For months, getting a memorable match from All Elite Wrestling’s women’s division was as difficult as capturing a jumping spider with a coffee cup. The right circumstances were required. An interesting gimmick. The correct alignment of the constellations. Other than a few notable bouts here and there, the division has floundered, unsure of what to do with itself. That seems to be changing. Performers are stepping up, performing beyond expectations, and storylines are progressing to take full advantage of that.
After all, this is Tony Khan we’re talking about. AEW has been on the air since 2019 and, despite almost constant requests from fans, he still hasn’t instituted a Women’s Tag Team Championship. More often than not, women’s matches have been booked as bathroom breaks before the men get back in the ring. While men like Kenny Omega, Jon Moxley, and Hangman Adam Page grab the spotlight, women’s matches have often felt shoehorned in as an afterthought.
Despite the abundance of talent and popular performers on the women’s roster, including fan favourites Willow Nightingale and current Women’s Champion Jamie Hayter, nothing has drawn eyes and criticism to the division quite like blood.
Images of the grue-streaked face of Dr. Britt Baker, DMD, the aftermath of a June 2021 unsanctioned Lights Out match with Thunder Rosa, adorned t-shirts and graphics for months. Nightingale and Ruby Soho took on Anna Jay A.S. and Tay Melo in a January street fight on Rampage that surprised viewers with its violence. Soho’s forehead was torn open. She finished the match with her face covered with blood, what wrestling fans refer to as the “crimson mask.”
Not everyone was pleased with the gruesome nature of the street fight. Some observers posited that women shouldn’t be involved in such violent matches. It was unseemly, unsafe, not ladylike. One of the most famous critics of Soho’s blood-drenched victory was the Nature Boy himself, Ric Flair. In his prime, Flair was known for “blading,” cutting himself with small razors embedded in his wrist or finger tape. “I don’t like it,” Flair said on his podcast, To Be The Man. “I mean, I guess everybody’s got their own opinion,” Flair added, “but I certainly wouldn’t want to see Charlotte (Flair, WWE Superstar and Ric Flair’s daughter) bleeding.”
Please ponder the ethical problems of gender equality and double standards while gazing deeply into the crazed, staring eyes of Ric Flair, bleeding like he just dunked his face into a trough at the slaughterhouse.
Look: you have to do some wild mental gymnastics to be fine with people like Ric Flair or Jon Moxley leaking blood from their forehead whenever the wind blows hard but wrinkling your nose in disgust when a woman gets some color. That aversion to violent women’s matches may stem from years of WWE having their Superstars engage in brutal bouts like chocolate pudding matches or those grueling bra and panties matches.
To be fair, WWE and AEW exhibit different styles of ringwork. WWE has found a profitable niche as a sports entertainment company. AEW is a modern-day, pre-Vince Russo WCW. Viewers can usually count on WWE to provide, for women, safe grappling and familiar storylines. AEW watchers can expect stiff-looking moves and a few F-bombs sneaking past the censors. Those stylistic disparities make this quote from Toni Storm on last Wednesday’s Dynamite quite intriguing.
While speaking to Saraya, Storm derided the AEW women’s locker room. “The problem is these AEW homegrown girls,” Storm said. “They’ve never done anything else. They don’t know what we know.”
Expanding on that, we don’t know what they know that they don’t know. Sure, it could have been a throwaway line. Or it could be the planting of the seeds for a feud between former WWE employees and the women who have found their biggest stage in AEW. The Outsiders versus the Originals. Think of it not as an Invasion angle, but as an Infiltration angle. There’s only one logical place for such a feud to boil over.
Blood and Guts, AEW’s yearly two-ring cage match extravaganza would be the perfect atmosphere for that battle. Let’s speculate for a moment. Saraya, Storm, Athena, Marina Shafir and a heel Ruby Soho could be the Outsiders. The Originals could be Baker, Hikaru Shida, Nyla Rose, and the hopefully-medically-cleared-by-then Kris Statlander and Thunder Rosa. That dream team line-up has nothing to do with reality, mind you, but I wouldn’t be upset if it were accurate.
Let the women fight. Let them tear into each other in a way we’ve only seen from men like the Jericho Appreciation Society or the Blackpool Combat Club. Let them hurl each other into what Jim Ross would call “that unforgiving steel structure” and bounce halfway across both rings.
On top of all that, let them bleed. Bring out that barbed wire. Empty that black velvet bag full of tacks into the rings and let ‘er rip. Let the women do the same things the men get to do on a weekly basis. There is no reason why they shouldn’t. If the play calls for it, it’s the right thing to do.
While watching Ruby Soho leave red streaks of her DNA all over the ring during the street fight, my wife said, “Well, if there’s anything women understand, it’s bleeding.” I reckon she would know, far better than I. The question still floats out there, and there may never be a reckoning. Should women wrestlers be allowed to bleed during matches?
Please ponder the ethical questions of objectification and sexual dynamics while enjoying this Thong Stinkface match which is strictly a showcase for fine technical wrestling and wasn’t designed to titillate the audience at all.