ALL ELITE ASSESSMENT – Ricky Starks: His journey so far, his missteps, booking inconsistency, and a possible return scenario

By Dan Allanson, PWTorch contributor

Ricky Starks


Another week in the world of pro wrestling and a week closer to one of AEW’s centerpiece PPVs, Double or Nothing. The card has taken shape refreshingly early (for All Elite) and there are plenty of matches on the card to look forward to. Notable by his absence is the subject of this week’s All Elite Assessment, a star often found in the rumor and innuendo columns of various wrestling news aggregators , “Absolute” Ricky Starks.

Ricky Starks


New Orleans born Richard Starks has had a confounding career on the AEW roster thus far. At times Starks has appeared to be on the cusp of main event status only to disappear from weekly television and the audiences consciousness. While there may be reasons (reported or otherwise) for his stop-start booking, my latest column will look at his on screen journey as a member of the All Elite roster and where that journey may lead.

Starks dreamed of becoming a pro wrestler after experiencing the thrill of the WWE Attitude era. Inspired by that generation’s stars, Starks began a path which traversed various independent promotions (predominantly in Texas) while acting as an enhancement talent when needed at WWE. Starks would oppose Jinder Mahal, Enzo Amore, Kane, and The Revival in losing efforts but stay on the industry leader’s radar as a reliable hand. Perhaps his most high-profile moment during this embryonic period was a backstage altercation with Ryback during a 2013 episode of Raw.

Starks would soon seek to climb the professional ladder at the revitalized NWA promotion under the stewardship of owner Billy Corgan. It was in the NWA that Starks would begin to develop a persona and set himself apart from his comrades. Starks portrayed a confidence both in the ring and on the microphone which recalled his hero’s of a prior era. If his look had the pastiche of The Rock or Steve Austin about him, then his in-ring suggested the acumen of Bret Hart and the showmanship of The Undertaker.

In his almost two years as a member of the NWA roster, Starks would build his CV opposite company stalwarts such as Aron Stevens, Eddie Kingston, Tim Storm, and Trevor Murdoch. NWA’s retro studio presentation allowed some of the industry’s best talkers to showcase their talents without the pressure or sheen of a more mainstream company and Starks blossomed. Industry insiders were beginning to take notice and it seemed a forgone conclusion that Starks would end up in either WWE or AEW once his NWA contract had expired.


Starks would begin his AEW tenure as a surprise opponent for then TNT Champion Cody Rhodes on the June 17, 2020 episode of AEW Dynamite. This match took place during Cody’s open challenge run during the Jacksonville pandemic era of television and announced Starks onto the mainstream stage. As it transpired, Starks was now All Elite as his new contractual allegiance was announced by Tony Khan after his loss.

Debuting as a heel, Starks would soon join the first iteration of the Team Taz stable alongside manager Taz and Brian Cage. The duo would soon by joined by Will Hobbs and begin a feud with Darby Allin and eventually Sting. Starks would not shrink in the glare of such a high-profile rivalry and excel in matches opposite the painted pair.

Singles gold would follow as Starks would defeat a now ousted Cage to win the unsanctioned FTW Title. The “Absolute” one would hold the gold for 378 days before defeat to fellow Team Taz member Hook brought his reign to an end. Further strife following Starks as he was turned on by his stablemates and Team Taz soon disbanded.

Now free to chase more prestigious singles gold, Starks would garner several World Championship opportunities. After victory in both an Eliminator tournament as well as a Dynamite Dozen Battle Royal, Starks would challenge MJF on a Dynamite “Winter is Coming” special. Despite defeat, the main event positioning led many to view Starks as the future of AEW in the medium term.

After feuds with several top tier talents including Chris Jericho and Jay White, Starks would be victorious in yet another tournament.

This time Starks would win the 2023 edition of the Owen Hart Foundation series defeating C.M. Punk in the final. Indeed, the inception of the Punk-led Collision weekly series looked like a fresh start for Starks. A feud with arguably AEW’s most popular star and a renewed focus on a new show pointed in a promising career direction for the Louisiana native.

It appeared as though Starks had been selected for a long-term program with C.M. Punk, but the infamous events surrounding All In 2023 seemingly derailed plans. The feud was transferred from a departing Punk to a popular Bryan Danielson, but the program stuttered with confusing semi-shoot promos and a one-and-done main event at the All Out PPV.

More gold beckoned, though, as Starks would form an alliance with Big Bill. An alliance which would pay immediate dividends as Starks and Bill would shockingly defeat popular champions FTR on an Oct. 7 episode of Collision. The odd couple tag team would hold the titles for 123 days before defeat to old enemies Darby & Sting would bring the reign to an end.


Ricky Starks’s last AEW appearance was on the Mar. 30 edition of Collision in a losing tag team effort to Top Flight. With Big Bill now taking shade under the branches of Chris Jericho’s learning tree, it looks like the alliance between Starks and Bill is now over. So what’s next for Starks?

The booking of Ricky Starks since his 2020 debut has been frustratingly erratic. As with many on the AEW roster, Starks has flipped from heel to face and back again several times during his run. This lack of character consistency leads to fan apathy and Starks may be yet another victim of this short term thinking. In my opinion, Starks is better utilized as a heel. His on-screen bravado and obvious confidence scream a heel worthy of the top tier of AEW babyfaces. Unfortunately his win-loss record in big matches could have led to many fans losing faith in whether their favorite will ever reach the pinnacle of All Elite.

Like many in the AEW mid-card, Starks also struggles for on-screen consistency. There was a nearly two months of silence between Starks losing the tag team titles and taking part in a tournament to crown new champions. Several in-ring or backstage promos with the former champions could have given viewers a glimpse into his mindset. If the tag titles were no longer a priority, Starks could have delivered a mission statement on where his focus was next. Instead, Starks fell to tag team defeat with little fanfare before disappearing again.

It is impossible given AEW’s bloated roster to highlight dozens of stars each week, but it does appear as though Starks has fallen down the pecking order. The influx of new talent such as Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay, and the ascension of Swerve Strickland has only further pushed Starks down the All Elite ladder.

Several visits to high-profile WWE events (in the capacity of a friend of Cody Rhodes) as well as clipped quotes from various online interviews has led to speculation that Starks could be bound for WWE, but I give credit to Starks for rising above the toxic tribalism that pervades modern wrestling discourse. His use in AEW recently has certainly not indicated a desire from All Elite to retain Starks services at the expiration of his current contract.

The cycling in and out of talent in the AEW ecosystem, though, could yet play in Starks’ favor. Imagine Ospreay winning the International Title at the upcoming Double or Nothing. His first opponent could be a returning Ricky Starks, angered by his lack of recent recognition. To go a step further, what if Strickland were to retain against Christian? Could a returning Starks make for a compelling next opponent for the AEW World Champion? Granted, he would require more poise than he displayed in the ill-fated promo opposite an irked Adam Copeland, but Starks has previously shown he is capable of building an exciting singles feud with his mic skills.


Like a few others still lost in AEW limbo, Ricky Starks feels at the precipice of his next career decision. A welcoming WWE could shortly await though Starks does have the skill and potential to prove to be an asset for AEW moving forward if both sides are amiable.

RECOMMENDED NEXT: ALL ELITE ASSESSMENT: Revisiting the Jade Cargill assessment, one of AEW’s greatest missed opportunities

OR CHECK THIS OUT AT PROWRESTLING.NET: Tony’s Takes: Three-hour AEW television shows, Will Ospreay at AEW All In, Cody Rhodes vs. Logan Paul at WWE King and Queen of the Ring

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