In Ricky Starks, AEW Has Finally Found Its Next Star


Ricky Starks will not be the AEW World Champion.

Not by the end of next week, at least. The announcement that next week's Winter is Coming edition of Dynamite would feature a "Winner Take All" match between Starks and current World Champion MJF all but guaranteed what most already suspected to be a foregone conclusion. The odds of Starks emerging victorious and bringing an end to the Reign of Terror, not even a full month into it, are astronomical. If you find anyone who believes otherwise, you should do your best to sell them all the oceanfront property in Nebraska that you can.

And yet, after his promo war with MJF, and a subsequent Spear that damn near blew the roof off the HEB Center, it can be safely said that Ricky Starks has arrived.

It's been an oft-repeated criticism of AEW as of late that Tony Khan and co. have struggled to inject new life into the top of the card over on the men's side of things. You don't have to search very hard to find the validity in that accusation. Every man who's held the AEW World title has either been an AEW Original or a Chick Magnet Punk. Over the last two years, excluding the unique circumstances of the Stadium Stampede match at Double or Nothing 2021, only seven people have performed in the main event on AEW pay-per-view. Of those seven, five were either a current or former World Champion. The other two - Adam Cole and Christian Cage - are both well-established veterans who don't exactly fit the mold of "breakout star." That's to say nothing of the difficulty AEW has had in managing all the veterans on their roster, as evidenced by the weekly refrain of being able to ask, "Where's Miro?"

This is why it was seen by many as a welcome and refreshing change of pace when the company unveiled the bracket for the latest World Championship Eliminator Tournament. Unless you're willing to count the FTW Championship and its suspect status as a title, none of the featured players had ever held championship gold within the company period, let alone the World Championship. Not every name had people buzzing with excitement, but there was intrigue over a new contender for the company's top prize emerging. Most suspected that we would eventually reach the endgame that did indeed come to pass - a showdown in the finals between Ricky Starks and Ethan Page - but that did little to diminish the hype when the Absolute one claimed victory and a future date with the Devil himself.

It didn't take long for AEW to capitalize on the momentum, with only two weeks passing before Starks and MJF threw down in a verbal joust that elevated the former to radical new heights while the latter played his part to a T. You could feel it as the segment went on, just how palpable the buzz was for the challenger amongst the fans in attendance. By the end, few probably had their minds changed over Starks' chances of winning the belt from AEW's Generational Talent, but he'd more than proven that he belonged in the spot.

At last, AEW seems to have found its next star. The question now becomes: will they know what to do with him?

Early signs might make one a bit pessimistic. The announcement of that aforementioned "Winner Take All" match took the wind out of some sails, as even if you didn't believe in Starks' chances of winning the title, it was at least easy enough to talk yourself into buying that he could beat MJF for the Dynamite Diamond Ring that the champ treasures so much. It also doesn't inspire much confidence that the last time AEW seemed to be on the precipice of anointing a "Next Big Thing" in Wardlow, his momentum eventually hit a plateau following his Double or Nothing squashing of MJF and subsequent capture of the TNT Championship.

Still, regardless of the outcome when the two step between the ropes at Winter is Coming, there's no denying that Ricky Starks has captured lightning with his recent run of performances, even going back to his feud with former ally Powerhouse Hobbs. With luck, AEW will have learned from some of their past missteps and figure out the right ways to keep this train rolling on all cylinders. If they can manage it, it would be a definitive rebuke to an oft-repeated critique, and it would come at a time when the company could use as many moral victories as it can get.

And hey, when that Great Bidding War of 2024 comes around, maybe MJF does decide to flip the bird one last time to AEW fans on his way out the door. If so, there's no reason to think that Ricky Starks couldn't be the one to beat him then for the title. He'd make for one hell of a Pebble in MJF's cheap shoes as he's walking toward greener pastures.

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