This Sunday at Extreme Rules, Big E defends his Intercontinental championship against Bad News Barrett. Barrett is no stranger to the title as he’s held it three times before, each run less memorable than the one prior. Personally, it’s just nice to see Barrett back in the ring wrestling after months of badly scripted comedy and podium prognostications. I actually expect him to take the title in New Jersey, much the same way he did a year ago in that very same building the night after WrestleMania. Who knows, maybe he can even help pump some life back into it.
It’s when I say that last part out loud that I have trouble keeping a straight face.
It’s hardly Big E’s fault, or really anyone who’s ever held the title before. They’re all at the mercy of Vince McMahon or Triple H or Michael Hayes or any number of writers responsible for much of what we see on WWE television each week. Without their support, there’s only so much that can be done. Which is why, given the history of how the title has been treated over the last decade or so, I was surprised when a handful of my podcast listeners took exception to my “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude when the Intercontinental title tournament first started. Was I wrong to not have faith that they may finally be putting an emphasis back on this once “prestigious” honor? Had I become so jaded that I could no longer give them credit where credit was deserved?
Not exactly. I think I’m perfectly justified to feel that why and here’s why.
Rarely has the Intercontinental title meant less than it does right now. It wasn’t always that way. In fact, there was a time when that title (or prop, as Vince Russo once called it) meant enough that you could headline a live event, TV show or pay-per-view with it and nobody would bat an eyelash. My very first live wrestling experience came when I was five years-old in Madison Square Garden watching an event headlined by “Macho Man” Randy Savage and The Honky Tonk Man for the IC title, with Jimmy Hart suspended above the ring in a shark cage. Fast forward five years to Summerslam at Wembley Stadium where Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith headlined for that same title before 80,000 fans. That may seem like a lifetime ago in wrestling, but consider this: the Intercontinental title once went five years without being defended at a WrestleMania (19-24), part of which came during a time where the title had effectively been retired. Growing up on champions like Savage, Rude, Perfect and Michaels, it’s almost unfathomable to me that something like that could happen. And it’s frustrating because it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are a ton of kids growing up as fans right now, as I once did, who have no real concept of how important these secondary titles used to be. They once served as a stepping stone for future Hall of Famers, from The Ultimate Warrior to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, on their ascent to greatness and it was fun to watch those guys fight for those belts like they were the most important thing in the world. When you create that illusion, the fans tend to play along and buy into it right along with you.
So, what can be done?
It really wouldn’t take much effort to rehab the Intercontinental title. Time, yes, but not effort. They’ve already taken one small step with the recent tournament to establish a new #1 contender. It means a hell of a lot more when you stretch things out over the course of several weeks rather than throw a bunch of guys into a random match on Raw. Having Justin Roberts wait to do ring introductions until the participants are already in the ring is a neat little trick they already employ for the WWE championship matches and goes a long way toward making these bouts feel more special.
Two other things to consider that could, and should, be to the benefit of the IC title are the unification of the two World titles at TLC last year, and the comical lack of United States championship defenses since Dean Ambrose beat Kofi Kingston for the belt last May at Extreme Rules. With there now being one singular WWE World Heavyweight Champion, in theory, there should be a greater emphasis placed upon the other titles. That hasn’t really been the case thus far, as evidenced by yet another WrestleMania having come and gone without either one being defended, but they have time to correct this. As for Ambrose and his blatant disregard for the “30 day rule” (I’m kidding, sort of), for all intents and purposes, the IC strap is really the only secondary title being defended right now, so it has the spotlight all to itself.
Which brings me to the next bold step WWE should take, and it’s something that should have been done a long time ago – unifying the Intercontinental and United States championships. There really is no need for two belts if each is barely defended as it is, so why not build to a champion vs. champion match at an upcoming pay-per-view (or is it “special event” now?) and merge the two to crown one singular Intercontinental champion? I’m a big believer in the philosophy of “less is more” when it comes to titles.
Above all else, consistency is key. It’s that lack of consistency that has doomed Big E’s reign as champion to this point. He started strong, then went through a period where he was barely even on television. More recently, Alberto Del Rio scored not one, but two pinfall wins in non-title matches over the champion prior to WrestleMania. That would certainly seem to qualify him for a title shot, yet that shot never came. Where was Del Rio’s fiery promo mentioning this? As a fan, I want to know that these things matter because if they matter to WWE, they matter to me. Otherwise, it’s a wasted effort. If that means creating a ranking system for all titles, including the Intercontinental, that fans can follow along with and that list, say, the top five contenders for each, then so be it. I’m all for anything fun that keeps the fans engaged, yet carries real consequences as these stories play out on TV each week. Just get the champion on TV consistently and make matches that make sense.
I’ll be pulling for Bad News on Sunday. If he leaves the Izod Center victorious, here’s hoping his win actually brings good news for the future of the Intercontinental title.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
About Jason Solomon: Jason Solomon has been host of the “Solomonster Sounds Off” wrestling podcast since 2007, which can be heard weekly on TheSolomonster.com, Stitcher Radio and iTunes! Follow him on Twitter @solomonster.