Features

Half Right – The Booking Of WWE Secondary Titles Since WrestleMania 31

Even before Wrestlemania, many of us knew that the plan was to position two big time superstars to hold the secondary titles. With John Cena capturing the United States Championship and Daniel Bryan being the man to climb a ladder and bring down the Intercontinental Title, both belts instantly gained credibility. I’ll be the first to say that I could not grasp how John Cena holding the United States Championship was a good idea. Who would possibly beat him for it? How would anyone believe that Cena was happy with that title and not bloodthirsty to add another World Championship to list of accomplishments instead? But Daniel Bryan holding the Intercontinental Championship made perfect sense to me. He’d be a fighting champion, putting on amazing matches against the six men he’d just beaten to gain the title. Still, I saw the logic of these two men bringing much needed credibility to titles that had more or less been ignored for years.

However, as you well know, the exact opposite of what I expected happened. John Cena has been putting on a weekly clinic of how to make a championship look important; letting midcarders take him to his limits before pulling out the win. Cena has somehow become the part of the show I look forward to seeing (Well not his promos… but still).

I’ve repeatedly read comments on social media touting that the secondary titles are finally important again. While I see it with the United States Championship, that’s the only place I see it. The Intercontinental Championship – a belt men were stealing from each other just a few months ago – seems to have actually lost value.

While it’s easy to blame Daniel Bryan’s injury for this, I believe it to be the actual booking of the Intercontinental Title and any top contenders for it that is the actual problem. The following is a breakdown of each Raw since Wrestlemania, looking at how both secondary titles were booked on the show. As you’ll see, the United States Championship has consistently been presented as being important, while the Intercontinental Championship was an afterthought, if it was mentioned at all.

 

March 30

The night after Wrestlemania is the exception, as both championships were presented as important titles. Both titles were given longer matches and the chemistry of the men involved resonated with the crowd. Daniel Bryan defended against Ziggler, with Barrett watching on. When Bryan won, Barrett attacked, but Sheamus’ return interrupted it. Sheamus attacked Bryan and then beat down Ziggler. Everyone looked strong because of this and it looked like there would be some good upcoming matches for the title.

The United States Title was defended that same night as John Cena took on Dean Ambrose; a match featuring counters to finishers, good use of submission moves, and false finishes. This match got fifteen minutes, which is always a plus on Raw.

April 6

John Cena announced the Open Challenge. Stardust was the first to respond. While no one honestly thought Stardust had a shot, they had a competitive match. Most importantly, the idea of Cena being a fighting champion instantly added credibility to the title.

Daniel Bryan, meanwhile, wasn’t even on the show.

 

April 13

Cena kicked the show off in London with the Open Challenge for the United States Title. Bad News Barrett came down, stating he didn’t need to wait until Extreme Rules for a chance at the IC Title. He would just take the US Title from Cena instead. The big moment of this match came when Barrett kicked out of the Attitude Adjustment, a move most people do not get to kick out of. Barrett may have lost, but a ten minute match with Cena on Raw made him look more important while strengthening the view of title as well.

Daniel Bryan was only shown backstage, mocking Kane. The crowd chanted for him, desiring a match they didn’t get.

 

April 20

Cena faced Kane. This was the first time I was bored with the US Title Open Challenge stuff. It’s not Cena’s fault. If anything, it made me feel bad for him that he was forced to try to carry Kane to a decent match. This would have been a great time to showcase someone like Neville or Ambrose again, but Vince loves him some Kane. The crowd was asleep. Cena joined them when he got KTFO by Rusev backstage to set up their chain match. Personally, I would have had Cena face Ambrose, then have Harper attack and put him through a table, instead of having the weak three minute match Ambrose and Harper had earlier in the show.

The IC Title was given some recognition during this show, as they announced a Daniel Bryan/Bad News Barrett match for Extreme Rules, which, of course, never actually happened. The fact that they stated the match would only take place if Daniel’s health allowed it did not bode well for any of us.

 

April 27

The US Title Open Challenge did not occur, as Heath Slater was attacked by Rusev before the (now former) Russian cut a promo.

The only mention of Daniel Bryan was Brie talking about him before being destroyed by Naomi.

 

May 4

This is where things got great with the US Title Open Challenge, as Bret Hart introduced Sami Zayn as Cena’s challenger. Zayn, of course, was injured at the start of this match (or sooner, if you believe the things Kevin Owens has to say about it), but still put up a hell of a fight against Cena and came out looking like a top tier superstar because of it. After the match, Cena helped Zayn up, held his arm up, and left so the crowd could cheer their hometown boy. This match was exactly what this challenge was set up to do – make new stars. When you make wrestlers look as good as Zayn looked in this match, the crowd will see them as true contenders in the future as well. The fact that he looked this good against the unbeatable Cena only makes Zayn look even better.

Daniel Bryan and the Intercontinental Title weren’t even mentioned during this episode, to the best of my recollection.

