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!
For the past few weeks, AEW Dynamite has been focused on every type of match-- trios matches, tag matches, debut matches, falls-count-anywhere-- except for the type of matches that I have statistical tools to analyze: standard-rules, one-on-one matches between competitors with a significant AEW singles record. This coming Wednesday, that changes in a BIG way, with five big singles matches already scheduled, four of them meeting the other requirements for analysis, and the two championship matches promising to be the most revealing matches in months, in terms of learning the hidden true tiers of AEW competition.
On the next episode of Dynamite, two championships are being defended in wrestling classics-- that is to say, both are being contended between competitors who hold each other in mutual respect and can be expected to compete in a fair test of skill. And each champion is facing a challenger more like themselves than anyone they've faced before, not only in being fan favorites, but also in offensive strategies, a situation that consistently leads to unpredictable results. Also, in both cases. the challenger looks very much the underdog if one looks at wins and losses in their whole AEW singles career. But looking at trends over time, both challengers have been improving to the point that a strong case could be made that the match-ups are in fact even, and that the outcomes cannot be predicted based on past performance.
AEW World Championship: Hikaru Shida (C) v Tay Conti
Tay Conti has been engaged in a heroic struggle to overcome the overwhelming power of her nemesis, the Native Beast Nyla Rose, and climb to the top of her division. Over the past few weeks, she has finally earned a pinfall over Rose, the respect of World Champ Hikaru Shida, and now on Wednesday a shot at her new friend's title. Just based on wins and losses, Conti is the clear underdog, facing a champion whose record is blemish-free going back well over a year. But each time Conti has lost, it has seemed clear that she has learned from her mistakes and come back from losses even harder to beat. Will it be enough? Let's see what we can discover from their offensive stats:
Conti and Shida are extremely similar in style and strategy, especially when it comes to forcing or allowing offense. Most fan favorites have a reactive offensive strategy where they hang back and let their opponents bring the majority of offense and wait for the right moment to make a comeback. Conti and Shida are the exceptions, both going straight to the attack and doing their best to give their opponents no opening for offense at all. The offense they do take is what they are unable to avoid. For evidence of this, take a look at their offense against lower-tier competitors:
Unless they are up against someone with the skill or power to forcibly interrupt their flow, both Tay and Hikaru have the style where they take control and keep control of all offense from bell to bell. Naturally they won't be able to do this against one another. Which will handle this better? The numbers are on Shida's side. She has successfully turned aside over half a dozen challengers in her reign as world champion, while Tay has suffered defeats from both Nyla Rose and Serena Deeb. But Conti has been pushed by each loss to up her game. There is no question that Shida has been historically the higher level competitor of the two. But whether that continues to be true is a genuine point of uncertainty that the match on Wednesday will settle.
TNT Championship Match: Darby Allin (C) vs Jungle Boy
Tay Conti's challenge was officially announced during Dynamite on Wednesday, but it's a confrontation that's seemed nigh inevitable for weeks now. Contrariwise, Jungle Boy's challenge for the TNT title came completely out of the blue. Not only was it announced only a few days ago, but Jungle Boy was not really on anybody's radar as a TNT challenger. After all, he was #3 in the Men's Singles rankings (AND #2 in Tags!) and nobody ranked that high has ever challenged the TNT Champion before now. Keep in mind: win or lose, Luke Perry's baby boy is now OUT of the World Title conversation for the near future!
So let's take a look at these two young competitors' stats:
With the exception of Jungle Boy using more frequent strikes, their offense is startlingly similar to one another. In fact, I'd say more similar than anyone either of them has ever faced before!
But the biggest difference between Jungle Boy and Allin is something that can't be seen just looking at averages. Both Allin and Perry have been on the receiving end of more punishment than they have dished out, on average. But Jungle Boy has never dominated the offense in any individual match, either. The most he has done is break even:
And that's against a competitor who is even smaller than himself and, while undeniably talented, holds a decidedly underwhelming singles record.
Meanwhile, you may remember from the last installment of SMF, that while Darby Allin often lets his opponents wear out their muscles on beating him up, roping a dope is not the only strategy in his playbook. When the situation calls for it, he has proven quite capable of putting on a dominating performance from bell to bell, as seen below in a rout over Ricky Starks:
So unless we are about to see a VERY different side to Jungle Boy than we have ever seen before, Wednesday night's TNT title defense is looking likely to favor Allin getting the majority of the offense. Can the kid from Hollywood (by way of the "Jungle") take more punishment than the street punk can dish out? Can he out-relentless the relentless one? It seems unlikely, but that looks like what it will take to force Allin to relinquish his treasured Pretty Platinum.