Here’s what we learned from the first round of AEW’s Women’s Eliminator Tournament:

  1. Mei Suruga has wings, both literally and metaphorically
  2. Maki Itoh may have Samoan ancestry (she has a very hard head)
  3. Veteran Emi Sakura can still steal the show
  4. Veny is a top world talent
  5. Ryo Mizunami has a very charismatic leg drop
  6. If Yuka Sakazaki was a genie, we would wish for more Yuka matches on AEW
  7. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of Aja Kong
  8. Rin Kadokura is a great underdog
  9. Excalibur has does his homework

Overall the first round of AEW Women’s Eliminator Tournament was a good show.

There were rumblings that perhaps this should have been broadcast on AEW Dynamite and indeed it would have been interesting to see whether it would have maintained viewership, but it’s likely that such a stylistic change would have confused some viewers. That said, the production was pretty good and despite the empty arena, the lack of fans never felt like an issue for what was essentially a Joshi wrestling showcase. Ideally, though, AEW will be showing a clip package from this on Dynamite as there were certainly enough high spots to make a reel that might entice the casual viewer to check this out.

In the week leading up to this, it was clear that Maki Itoh was becoming a fan favorite seemingly based on her lewd Twitter game (although her fired idol character from TJPW has much more depth). Itoh’s petulant gimmick was only matched by her new legion of simps who rage quit when she lost (and slammed the YouTube dislike button). It’s never a bad thing when people get over in wrestling, nor should promoters ever ignore the fans, but AEW needs to be careful not to encourage a sort of instant Twitterocracy of entitlement among some of the newer fans, that would overshadow longer-term storytelling and talent building.

Everyone impressed on this show, Ryo Mizunami got to show more of her charisma personality (and a cool leg drop) in singles competition and Mei Suruga and Yuka put on a great opener with Mei trying out some of her unique submissions and Yuka digging deep with the big show 450. At first, the Aja Kong vs. Rin Kadokura match seemed like it was going to be an extended squash, but Rin showed heart and Aja (not known to bump for everyone) finally started selling for her. Kadokura showed heart and worked well as a believable underdog here, even if in retrospect, Aja Kong was always going to win.

The stars of the show were undoubtedly Emi Sakura and Veny.

Sakura has been cultivating a fanbase among the more avant-garde Joshi fans, and while Gatoh Move/Choco Pro’s aesthetics are certainly an acquired taste, the cramped cozy conditions have forced the wrestlers to be of a high work rate and very creative. Veny, known more as ASUKA in Japan, has been building her own following, with the cult classic light tube death match from 2019 and over the last two years has become one of Japan’s most celebrated freelancers, a genderless wrestler who effortlessly glides between both Joshi and men’s promotions.

Sakura vs. Veny was a brilliant back and forth that felt snug precise and as if both wrestlers had been scouting each other. At 12 minutes, they managed to put on a show-stealer without ever dragging things out for the sake of having a long match (certain AEW wrestlers please take note!)

AEW Women’s Eliminator Tournament Semi-Final Predictions

As many have noted, the booking of the first round was fairly conservative. All the winners had previously appeared on AEW before and the vets beat the younger wrestlers on every occasion. Joshi booking can be a lot more rigidly hierarchical than Western booking, which makes it predictable, but also makes things more special when a wrestler punches through.

It will certainly be interesting to see the future dialectic between AEW booking and classic Joshi booking in the coming years. Yuka Sakazaki vs. Emi Sakura is a dream match to many and you’d have to say that Yuka is the favorite here. Coming off a TJPW POP title run in which she cemented herself as their MVP, she’s not simply fighting for herself but for her company. On the other hand, Emi is a veteran fighter who commands respect and an Emi/Kong final could be an all-time game changer.

On the other side of the bracket, we have a similar match up but this time with Kong as the favorite, simply because history says she’s pretty much unstoppable. Kong and Shida have history and in 2018, had one of the highest-rated Joshi matches in the VOW MOTY poll. They may be planning to replicate that on another stage. On the other hand, it may be time for Ryo to come into her own and a win over Kong would be a career-defining moment. She certainly has the confidence to do so.

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