Opinion: WWE desperately needs to bring regular No.1 Contender Matches back
Last week was called a “premiere week” in WWE for a good reason. After RAW’s big ‘season premiere’ episode and both of SmackDown’s and NXT’s spectacular debuts on FOX and USA networks respectively, almost everything in this company’s programming now feels refreshed and fully ready for a new chapter in the professional wrestling history to unfold.
With the Draft kicking off tonight and continuing on RAW next week, WWE’s renewed television formats will demand even more substance and logical scripting confines. It is only natural that WWE would now want to try and implement some of the new or maybe forgotten concepts and features (such as the brand split itself, for example) to help them in this cause.
Many things could have worked decently here but one of my suggestions lies in bringing back one trope that nobody seems to acknowledge WWE dropped almost completely recently - the regular No. 1 Contendership matches.
How has the situation changed with time
It will not make for an unexpected reaction if a large portion of my readers starts to scratch their heads after finishing the first paragraph trying to remember some of WWE’s recent contendership matches with a slight look of surprise on their faces.
I can also imagine some of such bouts being recalled within several seconds nonetheless (probably, mostly in NXT or 205 Live) but, for now, let us first take a look at the state of things in this company at the beginning of our decade.
At the dawn of the PG era, being it on separated brands or on merged ones, it was hard to imagine a storyline involving any championship without at least one Contendership match in WWE.
Most pay-per-view builds usually consisted of multiple bouts with title shots on the line. Some of them could even take place on PPVs themselves including the main card (some of the examples: John Morrison vs. King Sheamus for the No. 1 Contendership for the WWE Championship at TLC 2010; Team Rhodes Scholars vs. Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio - tables match to determine No.1 contenders to the WWE Tag Team Championship at TLC 2012).
Nowadays, however, we rarely get more than one No. 1 Contendership match a month on the main roster. Most of the title clashes usually get simply announced by the commentators or get booked when champions accept someone’s challenges despite them not having the power to make matches on their own. Lack of authority figures on RAW and SmackDown can now serve as one of the reasons for this approach towards No. 1 Contendership matches but not necessarily justify it.
The last couple of years showed tendencies to feature more championship matches on WWE regular TV. This is an interesting concept but it, unfortunately, undermines matches with a title shot on the line even more.
How did it affect WWE product
Sadly, the lack of No. 1 Contendership matches has led to the company’s product looking a bit frivolous and less sport-orientated. One can even say that this change tends to show WWE’s writing as a little rushed and not very thoughtful. Previously, title shots (and titles themselves) meant more and symbolized something that performer had to deserve through hard work, both in kayfabe and in reality.
Nowadays, sadly, a championship opportunity can sometimes be given to a Superstar without a continuous build or even enough explanation to it. Simple creative decisions are much more evident to the casual audience in such cases.
Recent Kofi Kingston’s WWE Championship reign had various examples of this issue. Throughout his run with the title, he has been granting heels, who attacked him, title shots and has simply answered some challenges which made his title defenses look not as important and the championship itself a bit of an easy target.
Kofi's character traits of a valiant babyface and a fighting champion have helped soften fans' perception of this issue but that was not enough.
Contenders rarely can be seen as strong and deserving enough these days when they don't have to do very much to get a championship match.
At times, when title shots can be given to challengers for a simple promo or an attack angle, undercard talents, who do not enter championship feuds often, can look even weaker and even farther away from significant storylines, bound to pursue their 24/7 Championship aspirations for months to come.
How a return of regular No.1 Contendership matches can help WWE now
The most obvious improvement that this slight change can bring to the WWE product is a serious sports-like feel, that new FOX producers of SmackDown would appreciate very much. Contendership bouts and tracking the win/loss records already help AEW over on TNT giving it a quite distinct and significant presentation.
Although it may not be very apparent, the same approach to their championships and title shots helped NXT and even 205 Live writing for the past few years as well. To make this concept work again, WWE simply needs to implement it in a way they have already successfully done in their non-main roster shows for the last couple of years or just to remember some effective formulas from their past.
Hopefully, the Draft will be able to bring some more importance to championships and their contenders in WWE by splitting brands and championships aside as it, for example, successfully managed to do back in 2016.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article belong to the writer and doesn't necessarily represent Sportskeeda's stand.