New Titles and Credibility
By Nik Johnson
Aug 23, 2003, 16:24
Thanks to my mailbox being full for the last week or so, and not telling me about it, I only received a handful of e-mails from "I am a Wrestling Fan". So to make up for it, send me plenty of e-mail about this week's column.
Not looking forward to this show going into it, with only two matches that I want to see – the US Title match, and WWE Title match. Of the 20 guys that are involved, I only care about the ones that are in those two matches, and slightly about Jericho and RVD, although WWE have succeeded in making me pretty much not give a shit about either of them. Good work, guys.
Over the last nine months, four new titles have been introduced into WWE. Actually, only two have been "introduced"; the World Heavyweight title and the SmackDown! tag titles. The other two are titles that have previously been in WWE, but had been previously retired; the Intercontinental title (merged with the World Title at No Mercy 2002) and the United States title (merged with the Intercontinental title at Survivor Series 2001).
The SmackDown! tag titles have been credited with legitimacy. Before I go any further, I should comment for a moment on legitimacy.
A legitimate title is, in my opinion, one that wrestlers (in storyline terms) care about. Where winning the title is their goal. Something like the Hardcore title, where anyone could (and did) hold it, sometimes only for seconds, sucked. It didn't mean anything if you held the belt, and nothing ever came of it. On the other hand, the WWF title always meant something. If you were a WWF champion, you carried that belt with pride. The WWF champions were arguably the best guys on the roster, and always at the top of the card.
Anyway, at the end of last year, Brock Lesnar took the WWE title to SmackDown!, leaving Raw without a World Champion. This led to Eric Bischoff handing Triple H the former WCW title, calling it the "World Heavyweight Championship". That was the first controversial move that was made, as people felt that Triple H should have done something in order to hold the title – titles should be won, and not awarded. This is a pretty fair assessment, as a champion should be that because they've proven they are the best, not just because someone decided they were.
Obviously, in the real world, that is how titles are awarded, but in the storylines, giving someone a title means nothing.
However, a title just being awarded isn't the kiss of death that some proclaim. Like him or not, Triple H is one of the top guys on Raw, and so was in a position to hold the World Title. All he needed to do was back up his position on the card with some great matches, and the title would be fine.
Of course... he didn't. His reliance on gimmick matches to mask his weaknesses as a performer meant that the matches seemed bigger than they were. The Elimination chamber was sold pretty much on the "what the hell is it" factor, rather than Triple H. The same can be said for the two out of three match with HBK. And again, for the Hell in a Cell against Nash, which also featured Mick Foley for the true overbooking taste.
And this is where the World title is failing. Not because Triple H was given the title. Not because he has buried everyone who's come near him. But because the matches have all sucked.
None of Triple H's title defences have been memorable because of the match itself, always because of something surrounding it. Kane's demasking is an obvious one, as are the overblown gimmick matches. Hell, even Scott Steiner having the fans turn on him managed to overshadow their matches.
Compare Triple H's belt to the tag titles on SmackDown!. They were introduced as all new titles, yet managed to mean something VERY quickly. The reason for this was the quality of the wrestlers, and therefore the quality of the matches. The tournament that was used to introduce the titles meant that they were getting hyped before they were even properly used.
The famed SmackDown! Six (Benoit, Angle, Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, Rey and Edge) were putting on awesome matches between each other on an almost weekly basis. Now, the division is pretty much gone, with one of those teams feuding, and two split up due to injuries. TWGTT, one of the best tag teams in ages, are in there, as well as Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman (until the inevitable happens and they split up.) Other than that, the division is pretty much dead. Hopefully, though, putting new teams together will lead to some more great matches.
This goes to show that having a new title belt is not a problem. In fact, even handing a belt over shouldn't be a problem (since it will be forgotten over time). The problem comes from the quality of the matches.
This year, both the Intercontinental and US Titles made their return to WWE.
The Intercontinental title was awarded to Christian in a Battle Royale, which he cheated to win. The Battle Royale featured a Dusty Finish (a face wins the match, and then the result is overturned), which made Christian seem like a lame champion from the start. Battle Royales are a bad idea anyway, since they lead to pretty much just a clusterfuck, with everyone doing the "sit on the top rope and get pushed" bit. Still, Christian walked away with the title.
The US title featured another tournament, with Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, two of the SmackDown! Six, making it to the finals. They put on a classic at Vengeance, one of the top three matches of the year so far. The unclean finish, with Rhyno attacking Benoit, worked. It jump started the Benoit / Rhyno feud, continued Eddie's cool "cheat 2 win" gimmick, and actually mattered. Sure, a clean finish is always preferable, but this allowed them to go places.
Since those introductory matches, the Intercontinental title was made to seem crap, as Christian used every dull, overplayed heel tactic in the book to hang onto his title. Booker T finally won it, after a series of tedious matches, but Christian won it back at a recent house show. Booker T seemed to care about the title, but there was never any justification for Christian's cheating: Why does he want the title so badly? What does he have to gain from it? Since he never got anywhere after losing the belt, I can only assume the answer is "nothing".
Eddie Guerrero has been feuding with Tajiri, in a feud that has interacted a lot with the Benoit / Rhyno one. The matches have been good / great, and Eddie has never seemed like a lameduck champion. Bearing in mind that the title has only been around for four weeks, they've made a hell of a lot out of it; far much more than the Intercontinental title has in three months.
Getting a belt over takes two simple things. People should care about the belt, and the matches should back it up. There are no titles on Raw that fulfil this criteria, and on the flipside, every title on SmackDown! has managed to achieve this.
Why is this?
I believe it comes down to egos and pushing people that suck. The main event tomorrow night at SummerSlam features six guys in the Elimination Chamber. Of those, only two are over enough, and can wrestle well enough to justify being World Champion. And one of those two retired five years ago, from a broken back. The other four have no place that high on the card, either because they aren't over enough (Randy Orton) or can't wrestle well enough (Triple H, Goldberg). Kevin Nash hits both of those categories. Okay, Goldberg is a draw, but I still don't believe he is championship material.
Someone who is over, despite a lack of wrestling talent, and placed in main event matches just gets shown up – Goldberg's WWE debut against the Rock pretty much showed this.
With the split, they have made this harder for themselves, since the vast majority of WWE's great workers are on SmackDown! – Angle, Lesnar, Benoit, Guerrero, Mysterio, and the injured Edge. This leaves Raw's ranks thin, and if you get rid of those that really shouldn't be in the main event, you are left with Kane, RVD, Jericho, Lance Storm and Booker T to hold it together. And because of years / months of misuse, including multiple jobs, "boring" chants, and never being given a chance to shine, none of them are in a position to main event. Brilliant.
The Intercontinental title, Women's, Cruiserweight and SmackDown! tag titles aren't even being defended, which shows how committed WWE are to them. Half of the titles not defended on the second biggest Pay Per View of the year.
Now THAT'S not the way to make people care about the belts.
I'll be back later this week, with a review of Mick Foley's Tietam Brown, and possibly after SummerSlam with my thoughts on that.
Until then... drop me an e-mail with your thoughts on my column, as well as your captions, as the Caption Contest returns!
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