Even with two main-event level championship matches taking place at SummerSlam, fans will also be treated to two additional matches for Raw and SmackDown Live’s mid-card titles.
“The Bulgarian Brute,” Rusev is set to defend the United States Championship against Roman Reigns in what could be the defining match of the man’s career, while the upstart Apollo Crews looks to capture The Miz’s Intercontinental Championship after being named the No. 1 contender in a triple threat match on SmackDown. Though both of these are bound to deliver, there’s no question that the build-up to SummerSlam has made the blue brand’s mid-card pale in comparison to that of Raw.
The U.S. and IC titles are supposed to be at the pinnacle of their respective brands’ mid-card roster, but the way each championship has been handled on the journey into the WWE’s second-biggest event of the calendar year has been vastly different. For starters, just look at the talent at hand.
Ok, so Raw might have the unfair advantage, considering Roman Reigns has been a bona fide main event star since early 2015. After all, it’s unknown if this match would even be shaping up the way it has if Reigns never violated WWE’s wellness policy. But even if you just compare Rusev and The Miz as competitors, Raw’s mid-card representative is clear superior to the SmackDown’s.
His win-loss record since the inception of the brand split aside, Rusev has been doing a tremendous job over the last few months of regaining the level of sheer dominance that he carried during his initial run with the U.S. title. He’s made the likes of Zack Ryder, Titus O’Neil and Kalisto tap out to the devastating Accolade, while his beautiful wife Lana talks him up to perfection on the microphone. Once the year is out, we may be looking back on 2016 as the year of Rusev.
The Miz, however, is a different story. It can be argued that since capturing the Intercontinental Championship the night after WrestleMania 32, The Miz has been better than ever before. The chemistry between him and his wife Maryse has made for a surprisingly entertaining on-screen alliance, but charisma only gets you so far. Since the brand extension began, The Miz has been in one match-up against Randy Orton, which he lost in embarrassing fashion.
The WWE may think that flashing the championship belt to the crowd during a segment of MizTV is enough to get “The Awesome One” and his title over on Tuesday nights, but it’s going to need to do a little more than that if it wants to make the gold look valuable. That’s not to say that The Miz is a bad champion, but if he actually competed instead of questioning other Superstars every week then just maybe he’d represent the title with a little more integrity.
On Raw’s first night under the umbrella of the brand split, Rusev was involved in a fatal 4-way that could have given him the opportunity to double his gold against Seth Rollins at SummerSlam for the Universal Championship. Why wasn’t The Miz involved in SmackDown Live’s Six-Pack Challenge to determine a No. 1 contender for the WWE World Heavweight Championship?
The man was supposed to be one of the hottest draft picks on the show, but so far all we’ve seen is confirmation of why Daniel Bryan chose him – because he’s got the title. Nothing more, nothing less.
This kind of booking wouldn’t be unforgivable if we’d had a few months to get used to SmackDown as separate, equally credible brand with an equally credible roster, but it happened immediately. What’s worse is that Miz didn’t even head into the split with credibility, seeing as his last title defense against Darren Young, a Raw star, ended in a no-contest at Battleground.
As for Apollo Crews, he may be extraordinarily athletic in the ring, but has he seriously done enough to be granted a shot at the Intercontinental Championship? He’s been on the roster for about four months, and he’s had a slow start to say the least. That’s not a bad thing at all, but he should have been given a month or two to build himself up on SmackDown before getting a title match.
Instead, he barely managed to secure the title shot with a roll-up on Kalisto. A roll-up on Kalisto. Not Kane, not Baron Corbin, not even The Miz himself. He rolled up Kalisto, a man who had one of the most forgettable reigns with the U.S. title of all time this year, and now finds himself getting demolished by “The Lone Wolf” backstage every week. The fact that Crews got his title match this way says a lot more about the Intercontinental Championship than it does about him as an athlete.
Again, The Miz vs. Apollo Crews isn’t the worst match on the line-up, but it could have been so much more anticipated if the WWE had made as much effort with them as it did with Rusev and Roman Reigns. Heck, even though many feel it should have been held off until SummerSlam, Roman Reigns and Rusev main-evented the go-home episode of Raw for the pay-per-view..
It just doesn’t hold water up against Raw’s mid-card title match. We can hope for the best that the person coming out of the event with the IC title will be able to change things up and actually give some credit to the belt’s lineage, but based on what we’ve seen so far, don’t hold your breath.