Wrestling Night in America Reunion: PWTorch columnist Greg Parks is joined by former PWTorch columnist Pat McNeill for a full match-by-match preview of WrestleMania 36
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Editor’s Note: This is a new weekly feature in our Specialists section.
Professional wrestling’s in-ring performance is most often quantified using star ratings or other subjective metrics, but there are many statistics and metrics that can be used to objectively analyze a wrestler’s performance. Each week in this column I’ll take a look at the sport of pro wrestling including in-ring statistics, trends, streaks, and advanced aggregate calculations of wrestlers in U.S.-based professional wrestling companies.
Since its inception, All Elite Wrestling has been committed to addressing Win and Loss records to keep fans up to date on who is progressing through their schedule successfully and who is struggling to find momentum. This practice represents a sliver of progress in an industry that has often bypassed the element of pure competition in favor of conflict-based grudge matches that put championships or accolades on the back burner unless the champion happens to be involved in the disagreement.
Statistics have long been a familiar thread through sports presentation. Using metrics to quantify individual or team performance has long been the simplest way to communicate feats of athleticism in any field. Professional wrestling has a long and arduous history with in-ring metrics, including simple win-loss records, so when Tony Khan and The Elite promised American professional wrestling fans a new league with a “sports-like feel,” I had cautiously hoped that objective metrics would play a role in their path. One of the key selling points that Khan, Cody, and The Young Bucks drilled in upon their launch was the notion of wins and losses being meaningful. This seems like such an obvious direction when taken at face value; professional wrestling is presented as a competition and it is dependent on results to determine success.
Tony Khan addressed the concept on X-Pac’s podcast on January 10, 2019:
“I really feel, like, for us, it’s a great opportunity to make wrestling – it hasn’t been taken seriously as the true athletic competition it is. In other sports, wins and losses matter, and I feel wins and losses are a huge part of the equation. I really want a win and a loss to be taken seriously, and the win-loss record should be a huge component of the competition to build up to the championship… In my background in sports, I’m a huge believer in statistics, and I think that’s one area where in wrestling, we’ve seen some cool stuff got over, whether it was the Goldberg streak with a shoot number. To me, I think there’s real opportunities to do some interesting things just in terms of building up athletes the way UFC has, with legitimate competition. It’s gotta make sense.”
Khan entered the professional wrestling industry with significant experience in sports analytics and he is undoubtedly a trailblazer in quantifying athlete’s skills to assess their value to his teams, but the varied skill level of a professional wrestling roster presents new challenges to Khan and the team. Wins and losses matter most in a formalized league or round-robin tournament where everybody competes against everybody else. Outside of companies that build their narratives around tournaments, professional wrestling is a much less controlled and consistent environment, reducing the value of certain victories and increasing the value of others.
It’s not unusual for sports with a large talent pool to solve this disparity by using a ranking system to determine contenders, challengers, playoff competitors, or future matches. College Football has no fewer than three relevant rankings each week. Boxing has at least four recognized governing bodies with rankings. So it came as no surprise when AEW announced their rankings ahead of their Full Gear pay-per-view after six weeks of television.
Cody addressed the their rankings strategy in an interview around that time:
“This isn’t just broadcast, this is also social. Just like with college football and the AP Poll, you get your Top 20. Sometimes a guy who is 5-0 is not ranked in the top three because the quality of wins, the softness of the schedule, and it’s fun because in college football people argue over – especially when we get near the playoffs – people ‘should, should they not’ [get in].”
AEW has built the framework to deliver on their promise of a sports-like presentation and their booking has often been aligned with what the statistics say, but tropes like “Lights Out” matches to ignore the result of a match and their sudden reset of their posted records at the beginning of 2020 keep me cautious to bank on a “sports-like” booking philosophy. If wins and losses matter, everything else does too, so All Elite Wrestling would benefit greatly from transparent booking and ranking models including in-depth and detailed statistics that professional wrestling has always been too cautious to lean into.
Ring Time statistics are an underused communicator of a wrestler’s capabilities and they can be weaved into the story of a match with ease. If a wrestler’s average match time is high, it’s likely that the level of competition that wrestler has participated in is high. It takes them a long time to win and a long time to lose, so they’re being booked competitively. On the other hand, if they’re winning more than they’re losing, they’ve been positioned well to show their skills. If a competitor’s average winning match length is low, they’re dominant. Brock Lesnar has made a career out of proving this theory. Conversely, if a competitor’s average losing match length is high, they’re tough to put away and likely one of the tougher competitors in the company.
Chris Jericho is 5-0-1 in singles competition with an average match length of 19:28, second highest in the company. He has proven he has the stamina to compete with the best wrestlers that the company can put in the opposite corner and he still hasn’t lost.
AEW’s wrestlers are participating in a dynamic schedule including singles, tag, trios, and battle royal matches. Fall Differential (number of winning falls – number of losing falls) can be used to analyze a single wrestler’s performance when it comes to finishing these multi-person matches. Inaugural Tag Team Champions Frankie Kazarian & Scorpio Sky are a great example to highlight this particular statistic. Through their loss to Kenny Omega & Adam Page on the Jan. 22 episode of Dynamite, Kazarian & Sky had a tag team record of 7-3. During that timeframe, Kazarian had a +1 fall differential, executing only two winning falls and he was on the losing side of their AEW Tag Team Championship loss at the hands of Adam Page. Sky, on the other hand, has been a much more capable competitor for SCU with a +4 fall differential (5 winning falls, 1 losing fall) including a winning pin over AEW World Champion, Chris Jericho.
All Elite Wrestling’s leadership team put a microscope on their booking tendencies before they even booked a match and I’ve taken on the task of curating and quantifying detailed AEW in-ring metrics at sportofprowrestling.com/aew. I’ve aggregated metrics including ring time, fall differential, strength of schedule, match stakes, match placement, participating match type, recency, and many more to paint a clear statistical picture of each AEW wrestler’s in-ring performance. If wins and losses matter, how those wins and losses are achieved matters too, so I’ll be watching the details closely to see how the numbers and the narratives align.