Fans continue to push for the AEW women’s division to get major opportunities that seem just out of reach.
Women’s wrestling is coming off a big moment at Ring of Honor: Death before Dishonor. Willow Nightingale and Athena were the main event of the show, putting on a 20-minute battle where Athena would come out on top and remain ROH Women’s World Champion. That was a huge moment, not only for women in wrestling but specifically for Black women in wrestling. It is an interesting juxtaposition to words from Tony Khan hours earlier about the state of the women’s division in All Elite Wrestling.
AEW Blood & Guts went down on the July 19 edition of AEW Dynamite. The Golden Elite picked up a victory over the Blackpool Combat Club, seemingly bringing that feud to a close. It was a big moment for the promotion, wrapping up perhaps the biggest angle in the company. But was this moment supposed to go to the women’s division?
Rewind the clock back to January this year. Saraya and Toni Storm suddenly turned heel and formed a group to be known as The Outcasts – a stable of women who crafted much of their careers outside of AEW before joining the company. They would take on AEW “Originals” that included Jamie Hayter, Hikaru Shida, and Britt Baker. Along the way, Ruby Soho, Riho, and Willow Nightingale would be added to the feud. Soho has excelled in her role in the angle, doing some of the best work she’s done in AEW, while Nightingale and Riho were used sparingly in the angle.
This angle started with rousing fan interest and momentum but has screeched to a halt in recent weeks and months. Storm picking the title off the injured Hayter at Double or Nothing was the last real development of the angle.
Baker, perhaps the biggest women’s star on the AEW roster, had a 1:06 match on Dynamite without any promo build before or after Storm hasn’t had a match on Dynamite since June 17. Soho lost in the finals of the Owen Hart Tournament. Shida hasn’t been seen on Dynamite since June 24, while Riho hasn’t appeared on Dynamite since April 12. This is a real inconsistency when it comes to booking what is supposed to be the biggest story in the women’s division. When asked about the women being in the Blood & Guts match, Khan had the following reply.
"“It would have been an interesting idea, it could have been a great match,” Khan said. “I definitely think Jamie Hayter’s injury, is probably a five-on-five there given some of the depth issues, and especially given Willow Nightingale just got back and putting her in that kind of match after she had a major head injury in Japan, probably wouldn’t be very smart.”“We’ve had some other major injuries there, and when there was some fan momentum for that idea, I think the Outcasts vs. Jamie, Britt, and some others, was really running red hot and Jamie Hayter was a part of that. Some of the momentum for that, when Jamie Hayter was running hot as champion, was there, and I’m not sure at this moment, given some of the injuries we had, that was feasible,” Khan said. “Also, with so many of the women competing this week in the Owen Hart Cup tournament, it is a very hard-hitting match and there is a lot of attrition for it. Santana still hasn’t been back from last year. The women’s division is pretty beat up, they’ve been beating the hell out of each other. Probably was not a feasible idea for them this year.”"
Unpacking that response raises more than a few eyebrows for AEW fans
First, there’s Hayter’s injury. Yes, she is a big focal point of this angle and a major name with the AEW fanbase. But do you know who else is? Bryan Danielson. His injury and replacement with PAC didn’t cause any issues with the angle between The Golden Elite and BCC. If Khan could find a way to book someone into the match that made sense for the men, he could have done the same with the women. Individuals like Skye Blue are right there, ready for an opportunity to step up and shine. He also mentioned the idea that it wouldn’t be a smart idea to put Nightingale in such a match, but days later she’s in a 20-minute battle with Athena on the PPV. Again, the statements don’t match up to the actions on the screen.
Second, this is the same AEW women’s division that hasn’t had the opportunity to compete in a ladder match either. That is another big match stipulation that the men on the roster have participated in multiple times a year, yet the ladies – a division that is deathly in need of new challengers – haven’t seen happen yet. What’s keeping the ladies from getting that opportunity other than booking decisions?
As AEW continues to struggle to find adequate time to feature women’s wrestling on television, responses like Khan’s above should continue to ring alarms for fans of the talent. The AEW women’s division doesn’t have “depth issues.” There’s talent across that group that doesn’t get time on TV. Emi Sakura, Penelope Ford, Nyla Rose, Anna Jay, and others. The company finds time to book for individuals like Chris Jericho and Jeff Jarrett, along with dance-offs, video segments, and more. It’s a booking decision to give the women such small spots and it impacts the ability of fans to stay invested, which is the biggest problem right now.