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The John Report: Analysis of Every WWE Raw Championship (Jan. 2017)

Championships are important in professional wrestling. While it’s true that the person carrying around a championship didn’t actually win them in some grueling fight, they are still an important part of the storylines that exist in World Wrestling Entertainment. The reason they’re important is because championships give something for the wrestlers to strive for. Wrestler A vs. Wrestling B can still have a great match without a title, but if they are competing for a title then the win feels more special.

Some of the best stories in WWE history deal with championships. Who can forget WrestleMania 12 when Shawn Michaels won his first WWE Title and Vince McMahon yelled on commentary: “The boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels.” That’s because we had watched Shawn in WWE for about eight years before that and when he won that title for the first time, it was a big deal. The same can be said about Steve Austin, Eddie Guerrero and The Great Khali. Okay so maybe not as much for Khali, but you get the point.

Since there are so many titles in WWE right now, I thought it would be a good idea to do a monthly series of columns where I look at the title situations on Raw, Smackdown and NXT. I’ll start with Raw today, Smackdown tomorrow and NXT the day after that. My aim is to do these around the middle of every month.

For each title, I’ll break it down with some different points and then look at a forecast for WrestleMania because with the biggest show of the year coming up, it’s important to try to figure out where things are headed. I’m also going to guess who the champions are in three months, six months and one year as well. At the end of the write-up for each title, I’ll also provide a Booking Grade based on how I feel WWE has booked that title in recent months.

Here’s a look at all of the title situations on Monday Night Raw right now.

 

WWE Universal Champion: Kevin Owens

Date Won: August 29, 2016 @ Raw

Next Major Title Match: Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns @ Royal Rumble 01/29/17

Other Top Contenders: Braun Strowman, Brock Lesnar, Bill Goldberg, Seth Rollins, Chris Jericho, Finn Balor

Owens won the Universal Title eight days after SummerSlam. His main opponents have been Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. Nearly every title defense has been controversial with his “best friend” Chris Jericho helping him retain the title along the way.

At the Royal Rumble, Jericho will be suspended above the ring in a shark cage to prevent him from interfering in the Owens vs. Reigns title match. While it’s possible that Jericho will still find a way to help his buddy win, my belief is that there will be a title change. After the loss or perhaps the rematch at Fastlane in early March, Owens can blame Jericho for it, that would lead to their split and Reigns can move on to a next challenger, perhaps the winner of the Royal Rumble.

The booking of the Universal Title has been very average. It’s a new title, so it’s important that WWE builds it up to become a credible title in the eyes of the fans. The problem is that there have been so many title matches with cheap finishes that I think it’s hurt the value of the title. If you really want to put over a title as important, let the wrestlers compete in outstanding matches with relatively clean finishes and the crowd will care more. Instead, we get the same cheap finishes all the time.

WrestleMania 33 Forecast: Roman Reigns defends vs. Braun Strowman and I think Reigns wins.

Strowman is my pick to win the Royal Rumble, so that’s why he gets the title shot. I know there are a lot of people that will hate that WrestleMania prediction. It’s not what I want. It’s what I think WWE will do.

Champion In Three Months: Roman Reigns

Champion In Six Months: Braun Strowman

Champion In One Year: Seth Rollins

Those are hard to guess. I’m just going with some names that should be in the main event picture for most of the year. Finn Balor is another to consider. It could be somebody that’s on Smackdown as well because I think there will be some roster turnover in that time.

Booking Grade: B-

I’m a huge Owens fan, but the lack of fresh opponents and all of the cheap finishes have hurt the value of the title. At least they are doing a good job of pushing how important the title is.

 

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WWE United States Champion: Chris Jericho

Date Won: January 9, 2017 @ Raw

Next Major Title Match: Unknown

Other Top Contenders: It’s hard to come up with names now. I think Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are both possible as the next US Champion.

Jericho won the title on Raw two weeks ago when he competed in a handicap match with “best friend” Owens against Roman Reigns. There hasn’t been a rematch for Reigns and there may not be one since he is moving onto the more important title. The poor creative team on Raw didn’t even come up with a good reason as to why had to defend the title in a handicap match. It was just a way to get the title off him.

