What happens when a championship goes vacant for a considerable period of time in wrestling? Historically, It is rare that you have a championship vacant or a champion that doesn’t appear week after week or a champion so weak that it might as well be vacant, but that is where we are in WWE at this very moment. On Monday Night Raw the championship reign of Brock Lesnar has lost all its value and importance. Are we even going to care when Roman captures the Universal Championship at Wrestlemania in 2018? Then on Smackdown Live, Jinder Mahal is such an undeserving and unqualified champion that a grudge match between the last credible Universal Champion, Kevin Owens, and his erstwhile boss, SDL Commissioner (and 47-year old) Shane McMahon are getting the titular Hell in a Cell match this Sunday and the main event slot at the pay per view. As a fan of WWE, I can’t help but feel like both the WWE Championship and Universal Championship have all but been vacant since Brock and Jinder’s respective reigns started. This presents a wide range of challenges for the ‘E. (I apologize in advance for how frustrated this article sounds, but it’s where I am personally as a fan at this moment.)
Titles Lose Legitimacy
Look, I know it may be hard to argue that a championship held by Brock Lesnar is losing legitimacy, but I’ll be damned if that’s not the case over the past six plus months. Don’t get me wrong, I used to love Brock Lesnar. When Lesnar first returned on the post-Mania Raw in 2012, we were all excited. First, there were one or two rumors floating around at the time that Brock would be returning, but it was only the slightest bit of smoke. Then Cena came out and the crowd immediately started chanting Brock and it was clear what was about to happen. The Beast’s music hit, he came out and laid out Cena with an F5 and generated more buzz around the company than had been there in the months prior. Lesnar went on to lose to Cena, and HHH before rounding into form in the build up to his Undertaker match in 2014. Then he demolished Cena at SummerSlam that same year to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at which point he turned all of his matches into Suplex City. While that was fun at first, the ensuing three years has really taken the shine off of the type of ring work we used to anticipate from a Brock Lesnar match. Personally, I have lost all interest in Brock Lesnar between his two most recent championship runs. His presence no longer does anything and it’s almost starting to feel like WWE has adopted a strategy of having people so annoyed with Brock’s run that they are happy to have anyone take the Universal Championship off him… enter Roman Reigns. We know that that is where this is going, so maybe that’s the point of making Braun look so strong while still losing. It’s why no matter who faces Brock in the next six months, they’re almost guaranteed to lose. So imagine how angry we will be if Brock defeats Joe (again), Finn, and/or Braun (potentially again) during this time while disappearing for months in between. Maybe, just maybe, WWE will use our frustration with Brock holding the title hostage and off TV for 9 months of a year-long title reign as the way to get Roman over. While people weren’t really angry about Brock beating Goldberg for the championship, there was a lot of disappointment over Joe and Braun taking L’s at the hands of Brock in recent months.
Then on Smackdown we have jobber turned WWE championship challenger turned WWE champion of four plus months, and (IMO) steroid user, Jinder Mahal. I have already stated my case as to what I think may be happening with Jinder and this championship, and in a word, it’s petty. There is absolutely no explanation for why Jinder won the championship in May and why he is still champion now. Or why the rumors keep saying that he will remain champion at least until the end of the year. I know that the India tour explains the latter part – why he is still champion – but why did he need to win it so early? Sad addendum to this is how no one really cares that he beat Orton for the title – and subsequently retained it two times against Orton. No, what people are really upset about is the fact that the MITB contract got wasted and that Shinsuke Nakamura, arguably the best wrestler on SDL lost to Jinder and seems to be primed to lose to him again this Sunday (just quoting the rumors). I swear we are three short months from having to truly consider the possibility of Jinder Mahal surpassing CM Punk as the longest reigning WWE Champion of the modern era.
Here is the worst part of both circumstances – both championships have lost tremendous value in the past 6 to 8 months. You know how you can see this is true? The build to TLC is built around a rushed Shield reunion in order to distract from the fact that there is no Universal Championship match. Brock, who Paul Heyman loves to introduce as the “reigning, defending Universal Champion” has only defended the title three times in the past seven months – three of those have come in the past three months after an almost four month break. On SDL you have a jobber as WWE champion – I need not say more regarding how much this devalues the title.
How Do You Keep/Draw Fans?
Guess what WWE, you know what starts in September and distracts your viewers away from your programming – the NFL. Do you know what might be a good way to not lose as many fans to the football juggernaut? A new and interesting story revolving around your top titles. You know what doesn’t keep fans engage and what doesn’t draw new fans – one champion being at home more than on TV and the other being universally regarded as unworthy of the championship. You knew football was coming. You think this short-term Shield reunion is going to stop people from switching over to Monday Night Football? You think these midcard and undercard feuds are worthy of anyone’s attention other than the hardcore fanbase? It has been such a frustrating experience even attempting to watch wrestling in the past two to three months. It seems like WWE is digging in on punting away September to February every year for the foreseeable future. I hope that this year is not indicative of what is to come in future football seasons. At least last year we had the first title runs of Kevin Owens and AJ Styles on Raw and SDL respectively to keep us engaged. This year? We have trash – a championship-gap sized heap of trash. Let’s not even get started on why WWE doesn’t advertise the network during other sporting events. How about you try to get some fans to switch over from football to Raw in the middle of a crappy game. Well, if WWE isn’t going to care about the Fall, why should we?
How Do You Build New Stars?
In short, you don’t. It is impossible to build new stars with this approach. On Raw they at least had the opportunity to solidify Braun Strowman’s push with a clean championship victory over Brock Lesnar at No Mercy. But rather than give Strowman that career deifning victory, they had Braun fail to pin Brock after three running powerslams then succumb to Brock after one F5. WTF, WWE. WTF Vince! Seriously, someone explain this to me? Braun is at the precipice of true, megawatt superstardom and all he is lacking is a championship and/or a clean win over a well-established veteran performer. Oh well, let’s see if they are able to recapture that opportunity in a meaningful way before the steam wears off the push. See you in May Braun. Meanwhile, what other new stars have been built or solidified since Brock won the title. Joe was given a shot and Braun was given a shot. That is it. They’ve wasted Finn Balor on toiling away in a meaningless feud with Bray Wyatt. Seth and Dean have been having fun in the tag division. Jason Jordan has been floundering on the mic. The Miz is continuing his hot streak since the brand split. But no new or undercard guy has really gotten over outside of Joe, a longtime veteran with a strong fanbase from his pre-WWE years, and Braun, who gained love most obviously from being pit as the opponent to Roman Reigns. As has been examined before, the fall is the time to experiment with new champions.
I don’t even know where to begin with SDL and Jinder Mahal. Honestly, Smackdown has lost so much of its draw since Jinder has been WWE champion. While I have enjoyed AJ vs Baron Corbin and the quick match between Cena and Nakamura amongst other smaller moments, SDL has lost so much appeal. This is coming from me who has enjoyed Fashion Files and the Usos vs New Day feud, but it’s easier to look for what those guys have done than to sit through two hours of Smackdown every week. At some point however we have to move the WWE championship to someone who can restore its former glory. We need AJ or KO or Nakamura with that title ASAP. Please WWE, fix it.
We could be living in a world where Braun is figuring out how to be world champion on Raw while Shinsuke restores glory to the WWE championship and beginning the slow build to a potential blockbuster match with AJ Styles and next Wrestlemania on SDL. But no, we’re stuck the phoning it in Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar and the waste of space WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal.
Like I said, the titles are essentially vacant – except we are missing the best part of vacant titles, a tournament to determine the number one contender. Sometimes wrestling sucks. Thank God it’s football season and my Denver Broncos are 3-1.