Out of the hours upon hours of pro wrestling available for ingestion in the past week, including major events from IMPACT Wrestling and WWE, one 26 second period stuck in my mind.
Wednesday’s edition of AEW Dynamite featured the surprise addition of out wrestler Sonny Kiss to the company world championship contendership tournament. Kiss’ insertion in the tournament came after the originally scheduled Joey Janela was pulled due to potential Covid exposure, but that didn’t diminish what the opportunity represented for Kiss.
Kiss’ star has been on the rise after stellar in-ring showings with top AEW talents Cody and Chris Jericho over the summer, significantly raising her profile among the AEW audience. Wednesday’s development, setting Kiss across the ring from arguably one of the best wrestlers in the world in Kenny Omega, struck many as the next step in her elevation.
26 seconds later, Kiss fell to Omega. The tournament itself is constructed to lead toward an expected Omega v. Adam Page final, necessitating a first-round loss for Kiss. But it wasn’t the loss itself that made the moment stick in so many heads. It’s how Kiss lost.
Pro wrestling traditionally uses formidable showings in losing efforts as an effective tool for infusing a rising star with credibility. That is what many believed the Kiss/Omega matchup represented, especially after utilizing the same tactic in Kiss’ matches with Cody and Jericho. Instead, the match was one-seventh the length of Omega’s heatseeking new entrance and squashed any expectations.
Everyone loses matches in wrestling. It’s possible that a seconds-long Omega win was also the plan had Janela been able to compete. But there is extra power in how those losses occur. While I’m almost certain AEW’s explicit goal wasn’t to generate ire among LGBTQ audiences, part of making something that still harbors pockets of prejudice against marginalized groups “for everyone” is understanding the context its decisions carry.
Kiss likely won’t be hurt in the eyes of many, but it remains a key frustration seeing the only out BIPOC voice that regularly competes in AEW’s “men’s” division being diminished to such an extent. A competitive match between the two or placing another member of the roster in that spot would’ve rendered the same result without undercutting the company’s message of inclusion. Omega’s quick victory was meant to establish his superior skill, but using someone that gives a voice to so many marginalized populations to accomplish that goal comes across as shortsighted.
26 seconds isn’t going to cut it.