After his own better nature left Darby Allin on the victim's end of a Shawn Spears schoolboy roll-up, a lightbulb seemed to snap on. Allin left his partner Cody Rhodes lying when the match was over before storming to the back. The young wrestler may have been temporarily teamed with Cody against Spears and Sammy Guevara—but when the TNT Championship tournament begins next week, it will be every man for himself.
Dustin Rhodes, Lance Archer, Colt Cabana and Kip Sabian will join the four wrestlers to battle in a tournament for AEW's latest championship belt, an homage to the old NWA TV title that AEW head honcho Tony Khan announced Monday.
The eight-man tournament, set to culminate at AEW Double or Nothing in Las Vegas on May 23, adds a much-needed prize for the AEW midcard and adds some gravitas to bouts that might otherwise seem to exist merely to fill television time. It's a chance for wrestlers who may not be ready, either storyline-wise or in their career progressions, to do something meaningful and achieve the kind of milestones all legends pass on their roads to glory.
AEW has done an amazing job setting up meaningful main event programs. The battles between Cody and MJF, Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley, and the internal struggles of The Elite have all been compelling, well-conceived stories. But wrestlers in the middle of the card have had less-defined motivations. Another championship will serve as an easy storytelling device to elevate wrestlers with promise out of the pack and get them started on the path to reaching the main event level.
Bleacher Report will break down each competitor and determine both who will win and, more importantly, why. Let's take a look at all eight wrestlers and then pick a winner. You can tell me what you think in the comments.
Analysis: The biggest name in this tournament, the TNT Championship provides Cody an opportunity to win an AEW singles title that didn't previously exist. After all, he's pledged never to compete for the AEW World Heavyweight Championship. Perhaps his goal is to win this belt and make it just as prestigious in the fans' eyes?
Does He Need It: Cody is the top babyface in the promotion already. While it might be cool to see him wearing gold, he doesn't need the additional help to establish his character or provide his feuds gravitas.
Analysis: Spears entered AEW and was immediately immersed in a blood feud with Cody. It's been downhill ever since, as he's gradually descended all the way to opening-match status. He's a solid veteran and Tully Blanchard gives his act some additional oomph—but I can't see him walking out of this field with a strap around his waist and the proverbial rocket on his back.
Does He Need It: Desperately. But Spears winning the title would immediately make the belt seem unimportant in the overall scheme of things, essentially the opposite effect AEW is shooting for.
Analysis: The "Spanish God" has benefitted immensely from his time in Chris Jericho's Inner Circle. Every week he adds polish to an act that was already spit-shined until it gleamed. He's got physical tools and charisma for days. He's the kind of wrestler a midcard belt was created to showcase. This is a young kid who is most definitely going places.
Does He Need It: Guevara has had plenty of breakout moments on TNT—including posing prettily in the ring with Jericho, eating the world's most brutal superkick courtesy of Matt Jackson and singing "Judas" with MJF two weeks on Dynamite. But he doesn't have a signature match—yet. Winning this belt might be the first of many legendary title runs in a career that has plenty of promising days ahead.
Analysis: Before he had his shoulder pinned to the mat at the end, Allin climbed up a pole ringside like a spider monkey, screamed out "hey a--hole" and launched himself onto both Spears and Sammy with his Coffin Drop, essentially an ultra-dangerous trust fall. It was a moment that spoke volumes about who Allin is in the ring—fearless, reckless and deranged.
Does He Need It: The audience has taken to him in a major way. But, right now, he's a star waiting for an opportunity to shine. He's ready for something big—but the official promotional stamp of approval doesn't feel like it. He's an outsider and doesn't need the company's approval to make his mark. He'll go on doing that with or without the imprimatur.
Analysis: The 50-year-old Rhodes, Cody's older brother, is a legitimate living legend. He started wrestling on Turner television way back in 1988 and has done almost everything there is to do in the business. But he hasn't held singles gold since he stole Ted DiBiase's "Million Dollar title" in a wacky WWE angle a decade ago. Winning the inaugural TNT Championship would be a heck of a way to ride off into the sunset.
Does He Need It: Are you kidding me? He's Dustin Rhodes. He wrestled the Blacktop Bully in the back of a moving truck on pay-per-view. He doesn't need anything to prove who he is and what he means to the business.
Analysis: I keep waiting for Sabian to impress me. Perhaps this tournament will be the time? Right now, he's in the substantial shadow of his better half Penelope Ford. A high-profile championship win would certainly change that.
Does He Need It: It would be a huge moment for Sabian. But he doesn't feel established enough yet to leap from the undercard to the middle of the pack.
Analysis: Archer officially debuted against Marko Stunt in this episode of Dynamite. Poor little fella. He made mincemeat out of Stunt and has the potential to do the same to any man on the roster. Archer is big, mean and surprisingly technical. With Jake Roberts helping him call the shots, he'll be wicked and wise too. That's a tough combination to overcome.
Does He Need It: Archer and Roberts set their sights on Cody from the moment they entered AEW. Meeting and beating him in the finals of the TNT Championship tournament would establish Archer (and the title) as part of the show that matters.
Analysis: Commentator, podcaster, comedian—and also a wrestler! Is there anything Cabana can't do? A veteran of the independent scene, Cabana is best-known these days for his lighthearted comedy matches. But he can still go when the moment calls for it. With Archer, he'll be fighting to survive, not for a laugh.
Does He Need It: Cabana is a cult of personality. He doesn't need a title belt to get over and, frankly, it would probably get in the way of his act.
Prediction: Cody emerges from the brutal left side of the bracket to meet Lance Archer. The difference-maker will be Jake Roberts, a little savvier than Arn Anderson in the coaching role on the opposite side of the ring. Archer, in his pay-per-view debut, walks away with the very first TNT Championship belt.
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.