Question: Who are the #1 contenders for the three “major” (READ: nationally televised) Heavyweight Championships, and why?
A – World Heavyweight Championship, Raw (WWE) held by HHH – Dave Batista: for two reasons. 1) He won a free-for-all style match that any of 29 other wrestlers could have potentially won. 2) He chose to stay with Raw and wrestle HHH. According to the rules of the Royal Rumble, he could’ve jumped to SmackDown! and become their #1 contender.
B – WWE Championship, SmackDown! (WWE) held by JBL – John Cena: The Doctor of Thuganomics won a single-elimination tournament featuring participants selected by General Manager Theodore Long.
C – NWA World Heavyweight Championship (TNA) held by JJJ – *Diamond Dallas Page: because… well, I don’t really know why, and I watch iMPACT! every Friday. I like DDP, but I don’t know how he became the #1 contender.
* – this column was written prior to the Destination X pay-per-view.
TODAY’S ISSUE: #1 Contenders and Title Shots.
What does it take to become a top contender for a championship in professional wrestling? Sometimes a wrestler must qualify for that honor by winning a match or a series of matches. Other times, one simply must “call out” the champ from the ring or get in his face backstage. In some cases, the aggressor can secure a title match as soon as that very night.
The opportunity to compete for a world championship should not come so easily. Championships should be at the centerpiece of the promotion. Challengers should aspire to win titles, and champions should strive to hold on to their belts as long as they can. A championship should be the most important thing in a wrestler’s career (in the storylines, that is).
I seem to recall WCW having a top 10 contender ranking system, but I don’t remember it ever meaning all that much. I also thought their United States Champion, like the Intercontinental Champion in WWF, was the default #1 contender for the World Heavyweight Title. But how many title-versus-title matches do you remember?
If a top 10 contender ranking system existed for all titles, even the most mundane match would have true meaning and consequences. Wrestlers could advance in the rankings match by match, instead of just wrestling for filler so the announcers can talk about something else. I’m sure most fans would agree; the more at stake for the competitors, the more fun the match is to watch.
Imagine another TNA showdown between GolDustin Rhodes and Raven Flamingo. It will most likely be just a backdrop for the Professor and the Other Guy to discuss “Planet Jarrett” and whatever else they feel like chatting about. But if Raven was ranked 6th for the NWA Title, and Dustin was ranked 9th, Raven would need to defend his current ranking while Rhodes would be desperate to achieve victory in order to advance up the top 10. Suddenly, this match would have real drama. Plus, it’s more substantive than feuding over Cassidy Reilly’s broken fingers.
This concept would increase the intensity in many matches, and make the shows much more entertaining.
For WWE’s 2005 Royal Rumble, the creative team came up with a good idea: instead of simply naming the 15 wrestlers from each brand who would enter the big match, they booked qualifying matches. This created drama and excitement, even with matches that we’ve seen ten times before. The athletes really needed to win to get to the Rumble, and that made every match much more important and interesting.
There are so many matches on TV each week that don’t seem to have any meaning. The contender ranking system would change all of that. Once in a while, it’s fun to have the “anything goes” situation where anyone can win and the whole pecking order can be shaken up in one night. But that should be the exception. During the “regular season” we NEVER really know exactly who the top contenders for different championships are, or if wrestlers are improving their chances of securing a title shot.
If you watch iMPACT!, you can see just how badly the “Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels yearns to be TNA’s X Division champ*; it means the world to him. This is a competitor who’s held the tag team championship before, so he knows what it’s like to be at the top of a particular division. He wants to be the best once again. With that title comes prestige, money and backstage power. Who WOULDN’T want that? * – again, written before Destination X.
On that note, how many opportunities should Daniels get at Styles? Clearly pinning the reigning champ in the iron-man match (although he didn’t win) keeps him at the top of the division. It might even earn him an immediate return match, especially since he seemed to be winning at the end of regulation time in that match. I must agree with his current complaint: he deserved an automatic bid in the new Ultimate X Challenge match at Destination X. Who besides Daniels has displayed more justification to battle for the X Division crown in recent weeks? Nobody.
But if the bookers’ intention was to remove the Fallen Angel from the X Division title hunt, none of the above rationale would mean anything. And what about that? How does a wrestler remain in the title hunt for years? Certain guys never leave the top of the card, regardless of their win-loss record in title matches. Others lose a world title and find themselves significantly lower on the card in a short time (see: Orton, Randy; Jericho, Chris).
Within the confines of the storylines, and even with my disbelief voluntarily suspended, I have to believe there’s a reason pro wrestlers keep showing up at work. Just like any other type of employment, they are hoping their hard work, dedication, training and “homework” will pay off, and they will advance in their careers. There’s no better way to demonstrate a wrestler’s climb to the top than showing him defeating ranked opponents, and creeping up to the #1 contender slot.
Also, being moved down in the rankings is a legitimate reason for someone like Edge to remain bitter and frustrated. It would give him something meaningful to bitch about, which fits his current character nicely. Being angry about the powers that be moving him down the card makes more sense than crying about an internet vote he didn’t win.
The ranking system would allow the reigning champion to appear on TV before a big ppv showdown without meeting the #1 contender in the ring until it’s worth $35. In order to advance storylines, the champ could simply defend against the #3 or #2 contender, rather than all these stupid non-title matches. What kind of champion has non-title matches? Who wants to face a dangerous man like HHH if his title isn’t on the line? Unless beating (or putting in a great performance against) the champ in a non-title match is a guaranteed way to crack the top 5, regardless of your current ranking. This gives the non-challenger motivation to risk life and limb by facing a monster champion. His whole career could be made by a strong performance in one match.
The ranking system could apply to secondary titles as well. Think of the tension in the cabinet if one of the Basham Brothers wound up a top contender to OJ’s United States title. How about if Hurricane and Rosey had to battle to see which one could remain in the top five for the Intercontinental belt? It would spark compelling moments between characters, and instantly add tension and intrigue to otherwise pedestrian matches and locker room interaction.
You don’t watch CSI to see them solve a crime involving a teenager stealing a video game from WalMart, and almost every regular season baseball game (at least until a team is mathematically eliminated from the post season) can have a bearing on the team’s final standing for the year. Why would you want to watch meaningless wrestling matches that just fill out a show, but have no bearing on the competitors’ careers?
We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.
p.s. – Did you ever hear anyone say, “Man, this tastes like cardboard.”? How the heck do they know what cardboard tastes like? Who eats cardboard?