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Yet again, WWE released a handful of wrestlers during a slow middle-of-the-week news day. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first round of cuts this year.
There were the releases in April, which included a slew of talent; the releases in May that included Samoa Joe and Mickie James; the release of Tom Phillips; the mutual parting with Adnan Virk; and though this doesn’t apply as directly to this article, the release of Velveteen Dream.
At its core, ending the brand split means doing away with show-specific rosters, any kind of “brand-to-brand invitational” or “wildcard” rule, and (although not really an issue with this brand split) brand-specific pay-per-view events.
Basically, if WWE were to consolidate the brands now, the strategy for the week-to-week booking should be what every wrestling show should employ: tell believable, coherent stories based on winning a championship or working toward a championship match with succinct promos devoid of forced catchphrases and punchlines.
Yeah, I know, that last part just made you laugh when pairing it with WWE.
Here are some tactics to help WWE meet the goals of the overall strategy above focusing specifically on roster construction, split across multiple divisions. The first four are obvious, but the last few might catch you by surprise.
I should also note that this is all contingent on good booking and creative, which is a big ask in the modern WWE.
WWE has a mirror version of each title on Raw and Smackdown, with the top men’s championships the WWE and Universal Championships. The idea of two titles became part of the accepted WWE canon when in kayfabe then-Smackdown General Manager Stephanie McMahon signed WWE Champion Brock Lesnar to an exclusive contract.
This then led to the below moment, where the newly introduced World Heavyweight Championship was just gifted to Triple H.
In the early 2000s, coming off of a roster influx from WCW and ECW (and a STACKED influx at that), a brand split worked. Why? It worked because the roster depth was more than enough to cover both shows, especially when they were both two hours. However, the introduction of the second top championship is where it all began going downhill to a certain degree.
It wasn’t too long after this that the JBL was WWE Champion and by all reports, the lowest-drawing WWE Champion ever. No Way Out in 2005 was headlined by him versus The Big Show in a barbed wire steel cage match. Other acts on the card were The Bashams, Luther Reigns, Heidenreich, and three segments of a Diva Search contest. Even having Rey Mysterio, John Cena, Kurt Angle, and the late Eddie Guerrero couldn’t cover that lack of depth.
The same issue plagues WWE today across pretty much every division on both Raw and Smackdown, a point I’ll do my best not to repeat in further sections.
To augment my point: think of how many times over the past 14 months or so there’s been discussion on who can credibly challenge Roman Reigns, Drew McIntyre, or Bobby Lashley. WWE’s “challenger of the month” or, more recently, “challenger of every three weeks” recipe is just too narrow of a booking lens.
The best way to build credible challengers is by having a wrestler go on a journey where they win a string of matches, six, eight, or ten so that fans actually believe the wrestler has a chance. Of course, the quality of competition matters, too, and yes, it’s not JUST about winning matches (though it should account for 90 percent).
Also, going on a winning streak doesn’t mean that every match is a simple victory. Like with any win streak in any sport, there will be blowouts/squashes, steady performances where the outcome is undoubted, close matches that build drama and show resilience, and comeback victories pulled out from the jaws of defeat.
When you’re booking on a three-week window, you don’t have enough time for anyone to build that legitimacy with the audience. It also prevents you from building multiple credible contenders so that decisions don’t become too predictable.
Unifying the titles and maintaining the name and lineage of the WWE Championship should help curb some of these issues. The top of the men’s card would be headed by Reigns, Lashley, and McIntyre.
The rest of the wrestlers to fill the main event scene can also shift between the WWE Championship, Tag Team Championship, and the United States/Intercontinental Championship. These wrestlers are: A.J. Styles, Kofi Kingston, Randy Orton, Sheamus, Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler, Rey Mysterio, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, and when healthy, The Miz.
There are also wrestlers who could be built up to the main event scene, possibly through the secondary title scene. Some are up-and-comers while others are former WWE/Universal Champions. These wrestlers are: Damian Priest, Humberto Carrillo, Jeff Hardy, Jinder Mahal, John Morrison, Keith Lee, Mustafa Ali, Riddle, T-Bar, Xavier Woods, Apollo Crews, Big E, Chad Gable, Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso, King Corbin, Montez Ford, Otis, Sami Zayn, and Shinsuke Nakamura.
