Views From The Turnbuckle: Ranking All The Prospects In AEW
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of WrestlingInc or its staff
How do you rate prospects in wrestling? In other sports, the analysis and ranking of prospects is big business, but in wrestling there is so much subjectivity involved that finding a consensus feels impossible. So much hinges on the creative booking and presentation of talent, as well as skills that may or may not develop over time, that there are always going to be disagreements about which talent is a “can’t miss star” and which talent will be a jobber for life.
I still think it would be fun to rank prospects though; so I’ve decided to start with all of the prospective stars in AEW, ranking them from least likely to become a major star, to most likely.
The question then becomes, how do you decide who is a prospect and who is not? Having a strong cut-off either by age or by experience doesn’t make any sense; wrestlers can break out after wrestling for years or they could come to wrestling later than most and still turn into big stars. So I used my own discretion to determine who I considered a prospect and who I did not. The general philosophy I used was to determine if someone was a finished product or not within AEW. If a wrestler has been a big star already for years, they are no longer a prospect. If a wrestler has been clearly positioned at a certain level, they are no longer a prospect.
There will be some wrestlers on this list who have barely had a few matches in AEW, and there will be some wrestlers who many would consider already being major stars. The main idea is that when someone is put on the list, I am expecting MORE out of them in the coming years, and they will be ranked in just how much more I think AEW will get out of them in the next coming years.
One last note will be that I am limiting this only to the male side of the roster. The reason for that is because the hierarchy of the women’s division is so much more fluid that someone can go from unsigned talent to #1 contender in one week. Talent like Britt Baker, Kris Statlander and Anna Jay would deserve mention as prospects, but I wanted to keep this as simple as possible. I will however be including tag teams, since some of the best prospects in the company are currently in tag teams, and it is likely that they will eventually break out as singles stars.
22. Lee Johnson
Johnson was also recently made a member of the Nightmare Family, so his stock appears to be on the rise. Johnson was one of the local job guys that impressed AEW enough to get a contract, but he has been used sparingly on Dynamite, mainly appearing in background roles with MJF when MJF was doing his campaign gimmick. He has mostly been doing jobs on Dark, but he only has two years of experience and they must have signed him for a reason.
21. Max Caster and Anthony Bowens
The latest signings to AEW, Caster and Bowens appear to be a tag team going by the name of The Acclaimed and were signed just this week after a couple of impressive appearances on Dark. Hardcore fans of the US indie scene are high on both names, particularly Bowens, but they have barely wrestled in AEW so I can’t rank them any higher at the moment.
Another one of the local job guys who ended up getting a contract, Serpentico has emerged as a reasonably talented high flyer, who actually performed quite well in his one main event of Dynamite, working a tag match with Dr. Luther against Chris Jericho and Jake Hager. The ceiling for a Serpentico/Luther tag team is pretty limited, but he has flashed talent and might be someone to keep an eye on if he starts working more singles matches.
19. Austin Gunn
Austin Gunn has been with the company since its inception, largely thanks to his father Billy Gunn being a key agent in AEW. I’ll be honest, I originally submitted this article Wednesday afternoon and had Gunn sitting in dead last. I had to come back after Dynamite and bump him up a few spots, since he not only finally had a match on Dynamite, but actually got the pinfall win in the main event. Austin has potential, but it is hard not to think he has gotten a break or two due to his father. We’ll see if he gets more of a push going forward.
18. Marko Stunt
Marko Stunt is only 24, but it does kind of feel like this is what he is going to be. His size is always going to limit his potential of stardom, but at the same time his size does allow him to gain sympathy from the audience, and if you need someone to make a monster heel look terrifying, there is literally nobody in wrestling better in a squash match. His work with Lance Archer when Archer first debuted in AEW was key to establishing Archer as fearsome heel. Stunt might have limited upside, but he has a role and he does it well.
17. Alan Angels
Angels burst onto the scene when he worked a match on Dynamite against Kenny Omega, and instead of being squashed Angels got enough offense in to incite a conversation on social media about the value of having an unknown local guy have a credible match with Omega. That controversy probably played a role in Angels getting signed; but make no mistake about it, Angels is a good talent who has looked really good given his age and experience level whenever he has wrestled on Dynamite. As “5” in the Dark Order, he has appeared on a regular basis and is currently in a tag team with “10” of the Dark Order. At just 22, Angels is already a good worker and will have a ton of time to figure out his character and personality while getting reps on national television.
