In defeating The Machine Brian Cage at New Year’s Smash Night 2, Darby Allin made his first successful defence of the AEW TNT Championship. Having held the title for over two months by this point, it was about time it was defended. Cody set a remarkable precedent in defending every week, which you can’t expect subsequent champions to stick to. However, Mr Brodie Lee retained twice before losing the strap back to The American Nightmare. To see a still-relatively-new championship, in only its third pair of hands, be carried around as decoration for 67-days doesn’t help build the prestige one would assume AEW wants to create for their version of a TV title.
As this is wrestling, there is an assumption that the issues between Allin and Cage, and Team Taz as a whole, are not over. But apart from a rematch with Cage, who is next to step up to challenge Allin?
1 – Powerhouse Hobbs
We know Taz has issues with Darby Allin, stemming from Allin refusing to accept the former ECW Champion as his mentor. As Allin now has successful pinfalls over both Cage (in his title defence) and Starks (in the tag match at Winter Is Coming), it would make sense for Taz to freshen things up and send Hobbs after the TNT Champion.
Hobbs is still a relatively fresh face in AEW, only making his Dynamite debut in September. Sure, Hobbs has squared off against Allin in tag team matches, but a one-on-one encounter would be a great showcase for Hobbs. Sure, another powerful wrestler with a 100lb weight advantage of Allin smacks of repetition in terms of the in-ring content, but Hobbs is much more technical than Cage and can bring out a different side of Darby. This could be a great way to draw a line under the Allin vs. Taz feud – at least until Hook is ready – and allow Hobbs to dominate as champion. Two champs in Team Taz would also give bragging rights to The Human Suplex Machine.
2 – Matt Hardy
Darby Allin, in an interview in December, was asked about his dream opponent and stated it was Matt Hardy. Having banished Team Taz, Darby could go out on a limb and call his shots in naming his own challengers. With Private Party showing up Impact and landing the #1 contenders spot for the Impact Tag Team Championships, Hardy could use the opportunity to impress and instil a thirst for gold on Kassidy and Quen.
With AEW recognising The Multifarious Matt Hardy, the potential for a short series between Allin and Hardy’s individual personalities would be an interesting direction for both men. A face-off between Allin and Broken Matt Hardy would drag in a lot of viewers and would be an entertaining match – especially if they involve The Hardy Compound as the next in AEW’s cinematic escapades. One final title run before Hardy swaps his ring boots for a full-time manager’s license would be a fitting end to a wonderful career.
3 – Colt Cabana
With The Dark Order and the wrestling world as a whole, still, in mourning for Mr. Brodie Lee, an attempt to bring His title back to the group wouldn’t be a far stretch. The ranks of The Dark Order are large, featuring many potential contenders. But one name stands head and shoulders above the rest.
With his career stalling in AEW, joining The Dark Order and teaming with Mr. Brodie Lee changed his fortunes around. Continuing the legacy of The Exalted One, Cabana targeting the TNT Championship and going after Allin would result in some fantastic matches. Colt Cabana is no stranger to titles with two reigns as NWA World Heavyweight Champion under his belt. With a wrestling ability almost unparalleled, and experience worldwide in being able to handle any style of wrestler in front of him, Cabana poses a serious threat to Allin’s reign.
4 – Jungle Boy
One of the most popular wrestlers in AEW vs. One of the most popular wrestlers in AEW? Two quick, young, hungry athletes, willing to leave it all in the ring for the fans. Two guys with exceptional technical wrestling ability and the nerve to throw themselves about when needed. It’s a sure-fire hit, right?
Jungle Boy has proved time and time again that he is one of the members of the AEW roster considered the future of this business. He shines bright no matter who he’s up against and seems almost incapable of putting on a bad match. But he needs a breakout moment. Jurassic Express are great fan favourites but never seem to make headway in their attempts for Tag Team gold. Jungle Boy going out to prove himself by taking the title off of Allin would be a great match and shut up the doubters once and for all.
5 – Wardlow
You have to feel sorry for Wardlow. Since MJF joined The Inner Circle, he has almost become the forgotten man. He hasn’t had much opportunity to let his in-ring ability do the talking for him since joining, largely spending his time staring down Jake Hager before the two eventually faced off at Winter Is Coming. Wardlow’s impressive victory of The Big Hurt showed the potential he has when he gets let off the leash, but he was immediately side-lined in The Inner Circle’s bickering over who is the faction’s main tag team.
Wardlow has the strength and power to take the fight to Allin in much the same way Cage did but without the cockiness. Wardlow is straight-up business, bell-to-bell, and the intensity he brings is almost unmatched in AEW. Allin would have a serious fight on his hands to retain. Wardlow winning the TNT Championship would turn a lot of heads – especially if he became the only current champion in The Inner Circle.
Like Kenny Omega, Darby Allin is a marked man with multiple targets on his back. While he might not hold the more prestigious “World” Championship (is it a World Championship if it’s only been defended in one country?), gold is gold in wrestling, and every member of the roster should be aiming to be a champion. Now Allin has fended off Brian Cage, you would expect a large number of AEW stars to be knocking on Tony Khan’s door for opportunities. Will one of the five people above be at the head of the line? Tune into AEW Dynamite on Wednesday nights to find out!