My fear is that once or twice a year, until my bosses find out that I’m just an absurd algorithm devised out of some combination of bong water and Primus records and they fire “me” (even though I don’t exist in physical form), I’ll be writing some piece about how this is the time that AEW can, should, and needs to boost its women’s division. I did it last summer, I did it last spring, and it didn’t really happen. There’s another chance now.
Certainly, the newcomers on the men’s side lately have taken as much time promoting the women as the actual bookers have. You’ll recall CM Punk’s first promo in the company started with mentioning Britt Baker right at the top. Bryan Danielson was sure to mention Ruby Soho at the top of his to close out All Out. So at least someone is aware.
That doesn’t mean those who actually produce and book the shows have been. They’ve had moments here and there, but none of those moments built into anything that substantial. Last time we talked about this, it was in the aftermath of Baker and Thunder Rosa’s unsanctioned, no-DQ match that had the wrestling world buzzing. And it did turn Baker into an absolute star, pointing her toward the women’s title. Which she has held with aplomb.
But that’s been about it. If Tony Khan and Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks are actually paying attention, they will hear the roar that greets Thunder Rosa every time she appears. Fans love her. And yet she spends more time on their YouTube shows than she does on TNT.
Any long-term storytelling for the women is not that far from a joke in AEW. The championship match between Baker and Kris Statlander for All Out was announced barely 10 days before the event. Thankfully, those two put on a great match. But both Dynamite and Rampage have only featured one women’s match per episode, with little to no thread between them. Jade Cargill keeps getting teased and taped promos, but the time for her to have a real match instead of a squash is either here now or has passed. They’ve toyed with making Tay Conti someone to notice in the past couple weeks, but now what? Different women have rotated in and out of TV matches with no grand plan and no momentum to build them into more than they are now, which are bit-part players. And with little TV time, that becomes an even harder task. You can’t create a division worthy of esteem with just 15 minutes per show.
The introduction of Ruby Soho could change all that. AEW has gotten most of its buzz and pops for being a haven for wrestlers WWE discarded, with almost every one causing fans to say, “Boy, WWE sure wasted this guy.” Brodie Lee, Miro, Malakai Black, Andrade, PAC, FTR, even Jon Moxley to a point, even Cody Rhodes to a greater point, Adam Cole now (judging by their main roster offer to him). All of these guys left an air of “what could have been” when they were released by or left New York.
But the women haven’t had that. Any additions have come from within AEW or up through the indie scene, the biggest of which was Thunder Rosa. There’s never been someone to show up with the promise of what they didn’t get to do with the competition. That kind of name comes with weight.
Ruby Soho is the first. And while Soho was a darling on the indies as well, she comes with the added spice or verve that she didn’t even get that much of a shake on NXT, much less WWE, when she was Ruby Riott. She got one title match against Asuka and Nikki Cross in NXT, which was great, and then was shotgunned up to the main roster after less than a year with the company. NXT fans barely got to know her, which left WWE fans with no hope of knowing her, and as call-ups tend to do without major NXT cred (and sometimes even with it) she got lost. She and her stable with Liv Morgan and Sarah Logan weren’t much more than glorified jobbers, with the occasional push just beyond that. In those pushes, few and far between as they were, Ruby showed herself to be one of the best workers that company had in its women’s division. But her opportunities were all too rare before she was again banished to the land of wind and ghosts.
Judging by the reaction of AEW’s fans on Sunday, they’re keenly aware of what Ruby can do, and what was wasted by New York. It’s not just the performer fans go nuts for when they arrive in AEW, but the excitement at seeing someone they felt had been slighted by WWE. Anyone who saw Ruby on the indies or with NXT knows there’s so much more to be uncorked. Ruby seems to know it too.
The question is, will AEW care enough to do so? She’s already pointed at Baker, and that’s a story AEW can tell over a matter of weeks, or even a month or two if they get a wild hair on their ass. Ruby-Britt should be a big fucking deal (main eventing their Arthur Ashe Stadium show is an idea). And AEW loves to let wrestlers become so much more than they did in WWE, and quickly, to show what a freeing environment it is.
But will that be the only women’s storyline on TV the next few weeks? Will there be just one more additional, compelling match on their shows? That’s all it would really take to transform the division. Maybe continuing Conti’s push? Cargill’s? Reintroducing Hikaru Shida? Another of their Joshi competitors? Positioning someone, anyone, to be next in line whenever Soho and Baker is decided instead of doing it one at a time?
There’s always been a feeling that Tony Khan, as big of a wrestling fan as he is, likes just collecting toys. And that he and the other EVPs can simply point to the ratings and furor over their company at the moment and declare they don’t have to make any changes, foremost how they barely do anything with their women’s division. Soho shouldn’t be just another toy. Any woman who can rock this suit demands more than that, obviously. And considering that WWE’s women’s division is either Charlotte-dominated or shaking off the cobwebs from the mangled Becky Lynch return, this is yet another chance to show the difference between the two companies.
But we should probably expect that instead of a second women’s match on Dynamite, it’ll just be Cody recording a live podcast review of his own reality show.