WWE's midcard titles are thriving while its biggest championships are struggling for relevance
With the WWE Championship being in a strange situation, and the Universal Championship missing, WWE's secondary titles have the spotlight.
Over the past few years, WWE’s two secondary championships – the Intercontinental Championship and the United States Championship – have been used as nothing more than somewhat prestigious titles that move around like hot potatoes and give the holder a little more credibility than most other midcarders.
Naturally, the primary championships – the WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Championship, or the WWE Championship and Universal Championship, or just the WWE World Heavyweight Championship – have been the title to have, giving the holder the title of the ‘face’ of the WWE, and having all eyes turn to them in hopes of opportunity, fame and screen time.
As of late – or rather, post-WrestleMania 33 – things have looked quite unusually the opposite.
Let us start with SmackDown Live, the show on which the champion actually makes appearances. Randy Orton won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, and has been a mediocre champion since. He had a match at the Raw pay-per-view, Payback, for complicated reasons that involve, one can suspect, a booking confusion, with Bray Wyatt ending up on Raw and the match then being a non-title rematch.
Randy Orton, the WWE Champion, was pinned at the event, and even though he didn’t lose the title and there was interference that helped Bray Wyatt, the champion’s credibility always takes a hit after a loss. What’s even more intriguing is Orton’s first challenger for his championship at the upcoming Backlash, Jinder Mahal. While this decision has been met with mixed reactions, there is no denying that the names involved in the United States Championship are the ones to be reckoned with.
Kevin Owens was United States Champion went he was moved to SmackDown, taking the title with him, while Chris Jericho was in line for a rematch at Payback. Immediately, a #1 Contender’s match was held, with AJ Styles emerging victorious. The sheer weight of those three names is enough to give the United States Championship name prestige, with Owens being a fan favourite, Jericho being an all-time great and Styles being the self-described engineer of SmackDown Live.
Furthermore, the United States Championship match at Payback was arguably the match of the night, and the upcoming AJ Styles vs Kevin Owens match at Backlash is likely to be a show-stealer.
Switching to Raw, we see no actual primary title on television, making the Intercontinental Championship the highest ranked male title by default. The decision to make the Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar fight for the Universal Championship was questionable in the first place, and it was inevitable that we wouldn’t be seeing an active champion once Lesnar won that match. What’s even worse for the Universal Championship is the fact that it was so openly disregarded by Dean Ambrose and the other competitors in the ring, pictured above.
Look at that picture again. Except for Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman, those are Raw’s biggest names, and they are all standing around a championship that used to be thrown around by lightweight midcarders, and which was competed for in a match during the pre-show of WrestleMania. Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and The Miz are all worthy of holding the Universal Championship, and the fact that they are so grippingly in competition for the Intercontinental Championship makes it so much more prestigious.
Of course, in the #1 Contenders’ main event this past week, The Miz won, while Rollins continued his feud with Samoa Joe and Balor began his feud with Bray Wyatt, but what is more important is the competition that led to this scenario. The match for the title, which would previously have been just another defense, now means something, because there are big names involved and actual attention being paid to the championship.
This is both a great and worrying sign for the WWE. The secondary championships have been in desperate need for some spotlight, and have received it more so than in a while as of late. Hopefully, this isn’t only a phase, and it is like this on a regular basis.
However, what is concerning is the fact that the most prestigious championships are being restrained, or even absent. The obvious problem here is that they are the primary championships and are supposed to be the biggest crown around. However, the bigger problem is the noticeable lack of interest.
Randy Orton has proven in the past to be an average champion, but having the championship stay with Bray Wyatt would have been better for Wyatt and the title, as there would be more people competing for it. The addition of Jinder Mahal is a huge gamble, and if things pick up towards Backlash, they could work out for the better, if handled well.
When it comes to Raw, however, the problem is significantly worse. The idea of a missing champion, namely only Brock Lesnar, is not alien, but just because it isn’t the first time doesn’t mean it’s better than the last. Raw has huge names on its roster, and it is disrespectful to those with such wrestling ability to not be able to compete for the most respected prize in the yard.
Throw the championship into any current feud, and it would add much more to it. Leave the championship at home and away from the ring, and it takes something away from the show altogether.