How AEW Can Restore Prestige to TNT Championship After Booking Misfires

Philip LindseyContributor IIApril 20, 2022

Photo credit: All Elite Wrestling

At Battle of the Belts II, Sammy Guevara upset Scorpio Sky to end his short-lived reign as TNT champion. The controversial outcome left many to question the stop-start use of the former titleholder.

Moreover, though, it was the latest misstep as All Elite Wrestling attempts to find the next dependable Face of TNT.

AEW is still a relatively new company but the introduction and strong lineage of its championships have been one of its major success stories coming out the gate. In just three years, its world title has become one of the most prestigious and well-guarded prizes in the industry.

For all the criticism heaped at its women's division, the AEW Women's World Championship is no exception. The ever-evolving mantle has a strong history built on consistently first-rate title defenses thanks to the likes of Riho, Hikaru Shida and Britt Baker.

Recently, however, the TNT Championship has become an outlier due to a handful of short reigns and perplexing booking decisions. It's a bit of a shame because the secondary title was initially a refreshing addition to Dynamite in 2020.


Rhodes' Lasting Foundation

Early on, AEW rejected designations like midcard title or "workhorse championship." Instead, the company opted to let the new mantle grow with each victor who held it.

As former executive vice president Cody Rhodes stated, "Man/woman wearing any belt defines it, not the other way around. I don't believe in 'midcard' titles."

AEW President Tony Khan reiterated this sentiment during a conference call ahead of All Out 2021 last September.

"It's not a mid-card championship," he told reporters. "The only people that have held it are Cody, Brodie Lee (rest in peace), Darby Allin, and Miro. I'm not booking it like a midcard championship, I'm booking it as a top championship that stars hold."

To his credit, Rhodes led by example as the inaugural champion. He was, arguably, the hottest babyface on the roster at one point, but he couldn't challenge for AEW's highest honor due to his loss to MJF. So, he molded the TNT title into a highly sought-after prize as a defiant top dog.

His open challenge produced some excellent television matches and introduced new stars such as Ricky Starks and Eddie Kingston. In just 91 days, the second-generation wrestler set a record, which still stands, with eight consecutive title defenses.

Allin followed in his footsteps, but he also defined his reign as a gutsy underdog champion who overcame every challenger with guile and tenacity. The Straight Edge Daredevil became a legitimate draw and a consummate main attraction.

Miro also developed into one of the best characters in the company during his tenure, delivering engaging promos and dominant performances. He rechristened the TNT title with colors from the Bulgarian flag and the Plovdiv coat of arms as an ode to his hometown.

This made his run feel unique and his character and in-ring work cemented him as a star before he sustained an injury and took some time off to shoot an unnamed pilot.


Guevara's Reigns Lead to Diminishing Returns

Guevara's growing pains as a singles competitor have created the first real blemishes in the title's history. That isn't to say The Spanish God hasn't been an adequate champion in his own right, but some of his struggles have led to some convoluted storytelling.

During his first reign, the 28-year-old took part in a handful of exceptional matches like his defense against Jay Lethal and Tony Nese. Nevertheless, it was difficult to ascertain what his defining character traits were.

As a parting gift, Rhodes reentered the TNT title picture and provided a foil to galvanize fans around Guevara's second title win. It was a risky move for AEW, which resulted in the need for an interim champion as the current WWE Superstar was unable to compete at Battle of the Belts.

However, it ultimately worked out as their incredible ladder match at Beach Break reminded viewers just how amazing Chris Jericho's former protege is. This renewed interest in him to enjoy a much better stint as champion the second time around.

Sky was also a perfect option to dethrone him because it acted as a culmination of a two-year journey. The former MMA fighter and one-half of Men of the Year unsuccessfully challenged Rhodes and Allin for the TNT Championship. So, his victory on the March 9 episode of Dynamite felt significant; it seemed like it was finally his time.

Unfortunately, Guevara's budding relationship with Tay Conti and a growing perception among fans seemed to force AEW's hand again. As a result, his third TNT title win looks like a vehicle to embrace these negative reactions and turn him into a heel.

Honestly, it was the right decision, but one could argue he didn't need to reclaim his mantle to do so.


Righting the Ship

These recent developments are disappointing, but AEW can salvage this. It may sound preposterous at this point but a run as an antagonist could lead to Guevara's definitive reign.

The third time could be the charm if the company allows him to delve into a detestable character change. After all, his initial push didn't work because The Spanish God didn't explore new territory like some of his predecessors. As a result, it often seemed like he was doing a lesser version of what made their time as titleholders special.

Guevara didn't have Rhodes' panache and overwhelming crowd support, and he couldn't replicate what makes Allin intrinsically charismatic. As such, he started to feel like a directionless and vanilla good guy.

Turning him heel serves two purposes: It gives him a new motivation that plays into existing live reactions, but it also presents new challengers with someone to chase. It will only help that fans want Guevara to lose because it will give them someone else to root for.

It also doesn't seem like Sky is done with the Houston native, which could lead to an even better crowning moment later this year. After all, his opponent cheated to defeat him at Battle of the Belts II and his time in the sun is long overdue.

No matter how AEW ties up all these loose ends, the next champion has to enjoy a long tenure. It probably wouldn't be a bad time for them to eclipse Rhodes' number of consecutive defenses in the process.

There's nothing wrong with short tenures or transitional titleholders, but the next formative Face of TNT needs to make an impact.