16. Preston Vance
Angels tag team partner, as “10” in the Dark Order, Vance is in a similar position. Realistically I think Angels has shown more on Dynamite than Vance, but Vance has got very good size and a good physique, in addition to being pretty athletic, so there is obvious potential there even if he is still kind of green.
15. Will Hobbs
Another name that has earned a contract in AEW after originally being brought in to do some shots on Dark, Hobbs has gotten somewhat of a push on Dynamite as someone who is feuding with Team Taz. Hobbs has been wrestling for a while and has good size and appears to have a lot of potential charisma. It’s possible a month from now he will be much higher in these rankings.
14. Sonny Kiss
A general saying in wrestling is that different is good. Kiss’ gender identity creates an interesting amount of potential because there isn’t anyone else like him in wrestling and he does have natural charisma, as well as being very athletic. Kiss is still green, but I will also note that at the second Dynamite taping in Boston, I was in the building for a Dark match between Kiss and Kip Sabian and Kiss was really over the crowd, so I think his character is a natural babyface that connects with the audience, even a large audience that doesn’t know much about him. A scenario exists where in a few years, Kiss is a significant crossover star for AEW that brings new fans to the product.
13. John Silver and Alex Reynolds
Originally brought in as job guys, Silver and Reynolds are a long time tag team that have managed to break out on the Dark Order, mainly due to their success in skits on Being the Elite. Reynolds is a fine talent, but Silver has been the real star of the show and his success on BTE has led to more of a featured role on Dynamite. Charismatic and funny, Silver is someone who would really benefit from there being larger live crowds at shows right now, because the hardcore fans would pop big for him at live shows and that could translate to bigger stardom, similar to how Orange Cassidy got over.
12. Joey Janela
Janela’s run in AEW so far might be a disappointment to some fans. While he has worked key matches against a bunch of the top names, including Moxley, Omega and Chris Jericho, he hasn’t really broken out of the undercard in AEW and his tag team with Sonny Kiss feels like a holding pattern. Janela was (and still is) a big star on the indies, but the charisma and hustle that made him a star there has not quite translated to AEW.
11. Private Party
Private Party are the best pure prospects in the tag team division, as they have gotten plenty of attention on Dynamite as a team to watch, although big wins have been few and far between outside of their debut win over The Young Bucks. Very young and very athletic, I think it’s clear they will one day be presented at the same level as the top teams in the company.
10. Orange Cassidy
You could argue that Cassidy should be much higher on this list, and if we are just going by who is currently the most over, he would easily be in the top three or four. However, this list is about potential and Cassidy’s potential is still unknown. It was a risk putting him on television for a fledgling company because it was unclear how non-indie fans would react, but he has been a hit with most fans and he is a very unique performer that helps the product stand out. However, I’ve ranked him behind more traditional wrestlers who have more logical potential, but Cassidy could end up being the biggest star in the company one day and it wouldn’t be that shocking as he has consistently defied expectations.
Luchasauras is a good example of an unconventional prospect. Despite wrestling for years and spending time in WWE developmental, it was not until AEW picked him up and started to push him that it became obvious he had serious potential. Great size, great body, great look with the mask, some people may think he is too goofy to be a big star, but I think in 2020’s meme-heavy environment, being a goofy character is not necessarily a bad thing. He is popular with kids, which is huge for future growth. Lastly, while his character makes a lot of jokes about being a dinosaur, when he is in the ring he is all business and comes across like a huge bad ass.
` 8. Miro
Miro doesn’t feel like a prospect because he has been on television forever, but he really hasn’t done much in AEW since he arrived so for the purpose of this ranking, I think he fits the criteria. I think most fans would be disappointed in how he has been portrayed so far in AEW as he was arguably the biggest free agent on the market when he was brought in and he appears to be a mid-card heel that loves video games, and not an unstoppable Eastern European killing machine. I’m not writing him off, but I think most people expected him to rate higher when he was first signed.
