The Common Denominator: “The Unification Situation” (John Cena, Randy Orton, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Triple H, Big E Langston, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, TLC, Wrestlemania 30)

Hello out there once again, my Common Denomination! I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving festivities, avoided any Black Friday melees, and caught all the exciting weekend football action. If you’re not American and none of that means anything to you, then here’s a plain old “hello.”

Hello!

Anyhoo, let’s jump right into things, shall we?

I’m not sure how I feel about this WWE/World Heavyweight Title unification match (and they are indeed now calling it a “unification” match). On one hand, it seems to signal the unofficial end to the sort-of already ended “brand split.” There were times when I thought the brand split was a good idea. In fact, being a former WCW guy, I would have loved for them to have gone all-in back in 2001 and had WWF “Raw” on Monday nights and WCW “Nitro” (or whatever) on Thursday or Friday, given each promotion six pay-per-views per year, with maybe Wrestlemania and Starrcade being “super-show” ppvs, and really kept the two separate. They could have even gone ahead with the ECW revival and really given each brand its own unique style.

I know there are lots of reasons why it didn’t happen, but imagine if it had, and even if it had only lasted a year or two, and they then would have had enough time to rebuild WCW’s roster with the big names from the promotion who sat out their fat Turner contracts before coming into the WWF and could have, down the road, done a real “Invasion” or WWF vs. WCW angle, headlined by Stone Cold vs. Goldberg, NWO vs. DX, or whatever would have been the money match by then.

So, if the brand split is over (and I guess there’s no real definitive answer to that just yet), does that mean we’re back to pushing the top guys on both shows? Will we get double doses of Cena, Punk, Bryan, Orton, The Shield, The Wyatts, and (sigh) The Authority every week while the undercard suffers from underexposure? Maybe the WWE is planning another one of its infamous talent purges. If they’re going to pare down the roster and drop some guys that aren’t really in their long-range plans (they do have long-range plans right? Right?), then merging the two shows’ rosters (even more so than they already have) makes sense.

That leaves us with the match itself. We’ve seen just about every variation of Orton vs. Cena one could imagine, with the admitted exception of a TLC match. The added allure of it being title vs. title brings something to the table, sure, but is this really where the WWE main even scene needs to be in 2013. I don’t know what the buy rate was for Survivor Series, but I can’t imagine those who did make the purchase did so for either of the two title matches. I’m still not fully convinced their not going to just go with some kind of screwjob ending like a double title switch or something, but if they are just going to go with one top-tier champion, there are a number of positive things that can come out of it.

For one, it should elevate the Intercontinental championship back to its former level of prestige. There was a time when the IC title was a very important piece of the promotion’s puzzle. During times when a face WWF champion (say Hogan) was on top, you could have a heel (say Savage or Honkytonk Man) hold the Intercontinental title and that way both heels and faces had a title to aim for. The IC title was also a stepping stone to the WWF title for many stars, like Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, etc. The same could be said for the U.S. Title, back when it was a NWA/WCW commodity. Dusty Rhodes, Lex Luger, Sting, Booker T, and Goldberg all held the U.S. strap not too long before winning the World title.

I like having lower-level titles for wrestlers to strive for. It creates a sort of hierarchy that allows new wrestlers to enter the promotion, work their way up, and establish credibility and a fanbase. Fans can then watch a guy work his way to the top of the card. It brings a sense of realism to the shows as well. If someone moves up to the main roster from NXT and connects with the fans (as a heel or a face), he can be rewarded with a U.S. title match or even a title run. From there, he moves up to the IC title level, and eventually to getting WWE title matches.

Like many of my ideas about how pro wrestling should work, I’m influenced by old school Memphis Wrestling. There were some name changes over the years and such, but basically, at the top, there was the Southern Heavyweight Title. That was the big belt in Memphis, and it put you in line for a shot at the World Heavyweight Champion when he came to town. Below that was the International Title. This was contended for between top guys who weren’t feuding with the top guy (which was usually Jerry Lawler). Oftentimes, the International title would disappear (with the idea that it was being defended around the world somewhere), only to reappear on a big regional star making a stop in Memphis for a few months. And below that, for younger guys in the mid-card, was the Mid-America title. Virtually anyone could contend for the Mid-America title, and it was often used to say “This guy isn’t a jobber anymore.” I think the WWE, IC and U.S. titles should be used in this fashion.

