Following the WWE Draft, there were a number of names on both Raw and SmackDown Live who many believed would thrive in the New Era, considering the opportunity to take on a more rewarding role in the company was at stake. For two individuals like Titus O’Neil and Darren Young, the brand extension would have come as a beacon of hope considering their respective singles careers have been stagnant to say the least ever since they split up as The Prime Time Players.
Sure, both of them were afforded the chance to win a mid-card championship over the course of the summer, but it could be argued that those opportunities were really just WWE’s way of giving the current titleholders a better image. For both of these guys, WWE hasn’t necessarily allowed them to achieve much past being a stepping stone for the company’s up-and-coming talents.
This week, however, may have seen the start of something new for the pair.
After years by each other’s side – with the exception of their initial break-up – Titus O’Neil and Darren Young now seem to find themselves locked in a rivalry against one another as the new Monday Night Raw still begins to pick up steam as an independent brand.
It all kicked off with “The Real Deal” getting in his former ally’s face and mocking him over the “Make Darren Young Great Again” campaign that Bob Backlund has been trying to run over recently. A snappy matchup in which Titus emerged victorious with the aid of Young’s tights would lead to another confrontation backstage that brought with it a lot more emotion.
When Titus laid his hands on a visibly irate Backlund, we saw some aggression in Darren Young that could end up adding some much-needed intensity to this rivalry.
Nothing gets the fans behind a wrestler more than sheer emotion, and this segment did exactly what it needed to for Young’s kinship with Backlund to be made perfectly clear. All we knew before was that Backlund was a life coach for “Mr. No Days Off” but now that we’ve established a bond between the two, Young should have no problem getting fans to root for him as the rivalry progresses.
Titus O’Neil also shined this week, albeit in a more subtle sense. There will be some fans out there that say if Titus changes his face/heel status once more, he’ll be on the verge of reaching Big Show levels of ridiculousness. But the way he shifted in character on Raw was actually quite believable.
Given the amount of chances O’Neil has had to capture singles gold over the last two years, it’s understandable that the man’s frustrations would be beginning to set in. Pair that with the fact that his former partner is starting to gain some serious momentum, not to mention fan support, and it’s easy to see why Titus would sink to such lows just to beat him.
When you look at it as just another part of Raw, it wouldn’t be too difficult for the inception of Titus O’Neil and Darren Young’s feud to fly under the radar, but given a little thought, this could theoretically turn into something meaningful for both athletes.
Consider the last couple of rivalries either of them have been a part of – against Rusev and The Miz for O’Neil and Young respectively. The main factor in each of those stories was that it was unlikely for either of them to come out with the title in tow. Even if they ended up with a glimmer of hope, the feud was still essentially built around the fact that the odds were stacked against them.
Yet we’ve very rarely seen either Darren Young or Titus O’Neil involved in a program that they have equal stakes in versus their opponent. All the talk about upset victories is off the table, and it’s been replaced by hope that whoever emerges from this inevitable rematch could be in line for another stab at the United States Championship somewhere down the line.
We know that Young and O’Neil have chemistry together, and being two guys with chips on their shoulders, they should want to take advantage of every opportunity to make a name for themselves as solo performers. The rivalry is never going to get prime positioning, but on a three-hour show, the ability to progress the tension brewing between them should be enough to carry a decent story.
If they’re lucky, they might even get the chance to lay it all on the line at SummerSlam, even if it’s on the pre-show. The great thing about this rivalry is the two men really have nothing to lose, and a whole lot to gain in terms of exposure on the Raw brand. With that in mind, there’s no reason that Darren Young and Titus O’Neil can’t whip up a rivalry worth millions of dollars.