If this is your first SMF, please read the "Styles Make Fights" introductory post, to be sure you understand our premise, then come right back and join us!
After weeks of gripping single-elimination action, it all comes down to tomorrow night, with tournament winner Ryo Mizunami facing champion Hikaru Shida for the AEW World Championship, in --in my opinion-- the most anticipated match-up of a stacked quarterly super-card.
How monumental this match is absolutely can not be overstated. They've made a big deal of how Shida has held and regularly defended her Championship for almost a year. But she was an indomitable force in her division long before that. She has competed in dozens of singles matches against anyone the AEW Women's division had to throw at her since returning to AEW from Japan in October of 2019, and in all of those matches has only been pinned once one-on-one, by Kris Statlander way back in December, 2019.
But her challenger hasn't been here for all of that. While Shida has been dominating AEW in the US, Ryo Mizunami, a true freelancer, has been equally dominant in several promotions in Japan. And her dominance of this tournament is the most impressive of all, defeating a legitimate contender to win the whole thing to advance in every round of the Japanese bracket until triumphing over Nyla Rose, who had done the same on the American side of the bracket.
In the past five years, Shida and Mizunami have met in many matches, but only three singles contests, and none of those ended decisively. The first two were draws due to no winner before a 15 minute time limit expired, while their most recent meeting ended when they battered one another so severely that neither wrestler could return to her feet before the referee's ten count.
Here is a hype video of the two of them talking about the history between them and about their upcoming confrontation:
But enough generalities, let's get down to the brass tacks of analysis, and take a look at each competitor's stats:
As you can see, Shida and Mizunami have a very similar mix of offense types. They both focus on strikes ahead of anything, they both put mindgames second, although it is a close second for Mizunami, while their use of any other type of offense is moderate.
However, their approach to offensive strategy is totally different. Mizunami has a high production, dominating approach, overwhelming her opponent with offense and allowing little in return. Whereas, Shida takes her time and picks her shots.
The real question is, how will they adjust their strategies when meeting each other with the highest of stakes, neither of them having been able to defeat the other in their past encounters?
Of the two, Shida is the more strategically flexible. When facing such a formidable challenge, will she shift to a more aggressive fight? Or slow down even further? To help us to assess the likelihood of each approach, lets look at past opponents to see when she has faced a similar strategy in the past.
In the past year and a half, the most similar challengers Shida has faced one-on-one are Thunder Rosa and Big Swole. As you can see above, like Mizunami, both focus on overwhelming their opponent with high offensive production.
However, Shida's reaction to each was entirely different. Below see the respective offensive mix for Shida and Swole when they faced each other:
In this case, Shida amped up her own production to challenge Swole's strategy head on. Swole was unable to keep up and ended up falling victim to her own game plan.
On the flipside, when Shida faced Thunder Rosa, she took the complete opposite approach. Faced with Rosa's fearsome offensive output, Shida slowed down even more than usual, weathered the storm, and waited for and seized her moment.
So, which approach will Shida take with Mizunami? Pride may lead her to attempt the Blitzkrieg approach. Conservatism may cause her to lean towards the rope-a-dope. But there is one other variable we don't yet know: time. Of their last three meetings, two went to the expiration of time. Considering that AEW decision makers despise an inconclusive finish, will they declare no time limit for this important match? Or take other steps to ensure a decision, such as a panel of judges? They haven't dug that old chestnut out since Cody vs. Jericho! Whatever steps they take, or choose not to take, will play into the competitors strategy.
And even if it is a normal time limit match, will the competitors even be willing to play for a draw? Hikaru would retain, but what of her pride? Meanwhile, Ryo has only said that Shida can not beat her, not vice versa, but would she be satisfied with proving it true, while going home to Japan empty handed?
These are the considerations that will inform each competitor's strategy. Tomorrow night we will see the highest level performers in the sovereign of sports battle for the most prestigious prize in a standard-rules professional wrestling match. Their strategic decisions and choices and mental counters will influence the outcome just as much as their grappling skill or fighting spirit; that's why they call it human chess. If you're not stoked yet, get stoked.