Updated: Sep 9
In early 2021 AEW's women's division was on the rise. Comparisons to NXT's women's division were valid and the claims that AEW's was actually performing better had more than reasonable arguments to back that claim up.
This all came to an end after Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa's unsanctioned match where we once again saw a return to the 2020 style of booking for a division that had come such a long way. Matches thrown together on a whim with a serious lack of storytelling or compelling character work outside of Britt Baker.
It became obvious that the tournament that had previously brought AEW's women's division much acclaim was merely papering over the cracks that was a lack of any real investment in the women's division. Even Baker winning the championship failed to be the turning point many hoped it would be.
It was perhaps then not unfair for many fans to think that Britt Baker vs Red Velvet being announced as Rampage's first ever main event was yet another empty gesture, rather than a sign of real progress. Much like the tournament, the first ever Dynamite main event and Baker's title win. Especially with the baffling decision to put one of your top babyfaces against your heel champion in said heel's hometown.
However, other fans still held out hope that this match, as Rampage's first main event, would be the start of a new era for the women's division with Rampage providing more time and opportunity to showcase the women whilst developing storied feuds and compelling characters.
In the build to this match, Britt Baker made the point that she had previously defeated Red Velvet on AEW Dark in under three minutes, suggesting that Red Velvet is not on her level. But because she had racked up a few wins, Baker would put Velvet in her place.
This is simple storytelling, but it shows both women's motivations when it comes to the match. Red Velvet wants to prove that she is, in fact, on Britt's level. Baker wants to make a statement out of Red Velvet. One could even theorise that Baker is ducking Thunder Rosa and Kris Statlander, ranked first and second respectively.
The issue with this match isn't the storytelling on paper. Although it is very simple, it is functional and potentially very effective if executed well. The issue was booking this match in Britt Baker's hometown of Pittsburgh.
The juxtaposition seen by fans on TV of the crowd cheering Britt Baker's heel antics whilst booing Red Velvet's babyface comebacks was guaranteed to be strange and left the talent with an uphill struggle, one might say an impossible task, to overcome.
How It Played Out.
After losing to Britt Baker within three minutes in their last meeting, Red Velvet this time dominates the first four minutes. Including a moment where Velvet shows mercy on Baker by not stamping on her injured wrist. Commentary are quick to point out that they would have done differently. This is important as it reminds us who the babyface is in this match. Whilst the crowd tells us a different story, Red Velvet is certainly the babyface we should root for. However, it also tells us that really there is nothing wrong in taking advantage of that injury, also.
Into the fifth and sixth minutes, Britt Baker resorts to cheating in order to get back into the match. Rebel at ringside plays her part as Britt distracts referee Paul Turner. Baker then goes on the offence, beating Velvet down in the corner and managing to keep Velvet's offence to a minimum.
Following a failed Lockjaw attempt by Baker, Red Velvet gets back on the attack, focusing on Baker's injured arm. Velvet's previous respect has been broken by Baker's cheating and Velvet's fiery side comes out. This results in quick and effective attacks in the 7th minute as Velvet tears off Baker's arm brace.
The 7th minute is the most offence of any minute and this shows how active Red Velvet was, showing her frustrations over Baker's continued disrespect and cheating. Velvet becomes more and more desperate to prove herself.
However, once again Rebel at ringside causes a distraction and interference which allows Britt Baker to gain a slight advantage in the 8th minute. When Rebel tries again, however, Paul Turner is wise to this repeated tactic and ejects Rebel from ringside.
Into the 9th minute, Red Velvet takes advantage of this opening with a superkick as Baker turns around, before hitting a moonsault from the top rope. Baker kicks out, though, and into the 10th minute Baker hits a brutal Ushigoroshi, following it up with a crushing curbstomp.
Red Velvet, whose excellent selling makes her look down and out, somehow kicks out and capitalises on Britt checking her wrist to put her in Baker's own Lockjaw submission. Baker is eventually able to reverse this into a Lockjaw of her own. Velvet is able to escape this by hammering on Britt's injured wrist. So, Baker locks Velvet in again with her other arm as Red Velvet is left with no choice but to finally tap out.
The Key Stats.
Unlike Baker's 3-minute squash over Red Velvet on AEW Dark, this was a very even match as seen by the match offence stat. There's not much in the 52-48 split that goes in Red Velvet's favour and proves that Red Velvet does, in fact, belong in the ring with the likes of Britt Baker. Even if she couldn't quite get the job done.
Baker's 6 fouls kept her in the match in large periods and confirmed that, despite being cheered throughout the match, she did play the heel in this match. It once again proved Red Velvet's motivation, to prove herself. She forced Britt Baker to cheat to gain an advantage by raising herself to Britt's level. Without these interferences it would be fair to suggest that Red Velvet had significantly more of the match and likely would have won.
16.7% of the match time went to submissions which shows how technically focused this match was and also shows how Red Velvet targeted Britt's arm so well. As well as this, there was a reversal every 22 seconds on average which shows the back-and-forth nature of such an even matchup.
The post-match angle where Jamie Hayter made her return to AEW after almost two years was fantastic. It gives Britt Baker an ally which is important as so much of AEW's storytelling is told through stables or allegiances. Baker has needed a slightly more competent ally than Rebel for a while now. It also just adds another great name to an already fantastic division.
This was the first chance fans got to see how Rampage could benefit the women's division. Establishing a character through a match in Red Velvet was a good start to this. Add on top of that a teased opponent for Britt Baker in Kris Statlander who made the save and a big angle debuting Jamie Hayter, it's safe to say this was a good start to the women's division on Rampage.
Storytelling is all about meaning. What changes? What do we learn? This match told a clear story but what did it mean?
We learned that Red Velvet is now a serious contender and potentially a future champion through a great, fiery performance. This was needed as before we had seen how Red Velvet was easily dispatched by Baker.
We also learned a lot more about Red Velvet as a person. She isn't a pushover and if you disrespect her, she'll make sure you know about it. An instantly likeable trait in a babyface as proven by Jon Moxley. Fans love a babyface who stands up against heels. Just not in the heel's hometown.
Britt Baker, meanwhile, had to rely on Rebel at ringside at times. Now with the addition of Jamie Hayter, as well as Rebel, to Baker's list of allies she becomes an even greater mountain for any challenger to climb.
So, Red Velvet and Britt Baker managed to tell a coherent story where Red Velvet, previously a level below Baker, raised her level to the point where Baker had to cheat. This repeated disrespect from Baker, carrying on from their promo-exchange, brings the fire out of Red Velvet. Attacking the wrist she'd previously neglected and it nearly worked. However, Baker prevails and grows ever stronger with Jamie Hayter by her side.
This is exactly how you get over a rising babyface in defeat, and the fact they did all of this with a crowd who gave them the opposite reaction that you'd traditionally want is something I thought would be extremely hard to achieve, if not impossible.
Only time will tell whether this match is the turning point this division needs. But what we do know is that the division is ready for that turning point. Just as Red Velvet proved she was ready to step up in the realms of the story, she proved that this division is more than ready to step up to become a serious priority within AEW rather than the afterthought it has been for most of its existence.
If Rampage is going to allow AEW to do this, then we as fans have a lot to look forward to. If not, this division continues to prove that the company's negligence of it is worthy of condemnation.
Match Star Ratings (out of 5):
Grappl: 3.09 stars.
Cagematch: 2.8 stars.
PWM Writer's Opinion: 3.75 stars.
With thanks to Scott Lesh for photography.