Sunday Sermon: The WWE Intercontinental Title Division

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Craig Wilson, Brian Damage & Jamie Lithgow.

Following on from last Sunday’s discussion on the divas division, it seemed apt to look at another title division in the WWE in need of a revolution. Namely the Intercontinental Title division and with current champ Ryback on the shelf, it seemed every more topical. Without further ado.

Craig: I sometimes wonder if I bang on about the IC title as much as I do about the tag team titles! Regardless, as a 31 year old guy this is a belt that when I was growing up was carried by future world heavyweight champions and Hall of Famers as the WWF tested them out to see that they were ready to make the grade.

The late great Curt Hennig holding the Intercontinental Title aloft

The late great Curt Hennig holding the Intercontinental Title aloft

Perhaps my first IC Champion was the late Mr. Perfect who sadly never became world champion but many of the guys that followed him did. Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and Triple H to name a few from the 90s. Aside from Diesel, you could trust all of those guys to put on a match.

The workers aspect of the title goes back even further to the reigns of the likes of Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat. It may have been Hulk Hogan that was carrying the main title and main eventing the shows but more often than not it was the match involving the IC Champion that was a better out and out wrestling match.

But back to now, it’s fair to say that the IC title picture isn’t what it once was. In the last few years it’s been banded about the mid card, more often than not in the hope that the champion will rise to the occasion before invariably not and even causing some people to wonder if the belt is cursed.

Can the title once seen as a test to whether a superstar could become a main eventer and regarded as “the workers” belt return to its previous glory? What would it take for that to happen?

Brian: This is nothing against Ryback…or maybe it is, but he to me is like watching paint dry. He’s a prototypical throwback to the muscle head wrestlers of the 80’s and early 90’s. I for one am “shell shocked” that he is popular once again with fans. It’s not that the Big Guy doesn’t try hard…because he does…but how many great matches have we seen Ryback have in his entire career?

If you want that title to really gain momentum, then you better give it to a wrestler who has tremendous momentum and that to me is Cesaro. Cesaro can carry that belt back to its once prestigious self and you are guaranteed to have some 5 star matches along with it too.

With his tag partner Tyson Kidd on the shelf, is Cesaro the man to reignite the IC title scene?

With his tag partner Tyson Kidd on the shelf, is Cesaro the man to reignite the IC title scene?

Craig: I certainly think that a superstar like Cesaro fits the mould of a “workers” champion so would certainly make sense although he does seem to be front and centre in the US title programme but, yeah, Cesaro fits the mould.

What the WWE definitely should not do is just have the title change hands in quick fire fashion again. I know we appear to be advocating Ryback dropping the gold but my concern isn’t over a title change, it’s over a succession of short title reigns. In the last few years we’ve seen Dolph Ziggler, Barrett and The Miz pass the title about between them and that benefits no one.

I know we’ve seen champions in recent years – Dean Ambrose with the US title and Cody Rhodes with the IC – carry the belt for long periods of time without doing much with it but if short quick fire reigns is one extreme then this is another.

The WWE needs only to look at the US title picture to see how a mid-card title programme can be booked. I know John Cena is a huge deal, but when was the last time before he was US Champ that a US title match on a PPV was such a big deal?

Brian: I agree with everything you said…but I still look at Ryback and ask if he is the right man for the title? Ryback can hold the belt for over a year, defend against all comers…but if his matches are the ones where everybody gets up and goes to the bathroom or concession stands…what is it really accomplishing?

Or are we being unnecessarily down on Ryback?

Or are we being unnecessarily down on Ryback?

Jamie: The statement I’m about to make started in my head as just me playing devil’s advocate, but the more I think about it the more I believe it: just the ditch the IC Title.

Firstly, what does it represent? We have the champion of the world and the champion of the US, plus titles for best female and best tag team. So, what does Ryback represent? In the US Title we have a sought after secondary men’s title, do we need another one… that isn’t sought after?

