Some of you will be happy to note that if you have no interest in the world of the WWE then you can skip this article. But if that sounds like the kind of thing that might tickle your fancy, I encourage you to read on.
WWE’s No Mercy event will be airing live this Sunday on the WWE Network and through various pay-per-view means. More importantly though, as of this Tuesday, October 4th, we’ve officially hit twelve weeks, three months, since the WWE’s brand extension draft which gave us separate rosters for each of the company’s weekly shows. Given that we’ve reached arguably the first major time milestone following the brand extension draft I thought it might be nice to take stock of where we were, where we are, and where it appears we might be going in regards to each title. With that said, let’s get started. Also! Since the WWE’s various shows are technically fictional network television, here is your spoiler warning. Okay.
This week we’ll be covering Raw’s belts, and following No Mercy, we’ll do SmackDown next Thursday.
The WWE Universal Championship
Currently Held By: Kevin Owens
It Ought to Be: Finn Balor
Raw’s most prestigious title also brings us to our first “that’s a shame” moment. For those of you that don’t remember, immediately following the WWE Draft, NXT call-up Finn Balor was being pushed to the absolute moon. He won two matches on his debut show, defeating the likes of established veterans Rusev and Roman Reigns. It was undeniably clear that the powers that be in charge of Raw saw Finn as a suitable contender for the top babyface of that brand.
And that’s a sensible plan. Following the draft, Raw in particular lacked viable main event good-guys. Seth Rollins was still a heel at the time, and WWE audiences have made it abundantly clear that they’re not prepared to embrace Roman Reigns again just yet. That leaves…who exactly? Who can they pit against Raw’s myriad of competent main-event heels?
Until SummerSlam the answer to that question was a resounding, “Finn Balor!” Unfortunately, in Finn’s debut pay-per-view he dislocated his shoulder in such a way that put him out of action for six months, leaving him in a position for a triumphant WrestleMania return, but still leaving the brand pretty high and dry from a booking standpoint. They called an audible and simultaneously put the belt on fan-favorite bad guy Kevin Owens while giving Seth Rollins a betrayal angle that’s begun the slow and arduous journey of turning him into an anti-hero. Where that goes, and in particular what will happen upon Finn’s return, is up in the air.
Personally I’m of the opinion that Kevin Owens could competently hold the belt ‘til WrestleMania and that he and longtime rival Sami Zayn could burn the fucking house down for that title. Sami has been criminally underutilized after putting on a string of match-of-the-year quality exhibitions with Owens, Shinsuke Nakamura, and the like, and I hope that this is a sign of a holding pattern they’ve got him in rather than evidence that they don’t know what to do with him.
The WWE Women’s Championship
Currently Held By: Sasha Banks
It Ought to Be: Sasha Banks
Here’s a piece of good news: Sasha Banks is apparently well enough to hold the title. Given that every time Sasha starts moving at faster than a gentle trot she manages to do something that looks like it kills her, I’m glad to see that she’s in physically good-enough condition to be able to consistently perform at the main event level. What’s more, former champion Charlotte held the belt for, with one short three-week break, a year. According to the commentary team, of the fifteen months that Charlotte has been on the main roster (after having been called up from NXT) she’s held the Diva’s/Women’s championship for twelve. Having her off the top of the mountain will give her character a chance to develop in interesting ways. It also gives her an opportunity to finally blow off the increasingly uncomfortable abuse angle they’ve been working between her and Dana Brooke. With no title on the line it gives Charlotte the opportunity to lose without devaluing the status of the championship.
Now then, this brings us to the same problem that almost every division is currently facing in the entire WWE: The women’s division on Raw is a little bit thin. Okay, it’s very thin. Effectively the women’s division on Raw is being carried in its entirety by three women: Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Bayley. There are certainly other women on the roster (Nia Jax springs to mind as a possible next competitor for Banks’ championship) but especially in the last three months the show has been all about Sasha, Charlotte, and Bayley. This leaves the combinations for feuds very limited, particularly when you consider that Sasha is currently wrestling as a face and Bayley is wrestling as the faciest face that ever faced. It makes booking a Sasha/Bayley feud more difficult, but there’s no way a Sasha/Charlotte feud could carry to WrestleMania at this point. What’s more, Bayley got called up to the main roster maybe two months ago, at the most. It’s still far too early for her to win the championship in a way that’s satisfying to casual fans.
So, in summary, where do we go next with Banks as Women’s Champion? I don’t rightly know.
The Raw Tag Team Championship
Currently Held By: The New Day
It Ought to Be: Gallows & Anderson
Okay. Guys. The New Day is great. Great. They’re that really rare case where an act that’s based largely around making people laugh have also been presented as a credible threat. That’s extremely rare, especially in WWE’s case given their propensity to book joke characters to get the shit stomped out of them.
And I understand why The New Day are still the champions more than four hundred days on: They’re extremely, hugely popular, and they’re riding incredibly high on a wave of popular merchandise. The WWE sees them as a viably marketable entity, and often the most marketable people are the ones who get to hang onto the belts. Champions sell more T-shirts, that’s a demonstrable fact.
That being said, I’m personally of the opinion that The New Day is starting—starting—to have a bit of a John Cena effect on the tag team division. That is to say, their meteoric success is starting to be at the detriment of the entire division. The New Day at this point likely don’t need the championship belts in order to sell New Day merchandise. However, there are a number of tag teams that could really do well if they received a greater spotlight, most notably Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson.
Eight (or so) months ago when Anderson and Gallows made their debut they were hyped up as some of the biggest badasses in wrestling today: They were fresh from dominating the competition in Japan and they’d arrived in the WWE to beat people up and win titles. There was very little that needed to be said about their characters because their actions spoke for themselves. For a couple weeks they annihilated every tag team they could, New Day included, and it looked like they were going to run roughshod over the entire division.
