Only AEW could put together the best week in the history of their women’s division and still be taking heat for, you guessed it, their women’s division. The start of the Women’s Eliminator Tournament last week produced not one but two excellent matches (Emi Sakura vs. VENY, Riho vs. Serena Deeb) and the Monday night YouTube show featuring the other three matches from the Japanese bracket were all a ton of fun. None of it mattered when on Saturday Tony Khan announced that Riho vs. Thunder Rosa, a hotly anticipated second round match on the US side, would be taking place on Bleacher Report this Sunday alongside the finals of the Japanese bracket. Regardless of AEW’s reasons behind it the decision was harshly criticized and despite AEW’s efforts to make this thing into an event (the show will now also include a great looking trios match featuring Hikaru Shida) it will be a decision questioned for a long time and one that halted the momentum of this tournament. Fortunately tonight, featuring the Japanese quarterfinal matches and the last two matches of the first round on the US side, was a success. We did see the weakest match of the tournament to this point but we also got a strong opener and two more great bouts, with one equalling those two classics from last week. The optics may not be great all around but in terms of in ring quality, the AEW Women’s Eliminator Tournament remains a gem. And on that note it’s time to get to me raving about Emi Sakura! Let’s get cracking.
Nyla Rose defeated Tay Conti after pinning Conti with the Beast Bomb. Nyla not only moves on but is now 2-0 against Tay Conti. She is the Eli Manning to Tay’s Tom Brady. This was good and significantly better than their first encounter in September, which also wasn’t that bad! Goes to show just how far Tay Conti has come since then. She’s not the perfect product yet (some of the stuff with her and Nyla was clunky) but her moveset is coming along and the striking, the best part of her game, was one point. There were some vicious back and forth battles between the two here and the highly underrated Nyla Rose brought the fire right back to Tay. She also did a Death Valley Driver on the ramp that was pretty gnarly. Not a great match but not out of place in this tournament by a long shot. *** ½
Yuka Sakazaki defeated Emi Sakura after pinning Sakura with a roll up. It’s Monday, which means it was time for Emi Sakura to once again ride in on that white horse (listening to Queen’s “Hammer to Fall” as she did) to deliver another top five women’s match under the AEW banner. And deliver she did because this match, like Sam Raimi’s western masterpiece The Quick and the Dead, ruled. It was so good it calls for a Bill and Ted gif!
I’ll admit that midway through this match I was thinking “this is really good but it’s not quite going to reach Emi-Veny or Riho-Serena Deeb from last week.” Spoiler; it did. This was tremendous, largely bolstered by Emi’s amazing heel work. Even when facing Riho in AEW she never embraced the bad ass, cocky veteran role like she has in this tournament and this match was basically her gleefully tormenting poor Yuka with an assortment of strikes, backbreakers and Vader Bombs. She even got sweet, innocent Mei Suruga (corner Emi along with fellow ChocoPro star Yuna Mizumori) to go bad and attack Yuka on the floor! The power of Emi compels! None of this is to take away from Yuka, who provided some really nice high flying and some excellent chain wrestling towards the end when the match kicked into high gear. In the end though this feels like the Emi Sakura the world has been missing for years, including her earlier AEW stint. Better later than never to learn she’s one of the best ever. I wish she was moving on but in the end she looked great, Yuka looked absolutely super, the match was a tremendous contrast of styles, much like Emi-VENY from last week, and this match slides right next to that one and Riho-Serena as a highlight of this tournament. Great match. Afterwards Emi, Mei and Yuna attacked Yuka, prompting Hikaru Shida IN A POWER SUIT running in to make the save. Does it get better than Hikaru Shida in the power suit? I say no. **** ½
Ryo Mizunami defeated Aja Kong after Kong was counted out after Mizunami hit her with a leg drop on the apron. If I’m not mistaken this is the second countout in AEW history and the first to not involve Brandon Cutler or Peter Avalon. It’ll be polarizing and I’m not sure it worked entirely for me honestly, though it may be more how out of nowhere it was. Beyond that this was substantially better than I expected. Aja Kong, as discussed last week, isn’t as mobile as she once was but her wrestling IQ remains incredible and what she does she does better than almost anyone. She and Ryo beat each other to a pulp here; some great strikes, stiff suplexes, a couple of dives (courtesy or Ryo doing those leg drops) and an awesome clothesline sequence in the back half. Mizunami meanwhile remains electric; I know a lot of people wanted Maki Itoh in this spot, living it up like Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey, but Mizunami is a charismatic figure in her own right and quite frankly got more out of Kong in this match than I think Maki Itoh would’ve. Just terrific work and she should have an excellent match with Yuka Sakazaki in the finals. The finish takes some points off for me but this was another high level match. ****
Britt Baker defeated Madi Wrenkowski after submitting Wrenkowski with the Lock Jaw. For those who missed it this was supposed to be Baker vs. Anna Jay, only Anna suffered a shoulder injury in training that not only took her out of this match but will sideline her for 6-12 months. We now go live to everyone’s reaction.
To the surprise of no one this was the weakest match of the tournament. It wasn’t bad but given the circumstances, the short notice this match was likely put together with and, obviously, the quality of the other matches this was always going to be a tough sell. Wrenkowski has been good on previous AEW Dark appearances and she did okay here, though it was pretty clear she was working through nerves through most of the match. The story was Baker dominating the student of Thunder Rosa, and she did so in fairly convincing fashion. It won’t be remembered as a top notch performance but this was another example of how far Britt has come; I’m pretty sure this match a year ago is a disaster and instead her performance helped turn this into a solid affair. After the match Britt and Rebel drew on Wrenkowski’s face to make it look like she was Rosa, so clearly the issues between her and Rosa are far from over. Makes you wonder if that’s where they go for the US finals. ** ½
There you have it sports fans! I’ll see you tomorrow for the Dark review. TILL THEN!
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RELATED NOTE: AEW Women’s World Championship Eliminator Tournament: Japan Bracket – First Round Review (02/15/2021)