On Wednesday, months of public discontent and years of simmering tensions with AEW Women’s Champion Thunder Rosa boiled over when she announced that she was taking time off to deal with a nagging back injury. With Toni Storm reportedly (per Fightful Select, h/t Diva Dirt) being set to win the title from her days later at All Out, speculation was naturally going to run rampant about the left field announcement, a la Shawn Michaels “losing his smile” in February 1997. (Rosa, for her part, swore on Friday’s Busted Open Radio that her nagging back injury had progressed to the point that she could barely walk.) The discourse could only escalate once Joe Lanza reported at Voices of Wrestling (h/t WhatCulture) that Rosa hid in the bathroom from Jamie Hayter after Rosa broke her nose by landing on her face during their match at Battle of the Belts III.
Throw in not just the entire back and forth over whether or not Rosa sandbagged Marina Shafir on Dynamite in June, but also Rosa embracing the “sandbagging” label with a t-shirt, and you can see how suddenly, all of the drama around her in AEW is very public. In light of everything coming to a head, I spoke to eight different sources, the bulk of whom are women who have worked with her in AEW, to try to get to the bottom of what the hell is actually going on.
At least when it comes to the story of what happened after Hayter’s nose was broken on a sloppy landing by Rosa taking a brainbuster, two different sources in AEW confirmed the substance of it, but with some caveats. (For what it’s worth, Joe Lanza confirmed to me that our sources did not overlap.) “Hiding in the bathroom” may have been more of a figure of speech, but both sources confirmed that Rosa was nowhere to be found after the match, with one noting that the champion “sprinted” from the ring. The same source, however, added that when Rosa eventually emerged, she was explicitly told about the injury and did try to apologize, only to lock herself in the bathroom subsequently, which may have led to the two stories being conflated.
(Reached on the Thunder Rosa Twitter account, her representative, Tony Allen, declined to comment for any story about backstage issues.)
Whether or not Rosa’s perceived bad habits are intentional or not is an issue that I’ve heard both sides of, even from her detractors. One AEW opponent said that the champion is simply badly trained and never improved her fundamentals, but also felt that some incidents could not have been accidental. (One source, who worked in a behind-the-scenes capacity with Rosa in Lucha Underground early in her career, disagreed with the assessment about Rosa’s training and skills, though. saying that “nobody can say she doesn’t have fundamentals.”) The same AEW opponent also felt there was a pattern where, when Rosa messes up a spot and the match goes south, it’s usually in a way that undermines her opponent. In particular, she felt that Rosa had a hesitance to bump and/or feed for her opponents’ offense.
When it comes to Thunder Rosa’s reputation for regularly hurting opponents with her strikes, which one source noted went back at least as far as her Ring of Honor stint that ended in 2019, there’s a similar lack of consensus.
Two different women who have wrestled Rosa in AEW took issue with her low dropkick to a seated opponent, which is theoretically supposed to be a fairly standard kick to the chest. Both used very similar verbiage to describe taking the kick, to the effect that they were worried that Rosa had “broken my face.” A third AEW opponent, who spoke of only having positive interactions with Rosa, defended the spot. “It’s a stiff move,” she said. “Some shit is just stiff.” The two women who told me about being hurt by the low dropkick also took issue with the Fightful Select report (h/t Cultaholic) that cited Rosa “working stiff” as being a source of heat, feeling that there was a clear distinction between laying shots in and hurting your opponent/dance partner with them.
“She’ll just beat the fuck out of people,” said one of the aforementioned opponents. “Her strikes are killing you.”
The third opponent who defended her, though, added that whenever she had taken issue with a strike from Rosa, the issue was immediately addressed to her satisfaction in the ring. “She definitely has a tendency to be snug, but I’ve never felt like it was reckless or ‘too much,'” she said. “And anytime it has been [reckless or ‘too much’], I’ve straight up said ‘What the fuck?!’ and she apologized, and we moved on.”
Thunder Rosa’s attitude towards other talent surrounding some of the negative interactions, including non-contract wrestlers doing extra work on AEW Dark and AEW Dark Elevation, was another issue that was cited. One extra recalled Rosa berating her, specifically accusing her of being poorly trained for no particular reason, after they had finished their match. An AEW-contracted wrestler, meanwhile, remembered Rosa yelling at another extra so loudly that she could hear it from down the hall and felt the need to see what the commotion was. The latter wrestler found the content of the speech to be particularly hypocritical, as well, as she recalled Rosa berating the extra for forgetting all of their spots despite having her own long history of the same issue..
The same contract wrestler added that Rosa has a tendency to come off as aloof, even in interactions she intended as being more positive, like talking down to veterans with seniority on her about how she can help them. I did speak to two extras, though, who spoke of entirely positive experiences with Rosa when they were squashed by her on AEW’s YouTube shows. “I’ve never once felt as if she’s taken any liberties,” said one. “She’s always been very nice to me,” added the other. “When I was backstage at AEW she was actually one of the few that sat down with me and a couple of my friends to just chat about the business. Nothing but positive interactions with her.”
All in all, it doesn’t seem like there’s much middle ground when it comes to working with Thunder Rosa: Either she’s the kindly mother hen who’s trying to make a better place for other women in the wrestling business or she’s a raging malcontent injuring opponents left and right. There’s fuzziness around whether or not the more egregious issues can be chalked up to malevolent intent, incompetence, or a combination of the two, and there are decent arguments for all of them. If nothing else, Thunder Rosa freely admits that she has a proverbial chip on her shoulder, one that’s seemingly a factor in the bulk of the negative interactions that she’s had with other wrestlers. And if she’s serious about that not changing whenever she returns from her back injury, then it feels unlikely that the heat on her will cool off any time soon.