AEW’s Disservice to its International Talent

This Wednesday, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) will showcase a match featuring two women of Hispanic heritage: Diamante and Ivelisse Velez. The match already has a significant amount of people talking, and the buzz surrounding it is unlike any women’s match AEW has presented thus far.

Diamante and Ivelisse bring years of wrestling experience, but they also bring with them, personalities with which fans are already familiar. Diamante was featured extensively as a member of the Latin American Xchange (LAX) in Impact Wrestling. Ivelisse was a standout star in Lucha Underground and on WWE’s Tough Enough.

This match has a lot of intrigue with two stars that stand out among the rest of AEW’s women’s division. Why do they stand out from other talent AEW has featured? AEW has done a lackluster job with its women’s division entirely, but they have especially done a disservice to the international stars of their women’s division.

AEW international stars
Photo credit: AEW

While AEW has accomplished several terrific feats in its early stages, it remains clear where their opportunity for growth lies. Their women’s division has been unable to compete with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). Even in a time where WWE has lost its two biggest women’s wrestlers—Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair—AEW hasn’t capitalized and doesn’t seem preoccupied with doing so.

One group of women, in particular, seems to be left behind more than any other. The international stars in AEW’s women’s division deserve much better than what they have been given. Sure two out of the three Women’s Champions are of Japanese descent, but have they really been treated like stars? Have they been presented in a meaningful way? While these women have been featured on television, let’s examine the misfires regarding some of AEW’s most talented roster members.

The missteps began early for AEW. On the debut episode of Dynamite on TNT, Riho earned the title of the inaugural AEW Women’s World Champion by defeating Nyla Rose. While Riho owns an extensive resume overseas in her native Japan, she was a relative newcomer to American household audiences. However, in defeating the much larger Nyla Rose, it appeared that AEW would position Riho as an underdog champion battling opponents much larger than her. The problem was that the booking never evolved from that.

Riho served as a consummate professional in the ring. She put forth great effort in her matches, but when it came time to develop a character, AEW chose not to add much depth beyond her diminutive stature.

Even on commentary, world-renowned commentator, Jim Ross, had little else to discuss regarding the then-AEW Women’s World Champion other than her weight. Ross’ superficial commentary drew the ire of fans across the world, but in reality, the frustration should have been directed at the booking of Riho. Think about it. Looking back, other than the fact than her age, size, and nationality, what else did we learn about Riho during her title reign?

This brings us to the current champion, Hikaru Shida. While Shida seems to connect with the audiences better than Riho, she seems to be a part of a greater problem plaguing AEW. Shida has an impressive move-set. She engages with fans through her love of cosplay, and she exudes personality.

However, she still hasn’t achieved a full connection with the audience. Shida wrestles well and puts in a great effort just like Riho, but what has AEW shown us regarding the women’s champion? What have we truly gleaned from the year she’s been with the company? Again, the knowledge we have is surface-level. Fans have learned more about her through social media than through Wednesday nights on TNT.

AEW clearly does not know how to book its international talent. Riho and Shida are not the only examples of mishandled international talent either. Veteran wrestler, Emi Sakura, could have been used as a tent-pole in AEW’s women’s division, but it has become evident those in charge couldn’t conceive a way to properly utilize her. The company used her in tag team matches and as enhancement talent for other stars.

Take away what can be learned independently about Sakura’s impressive career in Japan, would anyone think this is a competitor to take seriously? Absolutely not. They’ve taken someone with a multitude of wrestling knowledge and ability and reduced her to a jobber-to-the-stars.

Aja Kong is another example of someone that had a legacy that AEW could exploit to make their women’s division look legitimate. However, other than a few sporadic appearances and teases, AEW never took a leap with the AJW legend. There could have been other factors at work that are unknown even as of this writing, but it seems like one of the biggest missed opportunities in AEW’s short history.

Japanese stars aren’t the only ones that AEW can’t seem to correctly book. Look at Shanna. Shanna hails from France by way of Portugal. She looks like a movie star and has quite a bit of experience under her belt. Her winning smile and homages to different forms of pop-culture would make her a front-runner for any bustling women’s division.

Yet, AEW only seems interested in using her as a supporting cast member on their prime-time television show. In a time where other wrestlers are using their shared interests with the audience to better engage with fans, one would think that AEW would use Shanna’s love for Dragon Ball and notoriety as a Twitch streamer as a way to introduce and establish her push to the American audience. Again, though, AEW took a capable and experienced veteran and forced them into the background.

Meanwhile, WWE has shown that international talent can get over to varying degrees. The greatest example currently is, of course, Asuka. In a time where live audiences are absent at most professional wrestling shows, Asuka has proven her charisma and personality can cross the barriers of social distancing and television screens.

Much like Riho, Sakura, Shanna, and Shida, English is not Asuka’s first language. However, Asuka uses her ability to convey emotions through body-language and facial-expressions to her advantage. Asuka has exemplified perfectly how to get over without even touching a microphone. Even with a microphone in her hands, Asuka hasn’t allowed the language-barrier to prevent her from portraying the perfect character. Shouting and shrieking at audiences in her native tongue as a member of the villainous Kabuki Warriors, Asuka demonstrated she could get under the skin of crowds everywhere. Asuka is a shining example of why there’s no excuse for not pushing international talent.

This begs the question: Why can’t AEW book its international stars better? The truth is they can. If any company should be able to push their international stars it is All Elite Wrestling. Executive vice presidents, Cody Rhodes, Matt and Nick Jackson, and Kenny Omega all spent extensive time overseas in Japan. They saw first-hand how well the Japanese wrestlers can connect with an audience using only their bodies. Also, they know the struggles and how to overcome being a foreign star in another country. Of all companies, AEW should be the last company struggling with its presentation of international stars. There is simply no excuse.

AEW has come under fire for their roster’s lack of diversity. Perhaps Wednesday will be a step in the right direction. Featuring two women of Hispanic heritage in the ring together and allowing them the proper time to have a competitive match would certainly serve as a nice change of pace.

AEW needs to do a better job showcasing what their international talent can offer American audiences. No one said it would be easy, but they need to make the effort. If they don’t improve how the international wrestlers are presented, then they will lose the ratings battle and a high percentage of fans that will feel the promotion does not represent them or appreciate them. AEW has a chance to correct the course. Let’s hope they make the most of the opportunity.

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