By Matt Boone
With all the things you can criticize WWE for these days, the company should be commended on doing an excellent job in elevating their secondary championships.
If you flashback to around this time last year, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship was virtually ‘on ice,’ only being defended on major pay-per-view events due to the champion at the time — Brock Lesnar — working under a special, limited-date contract.
Now, at the time, you could make sense of it, and even Vince McMahon himself did when asked about the topic during his interview on the short-lived “Steve Austin Show” live WWE Network podcast, as he pointed to the fact that having Lesnar defend the biggest title in the company on an infrequent basis made World Title matches feel that much more important.
Fast forward to the present day, and when it comes to championships in WWE — all systems are “go.”
First and foremost, we finally have a fighting WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Sure, the storyline surrounding Seth Rollins, the current world champion, is that he chickens away from ‘the big fight.’ At the end of the day, however, the bell eventually rings, the referee raises the golden belt up high, and two or more competitors end up vying for the richest prize in all of sports entertainment.
Now, move down one level to the two secondary championships. For the longest time, the WWE United States Championship and the WWE Intercontinental Championship, for all intents and purposes, were viewed as a total joke by the WWE Universe — and rightfully so.
WWE came up with a great idea heading into WrestleMania 31 this year — put more significance behind their secondary titles. First, slap the U.S. title belt around John Cena’s waist. In a bit of irony, it was Cena who really launched his career off of his first U.S. title run, so in a story-telling fashion, his story comes full circle.
So, basically, WWE decided that now that they want to elevate some new blood into the top spots in the company, they decided to put one of their secondary titles — in this case the U.S. title — on arguably the biggest star in the company today.
On the flip side of the coin, when it comes to the WWE Intercontinental Championship, WWE decided to put that belt on the most popular wrestler in terms of the fans — the leader of the “Yes! Movement,” Daniel Bryan.
And that brings us to Monday’s WWE Payback ‘go-home’ edition of RAW.
After being unable to defend his WWE Intercontinental Championship against Bad News Barrett at the recent WWE Extreme Rules pay-per-view as originally scheduled, WWE played the waiting game to find out how the latest round of the Daniel Bryan injury-bug would work out. As it turns out, whatever Bryan is going through is serious enough that WWE felt they had no choice but to have him surrender the Intercontinental Title on live television, much like they had him do shortly after he won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXX last year.
The idea behind his forefitting of the title last night was where the plan regarding secondary titles in WWE remains in tact. The reason given by Bryan, delivered in a passionate way I should add, was that the WWE Universe deserves a fighting champion. A top contender who deserves the right to bust his ass day-in and day-out, city-to-city, state-to-state, country-to-country and even continent-to-continent, all for the right to try and earn what is now once again slowly being viewed as a title of importance. One of value. One worth fighting to obtain.
Where WWE goes next with the Intercontinental Championship in particular remains to be seen in terms of how far they are willing to go to try and elevate the perceived importance of the title.
Basically put, the company can go one of two ways, as I see it. You can follow the mandate that they have been following since this year’s WrestleMania, which is find the most over performer with the fans, give him the I-C title, and try and get the belt over that way, so that in the future, the belt can make the man, as opposed to the current formula, where the man makes the belt.
Their second option is to try and do the opposite. Put the title on an up-and-comer who has the goods to deliver, but just needs something to put him over the edge so he is viewed as a bigger deal than he already is. Names like Neville and Sami Zayn come to mind.
Zayn, depending on his injury, would make a great impact on the main roster by giving U.S. Champion John Cena all he could handle — with an injury no-less, in his first high-profile match on RAW since having his run as NXT Champion in WWE’s developmental system, and then go on to win the next high-profile match he is in and become the brand new WWE Intercontinental Champion.
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