This week I appeared on The Doc Says podcast to discuss the legacy of Chris Jericho and where he sits in the all-time pantheon of talent. Check it out here:
One of the highlights of the last few months of AEW TV has been Cody Rhodes’ run as TNT Champion. Since winning the title at Double or Nothing, Cody has defended the title on AEW Dynamite more weeks than not, against a real rogues gallery of wrestlers: from up and comers Sunny Kiss and Jungle Boy, to more established propositions like Jake Hager, to unsigned indy stars like Ricky Starks and Eddie Kingston.
After his win last week over his first realistic challenger, Scorpio Sky, and a few proclamations about making the title as valuable as the AEW World Championship on Twitter, I get the feeling we will be settling in for quite a long title reign. However the question still needs to be asked, who will be the next TNT Champion?
I’ve picked the top ten people I think are most likely to beat Cody for the championship. So in no particular order:
Yes, I said Scorp should have won the TNT Championship in his challenge for it last week and no, it didn’t happen. However, if I was a betting man, Scorpio is still someone I’d be very interested in putting some dollars down on. Sky has all the attributes that would make for a great champion: he is exciting in the ring, charismatic and has been singled out as a future singles star since very early in the company’s history.
What’s more, Sky has been the most competitive challenger Cody has faced so far, he showed no deference to Rhodes throughout the match and even kicked out of the Cross Rhodes in the final stretches of his match.
AEW has already started telling a story of the former tag champ slowly asserting himself as a singles force and even though he missed out in his first shot, part of that story could be Sky going away only to return a far greater force to be reckoned with.
Darby Allin has arguably the breakout star of AEW’s first year in operation, he has gone from being a more or less unknown indy talent, to being regarded as one of the hottest wrestlers under 30 in the world and a big part of his journey to the top has been his rivalry with the TNT Champion. The pair fought to a 20-minute draw in Darby’s first AEW match, faced each other in two more high profile singles matches, including the semi-finals of the initial tournament for the TNT Championship and even tag-teamed together at different points in their journeys.
While Allin is currently finishing up a program opposite the AEW Champion, Jon Moxley, his nihilistic demeanour makes him a natural opponent for a Cody Rhodes whose ego seems to be growing later with every passing week. Given the long term story they have been telling with him slowly catching up with Cody, it would make sense if his eventual win carried the extra stakes of a championship they once faced each other for.
What a ride the last two months must have been for Eddie Kingston, from being on the bench and out of work with the indefinite NWA hiatus and indy shutdown, to appearing on Dynamite as a challenger for the TNT Championship and then performing with such ferocity it kicked off a fan movement to have him signed to a contract.
It is hard to remember anyone creating such an emphatic case for themselves in just one outing, that night Kingston came out of nowhere and stormed the gates of Rhodes. He didn’t even wait for his intro music to play before striding onto the stage, mic in hand, and delivering one of the most jaw-dropping promos of the year, dressing down both Rhodes and Arn Anderson just as his opening act. He then took Cody to the university for Real Men, in an explosive brawl that climaxed with Kingston powerbombing Cody into thumbtacks, before taking a FIgure Four in those same tacks.
Cody loves to talk about how AEW takes wrestlers from ‘undesirable to undeniable’ and there is no one who could better embody that particular tag line than Kingston. The ultimate fulfilment of it all would be for him to be the one to take the title off Rhodes. It obviously isn’t what was planned from the start but it is the kind of lightning in a bottle that AEW could be wise to jump on. If this was to happen I would tip it to be as part of a back and forth feud as opposed to Kingston being a long term champion and after his incredible debut, Kingston has more than earnt the chance to run things back at least one more time.
You may have noticed that in this column I’ve got a theme of picking wrestlers who have a storyline history with Cody Rhodes and in AEW there is no one with a more sordid history opposite Cody than Maxwell Jacob Freedman. Not only was MJF Cody’s former protege, but MJF is also one of only two people with a singles victory in AEW over the current TNT Champion.
For MJF it is a question of when not if, he will win a championship in AEW, since splitting with Cody last year he has shown himself to be the complete package not just on the mic but also in the ring. He is currently embroiled in a feud with Jon Moxley for the AEW Championship and while he has a chance, I do not expect him to be successful at taking out the top title this early in his career. However, as the only man with a singles win over Cody this year and with their past enmity at play, a feud for the TNT Championship would be a natural next step for MJF.
If MJF was to beat Cody, it would give him a chance to build feuds with multiple opponents, have a strong run and truly solidify himself as the future top guy in the company. AEW could also tell the story of Cody being unable to beat his former protege, while MJF builds his own reputation off a belt Cody wanted to make his own.
While I said earlier Scorpio was my top pick to be the next TNT Champ, for the reasons I’ve outlined above, MJF is a very close second.
Ok, so this one is a bit of a wild one. Colt is an absolute treasure and rightfully an indie wrestling legend but he is not on the level of Cody Rhodes right now. However, I think he could become the next TNT Champion as part of his ongoing story with The Dark Order.
The way I see his position in the
cult self-help organisation is as the cheery face of it, the Tom Cruise of the group if you will. Since he joined The Dark Order, the stable has been subtly influencing Colt’s matches to ensure their biggest name member is successful in all he tries. Having him compete for and win the TNT Championship with the help of The Dark Order would not only be a surprise but a natural development of this story. Seeing him then celebrate like he is the greatest hero AEW has ever seen would be a perfect moment of cognitive dissonance and a great heat generator.
