On Monday’s Raw, both the United States and Tag Team Championships were defended. It was also announced that, next week, both the Women’s and Cruiserweight Championships would be fought for.
Meanwhile, on the SmackDown side, The Miz is a week removed from retaining his Intercontinental Championship in a match against Dolph Ziggler. Not to mention that, as of this writing, AJ Styles went into Tuesday’s SmackDown set to defend his WWE Championship against Dean Ambrose.
That makes six title defenses in a span of four shows. Add in pay-per-views that have either just passed or will take place shortly and that makes well over a dozen championship matches in the past month or so. This raises an interesting question: Does an oversaturation of title matches lessen their importance?
Your first reaction might be to think it’s a silly question to even propose. Championship matches, after all, are the main attraction in pro wrestling. Like in the UFC (sorry UFC fans, I know you hate the comparison), it’s the title fights that draw viewer interest and revenue.
But that actually works against the WWE. See, they’re giving many of these championship matches away on free TV. And, so, it gives fans less incentive to purchase the WWE Network and watch the pay-per-views. Unless, of course, the titles that are being defended on Raw and SmackDown don’t change hands very often.
That is typically the case. In fact, the lone title change to come in all of the previously mentioned bouts was when Roman Reigns took Rusev’s U.S. Championship at last Sunday’s Clash of Champions. Well over a dozen title bouts and just one new champion. That’s not to say that the WWE should go back to the ways of the Attitude Era where titles were changed more often than socks, but having championships matches so frequently (and changes so rarely) makes the matches a bit anti-climactic.
On the other hand, it certainly beats the alternative. When a champion rarely defends his belt, it devalues both the competitor and the strap they carry. Recent examples of this include Brock Lesnar’s stint as WWE Champion and Dean Ambrose’s run with the U.S. title. At times, it was easy to forget who held those titles or that even existed.
Having a fighting champion strengthens the prestige of the title they carry. Like her or not, Charlotte’s held the Raw Women’s Championship almost non-stop since last August, defeating the likes of Bayley, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks in the process. The same goes for The New Day, who’ve ushered in a mini-rebirth of the tag team division.
That said, title reigns of this length are often good for the belts and the competitors who carry them, but not always good for their foes. Many feel, for instance, that The New Day should’ve dropped their titles to Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson by now. Instead, Gallows and Anderson have lost to the trio in several title matches and it’s safe to wonder if they’ll ever be taken seriously again.
Losing non-title bouts is one thing, but when a contender falls to a champion over and over again it typically lessens their standing in the eyes of fans. Given that the WWE likes to have its championship reigns last longer nowadays, that means a few title match losses can send a wrestler to the back of the line in a hurry. With thinner rosters and more title matches, that only leaves room for so many Superstars on each show to look strong.
It’s a delicate balance. The WWE rightly believes that championship matches will draw eyes to its programming. However, giving away too many of them on Mondays and Tuesdays, especially with such infrequent title changes, lessens excitement and heightens predictability for these contests. Not to mention that it sometimes widens the gap between Superstars and the heights they hope to reach.
A championship match on a Raw or SmackDown used to be a treat. And a title change was almost always a welcome surprise. But now, it’s rare to go more than one episode without at least one title being up for grabs. With how infrequently the titles change hands, the fact that these showdowns are billed as championship matches seems almost pointless. It’s a championship match in the same sense that the main event of the house show you went to last year was.
That’s not to say that championships should never be defended on the USA Network. In theory, it only serves to strengthen the ratings war being waged between Raw and SmackDown. But the WWE should hesitate a bit more when it comes to throwing out pay-per-view caliber matches all willy-nilly. And perhaps throw fans a bone and now and then and surprise viewers with a title change they never saw coming.