 

May 11

Cena vs. Neville was met with chants of “This is awesome!” For those of you who live under a rock, that’s pretty rare during a Cena match. Even more rare? Neville was given a fifteen minute match with Cena on Raw. On top of that, Neville lost because Rusev interfered. If there was any doubt that NXT has arrived, it’s been vanquished by this United States Title Open Challenge. This match was insanely entertaining and the best part of the show, in my opinion.

The worst part of the show was the reality check we were handed by the Intercontinental Champion, Daniel Bryan, as this was the night he announced he would vacate the championship.

 

May 18

It was announced the Intercontinental Title would be on the line in an Elimination Chamber match. Ryback and Sheamus were the first announced participants.

Then came my favorite United States Title Open Challenge so far, as Kevin Owens arrived on the scene. He told Cena he wasn’t going to challenge him, but would eventually come after him on his own terms. He talked up the NXT Championship, saying he already had a title. Then he laid Cena out like Cena was nothing. And when most people would take Cena’s belt and hold it up, Owens stepped on it, as if it didn’t matter at all, and left.

 

MAY 25

This week, WWE took the time to almost pretend to care about the IC title, by booking matches featuring the participants of the upcoming Elimination Chamber match. However, the matches were given less than five minutes each, completely negating any reason fans should have had to care about them. Meanwhile, the Authority rambled on for three times as long as all of these matches combined. As such the following is a recap of places where they could have done something to build up the Intercontinental Championship.

Rusev destroyed Truth in one minute. One minute. The IC Title sat at ringside, but was completely ignored, as this match was solely there to further the storyline of Rusev/Lana.

Ryback and Barrett got almost four times as long to show us what they can do. Ryback won with two or three moves total and then stood near the belt, chanting FEED ME MORE. He didn’t grab the belt, or make other indications he was interested in it in the slightest bit.

Sheamus and Ziggler hacked the live feed to show us one of their past matches. That might not be true, but honestly, would any of us be able to tell the difference at this point? These two have faced one another about 22 times this month alone. Rusev interfered to cost Ziggler the match, and for a second, I was dumb enough to think that’s because he’s also in the Elimination Chamber, BUT NO! It was more build for the Lana/Rusev storyline, as the IC Title was once again ignored.

While I would have booked all six men hitting the ring at once and battling it out, playing tug a war with the title like Roman and Brock, these men have literally NO interest in the Intercontinental Championship. Sheamus didn’t even steal it while the others were distracted. I give up.

Over on the United States Championship side of things, Cena was met by none other than the legendary Zack Ryder. I liked that this match continued the trend. We all knew Ryder didn’t stand a chance, but he got a lot of offense in and even went for moves he’s never done to prove how badly he wanted this opportunity. Nice to see him get some television time in front of a crowd that truly loves him as well.

Afterward, Owens arrived again. He hit the Popup Powerbomb and once again stepped on the United States Championship before walking away. I didn’t know if he’d do it, given that it was Memorial Day and people are so easily offended, but I loved that it happened again. While one could argue this means he doesn’t care about the belt, I disagree completely. I think it shows how important the title is, or Owens wouldn’t take the time to desecrate it.

 

CONCLUSION

John Cena and Daniel Bryan were given the secondary titles at Wrestlemania in order to make them mean something. This was a brilliant move, and one not often seen in the WWE, but I feel creative missed a key ingredient in their recipe for success. It isn’t enough to simply put the belt on someone who will bring credibility to it. It helps, but in the end, there needs to be solid booking to go with it.

The Intercontinental Championship was not JUST injured by Daniel Bryan’s injury. The fact is that the title was straight out ignored week after week. The belt was not presented as important. When Daniel vacated it, no one came to claim it. None of the individuals involved in the ladder match at Wrestlemania arrived on the scene to give us reasons they deserved a second chance. The participants in the Elimination Chamber match were seemingly picked at random, aside from Sheamus and Ryback, who waited an entire week to say they had any interest in the title. Ziggler and Rusev care more about Lana than they do about being champion. Even the announcement of the championship match in the chamber was boring. HHH could have said, “We’re having another hastily thrown together PPV to get people to buy the WWE Network” and his honesty would have excited me more than this announcement.

It’s not about who holds the title. It’s about how the title is booked. Don’t believe me? John Cena is exciting smart fans while Daniel Bryan’s title reign bored the hell out of us and made us care less about a championship that already didn’t matter. Really let that sink in.

They could have easily had number one contender’s matches, focusing on possible opponents instead of just ignoring that Daniel Bryan and the IC Title were nowhere to be found. They could have had people fighting to qualify for the honor of competing for the championship in the Chamber. But no.

John Cena is putting over NXT while bringing prestige to a championship that might as well have been forgotten before this point. If the creative team can grasp that and make it look this good, why can’t they put half the same effort into building the IC Title? Sure, it helps that it’s WWE’s top superstar holding the belt, but the truth is that they could put the title on many people, book them this strongly, and get similar results. As it sits right now, I have almost no interest in the Intercontinental match, but man, I can’t wait to see how they handle John Cena / Kevin Owens that same night. The idea, coming out of Wrestlemania, was to make these secondary championships matter. They got it half right. Hopefully they can figure out the other half following the Elimination Chamber.