Monday, November 28, 2022

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Hikaru Shida & Pandemic Era Wrestling

The pandemic was a strange and occasionally wonderful time for wrestling. Amidst the utter turmoil caused by COVID 19, there was an inherent instability. No one was safe, not even wrestling.

Everything felt insignificant. The idea of championships and fabricated blood feuds felt trivial when we were stuck in our homes or struggling to breathe. 

However, adversity is the driver of innovation. The global pandemic gave wrestling promotions a chance to experiment, to think outside the box. We saw the rise of cinematic matches. The Stadium Stampede and Broken Matt Hardy provided levity. Britt Baker faced Big Swole in a dentist’s office. Over in WWE, we got the glorious heights of the Firefly Funhouse and Boneyard Match. It was a much goofier time for wrestling—a concerted effort to make the world a little more palatable if just for a few hours.   

While all these fun and games were going on, others had different ideas. Cody Rhodes took on all comers and traded the TNT Championship with Brodie Lee. John Moxley battled his best friend Eddie Kingston in the main event of All Out. As coronavirus’s effects waxed and waned with the seasons, AEW’s more serious storytelling returned. 

Among this list of main-event talent, one name stands out more than the rest. I’m talking about Hikaru Shida. The MVP of the pandemic era. A woman who steered the women’s division through the rockiest periods of modern history. In a constantly in flux world, where daily life felt unpredictable, Shida was an anchor that AEW relied on. 

Whole Different Ball Game 

Any wrestler worth their salt knows the roar of the crowd controls wrestling. If the crowd is silent, you hit a little harder. Dig deep into your arsenal of moves and pull out something flashy to win them over. If they are booing the face and cheering the heel, switch things up. Do something dastardly that shuts the crowd up and has them back in the palm of your hand. 

A crowd’s reaction is a tool to be manipulated. Cheers and boos, hide spots being called. Make the softest moves feel like a nuclear bomb and slip-ups less noticeable. A hot crowd can make the most mundane matches spectacular. 

Strip all that away, and you have a hostile environment. Silence is deafening. Every botch, every called spot is echoed tenfold—the margin for error even tighter. If you mess up, you bet your ass everyone is going to know about it. Yet, it was hard to think of when Shida ever looked out of her element in those empty arena days. Shida didn’t crumble under pressure. She thrived.    

Double or Nothing 

Cut to Double or Nothing. With a winning streak and momentum on her side, Shida took on her biggest challenge, the native beat Nyla Rosa. Amongst the relative silence of Daily’s Place, the two women fought a tough battle. It was a hard-hitting brawl with both women giving their all. 

They made the most of their surroundings. Rose press slammed Shiba through a craps table. Shida shot back with a running knee through a poker chip. It was everything you want from the walk-n-brawl falls out anywhere match.

The centerpiece of the match was Shida’s signature Kendo stick. It was how Nyla gained control at the start, how Shida rallied and eventually played into the finish. Shida cracked the cane across Nyla’s head, followed by a Tamashii to win and become AEW’s 3rd Women’s Champion. 

As spectacular as the match is. The pre-match promo drove home what this victory meant for Shida. In the extensive package, Shida makes her intentions clear. Being a champion in the turbulence of the pandemic was something near and dear to her. A challenge few would accept willingly. 

Pandemic Era Champion 

It’s easy to be a leader when times are good. You only have to look at the presidents of the 1920s to get a sense of the matter. Most people hit a blank on Coolidge, Harding, and Hoover because they didn’t really do anything. Popularity and stability breed complacency. It’s really easy to sit back and relax when the good times are rolling. 

When times are bad, it takes real courage and conviction to be a leader. It takes an FDR type to navigate uncertainty and fear. When the stakes are higher, mistakes are something you cannot afford. These times are scary but can also bring about radical change and propel movements forward. Shida continued to move AEW’s women’s division forward by taking up the mantle from Nyla Rose.     

After her victory, Shida became a stable of Dynamite. She held down the fort for AEW. Aside from one shakey feud with Abbadon as her title run began to wind down, Shida rarely fumbled. Her popularity continued to grow. She even helped boost the profile of Thunder Rosa when the two women faced off at All Out 2020.  

What makes Shida’s run all the more impressive is the lack of depth in the roster. It is a reputation that AEW has only just begun to shake off. During the pandemic, there was no Britt Baker. No veterans like Toni Storm or Ruby Soho you could bring in. Shida was the only big-name AEW banked on. With the weight of the entire division on her shoulders, Shida soldiered on.   

Credit Where Credits Due 

Shida didn’t just win over the fans. She also earned the praise of Doctor Britt Baker.

 Britt summed up Shida’s reign pretty elegantly in the run-up to their match at Double or Nothing. Speaking with Busted Open Radio she said. 

“Shida became champion in the midst of the pandemic when it was brutal. We didn’t have fans, and we didn’t know when we were gonna have fans or when we were gonna do TV tapings. To carry a title during that period of time is very difficult, and I’ll be honest, I don’t know a year ago if I could have done that. I think Shida was the perfect person and she’s had a very respectable and honorable…the longest title reign in AEW history. – sited at 411Mania.com

Final Thoughts 

The heights attained by Shida during the once-in-a-lifetime event of a global pandemic are something you can never match. This title run is exceptional. Not just because of the extenuating circumstances but because of the personal expectation Shida put on herself. Few people would want to carry an entire division during a difficult time. Let alone stride towards it.  

It is a dilemma that Shida has openly admitted to struggling with. The current iteration of the women’s division is a challenge. With the influx of talent, Shida finds herself in the same pond with much bigger fish.  

It also feels like Shia has yet to be thanked for her role in keeping AEW afloat during the pandemic. Granted, thanked is a troublesome, not quite fitting phrase. I think Shida would admit the last thing she would want is the women’s title as a meager peace offering. A “thank you for your service” token gesture. But, there is certainly an argument for a more effective and frequent use of Shida’s talents.      

Ultimately Shida’s legacy has already been craved out. She took a chance when no one else could or would. She rose to the occasion and is truly worthy of the Pandemic champion title. 

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