Craig Wilson, Padraic Toolan, Brian Damage and Amerigo Diehl
Hello and welcome to another Sunday Sermon. In today’s instalment, we ask whether the WWE title still mean as much as it used to do, from there we discuss whether titles, more generally, have the same value as they once had.
Craig: Thanks to Brian for this suggestion and it’s an interesting question. Does the WWE title still mean as much?
It doesn’t even feel like the most important title in the WWE and even the one that does, universal title, isn’t always featured in main events as Super Show Down highlights.
But is it a new thing? The reign of CM Punk was characterised by his defences not going on last. Superstars being jigger and not needing a title to be over is one thing, and hardly new as Andre the Giant proved, but is it healthy and does it do anything other than devaluing the world champion?
Padraic: The first Universal Title was at SummerSlam on August 21, 2016, Finn Balor vs. Seth Rollins. It was the second-to-last match, with Lesnar-Orton as the main event. The WWE Championship match with Dean Ambrose defending against Dolph Ziggler was the 9th of 12 matches. The next time the two were defended on the same show was at the 2017 Royal Rumble. The WWE Championship match between John Cena and AJ Styles was the last match before the Royal Rumble main event, while the Reigns-Owens Universal Title match was fifth out of seven non-Rumble matches. Score one for the WWE Championship. At WrestleMania 33, the WWE Championship match was 10 and the Universal Championship match was 11 out of 13, followed by a six-pack challenge for the SmackDown Women’s Championship then Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker. This was only the sixth WrestleMania in history where a championship was not contested in the main event. Of course, we all remember Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor bucking that trend at WM11.
The two championships were the last two matches at SummerSlam 2017, but the Universal Championship took top honors. At the 2018 Royal Rumble, the WWE Championship match was the FIRST MATCH on the main card, while the Universal Championship match came on right before the Royal Rumble match. Since then, we know that every show that the Universal Championship has been featured on, which has not been many, it’s been booked higher on the card than the WWE Championship. It’s fairly obvious that the Universal Championship is the top championship. However, since AJ Styles has taken possession of it, I feel like there’s been a lot of prestige returned to that title, and it’s been handled with a lot more care. Still, the Universal Championship feuds have all been about being the top guy, about the championship, about being the best. The WWE Championship feuds, especially this current one, are more focused on Samoa Joe tormenting AJ and his family and less about the championship. It’s a great feud, but it’s possible that the lack of focus on the championship devalues it.
To your other point about even the Universal Championship not being the most important thing in the company, I can certainly agree that there has been more focus on past stars/legends at big events. Of the six WrestleMania main events that have not featured a title match, three have come in the last eight years: Undertaker-Michaels, Rock-Cena, and Undertaker-Reigns. What that tells me is that it’s more important to be a legend than it is to be a current champion, but that could also depend on who the current champions are. In short, neither the WWE Championship nor the Universal Championship is nowhere near as important as the WWF Championship was. The top stars of all-time, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, Kurt Angle, Triple H in his prime, their goals were not to become the legendary and main event shows. Their goals were to become WWF/E Champion, and nothing else mattered. Roman Reigns has that outlook. I feel like AJ Styles does too. And I’m not saying that’s not the ultimate goal of every superstar, but it feels like their characters are not presented as such. It feels like the only time we get a sense of it is during the United States/Intercontinental open challenges, and then we only have one guy come out and have one match, and that’s the end of it. There’s hardly any more attacks, interruptions, or backstage confrontations of “you have what I want and I’m coming to take it.”
Then again, I’m a big fan of longer reigns so that title changes mean more, and that is what we have been having lately with the top two titles, but they need to put more importance on the belt itself during the feuds, otherwise, what are they fighting for?
Brian: The WWE title isn’t nearly what it use to mean like say back in the 1980’s or even the 90’s when it changed hands about a dozen times in one year alone. It has nothing to do with who has been champion like say Jinder Mahal or AJ Styles. Rather, the way WWE itself has treated its importance. Most, if not all of the company’s attention is focused on the Universal championship as the most important title. It has been featured in main events and so forth, while the WWE title is relegated to the middle of the card. It’s kind of sad the way the WWE title has fallen out of favor with Vince McMahon. I think it has everything to do with the Universal title being on the flagship show Monday Night Raw and the WWE title being on its secondary show…Smackdown Live.
Craig: I absolutely agree that the placement of the WWE title on Smackdown, the company’s secondary show, undoubtedly hasn’t helped the title retain the value that it once did. Nor, as Brian alludes to, do the likes of Jinder Mahal holding the strap.
I do agree with Padraic’s point too about Roman Reigns and AJ Styles both displaying a mentality towards now that being WWE Champion was the top of the mountain. But, as he also states, the title has become secondary in the feud between AJ Styles and Samoa Joe at present and that, ultimately, is a shame.
The Sermon asks does the WWE title still mean as much but I can’t help but wonder does titles, generally, still mean as much?
Brian: The easy answer to that question is no. The titles in WWE, in general, don’t mean as much as they use to. At the same time though, that doesn’t mean that they can’t mean a lot more. It all depends on how the title is booked and who you have as the champion.
The title should remain with a credible champion for a lengthy period of time and it should always be booked as the main event….always.
Padraic: It’s why you hear so often both from commentators and from new champions themselves, specifically the IC and US titles, that they’re “elevating the title”, “making it important again”, and “bringing prestige back” to the belt. John Cena brought the most credibility back to the US Title when he was champion, not because he was John Cena, but because every week he talked about how proud he was to hold the belt and had the US Open Challenge. It’s not that difficult to make and keep the titles important if they want to, and I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want to
The WWE Championship match was smack dab in the middle of the Super Showdown card. 6 of 11 matches. Need I say more?
Amerigo: I just don’t see it having the same level of importance primarily because it seems to change hands almost every pay per view. I’m not saying we need to have a reign like Bruno or Bob Backlund had, (7 and almost 6 years), however, it’s hard to get good story rivalries going when it seems to change in the blink of an eye.
Brian: Actually, AJ Styles is going on a year as WWE champion. The longevity hasn’t been the issue as much as booking it with great importance. The WWE title should always be the main event and for the last few months, it hasn’t been.
The brand split certainly didn’t help matters either. The Titles have been watered down and that is unfortunate.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.