Obviously, this wouldn’t be a long term deal but it could feed into Colt’s current story and be a justified reward for an industry legend.
When I think of wrestlers in AEW that could potentially take a ‘workers’ title to another height, it is incredibly hard to go past The Bastard’s name. Not only is PAC one of the most versatile and charismatic wrestlers on the AEW roster, but he has shown with the WWE Cruiserweight Championship and Dragon Gate Dream Gate Championship, that he can take a championship and elevate it to the next level.
If he was to win it, I can easily see PAC playing an utterly despicable champion who goes to greater and greater length to hold onto the title against a procession of faces who AEW throw up against him. He is one of the best workes on the roster so the idea of him getting tv time most weeks is something that should make any wrestling fan’s mouth water. It is the formula that worked so well for him as a champion before on those smaller brands, AEW could simply take what worked so well and expose it to a broader audience.
Obviously, PAC is currently stuck in the UK, however, if I am right that Cody’s reign will be a long one it is entirely possible he could return to a surprise assault from The Bastard of AEW once COVID travel restrictions have cleared up.
Much like PAC, Rey Fenix is one of the first names that comes to mind when I look at who on the AEW roster could potentially take a ‘workers title’ to the next level. To put it simply, Fenix is one of the most exciting wrestlers in the world, there are very few wrestlers anywhere that possess the athleticism and poise that Fenix does and they make him a very special talent. While he has largely been confined to the tag division since first appearing in AEW, the company has never shied away from touting Fenix’s singles credentials in other companies such as AAA and Lucha Underground.
As a luchador, Fenix would offer a very different style of wrestling to what Cody has as champion, but that kind of diversity could only be seen as a positive for the legacy of the new championship and also the distinctiveness of Dynamite. Fenix could even be a potential candidate for Cody to trade the title back and forth with, as part of a longer rivalry if the company wanted to really push Fenix up to the level of the top singles wrestlers in the company.
Back where it all began for Cody.
These two met in the final of the tournament to crown the first TNT Championship and while it was always going to be Cody’s title initially, AEW did such a good job building Archer up to that match that he felt like a genuine threat to win the title. His monstrous and unpredictable presence, paired with promos from Jake Roberts, created a truly terrifying proposition and one that had a unique dynamic opposite Rhodes. Unfortunately, Archer may have been a victim of his own success in the build-up, as since he lost the final, AEW has been at a loss on how to handle one of their most interesting characters and as a result, Archer has largely been consigned to inconsequential backstage segments.
Of course, I’m not saying they were wrong to put the title on Cody at Double or Nothing, however, the now directionless Archer could immediately be given relevancy again with a win over Cody for the TNT Championship. A loss to Archer would ultimately be a good thing for Cody too as it would give him a challenge to overcome in the short term to win back his belt and solidify the Archer/Roberts combo as a long term rival for The American Nightmare.
I know, I know, I’m the guy who has been slamming AEW taking ex-WWE lower card talent and making a big deal out of them, but this column isn’t necessarily just what I want, it’s what I think might actually happen.
Since Dynamite kicked off, AEW has been teasing a revival of the legendary Four Horseman stable and the entire time Shaun Spears has been a part of that foreshadowing. While it isn’t completely clear who the other members will be, everything Spears has been doing, from immediately attacking the Horsemans’ natural enemy, a Rhodes, to taking on Tully Blanchard as a manager, to more recently starting to use the iconic loaded black glove, it is clear that Spears is going to be the number two singles guy of the stable.
Once this new Four Horseman is established, and it will be coming sometime this year, they will need to be legitimised by picking up some silverware and what would fit the number two guy of the stable better than winning the second-biggest championship in the company?
‘Hangman’ Adam Page
Last but certainly not least on this list is current AEW Tag Team Champion, Adam Page. The surging popularity of ‘The Hangman’ has been one of AEW’s biggest successes since it kicked off. Page went from clearly in over his head, wrestling against Chris Jericho to become the inaugural AEW Champion at All Out in August 2019, to blooming into one of the three most popular faces in the company by Revolution in February 2020.
While he is currently locked into the tag team division, his team with Kenny Omega seems to be coming to its end, with both men teasing tension within the team and taking opportunities to stretch their legs beyond their partnership over the last two months. A high profile post-breakup singles run is the obvious next goal for Page and chasing either of the belts would be a fantastic next step after a match with his former partner.
For those who didn’t follow The Elite before AEW, Hangman has quite a close history with Cody Rhodes, specifically being the first member of The Bullet Club to side with Cody in the 2018 Bullet Club Civil War. However, a lot has changed since then for both wrestlers. Cody has quietly split from The Elite to form The Nightmare Family and the relationship between Page and The Elite has run hot and cold all year, particularly as Hangman’s popularity as an individual act in his own right has blossomed. There are several theories out there that Cody is going to turn heel very shortly and if that is the case then The Hangman could be the perfect person to bring a rampant EVP to justice some time in early 2021.
Beyond the in-ring story, it is a fact that Cody loves old school wrestling, and Hangman beating him for the TNT Championship would have major Mr Perfect or Roddy Piper passing the Intercontinental Title to Bret Hart vibes.
That wraps up things for me this week, who do you think will be the next TNT Champion? Let me know in the comments below. You can also chat to me further on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or in the AEW section on the LOP Forums.
Missed my last AEW column? Check it out here:
Is Jon Moxley v Darby Allin TV Match of the Year? + Why Cody Should Lose the TNT Championship Next Week