Normally, a World Champion being out of action for five weeks would seem like a big deal. In his absence, a wrestling company would still find ways to highlight him. It would show vignettes on his return, interview him from his home, or even put him in the ring and let him cut a few promos. If he ran the risk of missing one or two Pay-Per-Views due to the injury, he might even be stripped of his title
(anybody remember the classic “a champion must defend his title once every 30 days” rule?).
Instead, the WWE just ignored it.
Dolph Ziggler was out for over five weeks due to a concussion, and the company just moved on as though he didn’t exist. They barely mentioned him on television, rarely checked in with him during the recovery process, and never spotlighted what his absence, along with the World Heavyweight Championship, meant to the company. For those five weeks, WWE existed without two top champions.
And guess what… it survived. Not only that, but Smackdown (former home of the World Heavyweight Champion) seemed to actually thrive. By putting together a string of shows focusing more on other championships, like the United States and Tag Team titles, the show was the most enjoyable it’s been in months.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. The World Heavyweight Championship was originally introduced for Raw just a few months after the start of the brand extension. It only made sense that a top guy existed on each show to headline house shows and serve as the “face” of that brand. Eventually, when both Smackdown and Raw started hosting their own Pay-Per-Views, each World Champion was given his own headlining event.
But things have changed. WWE stopped hosting separate brand-extension Pay-Per-Views in 2007. In late 2011, both shows essentially merged with the ‘SuperShow’ format. And since then, the powers-that-be have come out and said that the brand extension is over because they want the product to flow between all the different platforms.
Unfortunately, nobody seems to care about the disparity between the two World Titles. Did you know that the World Heavyweight Championship hasn’t been contested in a Pay-Per-View main-event match since 2010’s Hell in a Cell? It has, however, opened up a Wrestlemania. Twice. And at last year’s Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View, the World Heavyweight Championship contract match was open to the entire roster, while the WWE Championship was opened only to previous champions. How is that considered equal?
Even CM Punk addressed this on an episode of Raw in September, when he confronted reigning World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus and told him that he was only the “second-best in the world.” And Sheamus didn’t really argue with him, either.
But the idea that WWE would let Dolph Ziggler stay at home for five weeks as the reigning, defending, World Heavyweight Champion, and do nothing to address the situation, completely boggles my mind. When CM Punk “walked out” with the WWE Championship two years ago, the company was ready to crown a completely new champion the next night on Raw. Now, things just hum along like business as usual.
So is Dolph Ziggler considered a second-class champion? Where does that put current United States Champion Dean Ambrose, or Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett?
Unfortunately, the World Heavyweight Championship is now treated like a stepping-stone to the real top title. When WWE thinks you’re ready to break through, they’ll give you the big gold belt. And maybe one day, if you’re lucky (or your name ends in “CENA”), you might get to hold the WWE Championship. Maybe.
If you go back 10 years, this was the exact purpose of the Intercontinental Championship. It highlighted guys on their way up – guys who might not quite be at the top of their game yet, but who had a chance of getting there one day. It was defended more frequently on free TV, and often changed hands, but it was always backed-up with purposeful booking. Now, both it and the United States championship are handed off seemingly at random. They’re just filler championships used to pad the resume of whoever Vince’s flavor-of-the-month is. They have no prestige.
And the World Heavyweight Championship is going down that same path.
So please, WWE, I’m begging you: unify both World Titles. Re-instate the IC Championship for the young, hungry guys, and make the United States Championship whatever it needs to be. Just retire the World Heavyweight Championship while it still has that strong, proud lineage to fall back on.
Championships need to feel exclusive to be important. It’s time to bring that idea back to WWE.