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Last week, Leyla Hirsch claimed that she was going to throw Jade Cargill all over the ring. I said that if she followed through on that, (didn't concede grapples to a larger opponent, like she had done when facing Nyla Rose,) she would have the edge. She did not:
Leyla's use of throws, suplexes, and slams basically disappeared in this match, unfortunately, and I would say that it hurt the story of a David going toe to toe with a Goliath. I was expecting Leyla to take Jade to deeper water than she'd ever been. And while this went beyond Jade's usual 60-90 second specials, it wasn't any tougher a challenge than Red Velvet or KiLynn King had been.
AEW Grand Slam at Arthur Ashe Stadium is the biggest event AEW has held in their brief history of existence, (edging out First Dance at the United Center,) and the card is commensurately massive. At the very top of that amazing card is a dream match of dream matches: Kenny Omega vs. Bryan Danielson!
Non-Title Bragging Rights Match: The American Dragon, Bryan Danielson vs. AEW World Champion Kenny Omega
Much like at the recent All Out show, the most anticipated match for Grand Slam is an AEW debut match, which we would normally consider outside of our purview here at Styles Make Fights, because we don't yet have data on one of the competitors. However, like with CM Punk's debut, this is too big to ignore! We will do our best to preview based just on the one opponent we have data on: Kenny Omega. We don't know quite what to expect from the American Dragon on Wednesday night in terms of offense, but we can be reasonably confident that his current net wins of 0 doesn't represent his inherent value. Below is a comparison of Kenny's offense mix in matches against lower-threat competitors with a net win record under 5 versus his offense against star talent with a net win record at the time greater than 5:
Typical things that you notice: against stronger competition, Kenny uses less grapple moves and more fouls. More counter-intuitive things: Omega has a higher strikedown rate and uses less volume strikes against opponents with better win records, as well as using more submissions and less counters.
Are these odd results due to a change over time since aligning with Callis that only appears to be associated with stronger competition because he's faced tougher competition since winning the title? Below is Omega's mix of offense on average before and since winning the title:
We find that most of the differences, surprising or not, can be explained by Omega's change in attitude since gaining the World Championship. The one exception is the much lower use of grapples on average. It turns out that that difference comes down to a wariness against using them specifically against Christian Cage.
In both Kenny's loss to Christian over the Impact World Title and Omega's successful defense of the AEW World Title against Cage, he seemed extraordinarily loath to try grapples. My theory is that he was concerned about being countered into the Kill Switch.
Against Danielson, with his very different move-set, I wouldn't be surprised if it's submissions, instead, that Kenny shies away from.
CM Punk's 2nd Match Back vs the Powerhouse, Will Hobbs
CM Punk made his triumphant return to pro wrestling against Darby Allin at All Out. His second match could hardly be more different. Where he fought Darby Allin in the Chicago where he is a deeply beloved hometown hero, he'll fight Hobbs in New York City, home of the reviled Yankees. Allin's weapon was speed and he gave up size to Punk. while Hobbs's weapon is power, and Punk gives up size to him. Most importantly. Punk vs. Allin was about as pure a respect match as you get, while the run-up to this match has been marred by blatant disrespect and sneak attacks on the recently returned great.
In spite of all of the glaring distinctions between the two matches, Punk's AEW debut is the only match we have to go on to get any preview of his offense style. Will his offense prove extremely consistent, (with a heavy focus on submission holds, with some counters and mind games thrown in,) in spite of the distinct difference in opponent? Or will Hobbs's high-volume mix of knock-downs, fouls, and throws bring out something completely new from the straight-edge legend?
Like Danielson, Punk doesn't have a stratospheric net win-loss stat yet, but he seems quite clearly destined to get there in time. A comparison of how Hobbs fights in match-ups with the most elite opponents with net records greater than five with his mix against regular mortal foes might be revealing of what to expect from him on Friday night. Unlike for Omega, this comparison does not bring out anything terribly surprising:
Hobbs gets nearly as many knockdowns against top opponents, but it takes a great deal more striking volume to achieve that. The use of fouls and aerial offense hardly changes. Both grapples and taunts go down, but not by a lot. But technical wrestling completely reverses, with submissions being the weapon of choice against regular opponents, while counters take that place against topflight opponents.
Ruby Soho Challenges Dr. Britt Baker for AEW World Championship
Ruby Soho has something in common with CM Punk, besides a love for punk rock and tattoos: both competitors go into their match at Arthur Ashe with only one AEW match under their belt. In her victory over Baker's formidable heater, Jamie Hayter, Soho took about as much offense as dominant Doctor Baker generally dishes out, and vice versa, and yet she came out on top. This definitely bodes well for her chances on Wednesday. There is likely to be more to learn about Soho's mix of offense as we see more of her in an AEW ring, but it seems likely that the extreme preference for volume striking will remain consistent. But will it make her the new World Champion?
Cody Rhodes vs. Malakai Black
Between the betrayals of QT Marshall and his Factory, and more recently the Gunn Club, and Malakai Black completely destroying every loyal member, the Nightmare Family is utterly decimated and Cody Rhodes is all alone in his vendetta to get some measure of revenge on Black. Here are Cody and Malakai's stat blocks showing their average offense:
The one thing they have in common is technical wrestling—a big part of their bag of tricks for both men. Whereas Malakai's two other big strengths—striking and unorthodox offense—are the two categories Cody resorts to the least.
But if you look at the prior match when the two fought each other, Cody's stat block tells a very different story:
The Cody Rhodes on that night barely got out of the blocks, and mainly tried to duck or block Malakai's blows. But, as JR often points out: beating a man a second time in a row can be the most difficult thing, since he knows he needs to change his strategy, and you don't know what sort of change that will be. Of the handful of opponents in AEW who have defeated Cody, nobody has managed to do it twice. Although, in fairness, only Brodie Lee has attempted it, and nobody has before attempted it in two standard-rules singles matches back to back.
On the other hand, Cody Rhodes had never before been so bereft of backup and of his usual support system. It remains to be seen how this will effect how he competes. Cody will most likely attempt to draw Malakai into a mat-based contest of holds and counterholds, whereas Malakai would be better served by a stand-up fight. Cody's best bet would be to sting his pride to lure him into a contest that better suits Cody's strengths.
Regardless of the outcome of any of these matches, I am massively psyched for this Brobdingnagian show! As always, I am starved of feedback on this series, and would greatly welcome any comment, question, or alternative view. Please feel welcome to reach out to me @SergeiAlderman on Twitter.