Of all the ex-WWE talents reviving their careers in AEW, none had a more dominant 2021 than Miro. Now one of the promotion’s top stars, the wrestler formerly known as Rusev broke free from WWE’s creative restraints and reinvented himself as a terrifying behemoth hell-bent on wanton destruction. As the TNT Champion, a title he held for 140 days, the “Redeemer” would compete in servitude of his malefic God and his hot wife, handing biblical beatdowns to all comers as if the Old Testament came alive in an AEW ring. He became Shang Tsung with a twist, collecting the souls of those he annihilated so that he could “forgive” them for having the temerity to step up to “God’s Favorite Champion”.
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On top of his brutalizing, Miro perfected the art of delivering believably badass one-liners in his promos. Coming off as a potent mix of Clubber Lang and Kickboxer’s Tong Po, he also exuded the kind of bravado immortalized in Michael Jordan’s memefied vignettes from The Last Dance. Wrestling promos haven’t been all that memorable as of late, but his succinct parables are must-see television.
He didn’t start the year as the physical manifestation of his God’s wrath though, as he was still stuck in a “friendship” that he needed to break away from in order to fulfill his destiny.
“Nobody is gonna stop me from being a champion, you understand that?!”
When Miro debuted in AEW in September last year as Kip Sabian’s “Best Man”, it felt like a grave misuse of his many talents. As Sabian and Penelope Ford’s heavy hitter, who would also be the former’s best man for their imminent wedding, Miro presented himself as a bon vivant pastiche of hypebeast culture. Sporting bleach blonde hair and Gen Z couture, the self-proclaimed “best gamer on Twitch” would spend months by Sabian’s side as they began 2021 by tussling with “Good Friends” Best Friends over broken arcade machines. He forced Chuck Taylor to be his butler at one point, mockingly calling him “Charles” throughout, and hilariously referred to Orange Cassidy as a “human Xanax”, culminating in the two ruining Sabian and Ford’s nuptials while the Best Man’s left ankle was cuffed to the ropes.
Miro and Sabian’s subsequent defeat to Taylor and Cassidy in a wild “Arcade Anarchy” match on the March 31st Dynamite finally gave the Bulgarian Brute an excuse to pursue some solo gold. But loose ends had to be tied up first. A month after their loss, Sabian was on the receiving end of a feral beating by his best man, ending the assault by slamming a door on Kip’s arm before cradling him and telling his former friend that he “forgives” him. Now that’s the Miro we craved from the get-go.
“The world will find out what happens when the man that doesn’t mind dying meets the man that doesn’t mind killing him!”
On the May 5th Blood & Guts special, Miro announced that he would face TNT Champion Darby Allin for the daredevil’s title on the following week’s Dynamite. The lack of a lengthy build didn’t deter interest in what was an intriguing battle between two performers who couldn’t be any more different from each other. Allin’s pre-match promo, in which he expressed skepticism at Miro’s attitude shift after doing nothing but playing video games and planning weddings since arriving at AEW, ensured a violent response from a man who couldn’t wait to unleash his ferocity.
Already heading into his title defence with a clear handicap after being thrown down a flight of stairs by Ethan Page on the same day Miro called him out, Allin’s six-month reign unsurprisingly came to a vicious end. The confident challenger, having already emblazoned his trunks with the TNT logo, amplified his advantage even further by pummelling Allin before the opening bell rang. The “heart and soul of AEW” remained defiant, but was soundly “forgiven” once Game Over was locked in. The new champ’s celebration was cut short though, as the “Murderhawk Monster” Lance Archer was only prevented from rushing into the ring by Jake “The Snake” Roberts as Dynamite signed off.
“You say that ‘everybody dies’, and it’s true, everybody dies. But I just insist that you’re going to be first!”
Lance Archer has had quite the history with the TNT Championship. He reached the final of the title’s inaugural tournament back in May 2020 only to fall to Cody Rhodes, as well as falling short in a number one contender’s ladder match for that same belt at Revolution earlier this year. Despite his constant failure in high-stakes matches, the undeterred Archer promised to make Miro his “Bulgarian bitch” after Double or Nothing. The champ retaliated by engaging in mind games with his volatile challenger, intent on cranking up the animosity that he thrives in. After quickly “forgiving” Dante Martin in his first title defence, he would get under Archer’s skin by taking verbal and physical cheap shots at the legendary Roberts, eventually sidelining Murderhawk’s mentor with a low blow the day before their PPV bout.
