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Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad: A confused recap of AEW’s Bleacher Report debut

Over the weekend, AEW aired a one-hour special for their Women’s World Eliminator title tournament. It was scheduled to be the company’s debut on the Bleacher Report streaming platform.

But there were issues, mainly internationally, with the digital platform and the matches were very quickly uploaded to AEW’s YouTube channel but that is not the purpose of this piece.

As a loyal AEW viewer who has watched every episode of Dynamite and BTE, many episodes of AEW Dark, but even with this women’s tag team title tournament, it was my first exposure to it, aside from the matches that have aired on television.

What inspired me to write this, though, was finding that my colleague, Parker Klyn, included a match from this special in his monthly Match Madness column (which I highly recommend), calling it one of the best matches from the month of February. Parker watches more wrestling than just about anyone on this planet, so his opinion carries some weight.

I thought that the match of the night was the Japanese side’s bracket final match between Ryo Mizunami and Yuka Sakazaki. I wasn’t familiar with either woman, but their match’s story was a simple one: The larger Mizunami would constantly use raw power to put down the smaller, faster Sakazaki. Announcers Taz and Excalibur did a good job of explaining the, so the story and the stakes of the match were clear. The winner would advance to the tournament finals against the winner of the American bracket, where the winner would receive a world title shot next.

Parker’s choice was the opening six-woman tag match of Hikaru Shida, Rin Kadokura and Mei Suraga going up against Emi Sakura, Maki Itoh and Veny. Like the other match, I was not familiar with most of these performers with the exception of Shida, who holds the AEW World title. I have heard the names of some of the others, notably Maki Itoh, but had no idea who they were.

Now part of the issue may be that I missed some of the entrances, and given that I wasn’t familiar with most of the wrestlers, I probably wouldn’t have remembered their names anyway. The announcers were not much help in that regard. Excalibur used nicknames on occasion without mentioniong who was who. Taz used the term “this young lady” when one of the women tagged in and, for the next minute, neither announcer could say the name of either woman wrestling in the ring.

At one point, one of the performers, who I later learned was Maki Itoh, left her spot at ringside and came into the ring while the action was going on to start singing. The announcers joked about how long she was holding the note but didn’t explain why she would do this or how it was even allowed to happen. And the performers in the ring acted like they didn’t even see it. All of this completely took me out of the match for a while.

I imagine Parker is familiar with all of these characters and probably understood why we saw what we saw. Parker probably knew the backstories of those involved, or maybe the different pairings of wrestlings tagging in and out meant something to him.

For me, it was confusing. The action was a little sloppy at first, but eventually got good, even though I had no idea who won. I’m pretty sure Shida’s team won, but I honestly am not positive, and without looking up the results, I had no idea who was on who’s team, with the exception of Veny, who I thought was really impressive. Members of the Fight Game Media Facebook group filled me in on Veny’s backstory, which made me even more intrigued.

And here, as they say, is “the rub.”

Television shows have a long history of what are called “crossover episodes,” when characters from one popular TV show would show up on another that may have the same producers or exist in the same “universe.” The Shonda Rhimes group from shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19 or the various NCIS shows are good examples of this.

Now, I have not watched Station 19 since it’s debut season, but I still watch regularly. When characters from the former show make an appearance on Grey’s, it’s instantly explained why they are there and what their appearance has to do with the storyline. I don’t have to go online to find out or talk to someone who watches Station 19 in order to find out who someone is. And characters may go the other way. The obvious idea is to encourage fans of one show to watch the other.

If an actor who used to be a regular on NCIS suddenly showed up on Grey’s Anatomy, they wouldn’t be playing their NCIS character. They might be similar, but it probably won’t be the same one, so the only information relevant to the show I’m watching is the storyline. If the character on NCIS was a serial killer, for instance, he might play a schoolteacher on Grey’s Anatomy. That doesn’t mean I should be aware of the fact that was a serial killer because he wasn’t. He is only what I’ve seen on the show I’m watching.

This has been a common issue with AEW: They introduce characters and expect the viewers to know the backstory. As far as I’m concerned, the only backstory relevant is the one I’m being told on the show in that moment. What I didn’t understand on the AEW Women’s special was is if anything that was happening in the tag match on actually had anything to do what’s going on in AEW.

And there weren’t any stakes. Other than Shida, we’re unlikely to see any of them again soon. If we do, it’s the announcers’ job to explain who these characters are and what their motivations are during the match.

Like I told Parker, there are a lot of wrestlers to keep track of on the shows I do watch. Without naming them all, I’d say that on a typical week, I watch about 15 hours of current wrestling programming. That doesn’t include pay per views or network specials, nor NJPW, which I generally like but often don’t have time for. I don’t want to do homework to figure out who people are when I’m watching wrestling. If I have to spend half the match trying to figure out who everyone is and why they’re doing what they’re doing while the announcers crack jokes, then that’s on the company, not me.

Despite all of that, I liked the majority of the special. The second match was my personal match of the night, and the main event was good, too. I had issues with the opener, but given the obvious handicap of working in an empty dojo while also featuring a bunch of wrestlers I wasn’t familiar with, I thought ended up being better than it had any right to be. But I could not recommend that six-woman tag match to anyone who wasn’t familiar with any of the wrestlers involved. I can confidently recommend the other two matches, however.

As Meatloaf once put it, “two out of three ain’t bad.”

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