Let's make one thing perfectly clear: Jade Cargill was always going to be the first TBS Champion. I thought it was going to be Ruby Soho; but alas I was wrong. Some people have very strong opinions about this; some constructive, some not so constructive. It's the less constructive ones that concern me a bit.
Allow me to get a few things out of the way, first. Tony Khan sees a lot in Jade—as he should. She is a phenomenal athlete with a great story. A mother. Child psychologist. Master's Degree. Former college basketball player. She can be an incredible ambassador for pro wrestling, fitness, and children's mental health.
Inspired by WWE legend Joanie "Chyna" Laurer and the X-Men heroine Storm, Cargill is a unique character. Her act with "Smart" Mark Sterling and now, presumably, Mercedes Martinez as her muscle, makes for good television. However, some corners of pro wrestling fandom—ones who I consider to be "workrate snobs"—regard her in a very derisive and toxic light.
Is her in-ring work smooth? Well, I guess it depends on how forgiving of a viewer you are. I'll admit: I am a very forgiving viewer and not a workrate snob. Therefore, I find the vast majority of her performances acceptable. She has earned the TV time she has been given.
Cargill is more than capable of doing her part in a match: her bouts with Leyla Hirsch (a great worker), Red Velvet (a good, solid worker), and Thunder Rosa (the best women's wrestler in North America) were all solid TV matches. Thanks to how AEW works, all of Cargill's matches have been taped. On one hand, one can actually see the tremendous improvement she has made over the first 12 months of her career; on the other hand, her detractors have enough ammunition to point out her in-ring weaknesses.
However, Cargill gets a lot of the fundamentals right. She's not going to cut long, AJ Lee-like promos, but the promos she does cut feel natural and fitting of her character. Her in-ring selling and storytelling has vastly improved—and yes I am aware that part of that is because she worked with two elite in-ring workers.
In the Hirsch match, Cargill played the role of an arrogant heel getting a rude awakening from a plucky babyface perfectly. However, Hirsch took it to Cargill; and sure, it was no Razor Ramon versus 1-2-3 Kid by any means, it did show that Cargill can tell an in-ring story. Few people thought that Cargill had the ability to tell that kind of story with Hirsch—after all, she performed in nothing but 90 second squashes to that point.
Her match with Rosa was sheer brilliance. Yes, Rosa is AEW's best ring general aside from Serena Deeb. Yes, Rosa is the best women's wrestler in North America. But each match is a partnership, and while Rosa did everything she could to make Cargill look good, Cargill impressed the hell out of me with her selling and just doing the right things at the right moment.
I think the Hirsch and Rosa matches had significant game planning beforehand. Which is good! Not every pro wrestler can call a match in the ring. It takes time to develop that level of skill. Cargill will get there, but unless someone is a total prodigy at pro wrestling like a Bron Breakker or Kurt Angle, that ability is not going to be developed in fewer than 50 to 60 matches; let alone the 23 she's had.
I surmise that Soho is a performer that likes to call a match in the ring leading up to the finish. Soho guided Cargill to a solid TV outing. It was rough at points and it was visible when Soho tapped Cargill's leg to remind her to perform the Jaded front facebuster from the second rope as well as the subtle nod to give Cargill the go-ahead to deliver the move. However, it was by no means a terrible match whatsoever. And the performance and the outcome is certainly not worth getting mad over.
Which brings me to my main point—if you are legitimately, as a shoot, upset that Cargill won a scripted wrestling title, then you take pro wrestling too seriously. I think so-called gatekeeping by fans—the whole workrate snobbery thing—is unhealthy for the fan and the performer. The shoot anger and virulent criticism that I see Cargill receive on some corners of the Internet is outright disgusting.
The one thing that irks me is that fans feel that a performer deserves something more than another performer. Sure, pro wrestling is a meritocracy; but it is also an entertainment product. And also claiming that someone deserves something more than another is an example of subjective bias rather than an objective observation. I think part of it comes from, sometimes, an unhealthy attachment to certain performers. I'm not going to sit here and say that another performer deserved to be the TBS Champion over Cargill. One, it is a scripted title. Two, it is a prop and a plot device. And three, if we're going to be subjective here, then I would argue that Cargill is worth the investment—more on that shortly.
It will be a memorable moment when performers like Thunder Rosa and Ruby Soho win AEW championships in front of the cameras; that will happen in due time. However, I think I can accurately say that pro wrestlers are more apt to feel that they earned something rather than deserved something."When" someone "earns" something is up to the promoter; and "when" someone "feels" they have "earned" something is in the eye of the performer themselves. Regardless, just because something doesn't occur now does not always mean that it will never occur.
Beyond that, not every one of your favorites can be featured in a high profile at the same time. There's so many performers and only three hours of television and Tony Khan will present the best TV product he feels he can offer to audiences, even though he is not a great TV writer. Obviously, Khan feels that he can get great TV out of Cargill.
As for the actual "booking" decision—Cargill is a great choice for the first TBS Champion. This is a mid-card women's title that is a plot device to help developing performers hone their character, hone their ability to tell stories, and see how they handle what will be, for many performers, a preliminary significant investment by the promotion. We will see how well Cargill develops as a viable TV character.
Does she need to get smoother in the ring? Absolutely. You would say this about anyone who only has had 23 matches in front of the cameras. However, the foundation is solid, the potential is there, and she is not nearly the disaster that some of her harshest critics make her out to be.
I will say this: Wrestling Observer Radio host Bryan Alvarez made a very good point on the Thurs., Jan. 6, 2022 broadcast—if Cargill is going to perform matches on live national television, her matches need to be short, sweet, and to the point. She needs to be booked like Goldberg in 1997 (which is what I think they're going for). It highlights her strengths and minimizes her weaknesses. I will disagree strongly that Cargill has had two bad matches in a row: as I just mentioned, the Soho and Rosa matches were not bad. As I said many times, though, I am a very, very forgiving viewer.
Ultimately this is low-risk, high-reward move for AEW. If Cargill's title reign doesn't go over very well with the audience, they can have her drop the title. It would be a disappointing outcome for Cargill, sure, but she will have gained valuable experience.
If the title reign goes very well, Cargill will be a momentous achievement for AEW from a development standpoint: she is the promotion's first titleholder to never hold a belt in any other promotion—big or small. Her potential is incredible and she can be (and will be) a fantastic ambassador for AEW.
I think fans need to give Cargill a chance. She could surprise a hell of a lot of people. The harsh criticism she receives is unwarranted. She's still developing; still growing. However, she has established a solid foundation that many of us agree that it will be exciting to see how she builds on it.