And then they didn’t.
With The New Day constantly releasing an ever-increasing string of kitschy knick-knacks (and cereal) the timing apparently wasn’t right to have them drop the belts to Gallows and Anderson. However, Gallows and Anderson have now bounced off The New Day four or five times without coming up successful, to the point where bookers can no longer really justify keeping them in the title picture. That honor has now been given to the tag team of Sheamus and Cesaro of all people. This is a team with no backstory that came out of nowhere, and, God forbid, are likely going to be the ones to unseat The New Day.
Which brings us to the problem. Say it with me now: Where do they go from there?
The Raw tag team division has two problems: First, there’s an over-abundance of face teams, and second, they’ve all been booked to look shitty. If basically anybody unseats The New Day at this point I’ll be upset; not because I like The New Day, but because they seem head and shoulders stronger than anybody they’ve faced in a year. Gallows and Anderson were the WWE’s best choice to avoid the hole they’re digging the tag team division into and they lost it with bad booking. Now basically any resolution is going to be irritating without some serious work.
The WWE Cruiserweight Championship
Currently Held By: TJ Perkins
It Ought to Be: Cedric Alexander
I’ve restricted myself to only talking about people who’ve signed with the WWE following the Cruiserweight Classic, otherwise the person holding this belt should rightfully be the Dragon Ball fusion dance of Kota Ibushi and Zack Sabre Jr.
“If the only bad thing to be said about TJ Perkins is that he dabs in the ring, Cruiserweight wrestling is in pretty good shape.” This sentiment has been echoed over and over since Perkins won the Cruiserweight Classic in September. And I agree; credit where credit is due, Perkins has been doing a fantastic job since the cruiserweight division began airing on Raw. His matches with Brian Kendrick have been really actually quite great. It’s also worth mentioning that many of these men haven’t been given ample time to develop a character. They’re not receiving chances to do promos on basic cable television right now, they’re just being smashed against each other in matches. But that makes my job really easy actually, because it leaves judging who should be champion entirely to who had the best match during the Cruiserweight Classic.
That would be Cedric Alexander.
Cedric Alexander had the match of his absolute life against Kota Ibushi during the second round of WWE’s inaugural Cruiserweight Classic. I’m serious, if you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading this and go watch it. Look: Here’s a link to it. I’m not kidding, go watch it right now and then come back. This is a match that you show your friends who don’t like wrestling. This is a match that you show someone who watches Red Bull Crashed Ice and monster trucks running over things that explode. This is a match that you show amateur wrestlers who think that professional wrestling is dumb. It’s raw, it makes both men look powerful. It hurt like a motherfucker and I wasn’t even in the match. TJ Perkins has yet to put on a match that’s going to be talked about come this time next year. Cedric Alexander versus Kota Ibushi could very likely be the match of the entire year. It was certainly the most entertaining match of the CWC. Based on that alone, Alexander ought to have been your inaugural Cruiserweight Champion.
The United States Championship
Currently Held By: Roman Reigns
It Ought to Be: Cesaro
Alright, if anybody’s going to accuse me of fantasy booking, now is the time. This claim has the least basis in fact, but bear with me while I take us all on a little journey here:
Roman Reigns spent two years and some change as the muscle for one of the most successful stables of all time. In addition to his time in The Shield, Roman also spent a good eighteen months as one of the only people contending for a top title in the entire company. Nobody is going to forget him if he disappears for a little while in the midcard. Give the man a vacation.
Cesaro on the other hand has been busting his ass for almost ten months following his return from a shoulder injury. Not counting a semi-successful career as a tag team with Tyson Kidd and a win in the always-relevant Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale, Cesaro has done very little that could be considered worth putting on a resume. That being said, he’s consistently one of the most well-liked performers by the fans, and absolutely one of the most impressive technical wrestlers of the last ten years. I believe in my heart of hearts that Cesaro could lift my house, and that’s not just because that’s how they’re billing him, he really is just that strong.
Given that Rusev was booked to drop the title anyway, it would have been a great opportunity to push Cesaro up out of the middlest of the midcard and into the upper-midcard, which is of course a hop, skip, and a jump away from the main event picture. Having Cesaro in the wings as a potential opponent for short main event feuds would allow the WWE to break up the monotony of constantly having the same matches over and over with the same stakes—Owens and Rollins for the title, Rollins and Reigns for the title, etc. etc.
Stepping away from fantasy booking for a second, the US Title has perhaps the brightest future of any of these titles so far. The reason for that is because Raw’s midcard is pretty dense. After Roman (inevitably) defends the title at the upcoming Hell in a Cell pay-per-view there’s a lot of different directions that could go. Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, Neville, Sheamus, all of these people are in great positions to fight for the US Title. Hell, if there’s an ongoing feud when Finn Balor returns he’d have no problem being slotted into the US Title picture either. Honestly, in spite of all of my bitching a second ago I have very little to complain about as far as this championship goes. Roman is actually a fantastic in-ring worker, and when he’s given opportunities to look vulnerable his matches become extremely interesting to watch. I’m curious to see where this leads.
And that’s where Raw’s titles stand currently, in my eyes. Overall I think it’s fair to say that the WWE is not sitting where they thought they’d be three months ago, but I think that generally speaking they’ve found even, stable footing. While there are a few missteps that I wish hadn’t happened I’m actually generally more confident in the product now than I was prior to the brand split, which I think is a sign that things are going to continue to trend upwards. I’m cautiously optimistic.
Tune in next week for a discussion of Team Blue’s side of things!
Also, check back soon for something special from Billy and I, the only two wrestling fans on the Low Five roster. What could it be, I wonder?
It’s a podcast. We’re doing a podcast. See you next week!