Riho brought the eyeballs to All Elite Wrestling when she returned to the promotion last week during the women’s tournament.
It’s hard to understate the importance of having strong inaugural champions for a new promotion, something AEW surely knew when they started in 2019.
Chris Jericho becoming the first AEW World Champion made sense, as he was arguably the biggest name on the roster and undoubtedly brought a lot of casual fans over to the promotion – even inadvertently making a viral meme out of the championship right after his win. SCU has roots in multiple promotions such as TNA and Ring of Honor, making their tag title win a good way to generate buzz for fans in those circles.
And of course, there’s Riho with the Women’s Division who, in my opinion, was a great inaugural champion on paper.
Riho represented the Joshi wrestlers that made up a noticeable portion of AEW’s Women’s Division but was also a young babyface that was extremely easy to root for. Her title win on the first episode of Dynamite was a great moment that absolutely got over with the fans, her only pay-per-view match as champion against Emi Sakura at Full Gear 2019 was a fantastic student vs. teacher match, and her eventual loss to Nyla Rose felt shocking and tragic as the heel stripped the beloved babyface of the belt.
While these were all great moments, there, unfortunately, isn’t too much else to say about her title reign. Between extended absences due to other commitments and general storyline issues that were plaguing the division, Riho’s championship had a lot of wasted potential, and COVID-19 reared its ugly head not long after she lost the belt, keeping her in Japan for almost a year.
Since then, the Women’s Division has changed quite a bit. There has been another title change, some unfortunate injuries – which persist to this day – and exciting new additions.
But now Riho is back and based on her return match on the February 17th episode of Dynamite, it’s clear she’s here to make up for the lost time and show why she was so beloved in the first place.
The return of Riho could do wonders for an AEW Women’s division that has been taking steps to improve.
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Riho’s first match was against Serena Deeb as part of the Women’s #1 World Championship Eliminator Tournament for a title shot. Deeb has been an excellent addition to the Women’s roster in her own right, bringing a highly technical, submission-heavy style of wrestling to the table. However, Riho’s anticipated return and natural charm took center stage, making it impossible to not cheer for her as she gained the victory.
The match itself was a definite highlight of Dynamite and a great reminder that Riho’s less than stellar title run had nothing to do with a lack of in-ring ability.
So, with that successful return, it would appear that Riho is here for the long-term, and her next match against Thunder Rosa should be incredible to watch, but how does Riho fit into this new division?
Well, I personally think it’s unlikely that Riho will be the winner of the tournament, let alone be the next AEW Women’s champion. It would make more sense for a new champion to take the belt from Hikaru Shida. Perhaps a different Joshi wrestler will win it all, or maybe a certain D.M.D. that has been one of the most consistently entertaining characters in the entire promotion.
However, for a babyface that is already over with the fans like Riho, there are so many opportunities for great matches and storylines outside of the title picture. While she has encountered Serena Deeb in the ring once, I know I’d love to see those two wrestle again. It could be interesting to see her interact with this newer version of Dark Order – especially once Anna Jay is back from injury – and let’s not forget Abadon, who would be a great foil to Riho’s character.
A new babyface faction? Tag team opportunities? Another shot at intergender wrestling? A rekindled feud against Nyla Rose? If AEW is willing to try it, the inclusion of Riho will make it better.
The AEW Women’s division still feels like it needs work. Though the tournament has treated fans to some of the best Women’s wrestling this promotion has seen – not to mention the exciting implications of including a Japanese bracket – and the Red Velvet/Jade Cargill feud has generated plenty of buzz for both with the assistance of world’s hottest chip eater Shaq, but it’s up to AEW to capitalize on these things for longterm success.
I’m not going to argue that Riho is the single missing piece that will “fix” every perceived flaw in AEW’S Women’s Division. However, AEW has made some interesting steps to improve since COVID-19 became a factor, and Riho’s return could do wonders to help with what already has been set in place. Let’s hope Riho gets the long-term booking she deserves!