AEW changed up its look recently, and it seems that there’s also been a subtle change to the company’s philosophy for putting Dynamite and Rampage together. 2023 has so far seen fewer wrestlers get time to speak. On average, the wrestlers that have been given promo time have been the company’s better actors. Has this resulted in a better product? You tell me. I’m just here to rate the acting, baby.
What follows are acting rankings for All Elite Wrestling. I rewatched the last two weeks of AEW programming and took notes on any wrestler who spoke for longer than a few seconds. Their acting is rated here on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means “Their acting damaged every segment they were in, and it is difficult to imagine that it will ever be otherwise,” and 5 means “This wrestler could play themselves in a AAA movie without preparation.”
Eddie Kingston: 5.0
Eddie is a force of nature. The point where the man ends and the character begins is a mystery.
MJF — 4.75
Adam Cole — 4.5
Cole’s omnipresence during his last run soured some of the audience on him. Watching his return speech this week, it was difficult to imagine why that was the case. His fire is undeniable. His cockiness would make another wrestler either evil (as in MJF’s case) or unserious (as in the JAS’s), but Adam Cole carries his pride with a Your-Brother’s-Shitty-Friend energy that makes it hard to hate him. I wonder if this next run will be as a face.
Samoa Joe — 4.25
Danhausen — 4.25
Malaki Black — 4.25
AEW’s resident spookyman excels in prerecorded segments, where his ominousness and control of his instrument can sit and simmer. Wrestling writ large is every year a more globalized institution, though. Ominousness can only play so well versus wrestlers whose worlds are as big as they are, and Malaki loses something when he's exchanging words
Anthony Bowens — 4.0
Jon Moxley — 4.0
“Daddy Magic” Matt Menard — 4.0
Everything about Menard’s character is excellent. You could export it as-is to any promotion for profit.
Swerve — 4.0
Britt Baker — 4.0
Britt’s quiet seriousness is currently paper-thin, layered over a seething that may develop for months.
Austin Gunn — 4.0
One of the happy surprises of the Ass Saga has been the younger Gunn’s flowering into a despicable, believable whiner. If the last 30 years of pro wrestling are any indication, there will always be room for despicable, believable whiners.
Mike Bennet — 4.0
On January 6th’s Rampage, Darby Allin told Mike Bennet that his “past doesn’t matter.” Bennet had just given a short speech on the impossible difficulties of his life leading to this point. He didn’t respond to Darby’s jab, but there was a visible flash of indignation on his face. The man is in his character.
Chris Jericho — 3.75
Ruby Soho — 3.75
Hobbs — 3.75
Ricky Starks — 3.75
“Hangman” Adam Page — 3.75
Hangman has always had a problem pushing his just-got-done-crying serious affect through his wrestler’s cadence. Sing-song delivery works well only for the extraordinarily charismatic. Page has managed only lately to find some play here; on last Friday’s rampage, barreling down the camera, there was cohesion. He was a troubled man trying to be a charismatic one. It worked.
Leila Grey — 3.5
Tay Melo — 3.5
Through a thick accent, and given only half-sensical lines, Melo still managed to elevate the already-very-elevated street fight on Friday. Not an easy task.
Darby Allin — 3.5
Jake Hager — 3.5
A judo throw is about trying to move the most mass with the smallest exertion. The bucket hat absolutely revolutionized Jake Hager’s character, and the man is massive.
Jeff Jarret — 3.5
Bryan Danielson — 3.25
Toni Storm — 3.25
Willow — 3.0
“Cool Hand” Angelo Parker — 3.0
Saraya — 3.0
Saraya’s studied approach to character work often comes off as something like a politician’s stump speech. That is, it’s not necessarily that the emotions are manufactured, or that the claims are necessarily lies, but that the primary purpose of every word is to generate a response or a soundbite.
Max Caster — 3.0
Last month, I left open the possibility that Caster was doing subtle character work when he wasn’t speaking. I’m afraid that that wasn’t the case. Max is great when it’s his turn to talk; when it’s not, he’s visibly uncomfortable.
Jade Cargil — 3.0
Jamie Hayter — 2.75
AEW insists on having Hayter deliver promos side-by-side with Britt Baker. From a storytelling point of view, this might be the right move. But if even part of the goal is to develop Hayter’s character, it’s a miss. Jamie does her best work when she can be calm and condescending. It just so happens that Britt also excels here. Their two modes are not quite complimentary, and it seems that Britt’s energy puts Hayter slightly off-center.
Brody King — 2.75
Ortiz — 2.75
Action Andretti — 2.75
Jungle Boy — 2.5
Colten Gunn — 2.25
The older Gunn doesn’t have the same sliminess that Austin does.
Juice Robinson — 2.0
I’ll say this for Juice Robinson — his AEW promos seem to almost be there. He’s right on the cusp of believability. Alas.
Moment Most Elevated by Acting — MJF attacks celebrities , who are our friends
There’s something beautiful about wrestling when it works.
The “yell at famous local person” cheap heat segment is as old as sin, and it only works as much as the audience loves the local person. “How dare you insult the mildly successful country singer who comes from the same city as us,” we are supposed to shout. It comes off as hokey but fun in the best of cases.
MJF is a wizard, though, and the spell here works for two reasons:
His character would hate minor celebrities. MJF is brutally insecure and is always-already converting that insecurity into derision for weakness.
The selected celebrities — Ken Jeong and Freddie Prinz, Jr. — both occupy the same sort of place in pop culture. They both played important roles in well-loved but unserious movies from decades ago.
And so, when he insults them, it's both believable and easy to hate him for. Those are our failing actors.
Moment Most Deflated by Acting — Chapter 17 of the Book of Hobbs
The Book of Hobbs began promisingly, showing us depth to a character that had previously been all about action. In the early segments, Hobbs got to show off the hurt inside of him. He began to have motivation. He was vulnerable.
That vulnerability had to turn to anger at some point — this is wrestling, and ultimately Hobbs needs to wrestle somebody — but that transition has sucked all of the life out of the segments. In these last few weeks, there is no evidence in Hobbs' delivery that those early segments ever happened.
Moment Most Ill-Advised — New babyface Action Andretti performs misogyny
Action Andretti appeared out of nowhere, impressed with his in-ring ability, and then beat Chris Jericho. This is good.
Then, in a showdown that clearly wanted the audience to understand that Andretti is the face, our boy Action told Sammy Guevera that he couldn’t control his wife, and that he (Action Andretti) was having sex with her. This is bad.