While the result was never in doubt as Miro had only just won the title, it didn’t stop two of AEW’s meanest kaijus from having a bruising slobberknocker. During the match’s final third, Roberts would return and attempt to exact some revenge on Miro by unleashing his infamous pet snake on him, but the champ was a step ahead. He grabbed Roberts’ canvas bag with the serpent inside, shook it vigorously, then maniacally tossed it down the ramp to the audible gasps of the crowd. Archer would then muster a brief comeback before later succumbing to Game Over, earning Miro’s “forgiveness” by getting choked out and losing yet another big match.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) May 31, 2021
“I find your lack of fear… disturbing. Don’t you know that I’m powerful? Don’t you know that I’m undefeated? Don’t you respect your champion?!”
The TNT Championship has a special place in the Dark Order’s legacy. Former champion Brodie Lee’s tragic death last year left an indelible mark in the group, whose heartfelt tributes to their leader helped transition their kayfabe personas from a cultish syndicate to an affable band of misfits. Strengthened by their collective grief, they sought to regain the title that their “Exalted One” had helped to legitimize. With initial challenger John Silver unable to compete due to injury, it was up to Evil Uno to overcome insurmountable odds on the June 11th Dynamite.
To the surprise of many, the gutsy Uno lasted almost ten minutes before meeting his fate. The Dark Order’s ringside support made Uno the sentimental favorite but also turned up the champ’s unrelenting brutality. Embracing his self-anointment as “God’s Favourite Champion”, a sanctimonious bully devoted to lashing out pain and offering sacrifices to his deity and his double-jointed spouse, he savoured the chance to break the hearts of many. In typically sadistic fashion, Miro “forgave” Uno by tapping him out in front of his friends before cruelly taunting them with the belt they hoped to bring home.
While Miro didn’t defend his title on the following week’s Dynamite, he still made his unnerving presence felt. After Penelope Ford’s defeat of the Varsity Blondes’ Julia Hart, Miro revealed a more sociopathic side to his character. He casually asked about Kip Sabian, the “friend” who he remorselessly put on the shelf, and threatened Ford under the pretence of “helping” her in a three-on-one situation. Griff Garrison was easily tossed aside, but Brian Pillman Jr’s boldness earned him a TNT title shot and an opportunity for “forgiveness” later that month. He never stood a chance.
“Everybody in this business should know that a true champion is willing to defend their title with their life. I’m willing to defend my title with yours.”
The Summer of Miro saw a couple more emphatic title defences against some of AEW’s young talents and a new theme befitting of his indomitable persona. Composed of booming war horns and epic strings reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s iconic scores, it sounded like the prelude to Armageddon. Intent on rubber stamping his standing as the pride of his country, Miro’s TNT Championship also received a makeover. The white straps and green banner in the middle, when combined with his trademark red trunks, resembled the flag of Bulgaria, while the inner side plates bore the coat of arms of his hometown of Plovdiv. Those major shifts were emblematic of a gladiator unwilling to relinquish his prize anytime soon.
However, a closer look at his acts of “forgiveness” towards Lee Johnson and Fuego del Sol exposed a telling chink in his armor. Like any compelling villain, Miro possessed a glaring weakness: the neck he infamously broke back in 2012 from which he never fully recovered. Johnson’s only bit of offence that stunned Miro was a Tornado DDT, while Fuego hit three in a row which seriously rattled the seemingly invulnerable TNT champ. Despite showing no fear against this killer, inexperience counted against them and they inevitably yielded to God’s Favourite Champion. The Redeemer would eventually cross paths with a Mad King though, who not only possessed an arsenal that targeted his Achilles heel, but had also suffered greatly for the sins of his past.
“You’ve been blessed throughout your life with struggle, but yet, you took the easy way out and took a charity contract to AEW!”
Miro lionized the struggle, but Eddie Kingston is a living embodiment of it. Having taken nearly two decades to get his talents acknowledged by the mainstream, the embattled Yonkers native overcame his own trials and tribulations to become a main event mainstay at AEW. Mass adulation came Kingston’s way, in part due to his widely held status as arguably the best mic man in wrestling today, but not the gold he desperately craved. He found his opportunity on the 27th August edition of Rampage, when he interrupted Miro’s bullying of Fuego del Sol and threw hands with the champ without uttering a single word.
The following week’s Rampage saw Kingston double down on his challenge. After Miro dismissed Eddie and that “loud mouth of his” as nothing more than “Jon Moxley’s bagboy”, an enraged Mad King stormed out and called bullshit on the champ’s claims of being a holy bruiser. He proceeded to list down his signature moves which were Miro’s kryptonites, including the DDT, before daring him to “redeem deez nuts” and engage in another brawl before their title bout. The duel between God’s Favourite Champion and his long-forsaken adversary at the All Out PPV told an effective story, where the former did his damndest to avoid getting dropped on his neck before resorting to a low blow and his deadly side kick to “forgive” his challenger. While Kingston did walk Miro through hell like he promised, he failed to finish the job. If he can’t humble the increasingly hubristic champ, who can
“So you keep coming, knowing that you see a weakness, and I will keep calm, knowing that you’re a fool. And when I’m done forgiving you, I am going to offer your broken bones to my bride, and your soul to my God!”