Secondly, more often than not the booking of the title feels like a chore. It comes across as an after thought. Ryback, Barrett, Ziggler, Rhodes, Miz; they all did nothing with the title, and the title did nothing for them. So again, what’s the point of it? I get that it once was a ‘worker’s title’, but these days the US Title match is usually the best match on the card.

I loved the IC Title when I was younger, but it’s just getting sad now. For me it’s beyond repair and it’s no longer relevant. Bear in mind, an ever increasing number of fans will not have witnessed the title’s glory years. To many fans the IC Title’s prestige exists purely in the words of Michael Cole and JBL. 1992 was a long time ago!

Brian: Remember, they ditched the IC title right after the initial brand split between Raw and Smackdown. The title was DOA for a while…so it is certainly not out of the realm of possibility for them to do it again. The thing is, fans demanded the title be reinstated and of course it was. While John Cena has done a tremendous job elevating the U.S. title….who’s to say the WWE can’t do the same thing with the IC belt? All they need is the right champion….booked right and all of a sudden…you have another meaningful belt.

If the WWE IC division is broken, is the simplest fix to replicate what the company is doing with the US belt?

If the WWE IC division is broken, is the simplest fix to replicate what the company is doing with the US belt?

Craig: As someone that’s previously suggested that the WWE has too many title belts then there’s certainly an argument to be made for cutting it adrift. I think the problem isn’t too many titles, it’s too many titles not being used properly. Giving someone the IC belt or the US title doesn’t get them over in itself. Look at King Barrett, his King of the Ring win hasn’t suddenly given him the aura of a main eventer nor does simply having Sheamus win the MiTB briefcase make me think he is a seriously contender for the World Championship – I’d be surprised if he didn’t cash it in for one of the other belts in fact.

But Brian hits the nail on the head. Giving John Cena the US title elevated the belt a bit but what’s made it feel as important as it is is the way he has defended it, the way that Raw features open challenges for the gold, the way that superstars are battling for a chance to win it. That’s a far cry from a comedy skit involving wrestlers trying, and succeeding, it stealing it. Isn’t it?

Jamie: Exactly. While it’s clear that John Cena has injected life into the US Title – although Rusev did okay before him – the way it’s defended is also a breath of fresh air. I doubt it will ever happen, but I’d love to see the US Open Challenge become a requirement for all future US Champs.

Back to the IC Title, and how is it different from the WWE Title? Answer, it’s not as good. Logistically it’s the same, the only difference being that it’s not as good. It needs a selling point, like the US Title has at the moment. I was aways fan of the old WCW TV Title, with it’s TV time limit; that could help give the IC Title it’s own identity again. Also, open challenges and time limits would introduce a wider variety of match finishes and help protect those in need of favourable booking.

Brian: I’ll say this about the IC title and my cohorts may or may not disagree…but I think it still means a heck of a lot. The prestige alone may be what’s keeping this title afloat while champions like Daniel Bryan and now Ryback are sidelined with injuries. Past champions like the Bret Hart, Mr. Perfect and Chris Jericho and the longest reigning champ of them all…The Honkytonk Man add a certain value to this title.

Jamie: The title absolutely still means a lot and should still be prestigious and sought after. Trouble is, the people booking the shows and writing the storylines do not appear to be communicating that. The performers and commentators can only do so much to convince us that it’s a big deal. Ryback could have the best match on the show, but if it’s not well promoted and instantly forgotten about then why bother?

The WWE would be a better place with a meaningful IC Title, but it’s being misused to the point that I’d simply rather not see it anymore.

Jim Ross Cesaro Tweet

Craig: As a slight update taking in Smackdown, Kevin Owens has moved from feuding with John Cena over the US title to a programme with Cesaro. Stone Cold and Wade Keller talk about this in detail on Austin’s podcast this Thursday past and think that it’s a programme that both can benefit from. There’s no doubting the in-ring quality that will be on show while it will also benefit from Owens’ promo skills Although, PW Torch describe Cesaro’s promo from the same episode of Smackdown! as a “statement to his detractors” when it comes to his mic skills. Throw Owens in the mix then it’s a win-win big feud. I’d be happy with those two heading up the IC title division. Wouldn’t you?

You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.

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