They are in a great spot to do this, too. Whoever wins the Orton/Cena match and becomes WWE World Heavyweight Champion (yes, that is what they should call it), is already established as the top guy in the promotion. You’ve got Intercontinental Champion Big E. Langston. He should not drop the title any time soon. He’s primed for a Goldberg-esque winning streak as a monster. Keep the belt on him until he’s ready for the Main Event. Dean Ambrose is U.S. Champion. That’s cool. Build someone up with a title win against a member of the Shield when the right guy presents himself.

This doesn’t really go with the rest of this column, but since I’m talking about titles, I must commend the WWE on building a relevant tag-team division. Tag-team wrestling was once a major part of pro wrestling that sort of faded away in the Attitude Era, when the tag titles basically became a tool to bring two guys together and have them split up and feud. The last Golden Age of Tag-team Wrestling in the WWE was when the Hardys, Edge and Christian, the Dudleys, and a few others really put on some great matches together. There have been times over the past several years when I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who the WWE Tag-team Champions were (and during some of that time, there were actually a set of World Tag-team Championship belts being defended as well).

Using Team Friendship, The Shield and then The Brothers Rhodes to build up the division has been a great move by the WWE. I wrote a column last year about my love for tag-team wrestling, and nothing has changed. For years, TNA’s tag division has been better than WWE’s. Right now, that is not the case. Back in the day at the first Survivor Series, the WWF actually had a 10-team (20-man) traditional Survivor Series Elimination match made up of 10 legitimate full-time tag-teams. They’re not quite back to that point yet, but look at this “PWI-style” ranking:

WWE Tag-team Champions: Cody Rhodes & Goldust
1) Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns
2) CM Punk & Daniel Bryan
3) Harper & Rowan
4) Jimmy & Jay Uso
5) Curtis Axel & Ryback
6) Titus O’Neill & Darren Young
7) R-Truth & Xavier Woods
8) Brodus Clay & Sweet T
9) 3MB (in whatever formation you like)
10) Kofi Kingston & The Miz

Yeah, I know Kofi and Miz aren’t really seeing eye-to-eye right now, but that’s actually still pretty impressive, to the point that I’d love to see them bust out a one-night tournament featuring eight of those teams with the winner getting an immediate tag title shot in the Main Event. Tell me you wouldn’t watch that episode of Raw. Here, I’ll book it right now:

Match #1: Rollins & Reigns def. The Usos
Match #2: Punk & Bryan def. Tons of Funk
Match #3: R-Truth & Woods def. Axel & Ryback
Match #4: Harper & Rowan def. Primetime Players

Match #5: Punk & Bryan def. Rollins & Reigns
Match #6: Harper & Rowan def. R-Truth & Woods

Match #7 Harper & Rowan def. Punk & Bryan

Main Event: Cody & Goldust def. Rowan & Harper (or put the belts on the Wyatts, whatever, that’s three hours of wrestling gold, with probably plenty of time for HHH and Steph to stroke their egos and for Big Show to cry or whatever)

Anyway, so they’re unifying the titles. How is this (barring aforementioned screwjobs or other shenanigans) the best way to go about this? TLC is pretty much a throwaway pay-per-view right? It’s at the end of the year, it’s right smack in the middle of Christmas season, it’s right before the second biggest ppv of the year, the Royal Rumble, and there’s been nothing in the way of a build. Other than Cena getting the big idea that there should only be one champion and face of the WWE, what’s the big issue? Randy Orton is supposed to be the Chosen One, even though it seems like the ones that did the choosing aren’t really doing a lot to foster that idea. In fact, I’m honestly not entirely sure what HHH and Stephanie are doing on TV other than to be on TV. Anyway, I guess somewhere down the road Vince will show up to let us know who’s really in charge and proclaim his own “Face of the WWE.”