I don’t expect Jericho to have many rivals contending for the title. It will be part of his story with Owens. It makes sense to have Owens be angry after he loses the Universal Title, then Jericho can try to cheer him up saying that “they” are US Champion leading to Owens yelling him about how that’s not true. When Owens loses his rematch for the Universal Title, Owens can attack Jericho, which leads to Jericho as a face and that sets up the US Title match at WrestleMania.

It’s possible that there could be other twists and turns for the US Title, but I think the focus will be on the Jericho/Owens story for the next couple of months. After WrestleMania, there are a lot of others that can get into the picture like Zayn.

WrestleMania 33 Forecast: I think Jericho will hold the title until WrestleMania. He’ll defend it against Kevin Owens and I think Owens will win the title from him there. They might do another match after that, which Owens will again. Jericho will likely concentrate on his Fozzy music commitments in the summer.

Champion In Three Months: Kevin Owens

Champion In Six Months: Sami Zayn

Champion In One Year: Big E

I don’t think WWE will push Zayn to the main event level in the first half of the year. Putting the US Title on him makes a lot of sense because he can have great matches while elevating the title. I put Big E there because I figure he’ll be a singles wrestler by this point next year, so putting a title on him makes sense.

Booking Grade: C-

The Reigns run with the title was boring. Rusev should have kept the title through the end of the year and never even feuded with Reigns because it helped nobody. Rusev is in a much worse spot today compared to when he was holding the title in the summer. Best part about Jericho winning is that he’s never held the title before, but the title is also not that valuable right now.

 

Raw Women’s Champion: Charlotte Flair

Date Won: December 18, 2016 @ Roadblock: End of the Line

Next Major Title Match: Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley @ Royal Rumble 01/29/17

Other Top Contenders: Sasha Banks, Nia Jax

Charlotte and Sasha Banks have dominated the Raw Women’s Title picture. Between July 25, 2016 and December 18, 2016 there were six title changes. Was it too much? Yeah, but the matches were pretty good most of the time. I liked the 30-Minute Ironman Match at Roadblock (the longest one on one women’s match in WWE history) and I’m also glad that it ended the rivalry at least for now.

Bayley has been on the main roster since late summer. She has already failed in a title match, but that was a triple threat. The build to their Royal Rumble match is based around the fact that Bayley has pinned Charlotte in non-title situations. Can she do it with the title on the line? I don’t think. I see Charlotte finding a way to retain the gold whether it’s due to help from a friend like Dana Brooke or perhaps that’s where Emma finally “debuts” after four long months of making us wait.

I like Charlotte as champion. She’s a great heel that always does what she can to piss off the crowd. That’s what heels are supposed to do. We need more heels like her in WWE.

WrestleMania 33 Forecast: A four-way match between Raw’s four top women right now: Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley vs. Nia Jax. We know that WWE likes to load up the WrestleMania card to try to get everybody on the show. Putting the four women in the same match makes sense. This is where Bayley will likely win the title and put an end to Charlotte’s streak of never losing a pay-per-view title match.

Champion In Three Months: Bayley

Champion In Six Months: Sasha Banks

Champion In One Year: Charlotte Flair

The Bayley prediction is safe. For the six-month prediction, I will also add that I think Banks will be a heel by then. She’s better as a heel. Picking Charlotte as the champion in a year is because I believe WWE really wants to push her the most out of any woman they have, so she’ll probably be in the title mix going into next year’s WrestleMania as well. It’s certainly possible that Nia Jax has the title or somebody currently on Smackdown.

Booking Grade: B

A common problem with Raw is how repetitive the matches are. Charlotte vs. Banks happened so many times over a five month span that I lost count as to how many televised matches they had. The good news is that the title matches are usually very good, so it’s enough to earn a B rating.

 

Raw Tag Team Champions:Sheamus & Cesaro

Date Won: December 18, 2016 @ Roadblock: End of the Line

Next Major Title Match: Sheamus & Cesaro vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson @ Royal Rumble 01/29/17 (Note: Match not official as of press time.)

