Team Taz rocks but their big orange belt could use seasoning
Since being introduced nearly two years ago, the “unofficial” FTW Championship title of All Elite Wrestling has been exactly what it’s designed to be: a nostalgic, egotistical and mastubatory prop that seemingly doubles as the up-for-grabs crown of Team Taz. It’s been very active lately, too, with current champion Ricky Starks defending the belt against Matt Sydal, Jay Lethal and Shane “Swerve” Strickland so far in 2022. A title match against the newly-signed Keith Lee is on the horizon. Team members Will Hobbs and Hook regularly get major spotlights. Stuff is happening with Team Taz and the FTW title.
Thing is, as the current champion Ricky Starks eases back into wrestling full-time, the original “outlaw” title could use a major angle to level it up. A story that elevates it from a fake heel title into something more notorious and renowned within the “World” of All Elite Wrestling.
Half the work’s already been done. AEW just has to finish the job.
Fuck The World
The original “Fuck The World” championship was a short-lived creation on Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in the late 90s, where Taz got himself his own shiny orange belt when he couldn’t challenge the current champion Shane Douglas (who was out with injury). Less than a year later, the FTW title was unified with the ECW World Heavyweight Championship and ceased to exist. Taz would reintroduce the belt (which he has the full rights to, it turns out) at AEW’s Fyter Fest 2020 and award the belt to its first AEW “champion” Brian Cage, ahead of his title bout with then-AEW champ Jon Moxley.
At first, the FTW title was clearly pulled out of the attic as a nostalgic throwback to help build Brian Cage as a new mid/upper-card talent. As the pair grew into a full-on stable, it became a way to give the entire group some distinction. It also associated them with the wider history of pro wrestling, which is basically AEW’s whole gimmick.
But the “joke” of the FTW belt is that it never really mattered in ECW because it disappeared as soon as it arrived. In AEW, it’s just a cheap nostalgia pull from Taz that boosts his and the stable’s ego while impressing nobody. It’s a prop that lets Team Taz feel like a much bigger deal than they really are and an excuse to keep a big hunk of metal near the ring. It’s like MJFs diamond ring except it’s big and orange.
What makes the FTW Championship unique though, at least in theory, is that it’s also the crown of Team Taz.
The only real option
It was an implied feature of the belt since Team Taz evolved into a larger squad, but it was confirmed – kinda – during the only real angle involving the belt so far: when Team Taz orchestrated Brian Cage’s title loss to Ricky Starks at Fyter Fest 2021.
Aside from the odd decision to have Starks go over the newly-babyface Cage twice (even slipping in a loss to Will Hobbs in between) before he suddenly vanished from AEW altogether, it was easily the most successful story with the belt since it was introduced. The angle worked because the title was treated as integral to both the stable and Starks’ rise as de facto leader. It recognised that the FTW title was important to Team Taz, even though it wasn’t important to anyone else.
After months of mounting tension and distrust, when it finally came time for Cage and Starks to match up for the FTW title and determine the future of the stable, it was essential that it stayed with Team Taz. It’s not like Team Taz were ever above playing dirty, but with Cage clearly on his way out of the faction anyway, all that mattered was that he lost the belt. It was a matter of pride for Cage that he held onto it, but keeping the faction together meant ensuring a definitive leader.
So when Cage and Starks fought, the rest of Team Taz sided with the only real option they had: they interfered to get the belt around Starks’ waist. In a faction founded on strength and dishonour, lacking a clear leader would just mean chaos.
Since then, Starks has remained the FTW Champion of Team Taz but was hit with a neck injury in April that kept him out of the ring for a while, only gearing back up as a full-time performer months later in October. Hobbs and Hook haven’t exactly stayed still (especially Hook), but AEW keeping Starks out of the ring as long as possible to let his neck heal up had an impact. While it was obviously the right decision in regards to Starks’ health, it left both the group and the FTW belt listless so soon after Ricky’s title win. Even now, FTW title defences come and go without much fanfare.
So right about now is the perfect time for a high profile feud — an intense, uncomfortably violent and character-driven blood feud between Starks and another up-and-comer. If the match hadn’t happened already I would’ve called Swerve for it, but it’s not like AEW is starving for talent.
Not just an empty trophy
The FTW title has no tangible reward for holding it. It’s not like your average title that comes with a history that engenders prestige and – at least in kayfabe – a bump in pay, publicity and reputation. No, the FTW belt only really matters to those in Team Taz.
Thing is, the FTW belt could be something that really matters to others, too. The notoriety an outsider would get by not just winning the belt but by taking it from Starks and his crew would be worth all the blood and pain you’d have to go through to get it.
Unless the idea is for the FTW belt to be like leadership over the Bullet Club, where every leader is eventually Et Tu, Brute?-ed out of the faction to make way for a new one (which I’m honestly not against), the title could easily gain its own significance that’s separate from the official title scene. Outright taking the FTW belt could net someone a similar reputation that a tournament win would: it’s about the victory itself rather than what comes after.
Aiming for the FTW belt means knowing that they’re taking it from the only people who even care about it; that someone wants the FTW belt more than the stable that’s dedicated to it. Anyone who (seriously) chases after the belt would either have an almost tactile hate of Ricky Starks that jumps off the screen, or only want it because there’s a group of assholes keeping it to themselves and picking fights.
Meanwhile, for anyone in Team Taz, the belt is their way of either claiming leadership or keeping it. It’s their way of keeping their team of scary assassin motherfuckers together and in line, and ultimately giving them a chance to stand up against all the other powerful factions in AEW. When the FTW belt is under threat, the entire stable is in danger of totally collapsing. They fight like their lives depend on it.
The belt isn’t just an empty trophy, it’s Starks’ head and the crown atop it. Their opponent doesn’t just want to win, they want to crush the entire faction.
Therefore: a major feud. A feud that can “make” both Ricky Starks and the title belt itself, an angle that officially elevates Team Taz – Starks and Will Hobbs especially (Hook’s got his own thing going on) – to bigger and better stories, that finishes what was started when the belt was ripped from Brian Cage. A feud that would lift the FTW belt up from a punchline to the true “outlaw” belt it’s said to be.
It’s easy to fantasy-book and say “do a very good feud, please”, but now truly seems like the best chance to build something memorable in this little pocket of AEW. After having Starks out of commission for so long and both Hobbs and Hook rapidly getting over on their own, Team Taz could really use a proper story to fully reinvigorate the stable. Building a story around the belt is just a great opportunity.
Lastly: I know this sounds like it could turn the FTW Championship into an orange 24/7 title that somehow matters even less. Please don’t do that, AEW. Do the cool thing instead.