With Samoa Joe as the steward of the AEW World Championship, All Elite Wrestling brought the focus back to contenders earning their title shot. What better way to illustrate the climb up the ladder than the return of the rankings? Not so fast, my friend. AEW released the initial rankings for 2024, and they are a mess.
Let’s start with the positives first. The idea of the rankings has added a jolt of urgency between Swerve Strickland and Hangman Page working their way to the top. Since the opportunity is genuinely earned, the aura is enhanced for a big fight. AEW kept this story simple by focusing on Swerve and Hangman, but the concept can be applied across all divisions and executed with deeper numbers.
I like that no records are part of the graphic. That makes it easier to play with the rankings if someone catches fire for a victory streak. For example, 10-8 doesn’t look so hot and won’t tell the picture of winning 8 matches in a row. No need to worry about that visual image, and the focus can be on what have you done for me lately. It also helps for free agent signings later in the year and injury returns, such as Adam Cole and MJF.
Now on to the mess.
The first glaring problem is cluttering the men’s rankings with wrestlers not chasing the world title. AEW needs to decide on the clear purpose for these rankings. It should be who is in line for the top prize in each division. The TNT title, TBS belt, International strap, and Continental crown hand out matches willy-nilly. Orange Cassidy offers championship challenges like candy on Halloween. Nobody has to earn those chances unless it is part of a longer storyline, such as Christian Cage ducking Adam Copeland. Thus the Cope Open challenge to work his way back, so the rematch can not be denied. Copeland’s inclusion in the rankings muddies the big picture. If someone is so close to #1, then why not try for a world title shot? Especially since you can always finagle your way into a secondary title match at any time.
Pointing out a problem is part of the equation. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a solution off the top of my head. My mind recollected Ring of Honor’s method in the waning days before Tony Khan purchased the promotion. Their logic was wrestlers declaring a specific division for each singles title. So, let’s say Mark Briscoe was focused on the television title. That means he is only in the rankings for that division. If he desired to chase a different prize, then he can petition to the board of directors to switch. AEW doesn’t need to go that far with the concept. We certainly do not require separate men’s rankings for each singles title. That would just bog down the scene in minutiae. Perhaps there can be a happy medium to tinker out based on that kernel of an idea for the world title picture.
Next up is the tag team division. It is an absolute joke that John Silver & Alex Reynolds are ranked #2. Peaking over to the AEW roster page shows them with a 3-0 tag team record for 2024. That’s a head-scratcher, since that Dark Order duo hasn’t been present on television. Digging deeper shows three wins on dark matches, not to be confused with the defunct Dark matches. That’s the kind of funny business that plagued the original rankings when mediocre teams would rack up wins over inferior competition.
It gets event worse for the trios division. I’ll admit that it made me irrationally mad to see FTR & Daniel Garcia ranked at #4. Granted, their record is 1-1 in 2024. However, if there was ever the definition of a statement win, beating the House of Black in a cage match was it. Compare that win to the Hardys & Mark Briscoe at 1-0 (defeating Kip Sabian, Butcher, & Blade) and the Dark Order at 1-0 (defeating Daddy Magic, Cool Hand Ang, & Jake Hager). The quality of victory is not close. It’s ludicrous to think those teams deserve a shot over FTR & Garcia right now. Quality of wins have to be important.
The rankings can be a positive tool for AEW, but they need to fine-tune some issues for maximum effectiveness.
What’s your take on the AEW rankings?