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Posted in: Oliver's Twist
Oliver's Twist: IC and US Titles - Midcard Missteps or Superb Switches?
By Oliver
May 7, 2014 - 3:45:00 AM

Good day, internet! How are you all? As ever, I hope you’re doing as well as humanly possible. After Extreme Rules and Raw, WWE have shown that they are clearly going to kick their two midcard titles – the Intercontinental and United States straps – into a new gear, switching one away from the waist of Big E to that of Bad News Barrett and the other to Sheamus from Dean Ambrose. But were these the right decisions – should the belts have been lost by their original holders at all? And if they should, have they been transitioned to the right people?

The first of those two questions is a fairly easy one to answer. In truth, both title changes were called for – Ambrose had held that belt for nearly a year and yet his defences had been few and far between. The title being around his waist was doing nothing for either the man or the belt, so a switch was called for and possibly needed a few months ago. Ambrose is undoubtedly big enough as a member of The Shield to not need a belt around his waist, so it was nothing but a prop for him to walk to the ring with most of the time. Along with that, the Lunatic Fringe has been involved in far more feuds without the title being the centrepiece than he has where it’s been important, and big feuds at that – without the possibility of losing the title, or it being treated like something other wrestlers wanted, the belt was diminishing in value.

On the flipside, an argument could be made for keeping the Intercontinental Championship draped around the monstrous pecs of Big E – a man who is undoubtedly a big future prospect given his size, charisma and ability. I’ve already gone on record on Twitter as saying that Big Eric will become a WWE World Heavyweight Champion one day. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, WWE have not really shown any interest in pushing Big Evan as a champion since he won the belt – despite some strong pay per view showings against standard midcard opponents ranging from Damien Sandow to Jack Swagger, he’s not really been in a strong storyline around the title since winning it from Curtis Axel. As a result, even though his ability as a quick and agile hoss has been prominent in his matches, he’s not really had the fan investment to keep strong momentum going for him as champion. Even good wins in his ninth and tenth televised matches against Alberto Del Rio couldn’t help him, and come Sunday night the crowd wasn’t into him at all. In fact, by not being Bad News Barrett he ended up getting Rey Mysterio heat – he’s not the guy we want, therefore we boo him. If that isn’t a sign of him losing momentum faster than Nicholas Cage’s film career since 2002, I don’t know what is.

So the case for both incumbent champions losing their titles is reasonably easy to make, and certainly both could do with a fresh start. But has the correct person ended up with each title? Certainly, the rebuilding of the Intercontinental title started out well, with a tournament featuring no less than six world champions (including, of course, the new US Champion himself). Equally, you had two guys who were and are hot as heck right now in Barrett and Cesaro. That’s a great field, right? And we had some good matches in their too, not least in the first round. However, I was surprised that Barrett came out as the tournament winner – certainly, whilst the new gimmick has worked to get Barrett over with the crowd, there seemed to be more prestige in having a different winner. In fact, this is what I expected Sheamus to win, before heading on to the Intercontinenal Championship at Extreme Rules, simply because he’s at a level much nearer to where that belt should considered. Barrett, someone who’s main event run was thwarted by him being booked as the most ineffective leader of a heel faction ever and has been unable to move out of the midcard naturally ever since, was probably somewhere slightly above RVD in my rankings of likely winners. But regardless, that’s in the past – win he did, and now he’s the Intercontinental Champion.

The question now is whether Barrett is the right choice or not, and in my opinion the answer is no. Whilst there’s nothing particularly wrong with the Preston native, even down to his ability to subtly stuff microphones into his ring gear, and he’s hot right now, the question is whether he can stick the landing. The title he now holds should, rightfully, be the second most important belt in the company, battled for by the uppercarders who have nothing to do. I would far rather see Cena, Sheamus, Del Rio et al battling over the IC title than protecting their legacies or whatever in the main event – the use of non-main eventing main eventers to elevate a ‘midcard’ title would be good for the belt and for business. I don’t want to say that Barrett shouldn’t be pushed, because based on crowd reactions he should, but I think he’s been pushed to the wrong theoretical position on the card – he’s a midcarder parading as someone with a big future at a main event level. Unfortunately, I believe that Barrett’s current level is his ceiling in WWE.

On the other hand, you have the US title. You can easily see the working behind the result – Sheamus might well have been treading water since his return from injury, simply because there was no space for him after his return, but his in ring talent is not in doubt. Sure, I hate him the moment he gets to speak or shit in a car because that type of Sheamus is the worst, but between the ropes he’s been bludgeoning his way through people gloriously. There is, unarguably, something wonderful about watching a guy who will take a punch and then come back with one twice as hard, and that is what has made Sheamus and Cesaro such a delightful in ring pairing since the Royal Rumble. Equally, since reappearing, he’s been over with the crowd and that momentum doesn’t show much sign of slowing down. So far, then, he’s very similar to Bad News Barrett.

Of course, in having some level of in ring ability and being on point through recent months, Sheamus is not alone. In fact, I’d argue that outside of RVD and his stagnant, 14 year old moveset that shows no sign of changing, the top of the midcard in WWE has been absolutely killing it this year with good quality matches. What perhaps makes Sheamus the exception to a Bad News Barrett is that, while both have been rocking it between the ropes, only Sheamus has maintained any sort of form in recent years. Even accepting that he’s had some time without a heavyweight title, he’s roughly maintained an 80% win percentage over the past three years (including 2014 to date) and is an established strong contender – as such, he’s an established winner in the eyes of the WWE Universe’s eyes. Barrett, on the other hand, spent most of his last Intercontinental Championship reign losing to Randy Orton. Throw in the kudos that saying Sheamus is a three time world champion automatically brings, and there’s no doubt that the pedigree of the Great White lends itself to automatically elevating a title that’s pretty much got rock bottom kudos right now. Sheamus is, therefore, a perfect choice should WWE be trying to re-elevate the US Championship – I don’t doubt that he’ll be a fighting champion who puts on good midcard matches on any pay per view or TV show, and that’s not to be sniffed at. That said, isn’t the US Championship a little bit low on the totem pole for a recognised main eventer? Whilst I have no doubt he will be featured as a champion, I can’t help but feel he should be higher up the card than this belt automatically positions him.

That, in effect, is the crux of the issue - the midcard title changes are good things, for sure, but they’re the wrong way round. Barrett would have been a perfect choice for re-vitalising the US Championship as the strongest midcard title to aim for – he’s over, will give you good matches, but is not likely to parlay the Intercontinental Championship into a World Heavyweight Championship reign down the line. Sheamus would have been a perfect choice for revitalising Intercontinental Championship – he’s over, will give you good matches, and could parlay that championship into a World Heavyweight Championship down the line. Both men definitely deserve a renewed push and some gold to go with it, but really they should have the title the other man is wearing to reflect the level they are at and their future prospects.

Either way, a renewed push for both midcard titles is a good thing for WWE - both belts certainly needed a refresh, and hopefully this will benefit the pair of them.

What about you guys - do you agree or disagree with the title changes? Leave me a comment below, or drop me a Tweet (@MrOlliB) or an email using the link at the top of the page. Until we twist again, stay safe when crossing the road and drink more hot chocolate! Aloha!

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