Updated: Sep 10, 2021
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!
Last week, AEW Dynamite featured the Blood & Guts battle between the Inner Circle and the Pinnacle, a brutal carnival of violence that is not amenable to my style of statistical preview at all, so I decided that rather than preview some prelim match, to do a career overview column. I gave some thought to my options, and in the end decided I wanted to talk about one of my very favorite wrestlers working today: Orange Cassidy. At that time, he was not scheduled to be on Dynamite or particularly expected. The only thing noteworthy regarding OC specific to that week was that he had reached the top of the rankings for the first time.
I did not know how timely that particular retrospective would end up being, when immediately preceding the Blood and Guts match Tony Schiavone announced that the following week there would be a match to determine the #1 contender for the AEW Men's Singles World Championship between Orange Cassidy and PAC, then Kenny Omega came out and cut a promo minimizing Orange Cassidy's chances against PAC and worthiness as a contender, while OC came out to coolly stare Kenny down and ignore his provocations.
Shockingly, this was arguably not even the biggest Orange Cassidy news in the past week. Nerdcore rap legend MF DOOM who passed away late last year namedropped the Freshly Squeezed one in his first posthumous release which dropped this past Friday:
Suffice it to say, right now is a fine time to be Orange. Even the notoriously laconic Cassidy went so far as to admit that this shout out was: "So cool." But will OC's streak of good fortune come to an end on Wednesday? There's a self-proclaimed Bastard intent on ensuring it.
Orange Cassidy vs the Bastard PAC
It should be remembered that in addition to determining who will face Kenny Omega for the World Championship at the biggest show in months, this is also a return match from Cassidy's debut loss to PAC at the AEW Revolution supershow. In addition to earning their first shot at the big belt for whomever wins, Orange Cassidy would avenge his first AEW loss, or the Bastard PAC would prove his ongoing dominance while once again spoiling the crowd favorite's hopes.
As I mentioned in my retrospective last week, Orange Cassidy was effectively unscouted in his debut, PAC went into the match blind, which is a big part of why OC was so effectively elusive against him. Relative to a typical match, PAC was barely able to touch Cassidy, with numerous strikes ducked, and many crisscrosses ending with no contact. At the time, nobody knew that the Bastard had friends, and it took a surprise distraction from his brand new allies the Lucha Brothers to set PAC up to lock in his Brutalizer hold for the submission victory.
Both competitors' style, on average, is quite a bit different from this one match. In some ways their overall average is revealing, in other ways it is misleading. For Orange, this accurately represents how, as his tricks have become better scouted, he has relied less on sheer elusiveness, and more both on counters and on letting his opponents wear themselves out on offense: the classic rope-a-dope.
Pac's averages, on the contrary, represent an entirely misleading blending of two entirely different styles: PAC pre-quarantine, and post-quarantine. From March through November of 2020, PAC was left out of AEW competition due to travel restrictions on his home nation of the UK. The difference between his style before and after this break is shockingly night and day:
Shocking to me, at least, as I never would have called it without having added the functionality to look at date ranges to the SMF tool and looking. That's the big advantage of numerical analysis over impressions. PAC's demeanor hasn't changed—he's still a nasty, vicious, aggressive Bastard seeking to dominate from bell to bell. But the blend of tools he uses to accomplish those goals has fundamentally evolved. Before the pandemic, his offense was focused on painful holds and fouls, with some aerialism mixed in. Since his return he is focused on strikes and dives, and his unorthodox offense is more intimidation and mind games than actual dirty moves.
However, that still leaves a question open: all of the matches creating that distinctive "capital E" shape offense mix have been against fellow rule-benders. Orange will be the first fan favorite PAC has faced since his return. Against that type of competitor, will he return to old tricks? Or will he keep to the strategy that's been working so well for him recently?
Cassidy may not know which PAC to expect Wednesday night. And will PAC be prepared for an Orange who has grown and developed since last they met? Kenny disparaging Orange certainly seems like a sure sign that that's the pairing that they are looking to build a program on. But AEW frequently zigs when everyone expects them to zag, and I don't think anybody would complain about getting Omega vs PAC IV, as well as getting more time for the Cassidy feud to simmer.
In my mind, there's no question that this is Cassidy's shot to lose, and I don't expect him to. But with all of the unknowns—PAC's two styles, the Best Friends and el Triángulo de la Muerte on the outside, not to mention the possibility that the Super Elite could put their fingers on the scale for a preferred contender—I wouldn't put any money on how, exactly, it all plays out.