At a WWE Live Event in early May, the face of WWE and the undisputed champion of the company, Roman reigns, made a strange and cryptic announcement, telling the crowd in Trenton, New Jersey, “I have been here many times over the past 10 years. I’m starting to work in a new phase of my career, and honestly, I don’t know if I’ll be back here. If so, I just want to say thank you for all these years of support.
The internet lit up with speculation. What did Reigns mean? Was he retired, eager to follow his cousin The Rock to Hollywood? Was he just thinking about taking a lighter schedule, ditching live events while appearing on TV? Or was Reigns about to take a break? Whatever happens next, what’s clear is that WWE fans may have to brace themselves for another part-time champion. We got used to it in the Brock Lesnar days, but it was heavily criticized. Can WWE do it again?
WWE’s recent history is littered with part-time champions
There was a time, not so long ago, when the WWE Championships were defended weekly, sometimes nightly, taken from town to town with the company’s brutal house show schedule. There’s an argument to be made that the fact that the main titles are so often forbidden devalues them a bit, stripping them of some of their mystique. In recent years, WWE has countered this by going in the opposite direction, giving popular but older names the World Championship and rarely having them defend it.
Goldberg did. The Rock did it when he returned nearly a decade ago. The worst offender (or defender) was of course Brock Lesnar. It was one of the worst reviews WWE had received in recent years. Time after time, WWE would give Lesnar the WWE Championship, only to have him disappear and rarely show up with it until it was WrestleMania or SummerSlam season. In one example, during Lesnar’s 504-day reign in 2017, he defended the belt a total of 11 times. This devalued the belt and the company’s talent, claiming that the belt was not important enough to be seen and no one else was worthy of winning it.
WWE Depends on Roman Reigns
For years, Vince McMahon pushed the idea of Roman Reigns down our throats, insisting that he was the next to be the face of WWE, a natural progression from John Cena’s dominance. While he had the looks and the potential, Reigns fans were bored and therefore shunned. In 2020, we finally got the reigns we wanted as a badass heel. Reigns has shown he doesn’t have to be a face to be the face. His work as a tribal leader has captivated audiences. Even his greatest enemies seemed to come and embrace the new direction.
For over a year and a half, Reigns ruled WWE as the SmackDown Universal Champion. Other champions come and go on Raw, from Drew McIntyre to Bobby Lashley to Lesnar, but Reigns is a constant. He is the John Cena of his time. Roman Reigns is WWE. It might work when everything is running on all cylinders like everything Reigns did, but what happens when the one you put your all into suddenly needs a break?
WWE backed into a corner by unifying the championships
A precarious situation was made worse by giving Reigns the WWE Championship as well. Now both brands will have a part-time champion. The natural decision to make, if Reigns simply needs time off, would be to lose the belts. His act is starting to get a little bland anyway. Having him drop the titles to Drew McIntyre or Cody Rhodes would be huge.
WWE seems determined to hope for a Reigns vs Rock match at WrestleMania 39. We all know it will be for the championship, even if it’s not necessary. Common sense says Reigns is dropping the title for a while, maybe reclaiming it around Royal Rumble and keeping the same potential WrestleMania match. However, WWE has backed into a corner in more ways than one. There is also the sequence to think about. Surely the company wants this to be part of any potential Rock storyline. Getting The Rock to be the one to beat Reigns when no one else could is a much bigger payoff.
So what to do from here? Are we ready month after month for a part-time champion who rarely appears, who rarely defends his championships? WWE has shown that the Intercontinental and United States Championships mean nothing to them, so if the Undisputed Championship also disappears, what titles are we supposed to care about? Lately, the only titles getting attention are the Raw and SmackDown Tag Team Championships. It’s been a fun story between RKBro and The Bloodline, but you can’t build a whole company around it. WWE needs a current world champion. This is what makes the fans invest. Believe that.
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