I should also note that just because I list wrestlers in a certain section doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win said title or even challenge for it; it’s that they have the possibility of being in the title picture. Some of the wrestlers listed would need much more work booking-wise to even be in consideration, but the talent, potential, and fan support are there.
Also, being a former WWE and/or Universal Champion automatically places a wrestler in this discussion, which is why Hardy and Mahal are listed, for example.
That’s a lot of great talent that, when not spread too thin, is arguably the deepest men’s roster in professional wrestling this side of New Japan. Sure, you’re still spreading the matches and feuds out over two shows, possibly keeping some sort of pseudo-brand split, but the ultimate goal will be a singular prize as opposed to an asymmetrical one, further enhancing the title and the journey for those involved.
The versatility of the wrestlers listed in their abilities to shift between divisions or take a steady build toward a championship match is plentiful. Take it from this guy who won another fantasy basketball championship this season: versatility in roster construction is key.
As detestable as both men came to be known, one of the most enduring moments in WWF/WWE history was the WrestleMania VI match between WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior. The match was built around two dominant champions and elevated the secondary champion to top act status. Fans wanted to see Warrior win because of the journey.
This leads me to the next consolidation tactic that you already knew was coming…
Apr 11, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Apollo Crews (white/green attire) and Big E (orange/silver attire) during their Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania 37 at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The goal of having a depth chart filled with quality mid-card wrestlers is that they are eventually elevated to the main event in the future.
On the surface, the thought of having multiple titles makes sense because one would think more titles mean more interest in matches because there are higher stakes. However, WWE has reached a point now where not only does the abundance of titles diminish their value, but they’ve also changed titles far too often for many fans to be able to step back and appreciate a title run.
It’s not a factual argument, but short title reigns and/or constant switching of titles can give some an “everyone gets a championship” vibe.
Unifying the United States Championship and Intercontinental Championship not only helps rid this thought but strengthens the entire mid-card by having that singular prize. I would keep the IC name because its origin and name are so closely linked to WWE and because I’m a sucker for the white strap should they revert back to the classic.
The best thing about having a robust mid-card is that it provides ample opportunity for wrestlers to showcase their skills. As the traditional “workhorse” title, champion and any challengers both need to better than passable in-ring as they traditionally carry the grunt of the in-ring load on shows.
What better way to win over fans and make them clamor for a WWE Championship match than for the Intercontinental Champion to put away challenger after challenger in the best match of every card he’s scheduled?
Further, as overused as the trope has been in WWE over the past year, having one mid-card workhorse championship makes open challenges that much more special. If, as we’ve seen, there are open challenges occurring across both shows, it dulls the luster of either. Having one for the only mid-card championship makes every open challenge that much more drama-filled.
To add to the list of wrestlers in the previous section who could be in the Intercontinental Championship picture are: Angel Garza, Cedric Alexander, Drew Gulak, Lince Dorado, Gran Metalik. Mace, Mansoor, Ricochet, Dominik Mysterio, Robert Roode, Slapjack, and Angelo Dawkins.
It just makes too much sense! This leads me to the next point…
To round out the discussion on the men’s divisions, I now turn to the tag team division that, in all honestly, seems like an afterthought in WWE. The past two decades in WWE have seen a stark decline in the importance placed on tag team wrestling.
What’s frustrating is that tag team wrestling used to be the backbone of WWF/WWE. Just think about all of the fantastic team during the 90s and into the early Aughts, from The Hart Foundation to The British Bulldogs to Edge & Christian to The Hardy Boyz to The Dudleys and more.
I’d like to give a special shoutout to The World’s Greatest Tag Team who, at the time in the mid-Aughts, may truly have been the world’s greatest tag team.
To make matters worse, WWE’s direct competition in AEW not only has placed an importance on tag team wrestling, but has been praised for the matches, stories, and psychology of their tag team wrestling. In their short existence, they have a claim to probably the three best tag team matches across wrestling since their inception.
Back to WWE, some of the more memorable tag teams of the past 20 years were singles stars thrown together when creative had nothing left for them, such as Rated RKO, any iteration of Chris Jericho’s WWE teams, John Cena & Shawn Michaels, X-Pac & Kane, Eddie Guerrero & Rey Mysterio, The Miz & John Morrison, and The Bar, among others.
