A rising tide lifts all boats, so they tell me. The tide on the women’s side of AEW, for pretty much its entire three-plus-year existence, seemed pretty stagnant, with the occasional spike that promised more but rarely delivered a change in altitude. While not wanting to put too much on her shoulders (though they could certainly carry just about anything) Jamie Hayter’s rise to women’s champion has apparently transformed the direction and makeup of the entire division.
The renewed optimism — which, to be clear, has not yet been accompanied by actual results — is what appears to be the first, all-encompassing story for the women that doesn’t have to do with the title. For so long, the biggest stories and feuds in the women’s division were just title matches that were usually thrown together a week or two before the pay-per-view or Dynamite they were on. That still led to some great matches, and the making of a few wrestlers, but they rarely went from week to week over months for everyone to see what would happen next.
That appears to be changing. A split within the division, with Saraya and Toni Storm turning heel and creating a fissure between wrestlers who had developed in AEW and those who came from elsewhere (i.e. WWE) sets up a plethora of matchups and eventually a climax at the first Women’s Blood & Guts match somewhere in the spring or summer (it’s obviously where we’re going). It’s even caught one in the middle. Ruby Soho, who is currently positioning herself on the AEW original side but could be poised to turn on everyone in an instant. While the AEW side already has the company’s biggest women stars in Hayter and Britt Baker, along with Willow Nightingale and Hikaru Shida, even a Ruby turn still only has three along with Toni and Saraya. Gee, who could the fourth eventually be? (I hope I hope I hope I hope…)
We’ve already seen the brilliance that Hayter has produced with Storm, and Storm and Shida have done the same. Throw Ruby in either way and Willow and there are just so many matches that Tony Khan can play with to keep this going. It’s the kind of set-up that gets fans doing all the permutations and fantasy-booking in their heads, which is exactly what AEW should want. It’ll keep throwing up new matches and alliances and feuds. It basically feeds on itself, something the women haven’t really had. Beyond Bryan Danielson chasing down MJF, it’s the best story AEW has going overall.
A lot of credit has to go to Hayter, and for a few reasons. One, she had an organic rise to the top of the card, which always locks more fans in and more passionately. She got there simply because she was so good in the ring and putting on such great matches that the company had no choice but to keep pushing her further and further up. Two, she’s raised not just the quality of the matches in the division, but the perception of what the quality is. Fans have just become accustomed to seeing better quality, erasing one of the (false) reasons that Khan had to not run that many women’s encounters on TV. Fans now came to look forward and demand more. Third, she showed that AEW didn’t need a name that fans knew before they started getting TV time to get fans to attach themselves.
This is the underlying story, that AEW has done a pretty great job under the surface of improving the in-ring work of a host of wrestlers through Dark and Dark: Elevation. For instance, we’ve seen a few Jade Cargill-Red Velvet matches in the past, but last night’s was a level or two above the rest. Skye Blue was able to pull off shit like this just a few weeks ago after less than two years in AEW. They’re hardly alone. Hayter may have had a huge hand in raising the ceiling of what women’s matches are on AEW, but the floor has come right along with it.
Ein minuten bitte…
That doesn’t mean everything is rosy. Even though there were three women’s segments on last night’s Dynamite, there was still only one match and it was still in the 9:30 EST time slot, which has been the customary slot for the division for AEW’s entire existence, basically. They have rarely led off a show (a slot that AEW basically treats on the same level as the main event) and only slightly more often have main evented a Dynamite. Hopefully, when the AEW v. Outsider angle really kicks into high gear this changes. It has to.
Let’s be honest, there’s still the big fish swimming out there, and that’s Mercedes Moné. Whatever her character is now, it’s certainly still “Boss-adjacent” and it’s hard to fathom how a role of coming in to teach these AEW kids a lesson about what a real wrestler looks like doesn’t hit her right between the eyes. Even if it’s only for a handful of matches, even if it’s only for a year or two, it’s the final juice for the division. Sasha Banks never got to be in a War Games/Blood & Guts match, and one has to believe that Mercedes is dreaming of all the things she could do in one. The sudden rise in quality of in-ring work also feels like it rises to the level of Mercedes, and there are multiple matches with her that fans would die to see. But as of now, it’s only a dream.
And as strange as it sounds, the women’s division doesn’t need Mercedes. Much like Hayter’s rise on her own, this faction-forming feud has momentum simply because of the way fans have attached to it. And much like Khan did with Hayter, all he has to do is get out of its way to let it blossom.