Raw. The longest-running episodic show in TV history according to WWE. The flagship show. The weekly show with the largest audience. Promoted all over the world with the longest running time and biggest names on the brand. Raw should have the best champion on every week, right? Said champion should be holding the most prestigious title in all of professional wrestling, right? They should be THE star of the show. So why is Brock Lesnar and the WWE Universal Championship not seen each and every week? If the title means so much on their main show, why isn’t it on our screens?
Now granted, Brock has a stellar contract with WWE – paid handsomely for less work because, let’s face it, he’s Brock Lesnar. A freak of nature, a once in a lifetime performer that we’re lucky to see. That being said, if Brock wants to work a lighter schedule without the insane travel regular WWE stars have to do, then more power to him. It would be hard to say he doesn’t deserve it. He’s a big name, a draw and a man of high stature in WWE.
The absence of the title isn’t Brock’s fault, nor something of his making. The responsibility for the absence of the red belt falls squarely on WWE’s bookers, writers or whatever you want to call them. What void has been left by Brock’s absence has slowly been filled on Raw and is trickling through to Smackdown Live too. With the lack of top titles either on shows or on the line in recent weeks on both of WWE’s main shows, the ‘secondary’ titles (Intercontinental and United States) have had to step up into the main spotlight. Fans can see all the feuds they want, but some matter more when something is at stake. Something to lose.
For Raw, the Intercontinental Title was given pride of place this week. Even though Dean Ambrose is the champ, he wasn’t deemed worthy of a match at Payback last Sunday. Perhaps the title wasn’t all that important last week and we needed to see Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton fight for the… oh, wait, that title wasn’t up for grabs either, was it? Anyway, back to Raw and now we have some men stepping up to challenge Ambrose for his belt. Finn Balor, Seth Rollins and The Miz all had an excellent match which, in my opinion could and perhaps should, have been for the pecking order to challenge for the Universal Title. Then again, the match was excellent, and if it only serves to raise the profile of the IC Title, then I’m all for it.
There was something Ambrose said in the build up to the match that I really loved. He said he’d defend it every week if necessary. That statement reminds me of when the polarising John Cena defended the United States Title week after week on Raw two years ago. Now, I’m not saying every title should be defended every week, but perhaps more than every PPV would be better for the fans, the champ and the belt itself. What if every other week the title was defended?
When I think of the Intercontinental Title, I remember Savage vs Steamboat and Triple H vs The Rock in a ladder match. The belt is iconic. It looks different and was perceived by many fans as the ‘next level down’ on the roster. The top of the mid-card. By winning and defending this belt, it meant you were ready to move on to the main events and get in amongst the big boys. Traditionally a title held by the younger members of the roster, it carries a lot of prestige and honour. Fans care about the secondary titles and WWE is beginning to remember the connection they have with the fans.
Over on Smackdown Live, we saw another chapter in the epic Kevin Owens/Chris Jericho feud come to a close. Owens ripping Jericho’s name from the newly-won belt was a nice touch. Owens had a successful run with the US Title during his stint on Raw, so I can’t see how this run would be any different. One criticism some said of Owens while on Raw, was that he didn’t defend his titles all that often – although a hell of a lot more times than Brock or The Rock ever did. Perhaps taking back the US Title and his pride in holding the belt will lead to more defences on Tuesday nights.
The point being that these belts should be important. They don’t need to change hands every week, or flip-flop booking making the belts a hot potato on each show, passing between one another on a regular basis. If the belt is on TV often and defended often then it means so much more when the champion loses their grip on their beloved prize. If they’re not considered important by the writers, then fans won’t care about what happens to them. Sure, there should always be feuds between guys vying to hold the gold, but some consistency needs to be in place. There needs to be storylines not just for the challengers fighting amongst themselves for the chance to win it, but also for the champ themselves. They’re proud to be wearing the title, so they should feel outraged that anyone would dare challenge them for it. How about heels sometimes defending the belts without cheating once in a while? How about they just beat up challengers to send a message to the locker room?
If you don’t think booking titles is important, or that it can’t affect the fan’s responses, take a look at the Tag Titles on both shows, pre Hardy Boyz return. Horrible booking, confusing storylines and champions losing all too often. It matters. It really does, and if it takes the elevation of the Intercontinental and US Titles do make the writers care more about the Universal/Heavyweight belts, then so be it. Just don’t forget about the secondary titles when they do. Please?
What do you think? Do the ‘mid-card’ titles need more investment form a storyline perspective? Why did Naomi need to fulfil her 30 day mandatory defence clause when Brock doesn’t (the answer is ‘it’s pro-wrestling, it doesn’t have to make sense’), can the Intercontinental Title be THE title on Raw? What about the US Title on Smackdown? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.