SMF4: NWA Champ Serena Deeb vs. the Returning RIHO

Updated: Feb 19


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 4 of SMF, where we will be exploring that idea by using my SMF Interactive Dashboard (CHECK IT OUT!) 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!

Last Week

TNT Champion Darby Allin vs Joey Janela

&

Thunder Rosa vs. Leyla Hirsch

Last week there was a title defense in one division and a #1 contender tournament match in another, so I previewed two matches! In one case the match went exactly as I expected, but in the other one, I was way off! Not in terms of outcomes, which were not at all surprising, but just in terms of the offense mix utilized.


Allin vs. Janela went much as expected. Normally, Darby plays a very defensive game, using flying maneuvers and counters to avoid the brunt of his opponents’ offense. Whereas Joey generally plays punching bag. In their match against each other, both were much more aggressive. Here’s a look at the charts for the one match:

Generally speaking, it’s the same general mix of offense, just proportionally more of everything! Janela was in the unusual situation of outsizing his opponent, and while Allin gave up some size, it wasn’t by as much as he is accustomed to. So, it’s natural they both leaned into the offensive side of their game much more than usual.


Meanwhile in her quest to become #1 contender, Thunder Rosa did practically the opposite of anything I expected. Based on the principle of “fight a boxer, box a fighter,” I expected to see each competitor lean into their expertise: for Rosa to focus on strikes, while Leyla would concentrate even more than usual on her technical game. Instead, we saw the mix of offense below:

What I failed to account for was Rosa’s pride--naturally, against the technical specialist, she wanted to test her own technical prowess, even if that wasn’t the most strategic course for her. Leyla, meanwhile, did de-emphasize her strikes a bit, and instead leaned into her… aerial game? Definitely the last strategy I would have expected from her, and not one that worked out at all for her.

This Week:


Round 1: FIRST AEW Champ Riho vs. NWA Champ Serena Deeb

The NWA World Champion Serena Deeb is the model of a savvy, technical veteran competitor, with her robust mix of slams, throws, counters, holds, and fouls. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of tomorrow night’s encounter, Deeb will almost certainly firmly control most of the first few minutes.


In contrast, the long-absent Riho is one of the most unique competitors in AEW. For the most part, she has a pretty typical mix of offense for a competitor who usually gives up a major size advantage: an elusive, speed-based mix focused on flying and countering out of holds. She uses strikes and throws a bit more than you might expect. But she is by far the straightest of all arrows on the roster, never resorting to fouls or tricks.

I’m surprised to be comparing Riho with Big Swole, they are very different competitors with very different styles. But if you look at Riho’s one big win from 2020 over Kris Statlander, the mix of offense is very similar to Swole’s in her win over… Serena Deeb.

I expect to see Riho stick with this proven formula for victory tomorrow night: survive the initial onslaught and then come back with precise and devastating aerial maneuvers to defeat an over-extended opponent. Although Deeb’s cardio is obviously world-caliber, if she wants to counter Riho and come out on top instead, she still needs to be careful not to put too much stock in a quick victory, and save her reserves for Riho’s inevitable comeback.


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