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Last week I previewed Serena Deeb's return from the DL to defend her NWA World Championship, and I had some critical words regarding her challenger, super rookie Red Velvet. I expanded on this topic as a guest on the Pro Wrestling Musings podcast, and I will do so more here.
There are wrestlers who I have praised for their flexibility and adaptability such as PAC or Darby Allin, who have different mixes of offense or offensive strategies for differing situations or opponents. Red Velvet, on the other hand, seems to change up her offense practically every time we see her without any discernable rhyme or reason.
Here are some examples going back to the very beginning of her AEW career:
Her match against the AEW World Champion went less than a dozen seconds, so it doesn't tell us much. When she took on Sunday Night's challenger for that title, she put up more of a fight, using counters and throws to attempt to fend off the dastardly dentist.
Next she attempted the Native Beast, and suddenly brought lots of strikes into her repertoire, which certainly makes sense, as the commentary team let us know that she's been training in kickboxing since middle school. But where were those strikes before now? Her throws go away against Rose and come back against Conti, which can be justified by the impact of size difference.
However, in her next two matches against Cargill and Deeb, the grapple moves disappear again, replaced suddenly by bringing aerial maneuvers into the mix. I have yet to make heads or tails of the rationale behind any of her offensive choices. On the podcast I made the caveat that perhaps she is more consistent when she isn't out of her league, but since then contributor Tim Morehouse dropped a review of match statistics on Elevation so far and sent me his raw data.
And even in matches where she has more reason to be confident and stick with her fundamentals, there is little consistency: in one she uses lots of throws, in the other she uses none, in one she dominates offense, while the other is back and forth. She has one area of consistency: other than the one oddball match against Baker, she always emphasizes strikes, which ties back to her story and her original training. But she needs greater consistency in her other offense types—or at least a rationale for when different types come out of the toolbox—in order for fans to connect with a story she's telling in the ring of who she is based on how she fights.
My fellow guest on the podcast, Dan, pointed out that we could give her the benefit of the doubt that her inconsistency is part of her story: a new star competitor with a lot of skill in many areas who just hasn't put it all together yet. I can definitely buy into that. and I look forward to seeing her grow and develop. As Griff points out, as problems go, having a lot of different skills is a good problem to have. But as she improves, both in and out of kayfabe, we need to see her focus in on a mix of offense that generally works for her so that we, as fans, have an idea what a "standard" Red Velvet match looks like.
In previewing the May 19 Dynamite, I also discussed the match between Christian Cage and Matt Sydal, pointing out that neither man had ever controlled the majority of the offense in any of their prior matches in AEW, and wondered which of the two would step out of their comfort zone, and which would stick with their familiar role as punching bag? As it turns out neither man gave up offense to the other:
Instead we got a startlingly even match. In fact, we didn't see long heat sequences and turnarounds like you normally would. Instead their offense kept pace with each other and whatever turnarounds and periods of control there may have been were too short to be captured by the three minute periods that Craig uses, so that the flow of offense plot tracked the pace of the match, rather than who was in control.
This made for a very different style of match, which I enjoyed a great deal. It was a different and really perfectly suitable type of match flow for a confrontation between a pure babyface like Sydal and a mostly pure one like Cage.
I missed doing a preview article for the special Friday night edition of Dynamite, and the next show coming up for AEW is the eagerly anticipated annual Double or Nothing event. I will do a Styles Make Fights style preview of all of the one-on-one matches on the card that feature two experienced competitors, (note that I would have absolutely NO stats to go by to discuss Anthony Ogogo,) but I will make that a separate edition, that you can expect to see early tomorrow, But for now, let's quickly go over the awesome high-profile match up that is scheduled for the free Buy In special intended to lure in the undecided to purchase the show—and that's a rematch between NWA World Champion Serena Deeb and the beloved Riho. The last time they met, Riho was returning from a long absence due to quarantine, and Deeb was about to have a long absence due to needed knee surgery. An opportunity to advance in a tournament to face the AEW World Champion, Shida, at the previous supershow, Revolution, was on the line. Now that Deeb has returned, her NWA Championship is on the line in the rematch.
In their prior match, Deeb focused on painful holds and technical reversals, while Riho focused on aerial moves and counters. Riho came out on top—besides which, Riho is Riho—so I expect to see a very similar match from her. Deeb may change things up by working in more strikes or more throws—she is perfectly capable. Or she may feel that greater familiarity with her opponent will be sufficient to change the outcome without changing her mix at all. As Schiavone pointed out on Dynamite, in reference to Adam Page's rematch with Brian Cage on Sunday, it's tough to beat a competitor twice in a row, because they learn from a loss!