AEW Women’s Title Eliminator Tournament: US Preview

It has been almost 18 months since All Elite Wrestling (AEW) debuted Dynamite as its weekly flagship show. Expectations were high, and my own have largely been met. But the one area where they’ve lacked is with the women’s division, having settled into a “one match a week in the same time slot” formula that doesn’t work for me.

My gripe is not with the women themselves, but in the time they’ve been given and the opportunity to shine that has been mostly missing on a large scale. It’s been rare that we have more than one story progressing in the division at the same time, and our supremely talented champion, Hikaru Shida, is sometimes absent for weeks of television at a time with no explanation.

The frustration is layered, and I can understand some of the delay in pushing the women as they deserve. COVID related travel bans have locked some superstars overseas for months and months, while unfortunate injuries have sidelined others. But the fact remains that a roster of talented and deserving women have been patiently awaiting their chance to push the division to the next level. So have the fans.

It seems we finally have a chance to see them shine in a spotlight more representative of their talent.

When All Elite Wrestling announced a 16-woman tournament to determine a challenger for Hikaru Shida, I was overjoyed. Not sold completely mind you but overjoyed nonetheless. They were getting a spot, a long-lasting unique spot to prove who they were and why they deserved more than they had received thus far. Some of the questions that immediately entered my mind were the platform they would be wrestling on and how the matches would look. I wondered if the same time slot would apply and what new faces we’d see involved, if any.

Using a United States versus Japan gimmick within the brackets is new and fun, and while the Japan matches will be airing on YouTube, I am comfortable with the fact the joshi girls will be given the time they deserve to make some magic and endear the American fans who may not be familiar to them. What happens with the “women’s match” timeslot remains to be seen, as does the possibility that we get more than one match spot a night for the women as the tournament rolls onward. In my heart, having learned the matches on the brackets, if these women want more, they have the unique opportunity to take what’s theirs. I certainly hope they do.

The first match on the US side of the bracket took place this past week on Dynamite and featured two women who can indisputably go. Thunder Rosa and Leyla Hirsch seemed made to fight one another during the time given Wednesday night, cycling between MMA style shoot holds, powerful moves, counters, and high-flying assaults. They put on a clinic of what wrestling can so beautifully be when two talented superstars are allowed to just perform.

As far as continuity and storytelling goes, All Elite Wrestling is rarely exposed for missing opportunity. Thunder Rosa made the most sense to advance here, opening up multiple compelling pathways on her journey through the bracket. That’s not to say Leyla lost anything by eating the pinfall though, as if anything, I hold her in even higher regard for what she gave to this match and to the AEW women’s division. Drawing Thunder Rosa and being tasked with opening the tournament, live on Dynamite, shows AEW’s trust in Leyla, and she didn’t let them down.

Facing off next week, live on Dynamite, with the winner moving on to face Thunder Rosa in the next round, is NWA women’s champion, Serena Deeb, and a returning Riho. A former AEW Women’s champion herself, Riho has been unable to be stateside with her coworkers for months and months due to COVID-19. She’s a fan favorite and has a propensity to pull off underdog victories with the best of them. Serena on the other hand, taking full advantage of every single opportunity she’s been given since her debut, has been a dominant NWA women’s champion.

While this match isn’t for the title. A program in the future between the two is something I’d be very excited for. The story in a match with Thunder Rosa would be painted wonderfully with either woman winning here. On the one hand, Serena and Thunder Rosa have history and Rosa hasn’t been shy about stating her desire to take the title she lost to Deeb back for herself. Contractually, she’s an NWA superstar after all, while Deeb wrestles for AEW. It seems a tailor-made story, only missing its ending.

On the other hand, does Riho eat a loss so quickly after reappearing on AEW television? At first I didn’t think so, but after watching Rosa and Leyla execute such a beautiful match to start the tournament, I have changed my mind. With a great match, one I have full confidence Serena and Riho will put on, Riho doesn’t lose anything in a close loss. Serena winning places stock into the NWA title and offers us a rematch for the ages. Even with a loss, and a hard fought one at that, Riho comes off feeling fresh and limitless. Given time and a story, she’ll be back in the title picture sooner rather than later.

On the bottom half of the US bracket, the first match offers what could be even more physicality than we saw on Wednesday, with Nyla Rosa and Tay Conti waiting in the wings. I am a big Tay Conti fan, and I see the sky as her limit, but the timing for a Nyla Rose defeat doesn’t seem on her side. Or does it? Nyla Rose has been largely absent from meaningful storylines since losing to Hikaru Shida for the second time and failing to reclaim her title.

