AEW has been the hotspot of wrestling chatter over the last few weeks (well, that and an Attitude Era-ish wardrobe malfunction). Stories about the roster, potential TV deals, who's actually in charge of creative, etc. have all been making the rounds. Fans have picked apart every interview with Cody Rhodes. They've demanded resolution to the ongoing "will he or won't he" Kenny Omega/AEW saga.
It's been great.
And yet comments about an AEW game-changer are mostly flying under the radar. Those comments? Rhodes's remark during the AEW Rally that wins and losses will matter like they've never mattered before.
He expanded upon that idea further in an interview with SESscoops:
"I can tell you that we have talked about rankings and we have talked about records. As a kid, we probably all read Pro Wrestling Illustrated and the different mags where they'd have the rankings."
And Dave Meltzer added his two-cents on a recent edition of Wrestling Observer Radio:
"Cody mentioned wins and losses will matter. What I think I can say is that they are trying to, the mentality is to more market to sports-oriented. I think that I once said Mid-South Wrestling. I don't think that's exactly, I think they're going to have their own take on it, but I think that's the goal."
So yeah - rankings, records, a more sports-oriented product - they're all old school ideas that couldn't survive the 90s wrestling boom. But that doesn't make them bad ideas. In fact, they're the exact ideas that could come to define what Cody & The Bucks are building.
Recent Experiments in Wrestling Ranking History
It's not as though no post-WCW wrestling orgs haven't already tried this.
In the early days of ROH, before their "Code of Honor" was a thing, officials created a Top 5 Ranking System that was based on wins and losses (especially those against other ranked competitors). They even had a "Number One Contender's Trophy" that was defended like an actual championship.
EVOLVE - founded by former ROH booker Gabe Sapolsky - built the promotion with an emphasis on wins and losses before eventually dropping the record keeping.
From 2011 to 2013 TNA held it's own annual Bound for Glory series. This round-robin style tournament saw wrestlers earn points based off if they won or lost and how they did it (for example, submissions were worth a full 10 points because, duh, they're harder to earn, whilst a DQ victory only earned the winner 5 points). The four top points earners would then move on to a playoff-style bracked with the winner earning a championship match at Bound for Glory.
New Japan Pro Wrestling still does a version of this every year. The G1 Climax lasts four weeks, and this round robin-style tournament sees the winner earn an IWGP Heavyweight Championship shot to take place at Wrestle Kingdom. The twist? The IWGP Heavyweight Champion is actually a participant in the tourney (and is usually considered a "favorite" to win).
WWE even recently tried to get into the rankings game with its SmackDown Top 10 - a system where Superstars could vote for their favorite wrestler (just not themselves). Nobody was ever sure what top-ranked wrestlers earned, or why the rankings mattered, so WWE dropped the experiment less than two months after launching it.
Ranking The Elite
So none of those ranking systems (outside of NJPW) lasted. Why will AEW be any different?
Simple: cross-company connections.
The Elite have spent the last few years teaching all the indy organizations how to play nice together. Rhodes presumably learned from his father that promotions who can build star power that exists beyond just one company make the entire industry better.
There's no question that AEW want's to be the best (after all, they're already pilfering talent from pretty much everywhere). But there's likely a belief that whatever ranking system they help establish could soon be the status quo among ALL non-WWE promotions (NJPW is the wildcard here depending on how business partnerships work out later this year). Why do you think The Elite are STILL popping up at other promotion's events?
Essentially, you could create a tiered system where the ROH champion is a few beats behind the AEW champion. Or AEW's runner-up championship is still considered a step above smaller promotions world champions. With wins-and-losses and an inter-promotional ranking system, you could have guys working for multiple companies while still chasing one or two prestigious spots.
Imagine if Nick Aldis challenged Jay Lethal not just for buzz, but to prove the NWA Championship truly was a step above ROH's. And so talent decided to go work there.
Or if an AML scrub fought his way onto the ranking system and quickly became the hottest free agent among all the indies.
And not only could this ranking system promote multiple wrestlers and promotions while acting like a developmental ladder for rookies - it could liven up storylines with actual statistics and "reasons" for going head-to-head other than the general grudge-style feud building that's always defined WWE.
Essentially, it could be a way to unite the indies behind AEW, and provide a true WWE antithesis that the business has been lacking for years.