The one word that makes old heads explode in the world of sports. Turn on any "hot take" media show in the morning. They aren't talking about analytics. They're aren't talking about what a player can and can't do and game plans based on numbers. They aren't talking about practice. They're talking about tired narratives and the only thing that truly matters in the sports: RINGZ.
You don't even need to turn on your television. Go on Twitter. Go to the page of the best basketball player in the world today. And after you see that you're still blocked by Kevin Durant's official account, go to LeBron James' account.
That’s exactly why I don’t wanna hear all that analytics talk! In PLAYOFF games when it usually come down to 1/2 possession games down the stretch, just get me bucket! The best shot during that possession. And if it’s a Pull-up 2 then so be it cause it was the best SHOT!— LeBron James (@KingJames) May 12, 2019
We'll just ignore the fact that analytics say a CJ McCollum 16-footer (50% in playoffs, 52% in regular season) is better than a wide open Maurice Harkless corner three (32% on wide open threes in the regular season, 28% from the left corner, 31% from the right corner) and agree with the guy who decided to join one of the worst run NBA franchises in the last five years.
While major sports now thrive on analytics, pro wrestling is behind the curve. EVOLVE tried to make wins and losses matter when they first started but that fizzled out faster than fetch. WWE had Dana Brooke doing some type of analytics gimmick for a couple of weeks but, like most things in WWE, the gimmick was never fully realized and then dropped for no reason.
Truthfully, this is the closest thing we've had to analytics in wrestling.
And it's going to be tough to beat that.
Enter All Elite Wrestling.
Since their January 1 announcement, Cody Rhodes has been adamant that AEW will take a more sports-centric approach. In the press release touting their deal with Turner Media/TNT, analytics were highlighted.
"Introducing statistics to wrestling for the first time ever, AEW will raise the stakes for its matches and deepen fan engagement by tracking each competitor’s wins and losses as the wrestlers pursue championships, analyzing their moves, assessing damage to their opponents, and providing insights into their winning streaks."
Seeing TNT tout AEW for their analytics approach is funny to me given that its a 180 from how they cover the NBA. Inside The NBA is the most entertaining studio show in sports but the only numbers Charles Barkley is familiar with are the numbers on his betting ticket. And no network that subjects fans to Players Only, where retired players reminisce about hard fouls and post-ups, can tell me they care about analytics.
“One thing we really strongly want to present is wins and losses mattering again in pro wrestling. That takes more than the W and the L column. We’re talking about percentage of times someone loses to this particular maneuver, percentages against somebody of this height, a whole by-the-numbers approach that really intrigues me. It’s not a cornerstone of AEW necessarily but it’s a great peripheral element we’re working on and that’s going to be exclusive to us.”
This all works in professional sports because the outcome isn't fixed and players don't stand there and let the opponent abuse them with their best stuff. Wrestling, spoiler alert, is predetermined. Wrestlers, spoiler alert, work together to create the best possible match and story. "Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don't." Numbers can lie in wrestling because bookers have the ability to juice or fudge the numbers however they want.
If Kenny Omega wants to have a 100% success rate with the One-Winged Angel, he'll have a 100% success rate. Steph Curry doesn't have that luxury when he shoots a three because he has two hands in his face when he launches.
All that said, I'm excited about this approach because it is something different and I do love the analytics side of sports, even if I don't understand half of it. AEW has the right people in place, as well. Chris Harrington is a wrestling numbers genius, Tony Khan has a history of sports analytics with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fullham FC, and Cody sounds committed to this approach. A plan and a commitment is sometimes half the battle.
Not that AEW is asking me for advice, but if they were, here are some things I would like to see tracked in the promotion.
- Finisher Success Rate: Let me know how often a finisher actually finishes the match. That shouldn't be too difficult.
- Ring Time: Another one that isn't difficult. Track how long matches are and give me the average match time. For weekly shows, this could play into wrestlers being fatigued or highlight their strong cardio. Building on this, wins and losses based on match time. Maybe MJF is 5-0 in matches under 10 minutes but 1-3 in matches over 10 minutes. This could help build intrigue.
- Kenny Omega V-Triggers and Young Buck Super Kicks: If you aren't going to track these, what are we really doing here?
- Tags: Does anyone notice every time there's a tag in WWE, the announcer always says "Tag." It's annoying. But I'd like tags in a match to be tracked just to see which teams are best at keeping guys fresh. Tag.
- Limb work: The press release specifically states AEW will "assess damage to their opponents." I want full-on damage trackers to each limb like we're playing WWE SmackDown. I would like AEW to keep track of things like time spent in a certain hold that works a specific body part or strikes to a certain body part. It may sound difficult but don't tease me with analytics and not give me the deepest of analytics.
- Offense and Defense: How often is a wrestler on the attack? How often is he/she getting beat up? Again, you can translate this into wins and losses. Maybe Darby Allin wins more when he's getting beat up 74% of the match.
- Average Star Rating: Just kidding. Don't track this. Seriously. For the love of God. Do. Not. Track. This.
- Gear: The dumbest thing, but one of my favorite things, in sports is wins/losses based on the jersey a team wears. I want that. Let me know how often The Young Bucks win when they have purple tassels.
- Full Tracking: This feels impossible to pull off unless AEW is willing to spend a lot of money on technology that they don't need to spend a lot of money on. But full wrestler tracking would certainly be something. How far did the wrestler travel in a match? What was his/her top speed when running the ropes? What was the actual impact of that slam or top rope move? Don't spend that kind of money, AEW. Just have pyro instead.
Cody specifically said analytics will not be a cornerstone of AEW. Chances are they will keep things relatively simple because of the whole "wrestling is scripted" thing and they don't want to confuse fans with plot points and pie charts. But there is a deep segment of wrestling to be explored here that can enhance the fan experience and add meaning to matches.
Hopefully, the numbers don't spell disaster for AEW.