On the March 3rd edition of AEW Dynamite we saw the culmination of their “Women’s World Championship Eliminator Tournament.” A full bracket of stars from the AEW Women’s division and from Japan served as the sixteen woman field. This tournament brought with it a lot of hope and a potential signal that things could be looking up in the AEW women’s division. Having seen how it played out I would like to give my review and thoughts on the tournament as a whole. I will not go into the minutiae of each match as they were covered in our recaps each week. However I will gladly write about the tournament’s scope, it’s highs and lows, and where I see them going from here.
I want to start this review by saying one thing, the match quality was amazing throughout this tournament. The competitors really brought their best to each of their matches. Heck, I’m a notorious Riho hater and she even had moments where I was into what she was doing. Nyla was fantastic. Britt was great as always. Gotta love Thunder Rosa too! You can’t take anything away from the match quality from Japan either. They were hard hitting, well paced, and very well worked matches.
My problems stem from a few different areas...Where the content was delivered be it on Dynamite, YouTube or Bleacher Report, the booking of winners and losers, the existence of the Japanese bracket, and where we go coming out of the tournament.
Now, I understand a lot of air time would need to be allocated for a sixteen competitor tournament on TV. That said, we still got the infamous one match only formula on Dynamite. Throughout this tournament we saw fifteen matches with only FOUR of them making it to TV. Now, I get it. I really do. That’s a LOT of TV time sunk into this if they put all of the matches on TV, I didn’t expect that. Also, upon seeing the atmosphere and production of the Japanese matches they would have instantly taken many people right out of Dynamite and the show would have lost its character and flow. But still, showing us less than a third of this tournament on your flagship TV show just feels wrong.
Before you shout “BUT YOUTUBE IS A BIGGER AND FREE PLATFORM FOR EVEN MORE EXPOSURE” I’d like for you to sit down and take a deep breath. 315k, 247K, 188K, 167K. At the time of writing those are the watch figures for the four episodes produced from this tournament, with English commentary, on YouTube, aka the other eleven matches (plus that special attraction six-women tag). You can’t tell me those are positive numbers. The lowest viewership on Dynamite EVER has been 633K, double that of the most viewed episode on YouTube. Heck, the number trended down each week too. Just because the platform is free and easy to access doesn’t mean people care to access it...Though, that’s part of a more endemic issue with AEW’s women’s division I don’t want to tackle here.
It truly felt that AEW did everything they could to take matches off of Dynamite. They even offered a special Sunday episode on Bleacher Report that failed so spectacularly it ended up on YouTube because many people couldn’t see the content. Honestly, I’m advocating for the talent here and the tremendous match quality, there should have been a TV slot for each of the US bracket’s matches. I fail to see why it’s necessary to only have one match each week on Dynamite...
Now, before you quote that Kenny Omega tweet...there it is, there are many just like it...it is a HUGE stretch to assume this is some corporate policy with TNT to only have one women's match from this tweet. So, just stop.
Content delivery aside, indulge me while I talk about the booking. Tournaments should allow someone with momentum to advance through and at least into the finals. Tournaments should also create stories both for during the tournament and for post-tournament matches. An underdog Cinderella story, someone that is just unstoppable, a changing character arc, etc. To add to that even if something feels predictable and “too easy” that does not make it wrong (see Kenny Omega wins the Men’s Eliminator Tournament) either.
Of all of the competitors entered into this tournament the ONLY ONE with any momentum coming in was Britt Baker after her win against Thunder Rosa at Beach Break. After a solid few months of building her, this was Britt’s moment to shine. AEW failed capitalize and they dropped the ball. I'd talk about it more, But I already wrote about that here…
To quickly go through the tournament...In Round One I like the decisions of Rosa, Riho, and Britt winning their matchups. Britt had a surprisingly fun match against Madi Wrenkowski after Anna Jay was ruled out of the tournament. Finishing out the first round, I really don’t think Nyla needed to advance into the tournament. Being a former champion she will have credibility for a long time. An upset win by Tay Conti would have done a TREMENDOUS amount of good for her budding star power in AEW.
