Sunday, September 25, 2022

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The Good Doctor: Britt Baker’s Reign As AEW Women’s Champion

So last week, I recapped the rise of Thunder Rosa in the wake of her championship victory on Saint Patrick’s Day. As big and glorious as Thunder’s rise to the top was, she could not have done it without Britt Baker. 

The golden child of AEW, Britt is one of the biggest assets to the AEW Women’s division. Her championship reign has been punctuated with incredible matches and marks her transition from a cute, kind of forgettable babyface to a mega-heel. One of the four pillars of AEW, she has formed the bedrock of the women’s division for the last two years. 

So what is the legacy of Britt’s title reign? What is her legacy and Is the Doctor all she’s cracked up to be? 

Becoming A Heel 

Britt’s rise to prominence all stems from one moment. A shakey promo on choppy waters. Amongst the high winds and token bikini babes of the Jericho Cruise, Britt cut a scathing promo, attacking the beloved Tony Schiavone. In a monotone voice, Britt declared herself a role model and ‘the hottest woman on this boat.’ It was a shaky start, but creating a new character is most of the time. More importantly, it got the crowd talking. 

Next week Britt directed her wrath on Jim Ross. This time Britt was composed; her hair wasn’t blowing in her face. There was conviction in her voice. She railed against Ross and his habit of forgetting women’s names. Like most good heelwork, a grain of truth was hidden in her words. The promo struck a chord with the crowd. This edge was the turning point that Britt needed. 

The Role Model

The strength of Britt’s drawing power cannot be argued. Even when sidelined with a knee injury sustained during a tag match with her, Nyla Rose, Kris Statlaner, and Hikaru Shida, Britt battled on. cutting pre-taped vignettes while sitting in a wheelchair.

It was a moment that put a stopper on what left like an inevitable rise to the top for Britt. But the ‘conspiracy era’ proved to be solid entertainment, forming a stable of the goofier side of AEW that was the stable of pandemic era wrestling. Her rivalry with Big Swole proved to be one of the highlights of those empty arena episodes in Daily’s Place. When hard-hitting storylines were still hard to digest in a world that had been irrevocably changed by the pandemic, Britt was there with the stadium stampede matches and Broken Matt Hardy to make us laugh.    

The Doctor’s Reign

Like most AEW title changes, there was an inevitability to Britt’s title victory. Momentum had been building since her return to the ring. Facing off against then-champion Hikaru Shida, Britt made a grand entrance at Double or Nothing and came away with the belt. It was a passing of the guard moment as Britt finally ascended to the top. 

Now as a champ, Britt had something to prove. As a heel touting themselves as the face of AEW, it was put up or shut up time. A championship run can fall flat for a heel if they don’t back up their talk. Luckily for Britt, this was never going to be an issue.  

As a heel, she highlighted talent lower down the card. Her matches against Kris Statlander at All Out and Tay Conti at Full Gear proved Britt could handle herself in the ring and get other people over. 

What Makes Britt Baker Special?

Britt found her footing and flourished, acting as AEW’s entitled arrogant heel. The gimmick may seem derivative on the surface. Wrestling isn’t short on arrogant champions who think they’re hot s***t. Tune into any promotions, and you’ll see a litany of cocky, entitled heels.

However, there are a few subtleties that put Britt above most of them. The biggest is how real she is. She’s not as bombastic as MJF or too much of a caricature. The lines between reality and fiction are very blurry. So much so that even a die-hard mark like me still finds himself getting worked by Britt’s promos.

Then there are her interactions with Tony Schiavone. There is a playfulness to their back and forth, one that’s been bubbling since she called him out for working at Starbucks. A character rarely interacts with those around them in a meaningful way, especially when it doesn’t add anything to a specific storyline, so this bonding relationship does that little bit more to flesh out AEW’s world. 

It’s not just Britt interacting with the world. It’s the world interacting with her. Britt Baker is the name of everyone’s lips. She gets shoutouts from CM Punk, the action figures, the merch. Britt plays it all to the hilt. It’s all excellent heelwork.  

You Talk Too Much 

Britt has unbridled charisma and the ability to effortlessly rile up a crowd with a scathing promo. It is one of the most memorable parts of Britt’s title reign. It’s both a gift and a curse. A crutch that has been heavily relied on in place of an actual story. Give Britt a mic and five minutes. She and you are good to go. It was used time and time again, and as a result, aside from a few moniker changes, the Britt Baker who won the title belt from Shida is the same Britt Baker that dropped it to Thunder Rosa. 

Matches can be memorable. But the stories behind them are even more so. The weight of Britt’s rivalries was put on her mic skills, not motivation or plot points. Her feuds string together in one homogenized blob. The matches were good. But nothing separates Britt’s rivalries between Kris Statlander, Tay Conti, or Ruby Soho, other than the women standing on the other side of the ring. That all changed with the arrival of a certain woman from the graveyards of Tijuana, Mexico. 

Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa

Undoubtedly the most significant mark on Baker’s title reign is her year-long rivalry with Thunder Rosa. One of AEW’s more compelling storylines, it is one of the few actual pieces of storytelling that has managed to make it onto AEW Dynamite.  

The Light’s Outmatch was the start of it. A year ago, Britt and Thunder Rosa put each went to hell and back in a blood match that won the Pro Wrestling’s Illustrated match of the year. It set the wrestling world on fire. It was a landmark moment, not just because of its brutality. But to me, that match was two women acting like they had something to prove. To show that the women of AEW are here and they mean business. 

Like any good story, their rivalry ebbed and flowed. Sometimes it was quiet as Britt took on other challenges. Other times it was heated. Yet it was always ticking away in the background, culminating in Thunder’s eventual title victory just a week ago. 

The Doctor’s Legacy 

A belts credibility, like everything in wrestling, crests, and falls. Unless well preserved, a belt can lose all credibility fast. In a predetermined sport, belt credibility may seem like nothing, but a strong belt can make a champion and helps maintain the illusion that the champ is better than the rest. 

The AEW women’s title has been on an upward trend that has yet to be broken. The company found its footing with the Rhio vs. Nayla Rose rivalry. Later Shiba picked up the mantle and carried the division for most of the pandemic. The most significant boost to the title and the AEW Women’s division has come from Britt Baker. Her cocky persona has helped bolster the division and helped to establish talent to take the mantle in the future. 

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