All Elite Wrestling has helped reinvigorate my fandom in the past year. As an extension of the column I wrote on WrestlingHeadlines.com, here is the other half of the Top 20.
#20 Sammy Guevara – Since Dynamite on TNT started, the self-proclaimed Spanish God has been one of the anchors of the AEW product as a member of the Inner Circle. Sammy is a bonafide star with innate charisma perhaps best exemplified through his use of signs to trash talk during picture-in-picture commercial breaks. He takes a lot of losses, but maintains through his association with Jericho a very high profile that affords him enough credibility to make matches against stars further up the proverbial ladder feel relevant and engaging. His mid-card feud with Darby Allin, simple as it has been to date, felt like AEW’s first home-run in the middle-tier genre, echoing comparable rivalries between young talent in other promotions from years gone by. Expect a 25% increase in standing by Double or Nothing 2021.
#19 Hikaru Shida – Her peaks have not been as high as her female peers; even the un-ranked Dr. Britt Baker hit a higher crescendo due to her developing heel persona. However, no female on the roster has been as consistent as Shida, who has contributed the kind of in-ring performances for which the AEW women’s division has become known. A microcosm of the female roster presentation, nothing she does knocks your socks off, but she has mastered the art of taking a match that few cared about and, by the closing bell, interested people in the outcome. If an example of what is to come, her match with Baker DMD from Dynamite in April (?) might serve as a launching pad to a breakout second year.
#18 Dustin Rhodes – I wrote in my notes a few months ago that he has become AEW’s “spot duty all-star.” Since last year’s Double or Nothing, he has not been asked to contribute much beyond the occasional high profile battle to put someone else over, but he does his job very well. Truthfully, he made my list almost exclusively because of his match with Cody last May, though. That was one of the most emotionally gripping performances that I have seen in a pro wrestling ring across 33 years of fandom, a 5-star classic that put on full display the passion that the brothers Rhodes had for wrestling each other. When it was booked, I was not into it, but they sold me on the “Road To” shows and absolutely won me over across the run-time of what truly holds up in my memory as an awesome experience.
#17 The Jurassic Express – Mild intrigue would best describe my first impression of “Jungle Boy” Jack Perry when he showed up on last year’s “Road to Double or Nothing.” Massively intrigued would best describe my impression of his potential now after a year of seeing him and his stablemates perform for AEW. Luke Perry’s kid, along with Luchasaurus and Marko Stunt, never fails to entertain from bell-to-bell. Given how talented ‘Saurus is and how well Stunt connects with the audience, I get the sense that Jungle Boy and Co. could have a New Day-type run in All Elite, rising steadily to become one of the featured acts, evolving while remaining endearing.
#16 Riho – She earned her place in my memory for being featured on my daughter’s sign that made it on TV when we attended the November 6th Dynamite in Charlotte, but she makes the Top 20 on account of being the first AEW Women’s World Champion. Riho’s matches with Nyla Rose that book-ended her reign were the only true highlights she offered, but they stand as comfortably the two best women’s matches in AEW history through year one. The women’s division had a rather inauspicious start and she was a rather inauspicious champion, but on the rare occasion that she was given the ball in feature-length television matches for the title, she unquestionably delivered.
#15 The Dark Order – This group has perhaps been the best example of AEW’s ability to evolve something bordering on flopping creatively into a success. They went from the least popular act to be consistently featured to the center of a lot of positive attention, although with plenty of bumps along the road. Time will tell if Brodie Lee can keep them relevant beyond a natural main-event end point (perhaps as soon as Saturday night), but between the undeniable in-ring ability of Uno and Grayson, the slickly produced #JoinDarkOrder vignettes, and the potential of The Exalted One as a top-tier star, Dark Order brings something valuable to the product.
#14 Nyla Rose – History may show that she was the right choice to hold the title from the start back in October when AEW crowned its first Women’s World Champion. Nyla is incredibly unique, a great athlete for her size, and has shown the same viciousness on the microphone as she has in the ring. Characters are the foundation for strong divisions, and in that regard she is everything that Riho was not. As previously mentioned in the Riho section, Nyla owns the two best women’s matches in company lore; she also stands to have a long, title-establishing reign as champion and has been the most consistently pushed personality in the women’s division to date. I hope she gets the chance to make a Top 10 level ascent in year 2.
#13 Santana and Ortiz – Even without the stat-padding that would have come from showing up in AEW before their All Out debut, Proud and Powerful have been two of the MVPs of the Dynamite Era as members of Chris Jericho’s Inner Circle. At any moment, they could become the alphas of the world’s most stacked tag team division, as evidenced most prominently by their match with the Young Bucks at Full Gear in November (one of the most rewatchable on AEW’s great match list). When they get there, we will be able to look back at their multi-faceted personalities (see The Bubbly Bunch, then their integral roles in the build-up to Jericho vs. Jon Moxley), their bevy of strong television matches, and their ability to look credible against the tippy-top guys in the promotion and feel as though Santana and Ortiz could elevate tag team wrestling in AEW even higher (and that’s saying something…)
#12 Best Friends (with Orange Cassidy) – I put them in this spot before Trent’s run over the past ten weeks, when he stepped up big time during the COVID-induced reduction down to 25% roster availability for television tapings. Bottom line: these guys have been outstanding. It has only been in recent months that we have seen proof of what Orange Cassidy can offer when on full display (his match at Revolution with Pac is among my Top 10 favorite AEW matches to date), but it would be difficult to dispute that his act has gotten over huge in AEW. Meanwhile, Trent and Chucky T have been anchoring the second-tier of the tag team division from day one; they have the versatility to switch back and forth between serious and comedic with ease, which seems an important trait to me as I watch All Elite establish its identity. Will this be their peak, I wonder?
#11 Darby Allin – It is a testament to AEW’s roster that one of the true breakout performers of the company’s young history did not make the Top 10 in year one. He has been so memorable, thus far. His pay-per-view matches with Cody and Sammy were top notch, his part in the three-way Cracker Barrel Clash at All Out not to be denied its due as a hardcore classic for the modern era. On Dynamite, the pops he has received from increasingly adoring crowds when he makes a save of a fellow protagonist, the spooky and engaging videos used to promote his matches, and his work against AEW’s top stars have shaped for him a rising star status that very few peers in the entire industry can equal. He’s lightning in a bottle and it’s quite possible that AEW pushes him to the moon before 2020 is over.