Wardlow was an original signing by AEW and while he was an indie name in the Ohio/Pennsylvania area before AEW, he was relatively unknown. For most of his time in AEW, he has been used as an enforcer for MJF, but every time he has been asked to perform in the ring, he has delivered and looked impressive doing it. With good size and athleticism, he feels like a big star waiting to happen and AEW has been slowly bringing him along since the company debuted. It seems crazy to have him higher than Miro, but so far I think he has shown more star potential in his role.
6. Ricky Starks
Starks hasn’t been pushed quite as much as the names that rank ahead of him, but there is a real case that he might be the most talented name on this list. A very good wrestler, what makes Starks stand out is his incredible natural charisma and speaking ability. The short promos he has been allowed to cut on Dynamite have been great and when you see him, he feels like a potential superstar. There have been some comparisons to The Rock, which are probably unfair, but even if Starks is like, 60% as talented as The Rock, that still makes him one of the most valuable prospects in wrestling.
5. Sammy Guevara
It has been a rough last few months for Guevara; first he was suspended after old comments he made about Sasha Banks resurfaced, and then his feud with Matt Hardy has been sloppy, with Hardy suffering significant injuries on two occasions. Before all of that though, Guevara was consistently a highlight on Dynamite as an understudy to Jericho. Whether it was selling moves, having exciting matches, or even just making faces in the background of a Jericho promo, Guevara proved to be an entertaining staple of Dynamite.
4. Jungle Boy
Jungle Boy hasn’t really gotten a giant push, but the understanding is that he will be a big star in the coming years. While he hasn’t gotten a ton of big singles wins, he is always protected in finishes and made to look strong even when facing top names. Just 23, his youthful charisma and appeal to women is a big reason people are high on him, and over the past year in AEW he has improved a ton as a complete performer. Jungle Boy to me is more of a long-term play due to his age and current spot on the card, he is like the teenager tearing apart A ball, while some of the names ahead of him are AAA players ready to star in the majors.
3. Darby Allin
Unlike the two names in front of him, Allin wasn’t necessarily a marquee signing for AEW at first. He was an indie wrestler that had worked for a lot of promotions and made a name for himself with some daredevil theatrics, but he could have easily gone the way of Joey Janela and struggled to break out in AEW. However, there is something about the authenticity of his character that connects him to the fans in a way that most talent do not, and when they show the crowd with women and children painting their faces like Allin, it shows that AEW has something with him. The shooting of his own black and white vignettes and his unique approach to storytelling also help him stand out in a crowded environment.
2. Adam Page
Yes, Adam Page is already one of the biggest stars in the company, and you could make a credible argument that neither Page or the man who finished in front of him, deserve to be considered prospects. However, I think everyone would agree that Page is far from his peak as a professional wrestler and since Dynamite began airing, his stock has consistently risen as he has managed to find a character and personality that connected him with the audience as a babyface and taking his star power up a level.
I think that MJF has shown his ability to be a once-in-a-generation talker and that is why I have him rated above Page. Who was the last wrestler to show so much potential as a promo? A young CM Punk? His cadence and quick wit have turned him into the most entertaining heel in the company (along with Jericho) and one day those same skills will turn him into the most entertaining babyface as well. He is just 24 years old as well, he could be on top for 15 straight years and still be under 40. The sky’s the limit for him.
Must Watch Matches
WALTER vs Ilja Dragunov: ****1/2 – NXT UK 10/28
WALTER and Ilja Dragunov had the best match in WWE since the pandemic started. A lot of people have been talking about this match as a potential Match of the Year, and while I wouldn’t go quite that far since it’s hard for to compare empty-arena matches with matches that had crowds that were on fire, it is an extremely good match that everyone should go out of their way to see. WALTER is the best wrestler in WWE, and I don’t think it is particularly close. He has always had great chemistry with Dragunov, and both men understood how to have a great match in this kind of environment. This is probably the most physically violent match in WWE history that did not involve any weapons or didn’t have any particular stipulation.
On the latest episode of The Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings and Jason Ounpraseuth discuss one year of AEW Dynamite. The guys discuss their original expectations for the promotion and how AEW has lived up to those expectations, as well as discuss the title reigns of Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley, the much maligned AEW’s Womens Division, the pros and cons of wrestlers doing their own creative, and more.