The long-awaited debut of All Elite Wrestling’s weekly TV show, “Dynamite,” finally arrived on Wednesday night, delivering an outstanding display of the variety pro-wrestling programming can offer. The AEW’s much discussed mission of inclusion was on full display with Nyla Rose becoming the first trans woman wrestler to compete for a major promotion’s women’s world championship. But the show’s end introduced an element that threatens much of the good garnered by hiring Rose and gay wrestler Sonny Kiss.
Things got off to a rocky start when AEW commentator Jim Ross misgendered Rose during her entrance, but he made sure to not make that mistake again during the match.
Rose competed in the semi-main event, facing off against Japanese sensation Riho. The match was a much thrilling take on the David vs. Goliath wrestling trope, with Riho using her speed, agility and charm to combat the powerhouse Rose.
The Native Beast still showcased her own aerial ability, though, as two of the better moments came when Rose took to the sky. It’s just unfortunate that her devastating flying knee was relegated to the picture-in-picture feed during a commercial break.
Kenny Omega’s other famous Japanese tag-team partner, Riho, ended up winning the match after two consecutive running knees, becoming AEW’s first-ever women’s world champion.
But there was still plenty for Rose to feel good about despite taking the L. Her and Riho’s performance won over a crowd that, while definitely voicing their support for women’s wrestling as a whole, hadn’t truly gotten behind what AEW’s women’s division has offered at previous events. Rose specifically put forth her best in-ring work to date, riling up the sold-out crowd in her hometown of Washington, D.C. to the point that some were jumping up and down by match’s end. That excitement exploded even further when she took out her frustrations on male wrestler Michael Nakazawa during the post-match scramble before teasing a possible future inter-gender clash with Omega himself.
For all the positives that came out of the match, it’s hard to not feel that AEW missed the boat somewhat by not crowning Rose the inaugural women’s world champion. Much of the narrative surrounding the founding of AEW is its inclusive message, and the presence of a proud trans wrestler on the roster brought the promotion attention from new and lapsed LGBTQ fans alike. Putting the title on Rose would’ve only increased that penetration into the growing market, generating more financial and goodwill opportunities for the young company.
That being said, the story told by Riho’s victory made complete sense, and nothing should be taken away from the match simply because Rose didn’t win. Though company missed a chance to make history yet again, Riho’s win also built Rose as a force poised to eventually reign atop the division later down the line.
What was more troubling was the debut of one Jake Hager during the close of the show. Hager, who currently fights in MMA for Bellator, is the former Jack Swagger, a former WWE wrestler who once held the company’s world heavyweight championship. But his WWE tenure is most remembered for the xenophobic turn his character took during a program with Mexican wrestler Alberto Del Rio in 2013.
Alongside manager Zeb Colter, Hager derided Del Rio’s Mexican heritage amid in-character racist diatribes. Hager even took the seminal American motto “We The People” as his catchphrase.
The change in character both brought Hager to the highest spot in his WWE tenure and caused such a backlash that the two had to break character at one point to state that they weren’t actually bigots. But, like the old wrestling adage goes, it seems that there was a kernel of truth to Hager’s character that he amplified into his “Don’t Tread On Me” persona.
In an August 2019 interview with Wrestling Inc., Hager tacitly confirmed that the politics of his Real American character line up somewhat with his own personal feelings when asked if he thought the character influenced Donald Trump’s rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“There’s definitely some similarities in the rhetoric and terms. But I don’t think we had anything to do with it… That was 2013 [at WrestleMania 29] and [Trump] definitely pulled Zeb aside and told him he liked it. I’m sure it was already brewing because you could see the problems in the country,” Hager said.
The bad takes didn’t end there as he also tacitly endorsed transphobia by liking a transphobic tweet from neo-conservative pundit Candace Owens just four days before his Dynamite debut.
Hager shouldn’t be cast aside simply for identifying as a conservative, But it’s a whole other issue when those beliefs tread into support for transphobic and racist arguments. Especially when he shares a workplace with an out trans wrestler and is positioned in a faction alongside two proud Puerto Rican wrestlers like Sanatna and Ortiz who made their feelings on inclusion known just last weekend.
Maybe working alongside these people will provide a teachable moment for Hager, but his recent actions can’t help but cast a shadow on AEW’s overarching message.