Ranking MJF and the 8 Biggest Breakout Stars of AEW's 1st Year

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMay 25, 2020

Ranking MJF and the 8 Biggest Breakout Stars of AEW's 1st Year

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    Credit: AEW/Lee South

    Year 1 in All Elite Wrestling has brought with it the rise of The Inner Circle, the plight of Cody, a championship run for Jon Moxley and further proof of Kenny Omega's claim to greatness. It has also spotlighted several young stars who not only figure to be significant parts of the product but, further down the road, its faces.

    The arrogant MJF wowed fans with his total disrespect of pretty much anyone he came into contact with. Orange Cassidy's lackadaisical approach spoke to an entire generation. Darby Allin's willingness to throw caution to the wind captivated.

    Those stars, among others, helped lay the groundwork for AEW's future. And as the company enters its second year, relive their and others' stories with this look at the eight greatest breakout stars of the past 12 months in AEW.

Nyla Rose

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    From the moment she lost to Riho on the inaugural episode of Dynamite and proceeded to unleash heel on anyone around her, Nyla Rose became the breakout star of the AEW women's division.

    Whether she was powerbombing referee Rick Knox or driving Shanna through a table, womanhandling Riho or bashing Hikaru Shida with a kendo stick, Rose established herself as the must-see star on the women's roster.

    Her rise culminated when she defeated the aforementioned Riho to win the title and firmly establish herself as one of the most unstoppable forces in the company.

    It is for that reason that her loss at Double or Nothing on Saturday was so surprising. After months of running through any challenger who came her way, Rose succumbed to a kendo stick attack by Shida.

    Now, Rose faces uncertainty.

    She will almost assuredly have to scale her way back up the ladder in AEW, but with performers like Kris Statlander and Penelope Ford gaining more and more exposure, it will be more difficult than ever to regain the gold.

    The creative team's devotion to Rose's character on the show, though, suggests she will continue wrecking fools who stand between her and the title, ensuring she remains a factor on Dynamite and Dark for the foreseeable future.

Jurassic Express

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    Jurassic Express may be the most unlikely trio to break out in AEW, if for no other reason than the eclectic mix of talent within.

    There is Jungle Boy, a star-in-the-making with the potential to be one of the faces of AEW's bright future. He has movie-star good looks, an expanding skill set and the underdog feature you look for in a great babyface. He is going to make all kinds of money for the company one day.

    His match with MJF at Double or Nothing hinted at some Ricky Steamboat in him, that wholesome goodness that gives way to unbridled ferocity when tested. He can be that good based on the returns we're seeing from him at this young age.

    Then there is Marko Stunt, the smallest man on the roster but with an enormous heart and never-say-die attitude. His persistence is both a blessing and a curse, as it has earned him quite a few ass-kickings to date, but he has also built his star on his ability to make his opponents look like unstoppable monsters.

    It is Luchasaurus who has become one of the most intriguing characters on the roster, though.

    Yes, the dinosaur shtick is gimmicky, but when coupled with the unbelievable athleticism and agility of the big man behind it, the character works. Fans eat it up. The look, the ring work and his unwavering desire to do something new in every one of his matches have helped Luchasaurus become one of the rare breakout stars no one saw coming.

    An injury hampered his progression, but as we saw with his performance at Double or Nothing, he figures to be in the hunt with the rest of the heavyweights invading AEW.

Dr. Britt Baker, DMD

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    Dr. Britt Baker, DMD, got off to a rough start in AEW.

    Repeatedly referred to as a dentist, she became a punchline for fans who sarcastically asked one another whether they knew Baker's day gig. That she struggled to connect with audiences and was, admittedly, hesitant in the ring following a concussion suffered at July's Fight for the Fallen did not help matters.

    Then came a heel promo, cut on board the Jeri-Cruise in January, in which she made fun of commentator Tony Schiavone for his job at Starbucks. That one promo was exactly what Baker needed to grow, evolve and break out.

    A newly minted heel, she popped up on shows on a seemingly weekly basis, not to wrestle but to insult Schiavone, fans and the women's division. On the April 8 episode of Dynamite, she battled Hikaru Shida in a high-stakes singles match, during which she broke her nose.

    The images of her smile cutting through the blood that poured from her nose was so effective it was turned into the promotion's hottest-selling T-shirt.

    Unfortunately, an injury suffered just prior to Double or Nothing put Baker out of action. Hopefully, it does not halt her momentum as she was quickly developing into one of the best heels on the roster.

Orange Cassidy

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    Orange Cassidy is the modern slacker, the King of Sloth Style. He has zero cares, moves at his own pace and is not at all fazed by the chaos around him. Confronted by badasses like Pac, he stares them down and unloads the weakest shin kicks this side of a temperamental toddler.

