When AEW first introduced their Women's Championship, many criticised it for being too small. To me, it wasn't a design I would have gone with, but what was more worrying was that the small championship seemed to represent the same small vision offered to women's wrestling across North American wrestling for decades.
Don't worry, I'm not talking about changing the design of AEW's women's title in this article. I'm talking about having the vision to take women's wrestling to the next level in American wrestling and introducing a new championship altogether.
We have started to see signs of improvement in AEW's women's division and a few people with power behind the scenes at AEW seem genuinely passionate about a proper women's revolution. Kenny Omega cites Joshi wrestling as one of his biggest inspirations and wants to bring that to an American audience. As well as this, AEW have begun building on the legacy that Impact, WWE and women in other companies had started crafting.
Throughout AEW's existence I have continued to tick things off in a checklist of ways to progress the women's division. Things like main eventing Dynamite, holding a tournament and creating some genuine draws in the division. At times it has been frustratingly slow and, for me, they are still not doing enough for what they could be.
However, I am not naïve enough to expect perfection at this stage, or ever, despite it being something we should strive for. There are a lot of issues in the industry which I won't go into here, so, in short, this is a trail that AEW needs to blaze.
One of those things on my checklist is a secondary women's championship. Something akin to the men's TNT Championship.
By no means do I expect this in the next month or even in the next year. First, AEW need to build on their current women's roster and there probably isn't space for another championship with only two hours of TV time. So, this can only really happen when AEW introduce their third hour of programming later this year.
The main reason why I am so in favour of a "TNT Women's Championship" is for the purpose of storytelling. Not just week to week but also long-term storytelling also. Wrestlers need character direction, stakes and objectives. Secondary titles exist, mostly, to provide an easy storytelling prop. They can provide direction, stakes and objectives to those wrestlers who would otherwise be out of the loop. Think of Nyla Rose or Penelope Ford for most of the past year.
It works for the men, so why not the women? The TNT Championship has worked for Darby Allin. It is a key highlight of Brodie Lee's career. Shinsuke Nakamura built a large amount of his legacy with the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Many would argue the WWE Intercontinental Championship gave The Miz and Seth Rollins their best runs.
Tay Conti has just lost an AEW Women's Championship match after building towards it for two months. She's now left relatively directionless. Sure, they could develop a story for her and a little time off screen opens opportunities for someone else to be pushed. But it simply isn't a solution for major players in the division like Nyla Rose and established draws like Tay Conti.
Mid-card titles work for the men, so why not the women?
I mentioned Tay Conti there which is fitting because a common criticism of women's wrestling is that "women don't draw". Now this as a generalised statement is not true. Although it is true that women's wrestling isn't viewed as much as men's.
However, there are women who clearly do draw. Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, Io Shirai, Tessa Blanchard, Britt Baker and Tay Conti, to name a few, have all proved themselves to be draws in recent memory. It is fair to say these are exceptional cases, but the point stands that when you invest in a talent as a company, the fans will invest in them as a character. The main reason women don't draw in general as well as men is because companies don't invest in them to the same extent.
One of the main ways companies invest in men's wrestlers is allowing them to rise through the ranks with "mid-card" titles. Think of Adam Cole in NXT. It would be easy to forget with everything he's done since, but he really made his name holding the North American Championship. We saw him rise through the ranks so when he finally won the NXT Championship it really meant something.
Rhea Ripley, meanwhile, went straight to being world champion within months because there was no structure for her to climb. Her hype died down pretty quickly because there wasn't anything of much interest for her after that and the majority of fans weren't emotionally invested in her because she'd won the championship before having much time to establish herself on the brand.
Nobody cares about Nyla Rose when she's sitting at home doing nothing and it doesn't make sense for a monster like her to sit on the side-lines. Fans don't invest in young talent as much when they are challenging for world titles because we know it isn't their time. Whilst they might put in a great showing, after the match we're only left with that and nothing more.
The likes of Red Velvet, Leyla Hirsch, Abadon, Anna Jay, Jade Cargill and Kris Statlander aren't going to be AEW Women's Champion anytime soon, I don't think. Giving them a championship to believably challenge for allows the company to elevate them so in two or three years you do have a world champion on your hands.
Some will say "there's not enough TV time for another championship!" This is easy to dismiss. They found time for the NWA Women's Championship with two hours of TV. Plus, I've already mentioned how you would only introduce this title along with the third hour of TV. It's something to work towards, not implement tomorrow.
Another popular argument might be that they should just tell stories in the mid-card with meaning and not rely on a mid-card championship to do this.
I would agree but companies simply don't do this enough. Stories can get very stale and repetitive. Notice how often we see women fighting with their friends? Not only does that lean on misogynistic, tired story tropes that "women can't get along", but it's overdone. Championships are very simple storytelling devices with stakes built in. It's easy, meaningful storytelling.
A good faith argument would be to suggest a women's tag team championship, as we've seen in WWE and Impact, instead. The issue with this however is that it's double the amount of wrestlers. Furthermore, it is an entirely new division with a separate rankings system. It'll put even more strain on the women's division and TV time as it is.
Not only this, but to be done well you need natural partnerships and good chemistry between wrestlers. TayJay is a readymade team and there are other combinations you could make. There are teams you could sign for a women's tag division also.
However, NXT have struggled to make a compelling women's tag team division despite having a huge roster. There are bones for a women's tag division in AEW, but it requires a much larger commitment to not lack significant meaning.
I would add it into the list of aims for the women's division to work towards over time, but I would introduce a TNT Women's Championship first. I would hope that AEW introduce both over time and really push for the greatest women's division in North American history. If you "do the work" it is easily possible. The bar for companies presenting women's wrestling is incredibly low at present.
The bottom line is this; Women deserve the same as men. It should be every company's aim and a key priority to make women's wrestling as equal to men's as possible. The institutional sexism in wrestling is only an excuse for so long, at some point you become part of the problem. In 2021 there cannot be any debate about that. I hope AEW will be the ones to buck the trend.