No matter the reasoning, she’s been missed and is far too talented to not be used. A Conti win here would offer the shock we crave in what may otherwise be a predictable tournament and give Britt Baker a babyface to work with in round two without having to figure out how she would overcome Nyla Rose. While I don’t expect Tay to go any further than her win here, a feud with Nyla coming out of this match sounds fun to me.

As stated above, as much as I appreciate how quickly Anna Jay has adapted to work in the ring, and how good she is so breathtakingly soon after wrestling her first match, Britt Baker is not losing in the first round of this tournament. She has become the overwhelming face of the AEW women’s division, and while a loss to Jay would be shocking, it does nothing to advance stories we’ve been teased with for months. While I expect the match to be good, Britt takes the win here, and she should do it as cleanly as possible.

The second round is upon us now, with Thunder Rosa facing off against Serena Deeb. A rematch that Rosa has desired for a long while, one she has not kept a secret. I could watch these two badass ladies wrestle every day. Without exaggeration, they are next-level talented. I don’t believe their story is over and allowing Serena a victory in the first-round places the NWA women’s title into the spotlight again, something that would continue to appease the NWA and give fans not just a match to remember but a new feud to experience as well. I would have Thunder Rosa win here, after a match filled with near falls – an instant classic – taking back a win from the woman who dethroned her.

Britt Baker and Tay Conti is a fresh match that I believe could offer a few stories to tell. Thunder Rosa awaits the winner. We all know the story between La Mera Mera and our favorite dentist. That’s the money match, the one we all want to see again. But Tay has a growing and committed following from the AEW faithful. With All Elite Wrestling’s talent for building matches, some killer vignettes and interview clips, especially from Tay, this could be a huge match.

There is no doubt in my mind that Britt wins here, no matter how. If shenanigans come into play at any point in the tournament, this is the match I’d be ok with them happening in, but not from Reba. If that route was one being entertained, I’d have Nyla do something, even just a distraction, allowing Britt an opening to seal the deal. It cements Britt as the “do anything” heel and propels Tay into her feud with Nyla. We need more stories for the women, and if we don’t make them here, what are we even doing?

In the US bracket finals, we get our rematch, one that we’ve now been craving for weeks and weeks. Britt Baker. Thunder Rosa. I would main event this match on Dynamite without question and allow them the time to finish telling their story. Reba tries for shenanigans early and gets booted from ringside, leaving Britt all alone with AEW’s resident pit bull. Though we’re immediately led to believe this will lead to a Thunder Rosa eventual win, Britt shocks us all and pins Rosa clean. This does two things. It establishes Britt as not just the sneaky heel, but as a legitimate threat to Shida, something she desperately needs. She’s damn good in the ring, and it’s time to showcase that with the frills stripped away. The second thing it does is free Rosa to chase Serena Deeb and her NWA women’s title. Another story created and another allowed to blossom.

With Britt free and into the finals, my thought is she sees Yuka Sakazaki there, continuing a story abandoned due to COVID. Yuka returns to face the woman who left her bloody after a vicious stomp into the ropes, just as Britt was beginning to find her footing as a heel. For me, Britt is the one to defeat Shida and guide the AEW women’s division into the next phase, hopefully the one that comes with more TV time and more than one match on Dynamite from time to time.

With a bracket shaking out the way this one did, you leave it with stories galore. Britt and Shida. Rosa and Serena. Nyla and Tay. There are certainly more to be told, but it’s a start. In AEW, it’s always said that the superstars make their own opportunities. It’s time to let the women swim. It’s time to show that they not only can, but that they can do so as well, if not better than the men.

These are just MY predictions, those of a fan who desires nothing more than the success and happiness for the talented women of AEW. It could shake out any number of ways, no matter who wins. What makes me smile the biggest though, is that it seems the tide is finally shifting. Cody called AEW a revolution in early 2019, and it has absolutely been one. Now though, two years later, with this tournament as kindling, it’s finally time for a revolution within the revolution. It’s time for the women to take the reins. I have no doubt in their potential if they’re allowed to do just that.

This is Part One of a two-part series previewing the AEW Women’s World Championship Eliminator Tournament. Part Two will preview the Japan side of the bracket.

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