Updated: Sep 10
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Last week a lot of awesome matches went down, which I discussed on Sunday with Dan, Jacob, and Griff on the regular prowrestlingmusings podcast. But there was no SMF column and it's not (only) because I got lazy. Reminder that the SMF Dashboard is based on data from all AEW standard-rules singles matches from Dynamite, Elevation, and PPV since the beginning of 2020. So it would not be valid to apply to a multi-competitor match or a no-rules match. And it would have no data to analyze on debuting competitors such as Gage or Hikulea.
Now the week before that, I previewed the AEW World Championship challenge of Dr. Britt Baker by Nyla Rose. I noted that, unlike similar competitors who had defeated Nyla in the past, such as Hikaru Shida, in her prior loss to Nyla, Britt had not been able to suppress Nyla's offense, and that with the confidence and momentum as now world champion, she would likely be more successful. However:
Although Dr. Baker did get the lion's share of the offense, she didn't prevent her beastly challenger from getting out of the blocks at all, as was key to Nyla's defeats previously. The key to Baker's victory was instead the endurance and determination to kick out of the clincher that had never failed to finish a match for Rose before this: her deadly Beast Bomb.
There are a few standard-rules singles matches this Wednesday, but in the highest profile one, one of the competitors is making his AEW debut. Analyzing the offense mix and strategy of Malakai Black will have to wait on data.
NWA World Championship #1 Contender Match:
Leyla Hirsch vs The Bunny
However, there are still significant and intriguing match-ups to cover. Particularly of interest to me is the contest to determine the challenger for the NWA World Champion, Kamille at the historic all-women PPV, NWA EmPowerrr. Neither participant is exactly a top star in AEW's stacked but sadly underutilized Women's division. But there are nonetheless reasons to take an interest in this match beyond the title and cross-promotional implications.
Below, you can see the averages for offense mix and strategy of the two contenders across all of their matches:
However, we should always question and interrogate our averages. If the underlying data has patterns in it, it's often more revealing to split the data into groups before averaging. For example, Hirsch's offense seems to be divided up pretty evenly among all types. But if you look at individual matches this varied quite a bit. With some analysis a pattern may be discovered: against competitive opponents, she uses more strikes and aerial moves. Against enhancement talent, she de-emphasizes strikes a little, and flying a lot, and relies much more on throws and suplexes.
The interesting thing, to me, about "Legit" Leyla Hirsch is that even though she uses every type of offense, (except for fouls,) this does not prevent her from having a very distinct style. Even though she does a little bit of everything, everything she does, she does in a crisp and technical manner. Technical wrestling is normally associated with holds, counters, and suplexes, since those are the sort of moves you might use in an amateur bout. But even though you'd never do a plancha in the NCAA, when Hirsch hurls herself through the ropes it still seems technical—a Danielson-esque plancha.
The Bunny, on the other hand, has a very simple but effective mix of offense, focusing almost exclusively on strikes, fouls, and intimidation, with a few pain holds mixed in. Based on their win records, you might easily come to the conclusion that Hirsch is a cinch simply for being above Bunny's tier, but that fails to look at the full picture of what types of matches each competitor takes on. (Keep in mind that the win records on the dashboard only the matches we have offense stats on. The full 2021 AEW singles win record for the two, taken from the All Elite roster page, is: Bunny 5-3, Leyla 13-4.)
The reason that is misleading is that Hirsch has been working with a lot of enhancement talent, while Bunny has been (not very successfully) gatekeeping for rising stars of the division, such as Tay Conti and Red Velvet—and now Leyla Hirsch. In her last ten matches, Leyla has only lost one, to Nyla Rose. But, other than Nyla, none of those other nine competitors have a single AEW win among them. Can Leyla prove herself against someone on a somewhat higher tier than that? I expect so: in my considered opinion Hirsch is ready for that graduation—to beat someone who is NOT winless. Which will then put her in the way of an opportunity to challenge to bring home gold to AEW from an outside promotion, like Omega and Deeb have done before her.
TNT Champion Miro vs. Challenger Lee Johnson
Another match worth looking at is the TNT championship match. Lee Johnson is a highly-touted protege of Cody Rhodes, but he seems well out of his league against the merciless TNT Champion. Below is the average of their offense across all of their matches.
Miro is the exemplar of a terrifying beast of a competitor: dominating offense with strikes and intimidation, as well as stretches and throws. Lee Johnson's averages are not very revealing without breaking it down further.
In the opening bouts of Lee Johnson's run since joining AEW, he took on matches where he was hopelessly outmatched, against guys like Brody Lee, Wardlow, and Brian Cage. He was not able to land a single offensive move in any of these matches. In 2021, he finally was able to get a little more competitive, putting up a fight against competitive workers, and dominating enhancement talent, even pulling off a win against somebody not entirely winless in Luther. In these matches on average the biggest proportion of his offense is throws, followed by strikes, followed by aerial maneuvers. But that average is made up mostly of squash matches against local enhancement. In his matches against tougher competitors, there is no such consistency, with Johnson flailing for a strategy that might work, as seen below in his losing efforts against Jungle Boy and Ethan Page:
So, I don't think it's predictable what mix of offence he will attempt against Miro. I am reasonably confident that he will put up more of a fight than he did against the monsters he was decimated by back in 2020. But I think it is predictable that whatever he attempts will not be terribly effective against the self-assured ruthlessness embodied by our TNT Champ.