Counterfeit Pennies: WWE Title Unifications and Booking Philosophies

Last week, Iain Burnside published this story about WWE’s plan to unify all of their title belts in the next few months, culminating with the unification of the WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 27.

My reaction to this news is a positive one. I think that combining the titles is long overdue, and perhaps this is a sign that WWE is finally starting to realize that the best way to go about promoting their product is to use a formula that’s been tried and true in professional wrestling for years and has now been mastered by UFC:

Give the fans a reason to care about the champions, the men and women who are chasing the champions, the stories behind these chases, and ultimately, the championship belts themselves.

With that said, I remain extremely skeptical about this being an actual change of heart on WWE’s part, mainly because this would be a sharp reversal that the powers-that-be just might be too stubborn to ever invoke. Allow me to explain:

For a very prolonged period of time that began in WCW in the mid-1990s, climaxed in the WWE Attitude era and erroneously continues today, pro wrestling promotions like WWE and TNA have made it a point to take the emphasis off of titles, title holders, and title chases. Instead, they prefer to focus more on short-term hotshot booking that is believed to drive up entertainment value and cause ratings pops with casual viewers when in reality they are shooting themselves in the foot as a result of this de-emphasis.

Look no further than WWE’s 900th episode of Raw. Blink and you missed the amount of time that was singularly focused on Sheamus, who is the current WWE Champion by the way. Instead of trusting Sheamus to take the ball and run with it and develop a focused feud with one opponent, WWE has given the Celtic Warrior not much more thus far in both of his title runs than gimmick matches with John Cena and matches with random multiple opponents that simply pop in and out of the main event picture out of convenience. Yes, I’m talking about Edge and even Jericho at this point in time.

Continuing an angle with Randy Orton in a series of one-on-one matches without non-finishes or disqualifications would have been perfect because of the emotional investment that the fans have become in Orton’s character; or if you really want fresh faces at the top, give Wade Barrett his guaranteed title shot in a one-on-one match at Night of Champions using the end of the truce between Nexus and Sheamus as the impetus behind Barrett’s brash confidence and the increasing fear in Shemus’ eyes. Either of those two stories would be more compelling than an all-too-jampacked six-pack challenge that feels like it was booked out of either sheer laziness or lack of guts on the part of WWE.

Meanwhile, in TNA, there is a throw-everything-against-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks mentality that causes everything they do to seem like it’s in ludicrous speed. As I mentioned once before, it’s almost like TNA storylines that should be drawn out for two years end up being cycled through in two months, thereby creating a completely unrealistic product being presented at an unbelievable, unsustainable pace.

And don’t even get me started on that TNA title contender ranking system that wound up being a complete sham after showing promise on paper. They took a great concept and ran it straight into the ground as soon as they decided to ignore the fan votes that they promised to include as part of the process (Desmond Wolfe, anyone?). On top of that, the rankings have recently been presented on TV as if they are a petty and inconvenient afterthought that gets in the way of the TNA writing team’s oh-so-brilliant booking, when really the rankings should be an important and integral part of the show’s direction. Of course, that would require the promoters to listen to the fans, and that just won’t happen as long as people like Vince Russo are allowed to rest on their ratings-grabbing laurels from over a decade ago.

At the end of the day, I’d love to see WWE and TNA change their booking philosophies to really get back to what has worked for the past century over what once worked last decade. If WWE unifying all of their titles will put more emphasis on solid, purposeful, more tightly focused championship stories, then I will be the first in line to salute them for this overdue change in direction. If they don’t, then this year’s Road to WrestleMania will simply lead to yet another dead end.

That’s all from me this week — CB.

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