The whole point of having multiple championships within a promotion is so there are several avenues for performers to take, all of which have their own value and significance in a hierarchy of accolades. This especially becomes useful for building up talents over time, as well as in instances where specific belts may be unavailable for a given time.
Brock Lesnar won the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania 33. Which means WWE set itself up for several periods of time within the next six months — at least — where the champion and his belt will be completely absent from the program, given Lesnar’s unique part-time schedule.
WWE knew well in advance this would be the case for its Raw brand. Yet it seems as though WWE took no action to prepare for the absence of its most prestigious title on Raw, despite the smart gameplan in such an event being more than obvious.
Your No. 1 title may be the priority, but your No. 2 title should still be of great importance. At worst, it should be, in essence, one standard deviation away from the No. 1 title in prestigiousness, the way an Olympic silver medal is still an incredible accomplishment. At best, it should hold a prestigiousness all its own, where despite knowing it is technically No. 2, it does not outright feel like a step down.
Following WWE’s quasi-draft several weeks ago, the Intercontinental Championship is on Raw now. But that is about all you can say about it — it is physically there. What you cannot say is the belt’s presence has a noticeable impact on the brand nor that it holds much value in its presence. Something which was all too apparent on Raw.
Seth Rollins came out for an in-ring promo to make a statement of his intentions to challenge for the Universal title. Finn Balor interrupted, making note of his status as the inaugural champion who never lost, but instead vacated the title after SummerSlam last year. This led to the Intercontinental Champion, Dean Ambrose, interrupting both men.
His point, in summary: Lesnar is not around, so Ambrose is the top guy for now and Raw should be about active champions.
That is all well and good, but who does WWE think it’s fooling? Sure, in theory, Ambrose is exactly right. With the No. 1 title out of the picture, Ambrose should be the guy everyone wants, and his status as one of the most active guys on the roster should be held in high regard. Members of the Raw roster should be clamoring for a shot at Ambrose and the IC title.
Much like what Lenny Bruce told us more than 50 years ago, the only thing that matters is “what is,” not what “should be.” And the fact of the matter is regardless what Ambrose said, it is far, far from the truth of what actually is.
WWE did not take the time to prepare for this sort of moment and is instead the kid on the bus to school trying to scrape together the 10-page essay due today. It is just not going to happen.
There was a point in time last year when it looked like WWE was on its way to rebuilding the IC title. During the height of the Miz-Dolph Ziggler feud, the IC title finally had strong momentum behind it again which had not been seen since Daniel Bryan won it at WrestleMania 31. But it was not long after that the title began a downward spiral to near-irrelevance.
It is all but clear WWE recognizes this fact too when the IC championship match found itself on the WrestleMania 33 pre-show, only beaten out by the SmackDown tag titles which had no place on the show whatsoever. In the months prior and up to now, the IC title has been little more than a prop carried around by a given wrestler.
So when a three-way match was set up to main event Raw for rights to be No. 1 contender to Ambrose (Miz joining Balor and Rollins), it came off very much like it was set up to be — settling for a lesser option since the men could not get ahold of Lesnar any time soon.
Even that would be, arguably, giving it too much praise, though. For at the end when Miz picked up the victory following interference to both Balor and Rollins, not only did the match end up feeling like a setup for future programs more than an actual No. 1 contender bout, but it did not come off as though Balor or Rollins really missed out on anything.
It sure did not seem like Miz came out of the match having won some major opportunity. But especially in the cases of Rollins and Balor, getting an IC title shot would have been a blatant step down for where their star power currently sits — a problem which WWE is far too late to make a quick turnaround on, now when the company really needs the title to have great value.