Hello again! As you might recall, last week I wrote about the state of WWE Raw’s championships. Because that article received such a nice response (and because I said I would) this week we’re going to cover the championship scene on SmackDown Live, fresh off the heels of Sunday’s No Mercy pay-per-view. So, let’s get right into it, shall we?
The WWE World Championship
Currently Held By: AJ Styles
It Ought to Be: AJ Styles
Starting out on a pleasant note, the WWE’s flagship title is exactly where it needs to be. The Triple Threat match at No Mercy was all but decided even before the event began—AJ has only held the title for about a month, which is trivially short by WWE’s standards—but it’s still nice to see that he has the belt at all. As dedicated fans of the show might tell you, it was a bit of an odd series of circumstances that led us to the position where we could use the phrase “WWE World Champion AJ Styles.”
Styles is one of the few men in the world who became a wrestling icon in the 21st century without ever being contracted by the WWE. His rise to success was largely fueled by his work in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling and sustained by a long (long) string of iconic matches in Japan. People finding success in wrestling outside of WWE typically signals that their careers on the show will be extremely poorly booked (See: When WWE bought WCW in the early 2000’s.) And indeed, rumors abound that when AJ Styles debuted in January’s Royal Rumble event the plan was to have him operate as a midcarder in the company. A mediocre two-time Intercontinental champion. Dolph Ziggler. Allegedly, the response to his appearance was so positive that plans had to change to avoid enormous fan backlash.
Then, this June at Money in the Bank, when the WWE World Championship was supposed to go to Roman Reigns (advertisements for July/August shows in Canada contained the phrase “See WWE Champion Roman Reigns defend his title…”) Roman was suspended for thirty days, which caused the script to be flipped and the belt to be put on Dean Ambrose. Dean held the title until September’s Backlash event where he eventually lost it to current champion AJ Styles, who had spent the summer putting on, as he always does, a string of potential Match of the Year candidates with John Cena.
Man. That’s a pretty convoluted story to get us from “mediocre two-time Intercontinental champion” to “WWE World Champion AJ Styles.” And it’s exactly how it should be.
The SmackDown! Women’s Championship
Currently Held By: Becky Lynch
It Ought to Be: Becky Lynch
(Note: Last week I incorrectly referred to the Raw Women’s Championship as the “WWE Women’s Championship”)
Hey! Another win for SmackDown Live! Becky became the inaugural SmackDown! Women’s champion after defeating five other women during September’s Backlash pay-per-view, and boy did the fans get it right with those “You deserve it” chants. Becky debuted sometime last year along with fellow NXT alumni Sasha Banks and Charlotte, three of the four women that make up WWE’s so-called “Four Horsewomen.” Just for context, about twenty five years ago there was a group of men in the WWE called the Four Horsemen who are widely considered to be some of the greatest competitors of all time, so to refer to a group of people as the Four Horse-anything is both an enormous compliment and an enormous amount of pressure.
These women have lived up to that name.
However since their debut the story has been largely about Sasha Banks versus Charlotte, and Ms. Lynch has unfortunately been sort of shuffled off to the side, quickly building momentum and fan support but never really receiving the same opportunities to shine that the other two have. With the brand split putting Becky on SmackDown! it’s given her the opportunity to really milk the love and support she’s gained in her eighteen months in the spotlight.
Speaking more specifically about the title picture, Becky is also somewhat lacking in viable competition on SmackDown! at the moment, so having her as the inaugural champion—and reigning for a good long while—makes sense to me. It gives the writers an opportunity to build up the credibility of their women’s division without making the title seem weak by putting it on a woman who isn’t necessarily ready to run the show yet. Natalya Neidhart could realistically take the belt from her at some point down the road, but Becky and Natalya have been feuding off and on since like, May, and it was never strong enough to be something that could continue to the end of the year. That leaves the next in line as promising bad-girl and uncomfortably attractive Harley Quinn lookalike Alexa Bliss, but given that Bliss debuted as an NXT call-up in July I don’t think fans or management are prepared to endorse her as the women’s champion yet in spite of her extremely capable in-ring ability and mic work.
So! For now I think the belt stays on Becky, and probably well into the future. Maybe even WrestleMania. Particularly since Becks is out of action with a minor medical condition at the moment, which has given her less opportunities to showcase herself as the champ.
