Ever since his heated exchange with Daniel Bryan on the post-SummerSlam edition of Talking Smack, The Miz has arguably received some of the best exposure out of everyone on the WWE payroll — extending his character and in-ring presence, and most importantly magnifying the buzz surrounding the previously stagnant Intercontinental Championship.
The new spotlight allowed The Miz to adopt some raw aggression that had previously gone unseen by the WWE audience, and it would serve to transform The Miz’s championship defense at Backlash into one of the highest-anticipated matches on the card against Dolph Ziggler.
Having emerged from that excellent encounter with the title still over his shoulder, albeit through the blatant interference of Maryse, the way the WWE chose to handle The Miz going forward was pivotal in sustaining the momentum of his recent surge of popularity.
They made the right choice in having him retain the title against a very game Dolph Ziggler, but there’d be no point in doing so if the company had no real plans for him going forward.
Luckily, they started off quite well, perfectly furthering the story of The Miz and Dolph Ziggler with yet another heated confrontation on the following episode of SmackDown Live, culminating in Daniel Bryan announcing that due to the shady circumstances in which he retained the strap, The Miz will have to afford Dolph Ziggler a rematch in the future – most likely to take place at No Mercy.
They even planted the seeds of another twist to the tale in which The Miz will refuse to defend his Intercontinental Championship unless he gets a contract renegotiation from the general manager.
The Miz’s night didn’t end there , however, because he’d later come out to force himself into the main event tag-team match between John Cena, Dean Ambrose, A.J. Styles and a partner of the new WWE World Champion’s choosing, who turned out to be the, err, iconic James Ellsworth.
The Miz saw Daniel Bryan’s placement of Ellsworth in the main event as yet another display of disrespect to his IC Champion, and would take matters into his own hands by leveling Ellsworth prior to the match and aligning himself with “The Phenomenal One” as his partner.
This is where things became questionable with regards to The Miz’s handling following Backlash, because there are really two ways to look at it. From an optimist’s point of view, seeing The Miz force his way into SmackDown’s main event picture was the best possible next step for his character.
His story over the last month has been the fact that he’s been overlooked time and time again, by management, the fans, his peers and anyone else with a sense of power within the WWE, so it makes sense that after putting the previous No. 1 contender to the WWE World Championship away at Backlash, The Miz would then set his sights on claiming his own spot atop the line-up.
It’s not the usual “I’m the best, I’m in the main event” stuff you’d expect from The Miz, either. He’s genuinely desperate to prove himself as a prime time talent, which is always really fun to watch. Nothing is more entertaining in professional wrestling than when a performer has a legitimate chip on his shoulder to reach new heights, and it’s turned The Miz into something really worth watching to see him plant himself up alongside huge names like John Cena, AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose.
Sure, he main-evented WrestleMania 27, so maybe he shouldn’t have to scratch and claw his way to the closing match-up on an episode of SmackDown, but it’s come across really well nonetheless.
Then, of course, there’s the pessimist’s outlook, which is a whole lot less ambitious.
The WWE set up a triple threat match for the WWE World Championship at No Mercy, and they needed a way to kick off the match’s hype in the main event on SmackDown, for a number of reasons – to return John Cena to the ring for the first time since SummerSlam, to have AJ Styles backed into a corner to suffer the consequences of his low-blow victory at Backlash, and most importantly to have Dean Ambrose turn on John Cena and plant him with Dirty Deeds in the ring.
The tag-team match was the perfect way to accomplish each of these things, but it needed someone to act both as a partner for Styles, and to be the fall guy when Cena and Ambrose inevitably emerged victorious. The only other guy on the roster who would’ve fit the bill was Baron Corbin, and he’s locked into his own business with Apollo Crews and Jack Swagger at the moment.
The Miz was also the only guy who could stand as a legitimate partner for Styles, and unfortunately, taking the pinfall might have been detrimental to his continued growth. It certainly nullifies the justification of a contract renegotiation with GM Daniel Bryan anyway, because why would he deserve a superior contract to his peers if he can’t get the job done in the main event scene?
The outcome of the match is definitely bittersweet with regards to the exhilarating tale that has been The Miz’s journey to the top of the SmackDown roster, and unless they find a fitting way to utilize Miz’s loss as another pivotal chapter in the story, it might just cause the reigning Intercontinental Champion to lose credibility when he needs it the most.
The Miz is arguably at cusp of reaching the pinnacle of his WWE career, and one slip-up on the company’s behalf at this point could bring the whole thing to its knees.