Following an uneven start that has nonetheless peaked very highly, the inaugural Owen Hart Foundation tournament is set to begin in earnest.
Used as a storyline driver for certain midcard storylines (Darby Allin Vs. Swerve Strickland) and a glimpse of the Forbidden Door and the attendant, ominous political trappings (Adam Cole Vs. Tomohiro Ishii), the tournament hasn't quite functioned as a super-competitive entity unto itself. Dax Harwood Vs. Cash Wheeler and Riho Vs. Yuka Sakazaki were both excellent matches worked in the distinct competitive spirit with which the best tournaments are booked. AEW is already amok with chicanery; it's no coincidence that the tournament has excelled when presented as something different to the schmozz-heavy norm.
The quality and seriousness should intensify now that the qualifiers are complete - as should the intrigue, given that a 'Joker' has been promised in each bracket.
This is interesting. The very inclusion of a Joker is evidence of who they might be, or what level of star they are. In AEW "lore", the Joker either wins the match they enter (Brian Cage, Hangman Page x2, Ruby Soho) or becomes entrenched as a midcard stalwart after a strong showing (Ethan Page).
The Joker isn't some scrub there to lose unceremoniously. AEW fans are encouraged to think of them as a big deal.
But how big...?
10. Johnny Gargano
If Johnny Gargano has been playing the waiting game, he might have realised that completing it is impossible at this point.
He might have thought that, by the time his WWE contract expired, AEW had already been inundated with shock jump debuts, and that he was better off waiting for the landscape to settle after taking paternity leave; that way, he'd maximise his impact. The issue - for Gargano at least - is that the landscape never settles.
There will be no period of a few months, during which the roster becomes more fixed and normalised and following which Gargano can make the debut feel like an event all over again. The Forbidden Door is open, revolving, open to several promotions, and just the other week, WWE released two talents in Dakota Kai and Stokely Hathaway that AEW can't not sign.
All of which is to state that now is as good a time as any for Gargano to make his next, inevitable move. He remains a fantastic wrestler, a spirited technical maestro with the ability to connect with fans on a deep emotional level, and reassuringly, he knows just as well as you do that his 2019 character descended into parody. He knows One Final Beat represented shark-jumping indulgence, and pivoted to a comedy role within the dying, barely-watched embers of NXT "Black and Gold". It won't be a shock when he turns up, nor will he wear a shocked kick-out face. The only thigh-slapping kicker is that he's not the ideal opponent for Samoa Joe.
Read on to find out who is...