And let’s not pretend this is the first time we’ve had an “undisputed” championship match or even a “unification match.” There was a time when the champions of competing promotions would meet up for a big show. I remember an NWA show at the Omni Arena in Atlanta when I was a kid that was advertising NWA Champ Ric Flair vs. WWF Champ Bob Backlund (and I also am fairly certain I had no idea who Bob Backlund was at the time). Rick Martel wrestled Harley Race and Ric Flair both when he was AWA champion in the mid-80s. I’d have to look it up, but I’m pretty sure Race and “Superstar” Billy Graham wrestled against one another in an NWA vs. WWF champion vs. champion match. Of course, all of those matches ended with DQ, count-out, or other non-clean finishes.

And here’s some pretty crappy footage of Backlund vs. Race (there’s a better quality match on the WWE’s YouTube channel if you’re curious and have a $1.99 to spare:

And of course, there’s “Super Clash III,” a joint AWA, USWA, and World Class pay-per-view that I’m pretty sure was ordered by fewer people than will read this column. But in that one, AWA World Champ Jerry Lawler defeated WCCW World Champion Kerry Von Erich in a unification match. Yes, the finish was the ol’ referee stoppage due to blood loss, and yes the argument that either of those belts justified “world” champion status in 1989 is a tough one to make. But, hey, it was what it was. Lawler, as the newly christened USWA Unified World Champion, would go on to battle against Global Wrestling Federation World Champion “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert in a series of matches in Memphis. And, yeah, by the time that actually happened, World Class was out of business and the AWA had stripped Lawler of recognition and put their belt on 104 year-old Larry Zybyszko, and the GWF had gone bankrupt, but if you’re a kid watching wrestling in the days before the Internet, you didn’t know all of this.

And the WWF even had it’s own “Undisputed Champion” back in 2001, shortly after the WCW/ECW Invasion played out, via a one-night, four-man tournament featuring The Rock, Steve Austin, Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle. If you didn’t already know, it might surprise you that Jericho was actually the one to emerge as the first “Undisputed WWF Champion.” Yes, he was later pretty much neutered in a feud with (surprise) Triple H. But they kept the title unified until a few months into the brand split and Brock Lesnar conspired with Paul Heyman and Stephanie McMahon to make the WWF title “SmackDown exclusive.” Ric Flair then dusted off the old “Big Gold Belt” and named (who else but?) Triple H the new World Heavyweight Champion. And we’ve been there ever since.

And if they really do want to get the fans excited about a unified champion, I don’t really think this is the way to go. The timing is right and the pieces are in place to really generate some excitement.

Step One – The TLC match ends in controversy. As long as I’m the one coming up with this, we’ll go with my idea that Cena grabs the WWE title belt, while Orton retrieves the World title. Clever, right? Well, that’s great and all, but the fans demand one champion, says The Authority.

Step Two – Daniel Bryan wins the Royal Rumble. There is no one in the WWE fan base that can’t get behind that.

Step Three – CM Punk wins the (only) Elimination Chamber. Now you’ve got two number one contenders and still two champions.

Step Four – To settle the issue once and for all, you have a one-night four-man tournament to determine the real, for true, totally serious this time, once-and-for-all Undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion. CM Punk vs. John Cena, Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton. Punk and Bryan both pull off the wins and square off for the finals, and the world rejoices when Bryan gets the win and the title. And of course, where does this all take place? Well, Wrestlemania XXX, of course.

Step Five – Fill the under-card with Undertaker vs. The Rock, Brock Lesnar vs. Big E Langston, The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family, some kind of Tag-Team Turmoil match, and Ryback vs. Goldberg or whatever.

Step Six – Collect all of the money.

Anyway, I guess we’ll all just have to wait and see what they’ve got planned. As always, thanks for reading!

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