Thursday 5 January 2012

Clearing the Deck

Last week I posted a blog about the problem WWE has with regards to star power. I talked about John Cena and, to a lesser extent, CM Punk’s attitudes not being conducive to elevating new men into the main event bracket. That’s a problem WWE needs to address but it’s not the only one affecting the advancement of future stars. They’re also being held back by WWE’s short-sighted booking practices. Specifically, the booking of the promotion’s championships.

That there are two world titles is a large part of the problem. Prior to the creation of the World Heavyweight championship in 2002 the WWE championship was the company’s top prize. The Intercontinental championship existed as a way of highlighting performers on the rise and rewarding men who simply weren’t cut out for a run at the top but were nevertheless talented performers that could contribute meaningfully to the product.

The introduction of a second world title muddied the waters and detracted from the prestige of the WWE title. The original aim was to have the SmackDown and RAW rosters separate, each with their own world and mid-card prizes. That worked for a few years but as headline acts left the company WWE found itself with a shrinking pool of reliable ratings drawers on which to rely. Instead of doing the sensible thing and working hard to fill the gaps left by the departures with fresh acts they took the quicker, lazier option and slowly dissolved the separate brands concept.

That’s led us to today’s situation where we have two separate rosters in name but everybody appearing when and where they’re needed in practice. For a long time I was opposed to the idea of RAW and SmackDown functioning as separate entities because the concept has so much potential, if done correctly. Over the last several months I’ve gradually changed my mind on this, mainly because WWE now has so few stars that it would make sense to formally reunite the rosters and have their biggest draws appearing on both shows while working hard to establish new characters. It would be the best way of trying to salvage the plummeting ratings and would allow for the title picture to be tidied up.

During the last couple of years, when less attention has been paid to who’s supposed to be attached to which show, WWE has happily slapped world titles on performers with little preparation or plan. It’s unsurprising that men such as Jack Swagger, Sheamus, The Miz, and Alberto Del Rio didn’t immediately click as main event performers when there were no plans in place to protect them and make them look like they belonged in their spots. It’s been going on for so long that fans now expect a first time champion to lose the belt back to one of the Old Guard within a matter of weeks and then retreat back to their comfort zone of the mid-card.

The smart thing to do would be to unify the world titles and then devote more time to the Intercontinental championship. WWE has gotten into the nasty habit of promoting men straight to the status of world champion without allowing sufficient time for them to become accepted by audiences. Every performer, face or heel, that wins a world title needs to be seen as somebody who can win consistently by audiences.

If there were one single world champion in WWE the Intercontinental championship could revert to its former role as the star-making belt. Swagger, Sheamus and Del Rio would have stood a far better chance of gaining headline credibility from the masses had they been booked to enjoy lengthy (or at least memorable) runs with the secondary strap before cracking the main event.

Too many championships makes winning one less important. If everyone on the roster is a former world champion then the accolade will naturally seem less prestigious, and we’re not too far away from that situation. WWE recognises John Cena as a twelve-time world champion, Triple H as a thirteen-time world champion, and Randy Orton as a nine-time world champion. These are ridiculous numbers, and in the case of ‘The Viper’ and ‘The Leader of the Chain Gang’ they’ve been accrued in under a decade.

It may seem like a backwards step but I’d like to see WWE hold off on promoting anybody else to the status of world champion throughout 2012. The world titles should be unified and future stars be allowed to establish themselves with Intercontinental title reigns instead. Winning a title will mean more if there are fewer titles on offer and belt switches occur less frequently. A year’s a good amount of time to establish a new status quo and prepare two or three guys for that final push to the top.

It’s worth pointing out that this was standard practice twenty years ago. Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior were seen as headline talents while wearing the Intercontinental championship, while men such as Curt Hennig, The British Bulldog, ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper, and Scott Hall all held the secondary title without ever progressing on to the world championship. Would it really be so awful if Cody Rhodes and Wade Barrett retired in fifteen years time without having been world champion?

The good news is that WWE is perfectly placed to unite the titles right now. Such a historic match would deserve to happen at WrestleMania between two of the company’s best workers. We’re currently just a few months away from ‘Mania and WWE has a nice amount of time to prepare such a match for its audience. With CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, two of the promotion’s elite, currently recognised as WWE champion and World Heavyweight champion respectively the company wouldn’t even need to switch the belts around to prepare a memorable match. Punk and Bryan could handle a three month feud with ease.

That not everybody becomes the WWE champion is part of what makes winning the title so special for the few that do. Somewhere along the way WWE have lost sight of that and they won’t be able to remedy the situation until they refocus on one, single world championship.

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