Championships should never be used to make a wrestler.
By the time a wrestler earns a championship, they should be in a position where they are already in a position to hold that championship. They should be in a position where they elevate the championship, take it to higher heights, and make it more important and matter even more. Wrestlers maketh the championship. If it’s the other way around, it’s usually a desperate ploy. A last-ditch effort to get the fans to get behind (or against in some cases) someone who has otherwise not gained the traction the company has desired. This ploy often fails because the championship cannot put in the work the wrestler must do himself.
This is especially important in a new championship. A title that’s lineage is just beginning. In its earliest stages, a title is at its most vulnerable. Any mistake can be a damn near instant killing stroke. Treated as a joke right off the back, it can struggle for its existence to be taken seriously. Passed around and/or discarded too often right away and it will struggle to have any meaningful lineage worthy of respect or serious analysis. The more serious that first defender of that championship is, the more serious fans will look upon the title and respect it. It sounds easy, but wrestling is filled with bungled attempts to establish new championships. Creating a new championship is easy, making it worth a damn can be easily screwed up. One just needs to look at the beginnings of the new IWGP World Heavyweight lineage in NJPW to see that play out. A badass such as Shingo Takagi can hopefully land the recovery operation.
The TNT Championship in AEW I’m glad to say is not screwed up.
With it, they succeeded. It means something, it matters, it has a level of importance. It has been elevated and so far it doesn’t go to just any person. It’s a title to be earned, a title to be fought for.
It’s the current holder—Miro—has no desire to lose that championship because HE KNOWS he is the rightful owner of it. He fought for it, he claimed it, and he’ll decimate anyone who comes for it. The title matters to him, it matters to those who wish to claim it, and therefore in the end it matters to all of us.
But to get to where we are, we have to look back and give credit where it’s due. Every destination is a journey, every journey takes a million steps, and those first few steps were taken by Cody Rhodes. Cody Rhodes’ reign (In particular his very first reign) as TNT Championship helped not only establish a secondary title of importance but also had other lingering effects that AEW will benefit from in the long run.
While the length can be important, it’s not always length but the strength of that time period that makes a title matter. For example, Diesel in 1995 had a year-long title reign, the majority of it filled with mediocre matches, mediocrely received performances, and done in a time business was so far in the toilet it was being plunged out by T.L Hopper. It was a long reign, but an unsatisfactory one, a disappointing one. One that achieved nothing and means nothing.
The first TNT Championship of Cody Rhodes lasted just 82 days, but in that length, he defended it frequently against many comers. Nine challengers in 82 days, All of them on AEW Dynamite, which also gave Dynamite a must-see title challenge every time it was defended. He fought the likes of Jungle Boy, Jake Hagar, Sonny Kiss, Mar Quen, Scorpio Sky.
Various wrestlers, various styles, admittedly various qualities, but everyone approached the title with a legit purpose of wanting to be champion. If the challengers give a damn, and if Cody gives a damn, we all end up giving a damn because it matters.
Cody Rhodes defended against them all. They all got their opportunities to shine before they ultimately succumb to defeat. With challengers consistently stepping up and answering Cody’s want to defend the title as much as possible, it established the title as a must-win championship. A championship that was respected and sought after. Championships are props, but props should matter, and if they don’t matter then who gives a shit when they come into play. Imagine how dismissive people would’ve been about “DIP” in Who Framed Roger Rabbit if it was treated and/or passed off as a joke prop. No, in a mostly comedic film it was treated as something you feared and was serious business. When you watched that film and “DIP” got brought out, you knew things were about to get real.
The TNT Championship was treated as a big deal right away, and it never lost that feeling. When Brodie Lee defeated Cody Rhodes for the title—granted he would lose it back but not before having a kickass defense against Dustin Rhodes—it felt honest and hard-hitting because the title by then had been established as something worth fighting for, something worth going out on your back in an attempt to defend. It was impactful because the title had made an impact.
Tit for tat, if defending the title feels legit and real, then someone dethroning the champion feels the exact same. People want to be invested, people want to buy into things, people want to know what they watch has consequences and stakes.
Ultimately though, perhaps the biggest victory for the TNT Championship is the opportunity it gave, and the ramifications that are still playing it. Sure, it gives spotlights to wrestlers on the roster still paving their way, establishing their characters, and being given a chance to showcase themselves in a big-time spot, it also did so much more. It reached out, gave outsiders a chance to come in, be evaluated. Three men outside of AEW’s walls were allowed in. WARHORSE despite social media demand has not been seen in AEW since. Ricky Starks and Eddie Kingston were different stories. With the gift of gab, and getting it done in the ring in front of a plethora of eyes, Ricky Starks and Eddie Kingston earned themselves contracts and positions in AEW. Starks finds himself with Team Taz and is no doubt hungry enough, talented enough, and confident enough to go far. He is a young talent with plenty to give, and he will give it his all. This is a potential building block for AEW’s future. Eddie Kingston? He’s fought for the AEW Title, he teams with Jon Moxley, he gets to prove almost weekly he’s the best damn talker in pro-wrestling. Eddie Kingston is the type of veteran presence that can not only give it all in front of the camera but have so much knowledge to offer behind it.
All of this was possible, because they came in, kicked ass, and in the end came up short against Cody Rhodes for the TNT Championship. They put in the work for sure, but Cody Rhodes’ reign gave them the opportunity for it to pay off.
When Cody lost the title for the second and final time to Darby Allin, it felt right, it felt real. The moment was great. Darby Allin, constantly scratching and clawing but coming up short in the end finally achieved something momentous. Finally got his reward for all the sacrifice and suffering he put himself through. Cody Rhodes felt like his time had come. He had defended the title, he had won it back, and now he had nothing more to achieve. Darby’s defenses were a must-see. Desperation, determination. That title meant EVERYTHING to him and he put all his heart and soul into keeping it, which made it even more devastating with Miro crushing him for it. Now we have Miro, a joke in WWE but a badass in AEW. He has a championship he dares anyone to come to take it from him, and we all now get the joy of seeing who actually does. I hope it’s a long reign.
I love the TNT Championship. I love that AEW and Cody Rhodes successfully took a new title from scratch and got the ingredients damn near perfect. There’s been some mishaps and mistakes, perfection is never achieved in pro wrestling, but the results have been incredible. The successful establishment of the TNT Championship is along with his now legendary match with Dustin one of Cody’s best achievements inside of the confines of AEW. I hope he’s proud of it, he very well should be.
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