It is time to bring back the AEW rankings.
The rankings disappeared for the final four months of 2022. To be honest, the lack of rankings barely had any impact on the AEW television product. Still, it was an interesting tool while it was there. Not to mention that it was fun to scrutinize. Excalibur had a side comment on Rampage about records resetting in the new year. That got me thinking that if yearly records are to remain of value, then perhaps the rankings will return for 2023.
AEW never mastered folding the rankings into a valuable asset to produce #1 contenders. It pigeonholed them at times and also grew stale as the year progressed with mid-carders racking up wins on Elevation and Dark. If the ranking do indeed return, then AEW needs to add a few tweaks.
The bottom line should be turning the rankings into a legitimate tool to earn a world title opportunity. Not the only tool. Just one among many that fans can rally behind to drive interest in building a #1 contender.
Define terms to earn a title shot through the rankings
The previous rankings style never guaranteed a title match until it was convenient to pull the trigger on a major contest or create a filler title defense for TV. I’d like to see the rankings given purpose in direct correlation to earning a chance at gold. There’s a couple ways to do that. Established longevity at #1, a points system rising to the top, or bookmarked dates to grant the prize are some ideas.
Along those lines, the #1 ranking should only apply to the AEW World Championship, the AEW Women’s World Championship, and the AEW World Tag Team Championship. I’d definitely say no about the trios titles. Developing rankings for that division would be bogged down in minutiae.
Prevent clutter at the top
One rankings issue as the year wore on was the same names clogging up the top 5. Big stars are obviously going to get more wins, so they would occupy top spots even after already losing in a championship bout. Also, mid-carders padded their stats against lower competition on the Dark circuit. That resulted in cases like the Varsity Blonds often at the top, even though, no viewers believed they were championship material yet.
A few ideas to rectify this are losses mattering and shortening the sample size. If a wrestler loses the world title challenge, then back to the end of the line they go. If the rankings adopt a points system, then losses need to subtract from the total. I’m only speaking in terms of rankings. Storyline exceptions are obviously going to be taken into consideration in some rematch cases. Back to the rankings issue, it is a problem when a champion’s reign extends six months and the rankings are full of people the champion already beat. It presents a stale top 5.
Crunching the sample size would help for mid-season free agent acquisitions or hot acts that catch fire of fan support. When free agents debuts in July, they are so far behind someone with 15 wins on the year. Let’s say that only the last ten matches apply to rankings status. That would make it easier to justify the newcomer earning a title shot without having to go through hoops jumping the line. The same applies to injury returns. It would also benefit a star on the rise. Konosuke Takeshita is a good case to analyze. He doesn’t deserve a sniff at gold after losing so many matches to top talent. However, it is clear that the fanbase is behind him with vim and vigor. If all his losses come in the first half of the year, then he’s stuck on the back half. Shortening the sample size would allow Takeshita to rip off some wins and be in title contention.
Lean into the chase
The chase for a world title is a fun and easy story to tell. We’ll often hear wrestlers say they want to rise up the rankings to earn a title shot, but the path is often vague and arbitrary. AEW needs to develop rankings that embraces the chase. Watching a wrestler climb the ladder can be compelling. If Action Andretti has a hot streak of impressive wins beyond Chris Jericho, then there should be a path for him to capitalize on the momentum. I’m sure current world champion MJF would love to extinguish that fire and crap on the hopes of fans yearning for Andretti’s success.
What changes would you like to see applied to the AEW rankings system?