Jade Cargill is the first TBS Champion. Despite the moment created with her family, I found myself deflated when the bell rang, a second rope Jaded felling Ruby Soho. Jade being a heel, I’m supposed to be deflated when she wins a major match like this, but that deflation wasn’t just rooted in kayfabe. I like Ruby the way I like Eddie Kingston—I worked with her in my limited role as a play-by-play commentator nearly a decade ago and have been rooting for her success ever since.
With some time to think about it, Cargill was the right choice.
I’m thinking about the purpose of a television championship, which is what AEW’s network titles are even if the rules governing them are different (the time limit, at least, is longer than their predecessors, which normally worked with less time than a normal TV time limit—10 or 15 minutes instead of 20). There are three ways to play a championship like it. A babyface champion defends the championship valiantly, against all comers, working a schedule that borders on punishing. A heel champion can either work with the clock, forcing the face challenger off his or her game by making time a factor, or they can be a ruthless monster, rendering the time limit a non-issue by destroying whoever stands in their way.
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Jade, based on her booking in 2021, her stature, and her confidence, will be playing the role of ruthless monster. This is a new development in the world of TV titles, one AEW may have invented (WCW’s Television Championship was the realm of serious workrate guys like Arn Anderson and Lord Steven Regal) with the reigns of Mr. Brodie Lee and Miro. With the exception of Cody Rhodes’ open challenge match against Eddie Kingston, I can’t think of a TNT Champion with a moment as memorable as your routine Lee or Miro squash, let alone matches as violent and satisfying as Lee’s dog collar match against Rhodes or Miro’s defense against Kingston at All Out 2021.
Jade Cargill is not at either man’s level, but that’s fine. In the 24 matches she’s wrestled in her professional career, she does have something they both had: an aura. That’s because AEW has done an incredible job of protecting her—her match against Soho is just her third that’s gone over 10 minutes. Lie as wrestling fans might, we love a squash match; look at the ascent of Hook and Wardlow. Cargill’s haven’t always been smooth, but they have been effective in showcasing her presence and her two trademark moves, a scary pump kick and Jaded, a double underhook sitout facebuster. Even if her being a heel works for you and you don’t want to see her win for that reason, those wins are often satisfying. Her issues are not all that dissimilar to Goldberg’s at that point in his career, and his first championship win came 75 matches into his 173-match win streak. Two things we learned from Goldberg: There is no wrong time to put the title on the hot rookie, and there is a wrong time to break a streak.
So, Jade Cargill is the inaugural TBS Champion.
The match was her best since her first, a hyper-choreographed affair that saw her and Shaquille O’Neal defeat Cody Rhodes and Red Velvet. A lot of that is due to her working a lot of squash matches. Some of that is due to matches like her 12/29/21 tournament semi-final match against Thunder Rosa not clicking on either end of the ring. Against Soho, they clicked.
For one, this is one of a few times I can recall Cargill showing any vulnerability. Monster heel or garden variety, that’s a necessary skill. In the opening and closing moments of the match, she plays defense, surprised, maybe, by the quickness and tenacity of her opponent, though a tease at a knee injury goes nowhere. She’s particularly good when Soho is on the offensive late in the match, taking head kicks by staggering around and eating a nice Saito suplex. There’s never a sense that she’s in danger—on one pin attempt, Soho’s injured arm won’t even let her get Jade’s far shoulder on the mat, and on another, Jade’s power on the kickout causes her much smaller opponent to spin a half-rotation—but there is a sense that the match is getting away from her, that the longer the match goes, the more Soho’s veteran instincts matter, injured arm or not.
This is as much Soho’s match as it is Cargill’s, as Ruby Soho is one of the best wrestlers in the world when it comes to selling. The thing about selling is that it’s not just a matter of making it seem like wrestling moves work; a truly great babyface conveys a sense of peril, either because of an individual bomb or the accumulated wear and tear of the match. Soho enters the match wearing kinesiology tape on her left shoulder, bangs it on the apron while following Jade out to the ring early, and spends the rest of the match holding her limp left arm, using it maybe twice in desperation.
The injury lets Ruby do what she’s best at—fight from underneath—but more importantly it gives Jade a target. She stomps at the arm, shows off her grace by doing a handstand into a knee drop, and hits a shoulderbreaker, all to that left shoulder, which is a harder thing to remember than most realize. She looks smart, like she’s learned something about actually working a match in the short time she’s been in wrestling, and Soho never stops selling.
This gives the fact that Soho regains the advantage the air of a miracle. She chops and punches with one hand, protects her arm on corner kicks, and uses moves like the STO, which don’t require much of her injured limb. You want to see her win, but know that’s going to take a near flawless performance—even a minor mistake could end her.
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That mistake is a second attempt at a top rope arm drag. She doesn’t have the momentum and Jade is still all power, so it’s a second rope Jaded (thankfully not the top rope one it looked like she was setting up) that ends it in 11:13. We get a champion in Jade Cargill who can either run roughshod or, it seems, adapt to the skills of her opponent, and a Ruby Soho who gets to wonder whether or not she can close a title match as she goes on the chase once again, this time seemingly against Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D.
We’re also left with a women’s division that has two championships, one that has to be defended on the company’s flagship show on a semi-frequent basis. While I won’t call it progress, between the two titles and programs like Serena Deeb/Hikaru Shida, the company is beginning to move towards a place where they’re capable of telling more than one women’s wrestling story at once. A new title, I hope, will make Tony Khan feel more pressure to do right by his enormously talented roster, but that pressure, if not the TBS Championship, is only good if it produces results.