the crowd. The crowd was more behind Hayter than they were for Riho and the arena held its breath when it looked like Riho was gaining momentum.

Ultimately, Riho lost to Hayter and it was the right decision. Not just because Hayter got over, but also because it would not make sense to pick up where they left off with the superstar. The division is not the same, and it seems the company is looking for a consistent format to satisfy fans and that includes the storyline department.

It’s not to say Riho is not capable of having meaningful storylines, but the trend in AEW has been that she didn’t have meaningful build-ups for whatever reason. It’s not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last time an international superstar has this problem.

It shows just because a star has gained traction internationally or with another company, it may not reflect the same as they appear in AEW. It’s just a matter of knowing and acknowledging those differences for a superstar and Riho is no exception.

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There is no telling what’s next for Riho, but fans will have to wait and see if Riho will gel with the hopeful new direction of the women’s division or become incompatible as AEW looks to continue their changes on the roster.