Now, for about five or six years, WWE had some of the best actual tag teams with the likes of The Usos, The New Day, The Wyatt Family, and Cesaro & Tyson Kidd, with recent teams like The Street Profits and The Mysterios continuing that line.
Still, the current champion on both shows are mishmash teams. Ziggler and Roode were middling as singles wrestlers, so what does WWE do? Make them a team. A.J. Styles, a former WWE Champion, doesn’t have anything to do, so WWE places him as the veteran mentor to Omos.
Further, the two teams that have carried the division for the past six years are no longer involved in tag team angles, though that could change at any time.
The New Day, since losing at WrestleMania, has been working toward Kingston becoming WWE Champion again. He was unsuccessful in becoming #1 contender last Monday night, but he’s put on consecutive great matches with McIntyre to remind people he could always go.
The same could be said for Woods, whose matches with Riddle and Orton the past two weeks were arguably the best matches outside of both Kingston-McIntyre affairs. Though each came out on the losing end, they could as easily maintain separate singles paths (Kingston the WWE Championship, Woods the United States Championship) while still being a duo.
Jey Uso, while Jimmy Uso was recovering from injury, became “Main Event” Jey Uso through his association with “The Tribal Chief” Reigns and Paul Heyman. Jimmy Uso returned and though they just lost a Tag Team Championship match, that seemed more a plot point for the ongoing intrafamily feud between Reigns and Jimmy Uso. At this rate, Jimmy Uso might challenge Reigns at Money in the Bank or SummerSlam.
Again, the whole point of consolidating the rosters is to not spread the roster too thin. The tag division mandates having double the wrestlers than the singles division, so consolidation may help the tag division most.
This should also curtail WWE’s default reaction of placing two singles wrestlers together when they have nothing for them or they’re middling. Coupled with the tactics from the previous sections, this will not only strengthen each division but add a higher level of importance to every intra-division match.
When there’s only one title between two shows, theoretically, it creates a longer and more qualified queue of challengers.
This consolidation would lead to the tag teams of Styles & Omos, The Dirty Dawgs, Lucha House Party, The Viking Raiders, Mace & T-Bar, The Miz & Morrison, RK-Bro, Shanky & Veer, The Street Profits, Alpha Academy, The Mysterios, The Uso, and The New Day.
When competing for one championship instead of two, the depth goes further, the matches have greater stakes, and the championship means more.
Now, with the men’s divisions done, let’s move to the women’s divisions.
Apr 10, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Bianca Belair celebrates after pinning Sasha Banks for the WWE Smackdown Women’s Championship during WrestleMania 37 at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
It would be easy for me to just copy/paste my section on the WWE/Universal Championships and just change the names. A lot of the same applies here, but there’s an added wrinkle that has affected the women’s division on Raw more than its counterpart.
Namely, over the past 14 or so months, the Women’s Champion has been or entangled with the Women’s Tag Team Champion. What this has done is hamper both divisions because of the lack of solid focus on either. This then led to WWE committing the same error I discussed with the men’s tag team scene in throwing together teams.
Suddenly, Rose & Brooke were teaming, as was Lana & Naomi. Asuka teamed with Flair, Banks teamed with Bayley, and Banks even teamed with Belair to challenge for the Women’s Tag Team Championship before their scheduled match at WrestleMania.
To further illustrate the absurdity, Asuka went from feuding with Charlotte Flair to winning the Tag Team Championship with her to losing them to facing Ripley to finally facing Flair and Ripley. Before that, Bayley and Sasha Banks were champions and then feuding over the Women’s Championship.
Now, at least on Friday nights, WWE righted their course a bit by focusing a lot on the Women’s Championship feud between Bayley and Bianca Belair. Monday nights were helped by having Ripley introduced on Raw, and Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler in tag team feuds while they were the titleholders. Hopefully, WWE maintains some distance between the two divisions, though the recent cuts make that more difficult.
The most prudent move would be to unify the titles and have arguably the deepest women’s division in any non-women’s promotion focus on getting that proverbial #1 headband, Afro Samurai style.
This should allow for a greater focus on developing the individual wrestlers in the division. Regardless of whether they end up in a tag team or not, having distinct characters and personalities is only a positive for both the wrestlers and WWE.
