The Nightmare Collective’s Debut Highlights Bigger Issues with AEW Women’s Division

On this week’s AEW Dynamite, the show finally offered a pay off on one of their most mysterious on-going plotlines. What’s The Nightmare Collective and why is Brandi Rhodes a witch now?

Why is Awesome Kong collecting hair from every unlucky woman, who sits still for too long in the middle of the ring? 

At the conclusion of a fun bout between Hikaru Shida and new signee Kris Statlander, Rhodes and Kong appeared to invite the impressive newcomer to join The Nightmare Collective. This is apparently the payoff of weeks of strange run-ins, spooky promos, and social media hinting. Brandi is starting an evil wrestling coven with Kong as the enforcer, and you’re either with her or against her.

Great! A new plot involving the women, in-ring work for Awesome Kong, and a potential new rivalry for Kris Statlander. All good stuff so far!

Then, things went a little wonky. As Statlander appeared to consider Brandi’s offer, a woman in the front row of the audience volunteered as a tribute. She approached the ring and offered her hair to Brandi.

Then a commercial started. Suddenly, 90 percent of the screen was an advertisement. This forced the audience at home, who were left to squint at the remaining ten percent, to make sense of a spoken word promo without audio and an incredibly limited visual.

This was a jarring production mistake. Frankly, it’s a little weird that nobody else seems to be bothered by it. The picture-in-picture ads in AEW programming are excessive enough. But at least they’re usually scheduled during a match, so you don’t need the audio to follow what is occurring.

This segment needed audio to make sense, as Brandi was holding a conversation with the interloper throughout the entire head-shaving bit. As a result, we don’t really know what happened here. As far as the at-home audience knows, a random person got a bad haircut, and that was the end of the segment.

Melanie Cruise Paradise Lost
Photo credit: Scott Lesh

That’s unfortunate because that random person was actually SHIMMER and RISE standout, Melanie Cruise. She has most recently been wreaking delightful havoc as an enforcer character for Rosemary as a part of Paradise Lost. Cruise is an awesome powerhouse wrestler and a savvy booking for a new spooky stable in another company.

However, poor production robbed Cruise of a real introduction to the AEW crowd. Most initial reporting about the promo just calls her a “random audience member”, with only women’s wrestling news sites like Squared Circle Sirens first making the connection

AEW later tweeted a photo of Cruise posing with Kong and Rhodes, implying that she’ll play some part in this storyline. 

As of now, Wrestling Inc. confirmed Cruise is a new signee with AEW. That’s all we know. If the segment introducing her hadn’t been hijacked for a Geico ad, perhaps we would know more?

No matter how hard you work to give AEW the benefit of the doubt, this raises some questions about the production process for women’s segments at AEW. Seriously, how the heck did this happen?  Why wasn’t the segment placed elsewhere in the show? Was the commercial placement a timing mistake, or did production just not care if nobody could hear Brandi’s promo? This particular segment was arguably of great importance to AEW’s women’s division. Who dropped the ball here?

Maybe we’re not surprised because we’re getting used to excusing AEW’s floundering attempts to establish their women’s division. It’s apparent that someone in the company has an incredible eye for women’s talent. Seeing women like Nyla Rose and Riho get the chance to wow audiences has been great.

It has also been wonderful to see established talents like Awesome Kong embraced and given behind-the-scenes work as well as cool stuff to do in the ring. Right now there are fun matches and the talent seems happy, and that’s a good thing.

The Nightmare Collective's debut AEW
Photo credit: All Elite Wrestling

Give the context of what we’ve seen from AEW so far, there’s no reason to believe they’re currently prioritizing their women’s division, or plan to do so in the future. AEW’s women’s matches are limited in time and scope. Bouts that would be main events for women’s wrestling fans are stuck on PPV pre-shows.

In-ring promotion and video packages for women’s matches have also been lacking. AEW’s commentary team often seems at best flustered by the women’s matches, and at worst incorrectly calling Emi Sakura “oriental”, which is a word that shouldn’t have to be typed into a computer in the year 2019. 

Outside of the ring, the women’s division isn’t faring well either. It has frequently been a point of criticism in otherwise-glowing media coverage. Chris Jericho releases a new shirt on Pro Wrestling Tees approximately every seven minutes.t Meanwhile, AEW’s women are lucky to have a single entry in their storefront.

They have revealed news regarding the signing of big-name talents—like former Mae Young Classic competitor, Big Swole, or Kris Statlander, a wrestler who is arguably one of the biggest breakout stars in American independent wrestling this year—via a name drop on Twitter.  It’s becoming increasingly apparent that AEW just isn’t as invested in their women’s division as they profess to be. 

Brandi Rhodes
Photo credit: All Elite Wrestling

It seemed like Brandi Rhodes was going to take a leadership role in the women’s division back at AEW’s initial bizarre pep-rally/press conferences. However, in a recent interview, Tony Kahn revealed that Brandi isn’t involved in production meetings for weekly AEW shows.

AEW’s production meetings are The Elite and Tony Khan, with Khan having the last word on all decisions. (Hmm, sounds a lot like how production happens at another wrestling company I know.) These are not people with an extensive history of working with women’s wrestling, and it shows.

Kenny Omega appears to be the biggest advocate for women’s wrestling among the Elite. He’s the one person on the production team that has been able to at least partially articulate some hopes for its future. He was refreshingly honest when addressing criticism of the women’s division.

His efforts to introduce American audiences to the incredible variety of Joshi talents working today are laudable. Unfortunately, an eye for talent isn’t all you need to make a women’s division work, and that’s why AEW continues to fall short of the mark.

There’s a way to fix this problem; hire someone, who is knowledgeable about women’s wrestling with a proven track record of success in booking and promoting women. Bring them on to produce the division. Make sure there’s someone advocating for equal time and resources for the women on the roster, and actually take their feedback on board and make some changes.

Let Kenny focus on the wrestling side of things, and let someone with experience handle everything else. Give Awesome Kong more creative control. Hire someone like Mercedes Martinez or Jimmy Jacobs, who has an established history of success in promoting women’s wrestling. Hell, bring Aja Kong back as a consultant. She did run a Joshi promotion in the 90s!

It seems unlikely that AEW will do this, as they don’t seem particularly interested in allowing people who are not in The Elite run things. But perhaps a cautionary tale would inspire them.

A few years ago, another new women’s division was born in an American wrestling company known for its independent spirit. This division was packed to the gills with incredible women’s wrestlers, including a headliner they’d managed to poach from WWE and performers provided by partnerships with well-regarded Joshi companies.

They had marquee talents, a huge platform to promote the division, and the attention of every women’s wrestling fan and media outlet imaginable. They had every ingredient they needed to make their women’s division awesome, except for the most important one—somebody in charge who could actually make it work.

That division was Women of Honor. Their struggles have been highly-publicized lately. AEW has the potential to do better. Please prove it.

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