For weeks, Miro’s favourite in-ring pastime was to torment the plucky Fuego del Sol every chance he had. Their first encounter saw Fuego being brutally “forgiven” in his quest to not only win the TNT Championship, but a full time AEW contract as well. His spirited performance earned him one anyway, and emboldened by his first go at Miro, he decided to poke the bear once more while also putting his new car on the line. As expected, Miro would decimate Fuego in a much shorter sequel, piling on the poor luchakid’s misery by shoving his newly won car keys into his victim’s mouth as he refused to release Game Over. Cue Sammy Guevara, who chased Miro away before staking his own claim for a TNT Title shot.
Like Darby Allin, Guevara versus Miro on the 29th September Dynamite promised a tantalising clash of styles. The champ’s relentless bullying of Fuego, Guevara’s best friend, added a layer of gravitas to a bout that had an air of unpredictability that was missing from the Redeemer’s previous defences. The brash youngster took a leaf out of Eddie Kingston’s book and centred his game plan on Miro’s obvious foible. Unlike the Mad King and his predecessors though, Guevara was doggedly targeting it while wrestling the kind of match that further elevates him as a top babyface. With a raucous Rochester crowd behind the Spanish God, it took an exposed turnbuckle, a tornado DDT, a GTH, and a 630 senton to finally put away this destructive force of nature. After Miro had crushed one of AEW’s “Four Pillars” to become TNT champ, it was poetic justice for him to lose the belt to one of the promotion’s other chosen ones. Guevara’s reign was officially underway, but it left us with more questions than answers about Miro’s uncertain journey ahead.
“You gave me a body of granite and a neck of sand, is that some kind of joke?! Why have you forsaken your champion?!”
Drenched in shadows, Miro raged at the heavens above. He demanded that God explain Himself, lamenting whether the “neck of sand” held up by his hulking body was a cosmic joke at his expense. Never was Miro more captivating since his gimmick change than as “God’s Forsaken Champion”, a zealot driven by his pursuit of redemption so that he can face his wife again, unable to do so after losing his title and unbeaten streak. He even remained skeptical after being inserted into the AEW World Title Eliminator tournament semifinals in place of Jon Moxley, wondering if this was his God’s way of throwing him a lifeline or if he was being toyed with again.
A bitter Miro made light work of “forgiving” Orange Cassidy before his heavily anticipated final against a red-hot Bryan Danielson. Motivated by purgation, the Redeemer would up the ante by chillingly advising Danielson to “say goodbye to his wife” so that he could finally return home to his. But while the stage was set for a David versus Goliath bout at November 13th’s Full Gear PPV, it was anything but as Danielson and Miro pummelled the ever loving shit out of each other. Following various sequences of submission attempts, reversals, and false finishes, Dragon would hit a top rope DDT on the Redeemer, knocking him out long before he got trapped in a chokehold which prompted referee Aubrey Edwards to call for the bell.
“You pushed me out while I was looking for love, but now, I will bring fear. I only have two weaknesses in my life: one I will repair, and the other I will embrace!”
By calling his God an “asshole”, it looks like we’re entering 2022 with Miro fully accepting his new role as his Lord’s Forsaken Champion. Now pacing around in purgatory, this wounded warrior vowed retribution by storming the pearly gates and causing a sea of red to fill its floors. Not only did his God take away his divine right to forgive and redeem those who dared to cross his path of terror, but he still can’t bear to see his wife like this. At the time of writing, it still isn’t clear as to which weakness he intends on repairing, but chances are that we’re set to witness what Miro is capable of without having to prove himself to a God that had left him high and dry. We could be seeing a more psychotic extremist than before, and that spells bad news for the rest of the roster (and good news for us who have relished AEW’s most unique gimmick since their inception).
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) December 2, 2021
It’s not easy keeping a monster heel strong after repeated big match losses. We’ve seen numerous examples of this in the past, where domineering mammoths were built up only to have their momentum stalled after squandering title shots or losing grudge matches. Miro’s daunting holy bruiser wasn’t just an anomaly, but also redefined a trope that needed some tinkering after the oft-repeated McMahon playbook of the mid-’80s foreign bad guy. The likes of Kenny Omega, “Hangman” Adam Page, and Britt Baker may have shined under brighter spotlights, but AEW wouldn’t have enjoyed the year it had without Miro’s intense promos and decisive bouts of “forgiveness”. With God now firmly in his sights, expect more carnage, crushed skulls, and conquered souls en route to another World Championship opportunity. No one in that locker room deserves their redemption more.