When I was growing up watching wrestling, I knew there was a difference between the World title and the Intercontinental title: the World title was for the big, slower moving guys and the Intercontinental was for the smaller guys, more apt for holds and fast-paced matches. While the world title matches were entertaining (because Hogan was naturally entertaining), to see the really good, quality matches, it was all about the Intercontinental title scene.
In many ways, the IC belt had more prestige because its champion was almost always a future World title holder. The Ultimate Warrior started as IC champ. We saw Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels both battle for the IC title on many occasions. Matches between the world title holder and the IC title holder were very even because the holder of the IC belt was able to hang with the World title holder.
So why isn’t that the case today?
There’s no prestige or honour in holding the Intercontinental title anymore. It seems like, today, holding onto a mid-card title is a curse, not an honour. Say what you will about current United States champion Antonio Cesaro, but the man deserves more than losing to Randy Orton every second week. Antonio has the look, the moves, the charisma to be a future main eventer and Hall of Famer, but WWE’s incessant need to put guys they have high hopes for on a losing streak is ridiculous. That’s a rant for another day.
Now, obviously, I don’t expect them to suddenly downgrade the quality of main event matches in order to make the IC or US title scene better again. Most guys today are half the size of the main eventers of old. Steroids certainly make a difference there. But at the very least, why not have a small group of wrestlers for the Intercontinental or US scene, kept separate from the main eventers. Or at the very least, stop having the IC or US champ lose to Orton or Sheamus in under three minutes.
It seems once in a blue moon, WWE will feel like boosting the prestige of the IC championship back to its former glory. This usually occurs annually, around the time of Night of Champions, when they realize “Oh. Right. We have more belts than just the world title.” So we’ll hear about the class and prestige of the championship for a few weeks, get an insultingly short match at Night of Champions, and then it’s back to jobbing to Orton every other week.
I think part of the problem comes from the roster split. Not the split itself, but because the split has created TWO World championships. Even though they’re supposed to be equal, it’s clear that the World title holder on RAW is boosted more than the one on Smackdown. With some exceptions, such as Edge vs. Undertaker, you could easily see the storylines being about the Intercontinental title. The Smackdown World title is considered secondary to the RAW title.
So in some ways, the creation of the secondary World title has essentially replaced the IC title. The two World titles have allowed for some wrestlers the chance to be a main eventer. While Triple H or John Cena dominated RAW, you had guys like JBL, Edge, Rey Mysterio, and others on Smackdown. Even now, while Dolph Ziggler is the current Smackdown World champ, if you removed the World title and replaced it with the Intercontinental title, there would hardly be any difference. Imagine if the recent Wrestlemania storyline between Swagger and Del Rio was for the IC belt, instead. It’s not hard to see, is it?
Still, both RAW and Smackdown have their own mid-card title that right now, is a curse rather than an honour. The Intercontinental champ or the US champ are relegated to jobbers-to-the-stars in order to put over a main event program. After growing up on wrestling and seeing the prestige of either championship, it’s heart breaking to see it lowered to such a status.
Antonio Cesaro hasn’t been the United States Champion since April 15th. And arguably the U.S. strap has come up in the world by virtue of being held by Dean Ambrose, who is in the middle of a nice push. But should the man make the title? To a certain degree, sure, but a belt with so much history should also afford the man holding it a bit of jobbing immunity. Indeed, the Intercontinental belt continues to be something of a curse to Wade Barrett, who was actually more competitive with the likes of Orton and Sheamus prior to winning the belt.
Ah, you are right about Cesaro, but it was a good, recent example of the curse of the mid-card title. I don’t know whether Ambrose will have the same curse, but I think you’re right on having some immunity – if short term.
Of course, The Shield’s potential as a hot act could only be temporary, which is something to talk about for another article. After all, WWE were very high on Wade Barrett before, like during the entire Nexus angle. Let’s hope their short-term interest doesn’t wind up with Ambrose jobbing to Orton in a few months from now.