Brian Cage recently made his surprise debut at AEW Double Or Nothing, accompanied to the ring by his new manager Tazz, winning the Casino Ladder Match. This victory earned him the number one contendership to the AEW Championship, which was retained later that evening by Jon Moxley in a valiant defence against Mr Brodie Lee. AEW quickly announced that Moxley would defend his championship against Cage at AEW Fyter Fest, which occurred over two weeks on AEW Dynamite.
Since winning the AEW Championship from Chris Jericho at AEW Revolution, Moxley has defended the title twice, once in an Empty Arena match against Jake Hager and against Brodie Lee as mentioned previously. While also featuring in a solid match against Frankie Kazarian, Moxley has missed several events due to the pandemic and lockdown, but his overall work and promos since leaving WWE cemented him as one of the hottest talents in the world. Moxley has even been able to expand his popularity to several appearances for New Japan, including a cracking Texas Death Match against Lance Archer and a battle with Minoru Suzuki. It’s hard to disagree with the argument that Moxley could continue as champion for the rest of the year.
However, the question is: does it make sense to sacrifice Cage so quickly as a challenger? Since his appearance at AEW Double Or Nothing, Cage has been featured in four matches against undercard competitors and unceremoniously destroyed them with minimal effort. He’s undoubtedly getting the ‘big man’ push, akin to wrestlers such as Brock Lesnar in 2002 or Big Van Vader in WCW 1992, and has even been greatly protected in his scuffles with Moxley prior to their match. Taking into consideration that he was originally signed by CEO Tony Khan earlier this year when healing from surgery for a torn bicep, it would seem ludicrous for him to lose to Moxley less than two months into his AEW career.
One of the main criticisms is the decision by AEW to have the AEW Championship held by two different former WWE Superstars, in Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley. Now, both champions have made sense so far, first of all kicking off with Jericho as he could add legitimacy to the championship, similar to Jimmy Snuka as the first ever ECW Champion. Jericho put on a series of great matches and promos during his 182-day reign, including matches with Cody, Scorpio Sky and Darby Allin during this time. It was then decided to drop the championship to the white-hot Moxley, to capitalise on his popularity with the audience, and possibly due to Jericho’s band Fozzy originally booked for touring dates in April.
Moxley has been unlucky so far in his reign, considering he suffered a concussion at AEW Revolution and been champion during an unprecedented global pandemic, but there are currently two choices to make for AEW. The first is that they could have Moxley retain his championship and continue his reign, but that would lower the choices of who can replace him as champion. The list of current AEW roster members who could not only challenge for the championship, but believably win it, are currently few and far between.
Adam Page has redeemed his early uncertainty to become one of the biggest stars in AEW, but is currently holding the AEW World Tag Team Championships alongside Kenny Omega, another possible contender for the AEW Championship. The story currently involving both men is engrossing and a highlight on AEW Dynamite, it would be short sighted to finish it so soon when it has so much potential. Mr. Brodie Lee and Jake Hager have already lost their championship opportunities, plus they are both ex-WWE wrestlers, adding to the previous criticisms. Jericho doesn’t need the championship, and currently seems focused on matches to elevate talent, such as with Orange Cassidy, who himself is hugely popular but surely not suited to win the championship this soon.
Cody would have been a tremendous choice considering his huge connection with the audience and his emotionally driven matches, but the decision to have him unable to challenge for the AEW Championship is much more fascinating a concept. Instead, Cody is focused on escalating the TNT Championship as the ‘workhorse’ title and would surely only go back on his word when chasing an enemy such as MJF as champion. Speaking of MJF, he would be brilliantly suited as a heel champion, and a homegrown choice as well, but has ongoing feuds with Jungle Boy (another outside choice) and Jurassic Express, while his minder Wardlow seems to be bristling against MJF’s arrogance.
Brian Cage, in comparison, is not only undefeated and looking strong, but Khan has admitted to having plans for him ever since signing Cage in January. Cage offers a contrast to the style of AEW, less fast paced and much more monstrous, a physically intimidating presence and yet athletic enough to equal his smaller opponents. But most importantly, how can you truly push a wrestler with the catchphrase “Beat him if you can, survive if I let you” if you have him lose less than two months after his debut. Whereas, considering he’s so far only beaten jobbers and a damaged selection of wrestlers in a Ladder Match, defeating the AEW Champion in singles combat would make him look dangerous and capable. It would be very akin to when Vader defeated the WCW World Champion, beloved babyface Sting.
The truth is, it feels much more beneficial for Brian Cage to win the championship than it does for Jon Moxley to retain. Moxley has proven himself as being box office material regardless of whether or not he wears the title around his waist, while Cage is a burgeoning star who needs that little bit extra to confirm himself as a true main eventer. If Cage were to win the championship, there would be eight wrestlers from the Casino Ladder Match alone who could challenge Cage, with Darby Allin especially offering a fascinating option. Allin has spent the nearly two months since the match signed off with injury and would surely be desperate for revenge against the machine who injured him. But possibly the most vital element, Cage has never been affiliated with WWE, negating one of the few criticisms levelled at AEW, and would offer new impetus for the main event scene. And then we would be left with a new question: who could stop the path of Cage?
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