When AEW was in its embryonic stages fans were promised a more sports centric approach to pro wrestling. One of the selling points we were presented with was a weekly ranking system being put in place. Since then the rankings have seen...mixed reviews.
The arguments I hear from fans that dislike the ranking system range from "they are truly unnecessary," "they don’t always stick to them," "sometimes they seem contrived," to others they are just an afterthought. Many people say they like the weekly rankings but don’t see much utility in them.
Some of the criticism seems to stem from a misunderstanding of the concept of power rankings, others relate to the fan’s perception of their intent. I personally have liked them for what they are on face value alone. “Here are the hottest acts in our company currently.”
Let’s look at a few common issues people have taken and maybe defend AEW a little bit.
Someone not ranked #1 is challenging for a belt!?
This has happened several times in AEW’s short history. But in every one of those situations the challenge was issued and then accepted by the champion. In that scenario, ANYONE should be able to challenge for the championship. If the champ accepts, great! If not, sometimes there’s a set of challenges that lead up to it. The old trope of “beat the champion and THEN you get a title match” comes perfectly to mind here. While this isn’t ideal, this is still a-ok in my eyes. There is no issue at all with regard to rankings, the champion’s acceptance overrides it. And this system should allow the champion to just say no which can set up a storyline!
Wrestler X has just been racking up wins on AEW Dark!
Ah, Shawn Spears syndrome! This is an effective way to build a talent, but seems to have too much pull on the rankings. Spears and Scorpio Sky have a history of dominating enhancement matches on Dark and always coming up short on Dynamite. I think they need to reevaluate raw win totals vs giving more credit to beating a better opponent. Defeating someone ranked should matter WAY more than defeating M’badu on Dark. Wins and loses SHOULD matter but not all should be catered to equally.
The challengers for the TNT title make no sense!
I don’t think they’ve ever really intended to have the rankings matter towards the TNT championship. It’s been an open challenge system with Cody, Brodie Lee held the title and wasn’t about to give “indie guys” a chance, and now with Darby it’s been a totally different idea. Though I am excited after last night’s Dynamite to see what he has in store!
But they have so many matches to decided a #1 contender that rankings don’t matter!
You know what? Fair. I’ll give that to you. These matches are often decided between people that aren’t even ranked or people that are ranked lowly. This is an easy thing to fix procedurally.
What would I do to “soft reset” and repurpose the rankings?
I have eight ideas and changes ranging from minor to MAJOR shifts in their current use. In some regards I think I might be overcomplicating the matter, but I think that a big change could create a truly unique and impactful ranking system in AEW!
1. Presence in Promos
It starts with promos. #5 should be cutting a promo on #4. #5 should want to do everything in their power to move up and work towards becoming the #1 ranked competitor. That would start to give some meaning to their position.
I know commentary tries to put it over every now and again, but I really want more chatter in the rankings. Right now Miro is #5 and Cody is #4. Miro should be finding a way to get into Cody’s head and get him in the ring. That way he can beat him and move to #4!
2. Expand them!
Five spots isn’t enough. The roster is way too big for that. Everyone with a win should be ranked. That way there’s drama all the way through the rankings. Whomever is last wants to improve and do everything in their power to get away from last place. Even if they move up one measly spot out of 50+ rankings, that gives a story for the little guy. Imagine Brandon Cutler finally winning, now being ranked dead last and using that as his motivation to keep grinding out wins!
Also, having the ranking THAT much deeper can provide more context to the motivation behind matches. Competitors can be upset that they haven't been booked and some how are falling in the rankings, or that they need to prove they're just as hot as someone else on the roster, or any number of other reasons. This breeds much more competition!
3. Make them more objective
I’m an avid golfer and I love watching the PGA tour. Golf has the “Official World Golf Ranking” system that I think is brilliant. The TL;DR is that a tournament is assigned a point value based on the strength of the field of competitors. “Major” tournaments are worth 100 points while other events are typically worth 40-60. How you finish the tournament determines how many points you get. 1st gets X and each spot after gets less and less. For the rankings, not only do raw points matter, but recency matters too. After a month, the points you've earned start to be worth less and less. You need to perform well currently and consistently to be ranked highly in golf. If you're a real nerd and want to know more about these rankings go here
A system like that, though potentially convoluted, could really supercharge these rankings! Assign every spot a point value and that way there’s a quantifiable result that happens after each match.
4. In-Show Live Updates
Piggybacking off of the new objective point system, I would love it if there was a post match graphic of the rankings system and it shows the stock that has been gained or lost with the result of the match. Let's say Miro beats Cody. A graphic of the two swapping places on the rankings shows that they matter in real time and not just slapped together on a Wednesday Morning.
You can also see how much can potentially be gained and lost. Commentary can be forecasting that "If Jungle Boy wins here against Ricky Starks he moves up 5 places to #7!" That could make the match seem more competitive than it already is!
5. Create More Interesting and Fresh Matches
A more strict adherence to the rankings could actually create more open competition. More face vs face or heel vs heel matches would be amazing! In my humble opinion, making it a requirement to have one good and one bad guy in a match makes booking tired and stale. I would LOVE to see two faces put on a barn burner trying to either protect or advance their ranking and have a post match respect handshake. And who doesn't want to see matches where two heels are trying to out smart and out cheat the other?
On the flipside, this could also lead to booking themselves into a corner at times. To really make these mean something there really needs to be care given to keeping track of the math in booking decisions! I’d love to have that job…
Matches also shouldn’t be limited to facing your neighbors in the ranking. That takes the good old fashioned soap opera out of it. Big Swole can be upset that Maki Itoh is taking time that should be hers, Top Flight could accidently bump into FTR practicing some flips and dives, and we could get a match or even a series out these issues just as before. But now the wins and loses matter in a more significant way towards the rankings.
6. Earn Where You Get to Work
One potential impact that would be interesting to see is if wrestlers need to achieve a certain ranking to work on each show. Like Dark would be the unranked and people in the bottom half of the rankings. Elevation could be where the people outside of the top 10 are clawing their way up to Dynamite where the best of the best are featured.
That doesn’t mean that people can’t be on any of the either shows, there just needs to be some sort of nod as to why. “Jon Moxley wants a challenger and Nick Comoroto was the only man crazy enough.” "Ryan Nemeth was getting on Lance Archer’s nerves on Twitter," etc.
7. The Privilege of being #1
Being the #1 ranked competitor or team should be a badge of honor. It’s what everyone should want short of being the champion. The ranking should come with a reward of some sort. I think there should be a clause added to the rankings where four consecutive weeks at #1 gives you the ability to “call your shot” so to say and issue a challenge for the title when ever and where ever you want!
8. Ultimately, Less booking workarounds
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Casino whatevers that AEW puts on. They’re always great matches and I happen to think that they know how to book a battle royal incredibly well. Jumping the line should not be something that happens as often as it does in AEW because of their ranking system. If they MUST do something like this, at least have the top competitors involved. If you have a big themed episode of Dynamite next week and need a challenger for the Tag titles, maybe a fatal four way of teams 1-4 would be a way better idea than randomly drawing bingo balls or anything else like that.
Listen, we all know it’s a work. No one sees these rankings and thinks that all of a sudden AEW is some sort of shoot wrestling promotion. If that was the case Wardlow would have already destroyed everyone with his big muscles and disturbingly good looks. No man can dethrone him as champion. These are just a few ways that I think AEW can create a new era for their ranking system and have them become a featured part of the show.
Love it? Hate it? Come argue with me on Twitter @KeepUpWithKFabe!