Having one unified title should also curtail any itch to immediately book wrestlers to win titles, like the recent example of Ripley. I was actually OK with her winning the title so soon, but booking hasn’t helped her since her victory.
Further, analyzing from a more macro perspective, the best title wins are those where fans have been along for the journey. When there is no journey, it’s more difficult to connect with the wrestler. Needing title challengers because the roster is spread too thin due to multiple titles and the interconnectedness of the tag division helps lead to more rash decisions like thrusting someone to a title.
Patience can be a virtue for WWE; just look at the ongoing Reigns story. Having one women’s title, when the roster is already smaller than the men’s roster, should lead to more patient and long-term booking, giving fans a chance to take the ride with talent.
With a unified title the division would be headed by Belair, Flair, Ripley, Asuka, Banks, and Bayley, with a returning Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey (should they return) slotting right in based on their past accomplishments.
Using the same criteria as before where former champions are automatically considered yet not everyone listed will challenge for the title, other names would include: Alexa Bliss, Nia Jax, Shayna Baszler, Naomi, Carmella, and Natalya; Dana Brooke, Lacey Evans, Mandy Rose, Nikki Cross, Tamina, Liv Morgan, Reckoning, and if she chooses to return to the ring, Sonya Deville.
That is a deep women’s roster if they’re given the time to develop individual characters. As much as some people like Brooke, what is her character beyond someone who likes to flex? It’s not her fault as she’s doing what she’s asked, but she just hasn’t been given the time or space to develop beyond that.
Again, the issue is that most of those names are also intertwined in tag teams. The same is true for the men’s roster, but the larger number on the men’s side helps mitigate some of this effect.
This leads me to the next section.
The recent cuts exacerbated the women’s tag team division problem as two of those cut were members of tag teams. Ruby Riott teamed with Morgan as The Riott Squad going back a few years while Lana had been teaming with Naomi for months. Just like that, two teams were dismantled in a division that could use as many teams as possible.
One of the bits that made the social media rounds was that after the cuts, Smackdown has SEVEN active women’s wrestlers, while the Women’s tag team division has just two teams. It’s both an indictment of and credit to WWE that they can make these sorts of cuts and still have a lot of great talent.
Those seven are Bayley, Banks, Belair, Natalya, Tamina, Carmella, and Morgan. Reckoning/Mia Yim is rumored to be on the show soon, and Deville is in a non-wrestling authority role.
Of those seven, two are the current Tag Team Champion in Natalya & Tamina. Bayley & Banks are former titleholders, but it is rather unlikely they team again in the near future.
If we add the current teams from Raw to Natalya & Tamina, we have Rose & Brooke. That’s it, mainly because I’m not sure if Jax & Baszler will maintain as a team after the events of the past few weeks and with Baszler’s sights on Bliss.
HOWEVER, there are two arguments I can make to keep the division.
First, assuming the roster consolidation I’ve been proposing occurs, there are a lot of women who can form and develop as teams on their journey to a title match. While I lamented WWE’s default of pairing singles wrestlers, having a deeper division would allow for these formations because, in theory, they would have the time to develop and grow as a functioning team.
Second, tag team wrestling works. When done well, it also helps lay the foundation for singles stars. Nearly all of the greats of the past 30 years started out as a tag team wrestler, from Michaels to Steve Austin to Booker T to Edge to Batista to Kingston to Dean Ambrose to Reigns.
The lack of women on that list is because WWE failed to field a women’s tag team division for so long with the self-fulfilling prophecy of not having enough women on the roster.
As entangled as they were, one reason the Bayley-Banks feud was so captivating for much of 2020 was their interactions with each other as a team. Their real-life friendship was a draw, of course, but the simmering tensions between them as teammates eventually led to their implosion.
The other option for the women’s division is to introduce a secondary title, preferably something like a Television Championship. I believe introducing a TV title would be more effective without a tag team division, but assuming all titles are unified as I’ve argued, then having both a tag team and TV title would work.
Jumping back to AEW, WWE has a current and good model they can adopt for a TV title. Make the title mean something by giving it a distinct story and placement, occupying a similar space as the Intercontinental Championship as the workhorse title. Make the champion mean something by discussing their reign and the eventuality that they might challenge for the Women’s Championship.