The SmackDown! Tag Team Championship
Currently Held By: Heath Slater and Rhyno
It Ought to Be: American Alpha
Okay. Guys. Heath Slater and Rhyno are 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.
You may be noticing a parallel to my last article here.
I have a theory as to why the belts are currently on Heath Slater and Rhyno. The reason, by the way, that this requires a theory at all is because six months ago if you had told anybody—not me, but anybody—that Heath Slater would be champion of anything come September that person would have slapped the shit out of you and laughed in your face. Okay, theory time:
I think the WWE wrote itself into a corner. The nature by which Heath Slater and Rhyno captured the belts ahead of American Alpha is too contrived for it to be any other way. I think that the writers didn’t expect Heath Slater to receive such a positive response following the brand split and as he became increasingly popular they realized that there had to be some kind of cathartic payoff to his story or else there would be rioting in the streets. So they took a look at their current belts and they realized that the only one they could feasibly give him without losing face was the tag team belt.
That’s why the Usos suddenly turned into bad guys (they also needed something to revitalize their careers) and “injured” American Alpha to the point where they couldn’t compete. It allowed Heath and Rhyno to take the belts without making American Alpha look weak by losing to a comedy act.
Now, I love Heath Slater, and Rhyno has been doing surprisingly good work as his character foil. And I’m not trying to suggest that I want the last three months of Heath’s career to disappear because it’s been amazing, but based on the direction that the product went it feels to me as though the plan was always to put the belts on American Alpha and let them elevate the prestige of the titles a little just by existing and putting on impressive matches.
The WWE Intercontinental Championship
Currently Held By: Dolph Ziggler
It Ought to Be: The Miz
I hate myself for saying this. Dolph Ziggler is my favorite. He’s my boy and I wish him every success in the world. I want him to have all the championships. But goddammit if The Miz wasn’t producing the most compelling television in wrestling today as our former Intercontinental Champion.
The Miz’s championship reign ended on Sunday at No Mercy in a career versus title match that was without a shadow of a doubt the match of the night. And that includes a card that had AJ Styles on it. His reign lasted for 188 days, and I know that because part of his schtick was constantly reminding people how long he’d held the belt.
This match (as you’ll hear on episode one of the Title Hunt podcast) backed me into an enormous corner as a fan. If Dolph Ziggler retired I would be completely inconsolable. I might have actually cried. I’m serious, it would be a major problem. But The Miz for the last 188 days has been putting together a career renaissance, and when he referred to his championship reign as the “Never Ending Intercontinental Championship World Tour” I really actually never wanted it to end. For those of you that missed it, it was just that good.
So to see Dolph Ziggler unseat The Miz puts me in a bit of a difficult spot. I was not inconsolable following No Mercy, but I did mourn the loss of champion Miz. And I’m not above admitting that my love of Dolph Ziggler does not necessarily stem from the fact that he’s the best in-ring competitor or the most compelling character on TV, which means that by the natural order of things he probably shouldn’t be holding a championship belt.
It’s worth mentioning that there’s something to be said about killing an amazing story arc before it has run itself into the dirt. With The Miz being unseated now as opposed to when people start to get bored of him it allows Miz to keep a bunch of his momentum going into the future, and it allows us to remember his championship reign with nothing but fond memories rather than clarifying every statement about it with the phrase “Yeah, until it went to shit.”
So maybe in that sense it’s better to have let The Miz’s Never Ending Intercontinental Championship World Tour end before that “never ending” part got increasingly obvious. Plus, given that SmackDown! has been on an absolute tear lately I believe that Dolph Ziggler is in the best hands that he’s been in in probably five years. There’s a real opportunity for success here. I’m hesitant but still what I’d call optimistic.
And there you have it! This one was a little shorter both because we’ve got one less title and because many of the titles, I feel, are exactly how they ought to be. SmackDown hasn’t had to deal with the injuries and circumstantial changes that Raw has, and also it’s quite frankly being better written. Significantly so. So there’s less to say on that front. If I’m still feeling wrestling-y come this time next week then I’ll write some more about wrestling. If not, I’ll probably move on to something else. Who knows!
Also, be sure to keep an eye out for episode 001 of “The Title Hunt” podcast, which should be dropping quite soon. I think you’ll all like it a lot!