The second round of the tournament again saw Rosa going over which was absolutely right in my opinion! Granted Riho could have justifiably won, I vastly prefer Rosa. The Dentist was unable to slay the Beast in the other US bracket match. I really think a win by Baker here over Nyla or Conti would have been monumental in continuing her upward trajectory.
That would create a US final of Thunder Rosa vs Britt Baker. Honestly, though I wanted Britt vs Shida at Revolution, either woman can win here. Maybe here is where the story building takes place. Rosa cheats to win just like Britt did at Beach Break and advances. We can then have Baker cost Rosa the finals out of jealousy setting up the eventual rubber match in their feud. That would have been tremendous. Hell, many people were tweeting at me saying that Britt would cost Rosa her match against Nyla...well that sure didn’t happen. It would have definitely helped this tournament.
The US side of the bracket was all very well worked, but as I laid out, I definitely would have taken a different approach to the booking of winners.
Now...onto the Japanese side. Trigger warning, I'm not trying to make friends here...Why was it there? Honestly, why!? At the very least glad the Japanese matches were not on Dynamite. They had a remarkably different production value and would have totally sucked the air out of the show. There was also no introduction to some of these women. We knew about Yuka Sakazaki, Emi Sakura, and Aja Kong, we had briefly seen Ryo Mizunami at Double or Nothing 2019. But the other four, unless you were already familiar with them, which many (of the small world of) hardcore AEW fans seem to have been,
you wouldn’t have known a thing about them! Wait, I take that back, AEW made a short six-minute bracketology debut video, forgive me for forgetting that, though it only has 55k views since it was posted, I'm sure you didn't see it either. That said, I'm thankful Excalibur did a tremendous job on commentary explaining who each one is during their matches.
The matches were entertaining and well worked, but they didn’t really do anything for me. I thought that Yuka looked great in her matches, Maki Itoh was surefire fun, and Ryo obviously looked strong through her showing. That said, did Ryo elevate her stock enough through the Japanese tournament? Sure, I guess. But did she come out of it looking hot and primed for a finals match to head to the next AEW pay per view? Not to me.
So that brings me back to the overall finals of the tournament, Ryo vs Nyla. Again, great match! Well worked by both but Ryo winning leaves me with more questions and confusion than anything else...I don’t know if Ryo Mizunami is sticking around in the US following the PPV so that screams to me that Shida is the overwhelming favorite to retain her title, even though her run has gone cold and tremendously stale with her (understandably) off TV so much lately. So why do this? It feels like it is just to build a match that can hopefully breathe some new life into Shida. I hope the two tear the house down because otherwise I’m thoroughly unenthused by this match! Don’t get me wrong, Nyla winning would have been just as confusing, setting up their third title match in a year.
I honestly wouldn’t have included the Japanese side of the bracket if I got to book this tournament. An eight woman tournament would have created seven matches. Over the four weeks of Dynamite with this tournament that would necessitate two women’s matches in three episodes, with the finals getting a big slot on the fourth Dynamite like it did. That would be HUGE for the women’s division. More spotlight, more featured action, more eyes on these talented women doing great work. THAT could help make some serious progress for the division… But no, one match per dynamite seems here to stay.
Where are we going?
That leads me to my final problem, where do we go from here? This tournament could have spawned so much! Tay Conti could have proven that she can beat a former champion, they could have added tremendous fire to the Britt Baker vs Thunder Rosa feud, and created a much higher profile and more unpredictable match for the AEW Women’s Championship at Revolution.
Instead, we saw a tournament that had lots of great work, but no staying power. What stories come out of this without feeling overly manufactured? Where do the Japanese competitors fit in moving forward? Do they even fit in at all? This tournament hammered home for me that the women’s division is anything but a priority to AEW. Four out of Fifteen matches saw TV and ultimately, while the individuals have improved and are doing great work, the division is still locked into the same position on the card they have been forever. They get the pre-main event, “restaurant quality picture in picture”, glorified piss break, being given 10 minutes maximum, and we’re told to like it or WE are the problem...
AEW can do so much better from these truly talented and hard working women. This tournament showed they just choose not to.
Please come and argue with me about this on twitter, find me @KeepUpWithKFabe