One tweak I would make is to have the TV Championship defended every other week with #1 contender matches happening in-between. A monthly schedule would look like a contender match one week, title defense the next, contender match the next, then a title defense to close out the month.
Now, should the champion lose and a new one is crowned, the schedule would remain the same. The former champion would have to work back or, if a heel, weasel their way into a rematch.
I would also set some kind of parameter that if the TV Champion successfully defends their title for something like four to six months (eight to 12 defenses) consecutively, they automatically qualify for a Women’s Championship match. They would only relinquish the TV Championship should they defeat the Women’s Champion and become Champ-Champ for the briefest of times.
Now, why do I propose having a secondary women’s championship?
With the unified titles and rosters, this would provide another goal and provide more match time for women on the roster. Further, it would help many develop as individual wrestlers with distinct personalities that also show in the ring.
There are also an ample number of women already on the roster who could fill the role of Television Champion admirably right now as the talent and skill level of the women in WWE arguably has never been better.
Like with AEW, start with a tournament to crown the first champion. Of those remaining on the roster, Banks, Bayley, and Natalya might be the best options for first champion.
Ruby Riott would have been a PERFECT fit for a Television Championship division based around being an absolute ring general had she not been cut, but alas…
Instead of debating who could be the next Women’s Championship challenger because of a lack of options, introducing a TV title could lead to that debate in the reverse because there could always be a legitimate contender waiting. The TV title contender matches could also provide a perfect opportunity to introduce a talent from NXT, like Toni Storm, who would fit well in the TV title picture.
Speaking of NXT.
Right away, to be clear, I’m not saying there should be set dates for the twice-a-year moves to happen, though using the draft could be a default time for a move.
Further, “acts” could encompass teams and stables. When I proposed some moves about two weeks ago, I had two teams encompassing my five chosen acts. For another example, had Indus Sher remained a team, then that team plus their manager of Malcolm Bivens would have qualified as one act.
For a time, we knew who was going to be “called up” because they usually were champions in NXT ending their run, whether it was Bo Dallas or Kevin Owens or Asuka or Ember Moon or The Ascension or Authors of Pain or The Street Profits, etc.
Even then, there were the random moves of Braun Strowman, Elias, and Baron Corbin, all who spent little time in NXT.
There should be some kind of malleable criteria, not as set as the Hall of Fame criteria in your MyCareer playing WWE 2K.
Some accomplishments for this criteria could be a long title run; a multi-time champion; multiple title matches without a victory (a la Belair); and a clear connection with fans (like Rick Boogs), among others.
Sure, there should be room for those random moves (I could see L.A. Knight and Franky Monet on Raw the night after SummerSlam, for example), but a criterion helps everyone.
This would also help sell the chance for “NXT lifers,” those who want to remain in NXT, like Tomasso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano. Some wrestlers just fit better for the style of NXT than they do the other brands.
In another way, this also helps stop the dilution process, specifically to the impact of NXT wrestlers moving to Raw and Smackdown. Ripley was so hyped and deservedly so, but booking has hampered her stint on Monday nights. Priest has had a more subtle build, but booking also failed him in NOT capitalizing on his association with Bad Bunny.
Add those to recent underwhelming moves like Jaxson Ryker, Commander Azeez, Omos, Mace, T-Bar, Slapjack, Reckoning, Riddick Moss, and to a certain extent, Lee, the luster has worn off on NXT wrestlers moving to Monday and Friday nights.
Limiting the number of moves in a year and establishing some sort of criteria will help both restore the shine to NXT wrestlers making the lateral move while also strengthening NXT’s booking without causing it to revert to the hectic six months or so beginning last summer through the end of 2020.
If WWE really wants to maximize the effect of NXT wrestlers moving over, their best bet is to keep NXT strong rather than undercut them to satisfy the whims of a three-week booking window.
Next: WWE: Top Intercontinental Champions Of All Time
If you’ve made it to the end of the article, I applaud and thank you. You’ve shown more patience than WWE generally shows, Reigns storyline aside. While the section headers are no-brainers, I think the justifications I provided are accurate and doable.
However, I understand if you disagree or have further details to add. There’s nothing definitive we can turn to and say, “This will cure the ails,” so let me know what you think, including if I’m just overreacting to everything.