    But it's all good.

    Cassidy has won over audiences thanks to his total commitment to his character, his comedic value and, when the bell rings, his incredible timing.

    His ability to captivate the audience by popping up in the ring or walking through the curtain without doing a single physical hold or maneuver is awe-inspiring. He is incredibly popular and will continue to be as long as he can continue to avoid settling into a routine.

    While it may be too much to suggest he will be a main event talent one day, a consistent entertainer who keeps fans invested while selling a ton of merchandise and eliciting loud ovations is hardly a bad role to take in any company.

Darby Allin

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    Perhaps the most inventive performer on the AEW roster, Darby Allin spent Year 1 of AEW throwing his body around the ring with reckless abandon, all out of determination to build his star and achieve greatness.

    The face-painted enigma wasted little time announcing to the world who he was and what he was about as he took Cody to a time-limit draw at Fyter Fest in June, won the Crackle Barrel Clash at All Out and challenged Chris Jericho for the AEW World Heavyweight Championship on the third episode of Dynamite.

    He clashed with Cody in two more matches, went to war with Jon Moxley and established himself as one of the brightest young stars in the industry along the way.

    As the second year arrives, Allin appears poised to continue his journey to the upper echelon of AEW talent.

    At Double or Nothing, he was moments away from capturing a poker chip that would have guaranteed him a shot at the world title, only to have the Taz-led Brian Cage brutalize him. Allin's reluctance to take advice from The Human Suplex Machine may put him on a collision course with Cage, a feud that would rank among the highest-profile of his young career.

    His ability to preserve his health and remain at the forefront of AEW television will be the deciding factors in Allin's ascent over the next year.

Sammy Guevara

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    Aged just 26, Sammy Guevara has established himself as one of the premier competitors in All Elite Wrestling. A member of The Inner Circle alongside Chris Jericho, Jake Hager, Santana and Ortiz, he has frequently competed against the top stars in the industry.

    His in-ring work has been nothing short of phenomenal, which is the reason AEW officials chose him to compete in both the first singles match in company history during the Double or Nothing 2019 Buy-In show and the first Dynamite match against Cody.

    Beyond that, he has managed to bring attention to himself by using cue cards and getting run over by golf carts in unforgettable stunts. Most recently, his match-ending bump through a wooden platform during the Stadium Stampede match at Double or Nothing 2020 left fans in awe.

    Guevara's creativity, not just with his character but his ring work, will continue to get him over with the audience. Hopefully his win-loss record begins to reflect just how significant a piece of the AEW puzzle he is. When that finally happens, expect monumental things from a performer who has low-key been one of the MVPs for the company in its first year.


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    MJF is the heel around whom AEW will build its entire show sooner rather than later.

    The most gifted talker in the company, with a character he lives whenever cameras are around, the brash competitor out of New York has already experienced what it feels like to star in a major program. His betrayal of Cody, the promos that followed and the angles that led to their encounter at Revolution in February were majorly significant parts of AEW television.

    They gave him a platform to showcase himself to those fans who, for whatever reason, were not already familiar with his villainous excellence.

    Then, at Double or Nothing, he reminded the audience that there is more to him than the ability to incite anger on the microphone. He tore the house down with Jungle Boy in a superbly wrestled match that saw him spend the majority of the bout targeting the arm, only to catch his opponent with a European Clutch for the pinfall victory.

    It is astonishing that MJF is only 24 in that he is wise beyond his years when it comes to psychology and his ability to manipulate a crowd. That he is so good at it so young suggests that he will succeed when given his first sustained opportunity to run at the top of the card.

    So young so good, he will be the face of AEW long after Cody, Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and Chris Jericho are gone.

'Hangman' Adam Page

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    From his victory in the Casino Battle Royale to sharing the ring with Bret Hart at the first Double or Nothing, it was clear there were significant plans for "Hangman" Adam Page from the start in AEW. While he failed to defeat Chris Jericho to become the promotion's first world champion, that loss that fueled the character work we saw out of him in the months that followed.

    Increasingly frustrated by his win-loss record, he teased a heel turn more than once before teaming with Kenny Omega to upset SCU for the tag titles. Page's desire to pull away from The Elite and create his own star, all while drinking beer and doing that cowboy s--t, became one of the overarching storylines in Year 1 of AEW and helped him develop into a massively over antihero.

    Riding a horse into battle at this year's Double or Nothing before whooping up on Jake Hager in the club section only enhanced the fans' love and adoration of the character.

    Once fans are back in arenas around the country, cheering on Page in either singles or tag team action, the work the company has done to present him as a genuine main event attraction will become even more apparent.

    More importantly, he will be able to ride that wave of support as high up the card as he and management want him to go. That will be a very good thing for AEW as a whole.