Early in AEW‘s history, a point was made that Kenny Omega would be handling the women’s division. Part of his mandate: make good use of Japanese joshi talent.
AEW Double or Nothing 2019, the company’s first show, featured a hint at this direction. The second women’s match of the night was a showcase of joshi talent past, present and future. Veterans and legends Aja Kong and Emi Sakura teamed with TJPW star Yuka Sakazaki against Ryo Mizunami and future AEW Women’s Champions Hikaru Shida and Riho.
In the run-up to the company’s first televised show in October of the same year, Japanese talent would feature on the card for every show. But it was at Fyter Fest in June that one of All Elite Wrestling’s earliest unanswered questions arose.
In a triple threat also featuring Nyla Rose and Yuka Sakazaki, it was the smaller and younger Riho that came out on top. Post-match, an enraged Nyla Rose attacked the victor, frustrated at having lost to a roll-up.
As The Native Beast tried to hit Riho with a Beast Bomb, Sakazaki interfered, and the joshi’s sent Nyla out of the ring with a pair of dropkicks.
In the aftermatch, Riho shoved her saviour to the ground – which shocked and hurt fans who saw both as wholesome, white-meat babyfaces with no reason to do anything but appreciate one another’s help.
Speculation from the fanbase ran wild. Was this a heel turn by Riho? Was this the beginning of a long-term feud between two ladies with the potential to run the young company’s women’s division in the future?
In the aftermath, on commentary, Jim Ross said: “well it was every woman for herself”, while one-time commentary partner Goldenboy said: “no friendships here”.
Excaliber alongside them seemed to hint at my last question: “There is a lot at stake – this is the future of the women’s division here in All Elite Wrestling.”
Since then, they have been in the ring alongside each other twice, including side by side on AEW Dark right before the Covid-19 pandemic locked both competitors away on the other side of the world.
Nothing was made about their previous friction – and were left wondering why the pure soul that is Riho would do such a thing, and why we had seen no consequences for these actions.
Nearly three years on from “the shove heard around the world”, the two finally meet in an Owen Hart Foundation tournament qualifying match.
In what will be the pair’s first-ever singles match against one another, fans that have been around AEW since the beginning will be hoping to see a glimpse of explanation as to what happened so long ago. At the very least, it’s expected to be a match worthy of what’s shaping up to be a tournament full of star power, featuring two favourites of both AEW and joshi fanbases.
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