Sports

Britt Baker match finally gives AEW a signature moment in its women’s division

Britt Baker changed AEW as we know it.
Screenshot: AEW

For the past few weeks, or months, the frustration with AEW among some fans had begun to be unavoidable. The ignoring or dismissal of the women’s division was becoming too much, and it was impossible to watch an episode of “Dynamite” and not count the segments that could have, and should have, been replaced by a women’s match or promo or really anything (and most of them involved someone whose name rhymes with “Mody Modes”).

Their half-wave at taking the women’s division seriously the past few weeks was the “Women’s Eliminator Tournament,” which introduced or re-introduced a host of performers both in the States and in Japan, all to set up a title match with champion Hikaru Shida on their last PPV, Revolution. While the tournament was mostly great, it was also mostly off of TV, relegated to AEW’s YouTube channel. Which didn’t really solve the problem, and in some ways made things worse. Here was AEW claiming to take their fans’ concerns seriously, and basically doubling down on their decisions anyway and forcing fans to scramble to find the matches they wanted on TV either on YouTube or Bleacher Report Live.

It is still a hope, rather than expectation, that last night was a true turning point. The company still has to prove a lot when it comes to their women’s division. But both Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa gave AEW as a whole and the women’s division specifically a platform to really launch into something in a match that is already one of the most memorable the company has produced.

Even before it started, the story between Thunder Rosa and Baker was a first for AEW, in that it was told over a long period of time. It paid off months of narrative. Almost all women’s matches and stories have just been thrown together and lasted at most a couple of weeks. There was hardly any build.

Thunder Rosa only arrived in AEW, and still isn’t a full-time member of it, because the company hadn’t produced a worthy challenger to Shida for the “All Out” PPV in September. Some of that was due to the pandemic, but it was still mostly due to lazy or simply non-existent work from AEW over the summer. They simply had to import Rosa from NWA to give Shida a worthy challenger. As great as Rosa is, it was sort of an indictment of AEW.

Baker symbolized the frustration of that, playing the “You don’t belong here!” villain to Rosa’s glittery new toy in the division. They have attacked each other and brawled for months, and finally getting in the ring together was the culmination of the symbol of AEW’s lack of anything in its own women’s division (Baker) and the finished products it had to bring in because it couldn’t or wouldn’t make such a thing for themselves (Rosa).

Making it a Lights-Out, No-DQ, unsanctioned match meant that the two could do just about anything (and also protect Baker a touch, whose character work still outpaces her still-improving in-ring work). We’ve seen women have No-DQ or Hell in a Cell matches in WWE, with Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte having borderline-classics in such a setting.

But we’ve never seen anything like this in a women’s match.

Thunder Rosa and Baker arguably put on a better “Deathmatch” than Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley did a week and a half ago, and that was without things that go boom! (or don’t). While it hit the normal notes of these kinds of matches — tables, chairs, thumbtacks — there is very little any match can do that we haven’t seen a version of before. It depends on the performers and how lustily and passionately they use the tropes we’re familiar with. Rosa and Baker threw themselves fully and violently into all of it. Once the match got going, it was full of moments that would have had every fan fighting between covering their eyes and leaping off the couch in excitement. That’s when these types of matches are at their best.

It is the rare match where the loser, Baker, might come out of it the bigger star than the winner, as she took the big spots: a suplex on the tacks, the powerbomb off the apron through a table, and also has the lasting image that will be pinging around social media for weeks and months to follow. A picture like that shot Becky Lynch into the stratosphere. It is not the first time Baker has left plasma on the mat, though maybe the first time it was planned, and you can bet her willingness to go farther than anyone else physically will be the basis of a future championship win and run.

We just haven’t seen a women’s match reach the level of violence that this one did on television. While Banks would happily and gleefully enter Mick Foley territory if asked, WWE hasn’t asked or allowed her or any other woman to do so. AEW allowed their women performers to give the audience something new and exciting (if not jarring) and now have something iconic to build on. While it sounds stupid or sick or both to say that it’s new territory for two women wrestlers to tear each other to these kind of bits on television and bleed profusely and take these kind of bumps, it is. Baker and Rosa broke new ground. Blood-soaked ground covered in thumbtacks, but new ground nonetheless.

Where do they go from here? It was also hard to miss that there was actually a second women’s match on the show. Even though it was just a squash for Jade Cargill, it has been months since there were two women’s matches of any kind on “Dynamite,” and it continues the rapid build of Cargill into the star she is clearly destined to be. Second, during the Rosa-Baker match the production showed both Cargill and Shida watching on, so it at least feels like they’re at least planning to build out from this and create an actual division instead of a smattering of matches here and there.

It took a year and a half, and we might not even be there yet, but the AEW women’s division finally has some real momentum to become what fans have always wanted. All it took was giving two talented women a blank canvas (which they splattered with their own blood) to round out an actually well-told story. Who knew?


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