ATHENA is one of the top performers in professional wrestling and she deserves more time on television, especially when compared to her peers.
2023 is coming to an end and conversations are opening about who were the top performers of the year. When talking about women’s wrestling, ATHENA deserves to be on the short list of the best who’ve stepped into a ring this year. Her run in Ring of Honor is one that has captured the attention of fans and reminded everyone of her abilities as a performer. Unfortunately, that isn’t enough to get her featured on prime AEW television like her peers and that’s a telling issue.
“I’m certainly open to Athena appearing in AEW and other places,” Tony Khan said during the ROH Final Battle media call. “I think it’s really great to have somebody who is a great ambassador for the company like Athena. One thing that has been consistent and great about ROH is that Athena has been very much a part of that show and focused on that show. Her work has been one of the strongest things about the show. If Athena is focused on ROH and AEW, that’s great too.”
That full quote is one that is worth unpacking. Even more important, it’s worth unpacking it with a dose of match data from 2023.
Athena’s dominance as ROH Women’s World Champion is such that she will be on the short list of top performers for 2023. She deserves that recognition for not only the great matches, but the outstanding character work she’s done along the way. Her performance is one that should be recognized with higher profile opportunities, but those continue to fall between the cracks. Athena can’t get on AEW television and when looking at Khan’s statement versus some of the time her peers get on Dynamite, Rampage or Collision, it speaks to a larger problem.
This piece looked at six individuals that held ROH singles titles in 2023 and tracks the number of appearances they’ve had on AEW television through December 12. That group is Eddie Kingston, Claudio Castagnoli, Samoa Joe, Wheeler Yuta, and Katsuyori Shibata. Looking back through 2023, there are some astounding issues with how often Athena’s peers appear on AEW TV while her openings to do the same are near impossible.
- Athena: 53 matches – 4 on television – 17%
- Eddie Kingston: 52 matches – 17 on television – 32%
- Katsuyori Shibata: 17 matches – 7 on television – 41%
- Wheeler Yuta: 51 matches – 30 on television – 58%
- Claudio Castagnoli: 62 matches – 39 on television – 62%
- Samoa Joe: 31 matches – 21 on television – 67%
Athena’s had 53 matches this year according to Cagematch. Of those 53, only 4 occurred on AEW television. That includes three appearances on Zero Hour, the AEW pre-show hour heading into PPVs, and the July 12 edition of AEW Rampage where she battled Willow Nightingale. This counts for only 7.5 percent of her total matches.
Now compare that to the rest of the group. Kingston comes in at 32 percent, followed by Shibata at 41 percent, Yuta at 58 percent, Castagnoli at 62 percent and Joe at 67 percent. Athena has appeared on AEW television almost five times less than Kingston this year. The data speaks for itself.
Tony Khan has a problem with booking women’s wrestling. It’s a situation that many have written about and openly questioned him during media calls. Each time he gives a convoluted answer without any real action from show to show. To say that he’s “open” to including a prominent woman on the content that he books is as condescending an answer one could give.
With this continued pattern, how can AEW attract top stars like Mercedes Mone and potentially Becky Lynch in 2024? The answer is that the company will not be an attraction destination for top women’s stars. Some will argue that there has been slow improvement with how the women are booked, and that is true in some ways, but this response to a serious question is problematic for sure.
This also harkens back to the Big Swole controversy of 2022. Swole spoke about the lack of opportunities she saw in AEW, even as she was a central figure that helped with Britt Baker’s initial push. Athena has hit the proverbial glass ceiling that hampers Black women in all professions, but the difference here is that viewers see it happen each week. This is yet another example as to why fans are still hesitant that Khan will give individuals like Swerve, Ricky Starks, or Powerhouse Hobbs an opening to be the company’s top star. Here he is with a woman in a similar level of prominence right now and the best he can do is to say he’s “open” to featuring her for more fans to see.
Do not be surprised if and when Athena wins Women’s Wrestler of the Year awards. She deserves it for how she’s performed. Imagine a sports team or another company having such an individual on their roster and giving such a dismissive answer when asked to highlight their abilities for a wider audience. That’s exactly what Tony Khan has done and he deserves to be critiqued for it.