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WWE Brand Split: Organizing the World title picture

John Cena vs. Roman Reigns

With the wrestling world still speculating on how WWE will handle the July brand split/extension, much of the discussion has been about how the championships should be structured in this new era -- most importantly, what should be the biggest prize in the game.

The Brand Extension Shouldn’t Lead To A Championship Split

As reported in a recent Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the current plan is that the brand extension will lead to the world title being once again split in two. Of the many rumours that have flown around the Internet, it's the prospect of once again losing a single world champion that has most upset hardcore fans.

It’s not hard to see why. Since John Cena and Randy Orton unified the WWE and World Heavyweight Titles in December 2013 at TLC, the world title has been far stronger than it was previously. It has once again become the focal point of the promotion with Daniel Bryan’s chase of the WWE title proving far more of a money-drawing storyline than his previous World Heavyweight Title reigns. The flip side of this development is that tug of war between the hardcore fanbase and Vince McMahon about who should be world champion has intensified now that the promotion can’t split the difference.

Despite this, one can understand why the WWE is tempted to revert back to having two world titles.

As Brock Lesnar’s previous title reign proved, the WWE’s mantra of promoting sports entertainment and focusing on telling stories is remarkably hollow. The promotion is actually incredibly dependent on the world championship to provide meaning to its main event picture. When Brock Lesnar was away, the twenty-eight strong writing staff was bereft of ideas about how to justify Cena and Seth Rollins facing each other that they turned the Money In The Bank briefcase into an ersatz world title.

Therefore, both promotions will clearly need their own singles title for their main event picture to be built around when the world champion isn’t there. Furthermore, considering that both shows will largely conform to the WWE house style, each champion will play a pivotal role in defining the brand to viewers. 

However, there’s no reason why that role can’t be played by a secondary champion exclusive to each brand if these titles are properly protected. And there would be added value in having a WWE title above them. An undisputed world champion that can perform on both brands would stand out as a special attraction that would help highlight key television shows as must-watch and could drive extra business for the biggest shows of the year.

The key would be not to expose them. If they were to appear weekly, let alone twice a week, they would quickly cease to be a special attraction. Worse they would undermine the ability of the two promotion-specific secondary champions to be taken seriously as headliners. This would naturally be a role for Lesnar, who could storm into either brand for a month-long residency before his latest title defence and then disappear again. It would also solve the problem that the WWE has of struggling to provide meaning to Lesnar’s matches.

RAW and Smackdown Need Their Own Champions

Back when the NWA World Champion would tour alliance members, the individual territories still retained their own national or promotional champions. This was because the promotion couldn’t grind to a halt when Ric Flair or Harley Race was elsewhere; they still needed something to build their everyday main event picture around. If WWE was to give Lesnar a floating WWE Championship, each brand would be in the same situation. They would need championships to build their weekly programming around.

The temptation would be to suggest that the Intercontinental and U.S. titles could be repurposed for this role with each brand getting one of the secondary titles. This was exactly the approach originally planned for the first brand split with the I-C strap having been pegged to be the premiere title on RAW. Triple-H rightly vetoed this idea due to the belief that the title had been clearly defined as a secondary belt and wouldn’t be taken seriously as a prize worthy of main eventers. This is even truer today. While either belt can gain the illusion of respectability when placed around a headliner’s waist, they quickly slide back to their previous irrelevance.

It’s not helped that the names of the championships are literally meaningless. This is not the 70s where it was perfectly logical to have a national champion underneath the world champion. The same problem existed when there was a WWE and a World Title. The names are such generic buzzwords that they do not indicate what the titlist is champion of. The championships being meaningless is yet another barrier to fans taking them seriously.

It would be far better for the WWE to start again by crowning RAW and Smackdown champions, and actually calling them that. That way fans know that the person who holds the RAW title is recognised as the best wrestler on RAW, and the person challenging for the Smackdown title wants to be recognised as the best wrestler on Smackdown.

As reported in the Observer, the current plans are for Reigns and Cena to be the champions of their respective brands. While both men have their problems with connecting with the fanbase, putting the new belts on them would be a clear statement of intent that both titles are of equal worth and will be properly protected.

How Should The Championships Be Awarded?

One of the things that most embittered fans about the last split in the championship was how Triple-H walked out with the big gold belt and proclaimed himself world champion. For all the talk of RAW having always been the ‘A-Show’, it took years the stench of that introduction to leave the title with his matches for the belt being of secondary importance to the WWE title matches as late as 2004. It’s therefore crucial that the new championships are properly introduced. Given that the aim of these moves is to create a big splash to help Smackdown’s ratings, it would make sense that everything builds to big matches for the shows on July 19-20.

Making Brock Lesnar the undisputed world champion should be relatively straight forward. Just have The Beast appear in the next two weeks to destroy Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, insert himself into the WWE title match at Money In The Bank due to both men having screwed him out of the world title he never truly lost inside the ring. It’s a rematch of the unannounced main event of Wrestlemania 31, and provides a way for Lesnar to regain the title without pinning Reigns. It also allows the Reigns vs. Rollins programme to continue with neither man once again conclusively beating the other. This would then justify leaving Lesnar out of the draft.

The new RAW and Smackdown champions should be crowned in big matches on the first shows after the draft. The easiest way to do this would be to have the type of multi-man matches that are usually reserved for pay per view. RAW could have a special Money in the Bank-style ladder match for their world title and Smackdown could have an Elimination Chamber match. Such multi-man matches would naturally feed into the draft, with the six men drafted for each brand being the ones entered into its championship match. Assuming the twelve men were picked on the 11th July Raw, the promotion would have a week to promote two huge title matches for the first week of the new era.

Will Cooling is a freelance writer who writes on combat sports for Fighting Spirit Magazine, pop culture for Geeky Monkey and politics at It Could Be Said!FSM is available in all good British newsagents and internationally. In this month’s issue he writes about the rise of Ronda Rousey and argues that intergender matches destroyed Chyna’s career.