Other Top Contenders: The New Day, Enzo & Cass

Sheamus and Cesaro won the Tag Team Titles at the Roadblock PPV late last year. They ended the record breaking 483-day Tag Team Title run of The New Day. It was a nice payoff for Sheamus & Cesaro, who were forced together as a team by Raw General Manager Mick Foley. The pairing still elicits mixed reactions with Sheamus getting booed while Cesaro is cheered. It’s unlikely that is going to change any time soon, but what could change soon are the men holding those titles.

When Sheamus and Cesaro won the titles I was surprised at first, but I understand they needed to win to pay off the storyline they were in. Now that they’ve had the titles for over a month, it seems like the right time to have Gallows & Anderson win them after nearly one year of coming up short in title match situations.

As much as I would like Gallows & Anderson to have a long title reign when they eventually win them, I think it will be pretty short because Enzo & Cass are the most popular team on Raw.

WrestleMania 33 Forecast: It’s possible that WWE throws together three or more Raw teams to do a title match at WrestleMania. However, I think the best scenario would see Enzo & Cass emerge as the top contenders leading to a regular tag against Gallows & Anderson. That way, it would mean more for Enzo & Cass to win the gold in a normal match instead of something where multiple teams are involved.

Champions In Three Months: Enzo Amore & Big Cass

Champions In Six Months: The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder)

Champions In One Year: Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods

Since Enzo & Cass are my picks to win at WrestleMania they’re the champs in three months. The Revival are an awesome team that hopefully gets a good push right away on the main roster. They could be on Smackdown, but I think Raw is good for them. Guessing tag champs one year from now is harder than guessing for any other category because of how teams can be randomly put together.

Booking Grade: B

During the last couple of weeks of New Day’s title reign, WWE booked a lot of title matches. Most of them were great matches. With those matches in mind, I lean towards giving the Raw tag division a favorable grade. Sure, I wish a team like Gallows & Anderson could win more often, but some people have to get beat too.

 

WWE Cruiserweight Champion: Rich Swann

Date Won: November 29, 2016 @ 205 Live

Next Major Title Match: Rich Swann vs. Neville @ Royal Rumble 01/29/17

Other Top Contenders: Cedric Alexander, TJ Perkins, Brian Kendrick, Jack Gallagher, Ariya Daivari

Swann won the title on the debut episode of 205 Live to try to boost the credibility of WWE’s new show. It’s been nearly two months since then and I feel like his days are numbered as champion. It’s nothing against him. I just think Neville is performing at such a high level that he should be the champion.

Neville was completely ignored for several months after the brand split took place in July. We wondered why he wasn’t being used. When he surprisingly returned as a heel at Roadblock he reminded people of how good he can be. I’ve enjoyed his heel work over the last month.

I think WWE needs to get the title on him at the Royal Rumble because he can be the top heel in the division for a long time to come. That’s not a knock on Swann, who I like. I just think a heel should the champion for something that’s new like the cruiserweight division in order to help it grow. Over the long term, they can build up challengers whether that’s Cedric Alexander, Gran Metalik, Tozawa or others. Neville hasn’t held a title on the main roster yet. Let him be the Cruiserweight Champion.

WrestleMania 33 Forecast: I think Neville will walk into WrestleMania as the Cruiserweight Champion in some sort of multi-man match. It could be a Ladder Match or elimination match of some kind to include as many cruiserweights as possible.

Champion In Three Months: Neville

Champion In Six Months: Cedric Alexander

Champion In One Year: Austin Aries

It’s tough to forecast who could be holding the title. I just think the guys I mentioned there are going to be key figures in the division. Alexander is a guy that WWE could want to build up in the next few months. Aries is an amazing performer that should be a major part of this division.

Booking Grade: C+

The matches have been good, but nothing has really stood out. There were also two title changes in the first two months of the title being on Raw. At least Swann has held it for about two months now.

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That’s all for now. I’m going to have a post up about Smackdown’s Titles around this time tomorrow and then NXT will be on Tuesday. I’ll make this a monthly column that I’ll try to do in the middle of the month.

Let me know what you think about the title, the format, what you think I should change or add and general thoughts on the piece are welcome as well. Contact info is below or use the comment section if you like.

John Canton – mrjohncanton@gmail.com

Twitter @johnreport

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