What It’s All About
We hear it all the time from the commentary desk: “Styles Make Fights.” But what does that mean in practice?
Welcome to Week 3 of SMF, where we will be exploring that idea by using my SMF Interactive Dashboard to preview a fight scheduled for the following night's AEW show.
For more details on how this interactive tool works, please take a glance at the "Styles Make Fights" introductory post!
I want to emphasize: please feel free to play around with the interactive dashboard, it’s really neat!
Thunder Rosa vs. Dr. Britt Baker, DMD
Last week I said that the dentist, with her proven ability to take loads of punishment and come back and win would prove a particular challenge for Rosa’s full-speed offense style, and I was proven right about that. However, I did not expect either woman to change up their (mostly rather balanced) offensive mix when facing each other. That was a miss on my part; let me show you why! Below is each woman’s offensive mix against all competitors on average:
Looking at that, all I saw was “high output-- balanced with the exception of Baker’s reluctance to leave her feet.” What I missed was how even the slight difference in proportion between striking and power wrestling would matter when facing each other. Yes, Baker punches almost as often as she throws, and Rosa throws about as often as Baker does. However, Rosa is a feared striking specialist, and under the principle of “box a fighter, fight a boxer,” Baker greatly de-emphasized her strikes when facing her, and in response, Rosa focused on striking and de-emphasized her power game, as seen below:
Lesson learned! On to this week's fight!
TNT Champion Darby Allin vs Joey Janela
This week we have a title challenger, hand picked by the champion, who hasn’t had a singles win on Dynamite in over a year. Such a pick would normally be seen as a cowardly move by an insecure champion who wants an easy defense. But Allin defends the motivations behind choosing this challenger, tweeting:
I personally wanted this match.
Joey was the guy on the independents years ago and I know he’s got what it takes to be the guy in AEW if he puts his heart back in.
In one-on-one standard rules matches since the beginning of 2020, Allin is 17 and 5, (7 and 4 excluding Dark) while Janela is 6 and 8 (0 and 5 on Dynamite.) What can we learn from comparing opponents' offensive styles when the outcome of the match seems a totally foregone conclusion?
To help break this down better, I added the functionality in the SMF dashboard to break down match results and offense styles by whether the opponent has a winning record or not. This should help us better analyze what we are likely to see from such a total mismatch.
To start with, below is the matchup looking at the two competitors' general stats and averages:
It may be surprising to note that in spite of all of their similarities, they have very different styles. They are both smaller competitors from a hard-hitting Deathmatch background, but their offense mix and strategy are extremely different. Allin is the model of an elusive high flyer who uses speed and accuracy to get high impact flying moves in without getting caught and taking damage-- except plus a technical side. Whereas Janela has a brawler style relying mostly on striking, with a bit of flying thrown in. Unlike Allin, he tends to take a lot of damage, but, without winning matches to compare, it's tough to call that an actual rope-a-dope strategy so much as just what it looks like when he loses.
Now let's take a look at how that changes when we look just at their offense when facing opponents with winning records on the side of 0.500 that their upcoming opponent is on:
The first thing to notice is that Allin works a significantly more confident style when working with someone lower on the pecking order. He's still just as hard to touch, but doesn't have to sacrifice his own offensive output to accomplish that, using a lot more of his excellent technical skills, throwing in some slams and suplexes as well. Don't assume that this is because losing wrestlers are smaller-- this subset of the data includes a match with Will Hobbs. Also, Allin has never let that confidence edge into carelessness-- he's never let a losing-record opponent hand him an upset.
With Janela, you don’t see much of a difference, and there’s a reason for that: all but one of his singles matches on Dynamite in the past 57 weeks have been against an opponent with a winning record. It’s all very flattering when main-event talent keeps asking to face you. Until you realize that you are their fall guy. Punching up is mandatory in comedy. In pro wrestling, you’d be better off mixing it up a little. (I’m looking at you, Ryan Nemeth.)
Allin wants this match to light a fire under Janela, hoping that the opportunity to win the TNT championship reinvigorates him, and maybe it will. But so far as to actually sneak one by Allin and steal the TNT title? By the numbers, it looks awfully unlikely.
WOMEN’S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Thunder Rosa vs. Leyla Hirsch
When this column was almost complete, the word went out: the Eliminator Tournament starts on Wednesday, so get excited! So this week at least, I’m going to cover two matches!
Last week, Thunder Rosa suffered a major defeat at the hands of Dr. Baker, but this week she has to quickly regroup for the opportunity to move forward in a tournament for the top Women’s championship. But standing in her way is the technical mastery of Leyla Hirsch!
Let’s take a look at their respective charts:
Now is a good moment to warn you of one way these charts can be misleading: they only tell you how frequently a wrestler uses a type of move, in comparison to the field. Often, if a competitor uses a type of move relatively frequently, it can be used as a shorthand for their relative expertise. However, I warn against that in the case of Thunder Rosa and Leyla Hirsch. Rosa is in the 94th percentile for technical wrestling, and Hirsch is in the 81st percentile. Do not infer from this that Rosa is 13% better at technical wrestling! If a wrestler has high percentiles in one or two disciplines, like Hirch, that’s an excellent sign that that discipline is a specialty. But if a wrestler has high percentiles in every type of offense, especially if she also has a high percentile in “offense delivered,” then that wrestler’s expertise is in delivering lots of offense rapidly and keeping up high offense production throughout a match, and that describes Thunder Rosa to a tee.
Although Rosa is an excellent technician and Hirch has great striking ability, we can expect them each to de-emphasize those aspects of their game to avoid playing into the hands of the acknowledged expert across from themself in the ring.
Leyla Hirsch, like Joey Janela, keeps getting big matches against top contenders, because she can hang with them, regardless of her win record. And eventually, the wins will start to come for her. But I doubt that “eventually” will start tomorrow night.