The idea of an Intercontinental title reign mattering almost seems funny on the surface. It may well be a silly notion, but we are in silly times in WWE. The company’s booking as pushed Roman Reigns to untouchable levels. To use a boxing term, he has “cleaned out the division” to the point there is no one perceived as a serious threat to him as the unified champion. On top of that, WWE worked out a new deal with Reigns that includes far fewer appearances and matches, making the champion into a specter hovering high above the shows, rather than a true part of them.
With Reigns holding both titles but rarely defending them, and without a credible challenger even when he does, what does that leave WWE? They have characters and feuds, yes, but those characters need a title, a goal to shoot for. They also need a top star since Reigns won’t be part of the weekly drama.
What they have is an Intercontinental champion on one show, and a United States champion on the other.
Those titles have meant little in recent years. They’ve sunk so low on WWE’s priority list that neither title was defended at a two-night WrestleMania. Even with two cards, the belts were relegated to television and not the biggest of the “Premium Live Events.”
It would take a different booking philosophy toward the titles to change that. It would also require strong performers to change that. They would have to be stars the fans could take seriously as champions, people who could be seen as main eventers who could stabilize the championships and end the hot-potato title changes. They’d have to be top talent who could turn away challengers until the right person and the correct timing could come along.
WWE is at an unusual point where they can make this happen for both titles.
On the June 10 edition of SmackDown, Gunther defeated Ricochet to capture the Intercontinental title. Gunther, the former Walter, is an excellent worker and has his own, unique charisma. He’s also accompanied by Ludwig Kaiser, another very good worker who can talk. It’s a good act, and one of the few that isn’t worn out. There are a lot of good wrestlers in WWE. The issue is that many of them have been around so long no one feels fresh anymore. Gunther does.
He’s the type who can have a good match with nearly anyone. It’s also a bonus that his style means his matches just look different than everyone else’s. That’s the type of standout they need in the position. If they give the title to Gunther and have him defend against a steady diet of strong babyfaces, the Intercontinental title could matter in a way it hasn’t for years. Suddenly, with Gunther as a top heel, the IC title match could be a focal point of SmackDown, especially with Reigns only coming in for major events. Gunther is the type who could carry the show and the week-to-week top title while Reigns is away or feuding with a RAW star.
On the RAW side, Theory is the current champion. He’s talented, but he’s not the type who can carry a show. The man he’s currently feuding with, however, is. Bobby Lashley has held multiple championships in WWE over many years, and even has a rare win over Brock Lesnar. If the direction is to have Lashley face Theory for the title, and Money in the Bank seems like a good time to do that, WWE could end up with a main event-level U.S. Champion.
That would put a babyface (Lashley) as the top dog on Mondays and a heel (Gunther) on top Fridays. It gives both shows a legitimate mountain for the contenders to climb. It could also give the company some options for strong title matches even without Reigns.
To do this, the booking needs to treat the titles as serious objects of desire. Big stars have to be portrayed as wanting them. That hasn’t been the case for these championships the past several years. You could make the case the U.S. title hasn’t been a real factor since John Cena, Rusev and Seth Rollins fought over it in 2015.
— WWE (@WWE) June 14, 2022
You’d have to go back even longer since the Intercontinental title was portrayed as that important. Despite this, many fans are old enough to remember when the IC title defense was almost always a featured match, and could headline house shows. Some of the most memorable battles in WWE history were fought over the belt (think Savage vs. Steamboat, Michaels vs. Razor and Davey Boy Smith vs. Bret Hart among others).
Yes, it would require a major philosophical shift. But with a part-time, untouchable champion, a big shift is needed for WWE to move forward.
Now’s the time to strike. The weeks ahead will tell if WWE realizes it or not.