While decorating the waists of two talented individuals, both the Intercontinental title and United States title have floundered, seemingly being used as a crutch to support the wrestlers that they are bound to, saving Creative the effort of actually having to book a decent feud or establish an overall midcard title scene.
This crutch has not worked.
Big E, like Curtis Axel before him, has been mediocre at best. A talented and charismatic individual in NXT, Big E has since seemed to lose any sense of character or identity, with his gimmick perhaps best being described as “strong guy who is there and you’re supposed to cheer for him.” Fans have failed to connect with him. At Elimination Chamber, fans actively supported Jack Swagger over him. There is no further evidence needed than that to establish that Big E’s character is sorely in need of reassessment, and that he is not helped by, nor is he helping, the Intercontinental title.
Dean Ambrose is over and has a well established character. But the United States belt on him is an absolute afterthought. If, during his reign, Dean Ambrose had ceased to bring out the belt, it is likely the title could have been retired quietly and forgotten altogether. Again, because of poor booking, Dean Ambrose’s United States title reign has become a running joke amongst fans and even at commentary.
These midcard titles need two things: a gimmick to establish them as being different from each other, and charismatic individuals to hold these belts for a decent amount of time to make them feel important again.
As it is, there is nothing to differentiate the IC and US titles, save that the Intercontinental belt seems slightly more important because it is actually defended on a fairly regular basis. An obvious distinction must be created between the belts, whether by creating some sort of division or weight limit, or some sort of gimmick, such as making the Intercontinental belt like a TV belt which must be defended at every broadcast.
Beyond establishing the belts, WWE must establish quality champions who care about the belts they hold. The Intercontinental championship felt so important in the 90s because of the sort of champions who held it and the wars that were fought over it. Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, The Rock, the list of individuals who gained from their IC title reigns is long and important to acknowledge. These individuals made the belt seem important and went to great lengths to capture or defend it. Razor Ramon is going to be inducted in the Hall of Fame this year based almost exclusively off being an important part of the midcard and a notable Intercontinental champion. His ladder match versus Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania X is still seen as a classic and as one of the great Wrestlemania matches of all time, and that match was fought over the Intercontinental belt.
Razor Ramon never achieved more than midcard success, but he meant an incredible amount to the industry just in the position he was in. Razor Ramon's relationship with the Intercontinental title is the ultimate example of what a title belt is all about, as both he and the belt grew with one another, each becoming more important for being associated with the other. This sort of symbiotic hasn't been seen in arguably a decade, making it more important than ever before for WWE to find their new Razor Ramon.
There are many talented midcarders on WWE’s roster, enough to make a clear title picture for both belts, but instead these talents tread water week after week, trading wins and generally going nowhere. A distinct title picture, possibly with organized divisions and contender rankings, would benefit the entire roster and the company as a whole, giving the talent an idea of where they are in the mix of things and a clear goal to work towards and improve for.
With a large and talented roster and almost ten hours of original programming a week to fill, WWE needs to build the importance of their props again. The fans must believe that the belts have meaning, and the only people who can convince them of that are the talent. Make the belts distinct, make the champions proud to carry the titles, and it will only become easier to fill programming demands while delivering an exciting product that benefits both the roster and the fans.
Agree with this assessment? Have any suggestions for the belts? Let me know on Twitter @midcrdmanifesto!