The last week or so in pro wrestling has been fairly newsworthy where women’s wrestling is concerned, and perhaps not so much for the right reasons.
Seemingly stemming back to the WWE draft where Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair were drafted to opposite shows while holding the titles of their former homes, the back-of-your-mind-expectation was to presume WWE would simply replicate their title swap angle seen previously when the New Day and Street Profits switched shows as champions following a previous draft. The hope, however, was that they would do the sensible thing and actually pass the title to someone on either show. That could have happened last Monday at Raw with Charlotte and Bianca Belair, and should have happened this past week at Crown Jewel during the women’s triple threat match for the Smackdown women’s title featuring Sasha Banks, Belair and Lynch. Unfortunately what we received was the former as Smackdown closed the show Friday night with Flair and Lynch swapping the belts amid apparent tension between them over how the segment was to play out.
I can see why WWE did what they did. The method they chose causes the least ripples in terms of how they structured the creative around it if the endgames were to end with Lynch and Flair still as the champions of their respective new homes. Especially with Survivor Series looming, a champion vs. champion encounter featuring some combination of Banks, Lynch or Flair in the slots is a top flight matchup. Then, again it isn’t as though the company hasn’t booked title changes days to a week before (or close to) the PPV in the past (see AJ Styles and Bryan Danielson in consecutive years) so that truly isn’t much of a sound argument.
The integrity of these championships demanded actual switches, not token new reigns for both Lynch and Flair that inadvertently pad their title wins; Banks should have left Saudi Arabia with the Smackdown title and Charlotte should have dropped the Raw title to Belair last week. Lynch and Flair is a WrestleMania-calibre bout anyway, so why not put Banks and Belair against each other one more time simply for bragging rights, which in turn leaves the apparent egos of Lynch and Flair on the sidelines perhaps for the Survivor Series elimination tag matches that frankly need added oomph and freshens the card more than it would if you retread something more tired.
Instead, now we find ourselves, if you still follow the shows, at a point where we’ll have Banks and Flair feuding on Smackdown, with Belair and Lynch presumably continuing their feud on Raw. Again, it would appear WWE went with the path of least resistance. The cost of it however are paper thin reigns for both that do not pay forward the history of both titles (even if SD’s is a mere handful of years old) while treating the championships as something to be revered — instead, they’re trading sports cards and materialistically common players at that. It shouldn’t be that way and there’s no reason not to do some quick title changes when all four principal women are near bulletproof. Even just in the recent past, WWE has shown they’re willing to do quick changes, such as the aforementioned Styles and Danielson, but also quickly giving Randy Orton the WWE title last year weeks before Survivor Series only to shift it right back to Drew McIntyre. During the latter Attitude era, the IC title was seemingly shifted to a new person with every breath and because those people were all top-tier talent no one was harmed by the switches. It’s arguable the title prestige is lifted, therefore, because it is so heavily contested by such talented people. It would have — and should have — been the same here.
In contrast to the ideal, Lynch and Flair have fresh reigns with new titles they didn’t earn, which arguably does more damage to the brands the belts belong to as a well as the optics of themselves aside from the sad display between them Friday night. The saying goes that the person makes the title, the title doesn’t make the person, yet in this case the starpower of either can’t save the titles from the view they were passed around like trinkets rather than what made sense. And if it was an issue regarding keeping the belts on both women, perhaps the smartest choice of all — which would have defused all discourse surrounding them and eliminated the potential for their exchange Friday — would have been to not draft them to opposing shows in the first place.
And now here we are with Lynch and Belair set for next Monday’s Raw to potentially complete this roundabout route to a destination we should have already arrived at. Only now, should Lynch actually drop the title to Belair next week it will mean far less as it didn’t come from the lineal champion, won in an actual match. Belair — the PWI women’s wrestler of the year — deserves better.
Titles Don’t Fix Questionable Booking
Whether it’s a belt or a crown, the creative and overall presentation surrounding the matches paint a larger picture of how wrestling companies truly view their women’s divisions in terms of show priority. The depiction matters more than the result.
