The WWE’s issue with booking champions is a tale as old as time. On last night’s episode of Monday Night Raw, both Sheamus and Nikki A.S.H. were the latest champions to fall victim to this ineffective brand of booking. This is a company which, years ago, adopted the mantra of “wins and losses don’t matter”. Unfortunately for them, wins and losses do matter. In any other sport, wins and losses are the difference between success and failure. Whereas, of course, there is the argument that professional wrestling is not a sport, it presents itself as such. Given the nature of pro wrestling being a universe containing thousands of pro wrestlers aiming to defeat rivals in hope of claiming championship glory, it is a sport – albeit a predetermined one. As winning is the basis of any sport, it should be so within the WWE, also. Let’s explore some of the apparent problems with consistently and constantly pinning your champions.
The Problem of 50/50 Booking: Nobody Gets Over
Right now, the recently returned John Cena looks and feels like more of a star than anybody else within the company. The reason for this is simple: for years, he was never the victim of the dreaded term “50/50 booking”. John Cena was booked as a triumphant babyface from his first championship run in 2005, right up to the winding down of his full-time career in the mid-2010s. Roman Reigns, among the full-time active WWE superstars, is booked similarly; he has not been pinned or submitted since 2019 and is the most over superstar in the company as a result. Bobby Lashley, current WWE Champion, is someone who was a victim of 50/50 booking prior to winning the WWE Championship from The Miz and, to an extent, has had to rebuild during this championship run – so that he can regain the legitimacy someone of his sheer star caliber deserves. Whereas not every champion can be booked in this manner, champions should not be losing pointless non-title matches every single week. Champions are not supposed to be the underdogs; they are the champions with the challenger in the role of underdog. Occasional champions can be utilized as underdogs – Miz is someone who makes sense as a weasel-like, underdog champion – but it should not be true of the majority of champions, especially babyface, fighting champions like Nikki A.S.H.
Diminishes the Value of the Championships
On the WWE main roster, the only two championships that feel special are the WWE and Universal Championships. This is a matter of presentation as, without 50/50 booking and the constant pinning of champions in non-title matches, any title could mean something. If you go back 20-30 years, one of the most special, beloved championships in the WWE was the Intercontinental Championship. Main event talent such as Macho Man Randy Savage, Rick Rude, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and more carried that championship in the early stages of their WWE runs. It was seen as the championship of future main event talent and they eventually reached the main event of the card because they were booked as strong, winning champions. For whatever reason, the WWE did away with this mentality long ago and, for decades, the secondary, Intercontinental and US Championships, have been involved in meaningless feuds where the champions are, quite simply, booked to lose non-title matches. The Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships especially should be booked like main event championships and to see the Raw Women’s Championship, the prize of the Raw women’s division, booked so poorly is very frustrating. Bianca Belair, however, is being booked as a strong champion and this should serve as a blueprint for other championships.
Rivals Should Be Kept Apart Until PPVs
When you are trying to sell something, you can give your audience a taste of it – a small, bite-sized freebie which leaves the buyer wanting more. What you don’t do, however, is give them the whole thing for free and then, one week later, give it to them again and expect them to come back for more at the market on Sunday. In the WWE, there is an apparent need within creative to do the same match over and over in the form of non-title matches. If they are booking a lengthy feud, the formula is: challenger pins the champion to earn a championship match, champion beats them at the PPV, challenger beats them in a non-championship match again and then comes another PPV match which goes either way. This, simply, should not be the formula. Effective booking would be for the challenger to earn their championship match by beating similarly positioned contenders – not by beating the champion once or twice and then earning a shot against the champion he or she has already beaten previously. Keeping the champion and challenger apart makes their eventual PPV match a must-see, potentially never before seen bout which can then be repeated at the following PPV. In boxing, challengers do not earn the right to face the champion by beating the champion. Perhaps more than anything, this is something the WWE desperately needs to move away from; moving closer to a more boxing like, sports based formula of prize-fighter booking.
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