Inaugural 5 TNT Champions, ranked
By virtue of being the most defended and most unpredictable title in AEW, the TNT Championship is almost guaranteed to be a weekly highlight or point of debate, whether it’s on Dynamite, Rampage, or big pay-per-views. With the first wave of champions crowned less than 2 years after the championship’s introduction in 2020, let’s take a look at what each champion contributed to the title and rank all of AEW’s first 5 TNT Champions.
(5) Sammy Guevara
This will cover only Sammy Guevara’s first and second reigns won off of Miro and Cody Rhodes respectively, being that Rhodes had already been a prior champion when Guevara won the title off of him. The young daredevil’s talent would, in fact, be showcased best in a pair of excellent matches against rival Cody Rhodes. The first of these would take place on Rampage: Holiday Bash 2021, which saw the pair in their most spirited encounter yet, and the second being a classic ladder match on Dynamite: Beach Break 2022, where Guevara left no stone unturned and delivered the flying cutter for the ages.
Apart from these matches and a sleeper hit of a three-way against Andrade El Idolo and Darby Allin on Rampage, Guevara did not bring a lot of consistency or intriguing matches to the TNT title. Admittedly, not all of it can be pinned on Guevara, who was perpetually caught in the sports-entertainment void of Inner Circle rivalries (long before the faction’s more transparent offshoot was born), taking time and attention away from his already short list of defenses. Still, some of it can be, such as his television segments with Tay Conti, and it’s not a stretch to say that Sammy Guevara is not many people’s fondest memory of the TNT Championship.
(4) Darby Allin
It’s uncomfortable to write about Darby Allin, what with the unacknowledged, unresolved accusations from 2020 always looming over him, so I’ll keep this short. He and Cody Rhodes always had the best chemistry, and their TNT title match in late 2020 was no exception. His Daily’s Place defenses in 2021 were the most consistent matches on TV, facing off against an exciting array of talent including Jungle Boy, Scorpio Sky, and the man he would eventually drop the title to, Miro.
(3) Brodie Lee
In a word, the late-great Brodie Lee’s reign with the TNT Championship was impactful. With over 6 weeks between his pair of great matches against Cody Rhodes, he brought status and prestige to the title both as a top-tier wrestler and as the strong, beloved leader of Dark Order. Brodie’s 3-minute dispatching of Rhodes brought unpredictability to a company that had not had many unpredictable moments yet at that point, especially in title matches; and the very physical Dog Collar match, despite taking place in front of a very limited, socially-distanced audience, was a great, brutal spectacle that saw Rhodes fight his hardest to try and match the champion’s destructive power.
From his rivalry with Cody Rhodes; to his defenses against Dustin Rhodes and Orange Cassidy, two men who could not be further apart in terms of strategy; to what could be the greatest promo in AEW history (a.k.a. the Thirst Trap promo); Dark Order’s Mr. Brodie Lee would show fans a sample of his immense range and truly exalt the TNT Championship.
“The Redeemer” Miro delivered the best promos as TNT Champion. He spoke so ominously and charismatically about how honored he was that God kept him powerful and his “hot wife flexible.” He saw himself as favorable in God’s eyes and fashioned himself “God’s Favorite Champion,” an honorable man who forgave every enemy that he destroyed. Miro dropped so many gems in his vignettes, and his title defenses automatically felt like a bigger deal because of them.
But then you remembered that Miro’s greatness didn’t stop with promos and that he was going to have title matches on the regular, which created even more excitement for his next orations. Miro’s matches against the likes of Dante Martin and Fuego Del Sol made for excellent clashes against the smaller high-flyers. He would also have matches against big men like Lance Archer and Eddie Kingston, and he could still come off as the monster that he is and hold his own whether in the ring or on the microphone.
Miro as TNT Champion made for such great television, and one can imagine it would be the highest praise for anyone blessed with the title. He truly felt unstoppable, and many fans probably wanted him to be as well, wishing they could’ve still had much more from the reign that lasted from May to September of 2021, but alas, they would be forsaken.
(1) Cody Rhodes
The first-ever 3-time TNT Champion Cody Rhodes never felt more like the face of AEW than while holding the TNT Championship. From his promo dissecting each of the 7 other contenders in the tournament to crown the first champion in 2020 to his emphatic final statement before exiting the company in early 2022, Rhodes gave some of his best mic work, whether as champion or contender to the title because he wouldn’t simply promote one-off matches, but constantly tout the projected lineage of the TNT title as the future flag-bearers of AEW.
As champion, Rhodes delivered match after match and series after series against the likes of Eddie Kingston, Ricky Starks, Sammy Guevara, and Brodie Lee. Rhodes had the ability to produce a compelling series of matches and have great ring chemistry against tenured veterans and younger talent alike, which made him more so tailor-fit for the TNT Championship. Cody Rhodes carried the TNT Championship like it was the company’s prized possession because, in many ways, it was his prized possession. The TNT Championship is the title that calls everyone to step up and the title that represents the best week-to-week wrestling on TV; and with the strong foundation laid down by Rhodes and his challengers, this title “will never, ever, ever be secondary” to any other, and will always hold luster.