Inaugural 5 AEW Women’s World Champions, ranked
The state of the women’s division has been AEW’s biggest self-fulfilling prophecy. Running on a hamster wheel of criticism and concern, no other aspect of the product — not wrestling styles, not production — has struck this perfect balance for fans, well-meaning and troll-baiting alike. Want proof? Let’s look no further than at the ebbs and flows and overall impact of the first Women’s World Champions.
(5) Nyla Rose
Nyla Rose sits in the FTR spot only because of a rather uneventful 101-day reign, with one successful PPV defense. “The Native Beast” proved a stellar match against 100-pound Riho, including when she won the title from Riho on Dynamite in February 2020.
Rose has evolved her personality from her one-dimensional 2019 days to now having a more natural sense of humor. Just like FTR, more fans will probably rally behind this evolution, picking up another title in the future.
(4) Thunder Rosa
All the steam from Baker and Rosa’s iconic Lights Out match, and the long wait to the rematch, made both women the gatekeepers of the main event scene. And the rematch? Another Match of the Year classic, with Rosa prevailing in a bloody steel cage.
Then, I’m not sure where things went wrong. There was enough of a follow-up, highlighted by defenses against Serena Deeb and Toni Storm and being a bridge of sorts to Toyko Joshi Pro Wrestling and facing Miyu Yamashita on Dynamite. But sadly, most of the talk around Rosa as champion was tabloid drama. Maybe people just didn’t connect with her wrestling; maybe people just expected another Britt Baker-weekly-promos champion. It’s convenient to find something to blame, but the truth is we can’t.
All I know is Thunder Rosa’s cathartic World title win was built off of a terrific rivalry with Britt Baker. Whether fortunately or unfortunately is up to you.
(3) Britt Baker
I’ve mused before about the impact of Britt Baker’s first title reign. And while I’d framed it largely as a negative, I don’t think it sits definitively at either extreme. It’s just there to maybe think about.
Baker’s title reign appeared to be about establishing her as the “total package” champion. About experimenting with the culture of regular promos in the women’s division. A case for multiple women’s segments on 1 episode, which proved to be successful.
But while she both won and lost the title in 2 of AEW’s best women’s matches to date, with a bonus memorable showing against Kris Statlander in the middle, a lot of this reign barely moved. Like someone holding up a gloved hand for ten months, insisting the best part was coming, promise.
If we knew how good we had it at the time.
Riho wasn’t necessarily the obvious poster girl for the AEW women’s division, even in its infancy. She wasn’t some promo god or dominant figure. But she absolutely leads the division better than most. With the smaller roster at the time, Riho had strong showings against pretty much everybody. From the aforementioned Nyla Rose and Britt Baker; to four-ways that were a welcome staple early on; to a Full Gear defense against Emi Sakura that set an incredible PPV standard for the women (why Sakura hasn’t been on Dynamite or Rampage in eons, I’ll never understand and I’ll never shut up about).
Riho wrestled everybody in exciting bouts that focused criticism of the division to its lack of depth, never quality. And dear me, isn’t that leading by example.
(1) Hikaru Shida
If there was an S-tier of AEW Champions across the entire board, Hikaru Shida is easily on it.
Shida won the title from Nyla Rose in a highly emotional match, honoring the late Hana Kimura at Double or Nothing 2020. Shida would go on to clean house for a year, making the most of a limited roster amid a difficult time in pro wrestling. Big matches against Nyla Rose, Thunder Rosa, Tay Conti, and others on Dynamite and PPV. Her stellar contribution to the Women’s World title eliminator in Japan. Her 1-year-in-the-making saga with Britt Baker ultimately bookended her historic reign.
Shida felt like a Dynamite special attraction at a time when it really needed one. She successfully put an entire division on her back during a depressing pandemic and remained a compelling cornerstone for a record-setting 372 days.
The perfect champion tragically surrounded by an empty arena.