Monday, September 26, 2022

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What Does the Owen Hart Foundation Tournament Mean To Women’s Wrestling?

The AEW Owen Hart Foundation tournament is officially underway. This week, the male-female tournaments continued to gain momentum with Samoa Joe’s debut and Hikaru Shida’s return.

Tournaments are the hot new thing in AEW. The last year has seen the format become a staple of Dynamite and Ramage. It has been a mechanism for great storytelling and used to cement Jade Cargill’s rise and, most recently, the redemption of Hangman Adam Page. 

However, there is something about ‘The Owen’ that hits different. The fact that it’s endorsed by an outside foundation. The fact that it is two tournaments running in parallel with each other. There is just something about The Owen Hart Foundation Tournament that feels right. This isn’t slapping a wrestler’s name on a tournament for name’s sake.

In fact, the OHF tournament is a rare thing indeed. A contest with a dual purpose. To honor a great wrestler while also helping create a new generation. 

How Did This Come About?  

AEW has always tried to maintain a connection to the Hart family. Bret appeared back in 2019 at the inaugural Pay-Per-View Double or Nothing, lending his name and credibility to help legitimize the AEW World Championship. Then on September 20th, 2021, AEW announced its collaboration with The Owen Hart Foundation. 

September 20th, 2021 – All Elite Wrestling (AEW) and The Owen Hart Foundation (OHF), a nonprofit charity which provides a vast range of assistance and opportunities to individuals in need across the world, are collaborating to honor the legacy of late wrestler Owen Hart, a beloved figure in the professional wrestling community and beyond. This collaboration includes launching the annual Owen Hart Cup Tournament within AEW, which will see the winner receive a Cup known as “The Owen,” as well as the production and distribution of unique and original Owen Hart merchandise, including specified retail goods as well as the upcoming AEW console video game.

Arriving at this point was a long journey. One filled with complicated negotiations. It was a passion project for both Tony Khan and Chris Jericho, who grew up idolizing Owen Hart. For Jericho, Owen was the person he sorted to replicate. With Jericho leading the charge of AEW and being crowned its first world champion, Owen’s memory has been interwoven into AEW.

 Khan and Jerchio finally got their wish. Striking a deal with the Owen Hart Foundation, Owen can receive the adoration he deserves. 

Who Is Owen Hart? 

To anyone outside the professional wrestling bubble, mention Owen Hart, and they remember one thing, his tragic death. This isn’t helped by the fact that he has gone unmentioned for 24 years. Owen’s name was blackballed after Martha, his wife, filed a court case against the WWE over his death. For most, Owen is, ‘that wrestler who died in the ring.’ But as many fans know, Owen was so much more than that. 

Owen was an incredible wrestler way ahead of his time. His combination of smooth mat-wrestling, punctuated by high-flying moves, is a blueprint that many current wrestlers, whether intentional or not, follow.  

Outside of the ring, Owen was a notorious prankster. His ribs were the stuff of legend. Rubbing powdered sugar under his nose to enrage the then head of talent relations, Jim Ross, smearing sardines on his fingers mid-match before locking his brother in a camel clutch. Even Owen’s father, Stu, a no-nonsense curmudgeon, wasn’t safe from his son’s prank calls. These jibes were never as malicious or some sort of hazing ritual. It was just Owen being Owen.

Among his peers, Owen was known as a loving father. He is one of the few wrestlers who put family before wrestling.  

Sadly, Owen never really got his due. He rarely had the chance to step out of Bret’s shadow. When he did, it usually involved his older brother. 

Despite not getting the main-event spot he deserved, Owen endeared himself and earned a special place in wrestlers’ and fans’ hearts, thanks to his unique style, in-ring talent, and natural charisma.

What makes this tournament so unique? 

The Owen Hart Cup offers a unique opportunity. Billed as the Wimbledon of professional wrestling, the Owen Cup is a tournament with male and female brackets. 

This dualling competition has never really been done before. Sure there have been tournaments with similar names. But these usually come after years of being exclusively for men. We saw this most recently with the Queen of the Ring tournament. 

While this may feel like a token gesture, none that is more novel than practica, this concurrent male-female tournament adds a layer of pressure for equality. There cannot be too big of a disparity in quality between the two tournaments. The dichotomy would be too strong. 

What does this mean for the AEW Women’s Division? 

The decision may seem odd. Owen was never strongly associated with women’s wrestling. Nor did he play a role in training any women. So why name an entire tournament after him? The answer lies not in his contribution to women’s wrestling but in what Owen represents. 

Owen represents wrestling excellence and pure heartedness that rarely peeks through the grimy business of professional wrestling. His name bares a wrestling pedigree and adds instant credibility. In the years after his death, Owen has come to represent wrestlers who have gone unrecognized. The winner of the Owen Hart Foundation tournament should embody all of these factors. 

There is no shortage of women matching this description. AEW’s roster is packed with women looking to break out. You have Toni Storm and Ruby Soho, who have something to prove after stepping away from WWE. You’ve got Jamie Hayder looking to break out from her mentor’s shadow and a returning Hikaru Shida who has a chance to prove she is worthy of another title run.

With more brackets to be announced, this tournament could shape into an excellent place for storylines and could go a long way in highlighting some up-and-coming talent. Whatever the results, maybe it is nice to see Owen finally getting the acknowledgment he deserves.

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