Sticking with WWE for a moment, the Queen’s Crown tournament — which was won by Zelina Vega last week — capped off a tournament that across all its matches amassed not even 20 minutes of ring time across seven bouts. That comes out to around two to three minutes on average — which is a disgustingly short amount of ring time — and we’re supposed to regard it as being on par with the King of the Ring tournament yet Goldberg and Lashley went over half of that time at Crown Jewel in what was a simple grudge match. Granted, they are bigger names than anyone in this women’s tournament, but conversely there’s no excuse for booking something as an inaugural event, expecting us to take it seriously and then book it as an afterthought which only serves to devalue it going forward. I’d fully expect Vega to run with it and exceptionally make the most of it, but optically the sentiment surrounding its prestige falls short of what it could have been if handled with more care.
Conversely, last week AEW announced the brackets for its TBS Women’s title tournament. Much like the Queen’s Crown, this is an inaugural moment for the women’s division, yet where WWE routinely does a better job of getting its women on TV, AEW has continually failed to seriously feature its women on television aside from a handful of times beyond one sole match per episode, which is as pathetic. Much of AEW’s divisional booking to a fault has been fixated on its championship and anyone orbiting the championship from one week to the next leading into a PPV. There have been exceptions, but the majority of Dynamite episodes and now Rampage have only featured one women’s match at varying lengths depending on the situation and booking to that point.
The folly in that is it’s left much of its roster either in the cold, such as Shida after dropping the title to Britt Baker, or on one of the Dark shows on YouTube where many have been plying their craft and admittedly improving. Notwithstanding that fact, viewership is also obviously substantially lower for the free shows by nature, meaning less people are going to be keeping track of say, Tay Conti’s winning streak leading into a title match when they perhaps see her once every couple of weeks, due to that content living online.
So with that mind I’m skeptical of AEW adding a secondary women’s title, in terms of how they’re going to execute stories and book them, when they’ve not shown they’re able to juggle multiple women’s stories at the same time on major programming. It’s especially a concern when for a period the women’s matches not only were the highest drawing segments on Dynamite, but were the highest drawing segments between both NXT and AEW when their Wednesday shows were competing.
This isn’t to say the company shouldn’t have the title, in fact they should probably also get a women’s tag title at some point as well. However it’s a crystal fact that for as much as the brass tout their belief in the women who make up that portion of the AEW roster that credo has never been matched consistently in the product. There’s no disputing that; among other issues hampering their own corporate optics such as better POC representation, women’s matches have proportionally made up a small component of the program’s TV time despite the talent being there, the bodies being active and the loud demand for better treatment from AEW viewers whether they’re a devout fan or rabid critique being ever present.
The AEW TBS women’s title tournament will more than likely come off better than the Queen’s Crown, but it would be cautious and wise to warn against using a title simply to facilitate reasons for it to exist rather than creating a reason out of story from preexisting narratives. Moreover, how will the world and TBS titles be presented on the show once both are active? Will we go weeks without seeing one? Will it actually push Tony Khan and company to ACTUALLY feature more than one women’s segment per show, or per hour? It’s a serious fault in the company’s framework thus far to the extent that for all it does do right as a whole, compartmentally AEW has failed its young, evolving roster in limiting their TV exposure (admittedly for the best where development was needed), and leaving most of their running stories on YouTube save for title-centric eliminator tournaments to crown formerly top contenders and now champions.
The issues that have hampered its growth are not going to go away just because a new title is created, that’s not how it works and they haven’t demonstrated yet that they can juggle two balls at a time even as well as WWE does. This is still the company that poorly executed its title eliminator tournament to crown a contender for Shida, which conversely also removed Shida from TV for weeks while she helped produced the shows in Japan. This is still the same company that after Shida dropped the title to Britt Baker, Shida disappeared from the programs for weeks aside from a few matches on YouTube leading into this new tournament to mark a champion in honour of AEW’s new home come January. AEW’s women deserve a secondary title, they also deserve a serious portion of television time to showcase what they’re capable of. The demand is there, but AEW’s will to date hasn’t matched the call to action for greater showcasing fans have demanded, and which the women have certainly earned.