An Idea to Elevate

It should go without saying that, more than most, I pay attention to the Official AEW Rankings. While there are many valid criticisms about this promotional tool, this article isn’t about that; instead, it is to put forth what my literal mind told me what, upon the debut of AEW Dark: Elevation in March 2021, I thought this program might be centred around and, with a few adjustments, it could still be so. Before getting to that, to be clear, I mean “literal” in the sense of a dictionary definition as the word “elevation” struck me; its root word, elevate, is defined as “raise or lift (something) up to a higher position”. In general wrestling terms, I expect many fans relate this to seeing a wrestler attempt to move up the card (ie. moving up from the Midcard to being featured in an event’s Opener and, eventually, the Main Event). In AEW specifically, I was under the impression that the added prospect of climbing the Official Rankings seemed like a journey many wrestlers would routinely take on their way to title matches. Early on, this appeared to be the case, with the release of the first three Top 5 listings (Men’s Singles, Women’s Singles and Men’s Tag) initially presented to the fanbase the day before Full Gear (2019), the first Pay Per View following the debut of Dynamite, the weekly flagship. The first top-ranked Men’s Singles wrestler: Cody.

This, of course, made sense. Cody had already been named as Chris Jericho’s opponent for the World Championship match, so he was the nominal number one contender, a term inconsistently used interchangeably with number one ranking in the first four months Dynamite but only sparingly employed since. An added wrinkle, and what even ardent fans may forget is that within the commentary and promos around this time, and particularly in the very first match on the very first Dynamite (Cody vs Sammy Guevara) Cody was, for all practical terms, defending his place in the championship match. Of course, Cody won, then lost to Jericho and has continually vowed not to uphold his self-imposed stipulation of not challenging for the top title again.

More than two years later, it is what did not take place on October 2, 2019 that has stayed with me and is the root of my idea for AEW Dark: Elevation; simply put, make it about elevating by making it about the rankings, at least nominally. I suggest that just before the Main Event, insert a 30-second recap of the most up-to-date Rankings for the fans who haven’t already seen it. Then, in the final match of the program, a ranked competitor takes on an unranked competitor. Most weeks, the ranked wrestler should win but every so often, maybe once per month or six weeks, have the challenger go over. The reward: a place in the Top 5. The good news is that AEW is already doing this with the frequency I thought would be ideal before I even checked how often this should play out in reality. See below:

We’ve had 26 full months of weekly AEW programming and there have been 26 instances (4 Men’s Singles, 9 Women’s Singles, 13 Men’s Tag) of unranked wrestlers defeating ranked wrestlers in direct – meaning 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 - competition. Put another way, I’ve eliminated all multiway matches. I’ve also purposely removed a column I simply call ‘Notes’ as it provides unique identifying details about the match because, without this information, very few of these matches feel overly memorable. However, with no reason to hold back any further, I’ll simply mention that MJF’s win resulted in his first year of wearing the Dynamite Diamond Ring, a central part of his character. In turn, Archer’s win was also in a Qualifying Match for the Face of the Revolution Ladder Match at Double or Nothing (2021). Page’s loss (his only 1-on-1 of the year by the way) to Cage was avenged at the same event in one of the many detours on his way to the World Championship. Punk’s win, and despite a perfect 8-0 record, still hasn’t seen him enter the Top 5; in retrospect, Hobbs was built up to be torn down.

I genuinely wish I could say the women’s matches had similar caché but aside from a few Women’s Eliminator Tournament matches, there’s no additional details to provide. It’s even bleaker for the Men’s Tag division as only the most recent entry above, Darby Allin & Sting vs Billy Gunn & Colten Gunn, billed as “The Battle of the Two Undefeated Teams” offer further look. On this note, the face-painted duo have defeated three ranked teams en route to a perfect 5-0 record in 2021 (and also won in their Trios debut this week). If this won’t get you into the Top 5, what will? In closing, if AEW wants more to be serious about rankings, then they need to get just a little more serious. By centring AEW Dark: Elevation around the rankings, and having ranked wrestlers take on unranked wrestlers looking to break through, then show can live up to its name. Literally. Anyone with questions or comments is encouraged to respond here or on Twitter @AEWmetrics.

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