The Two Sides of the Championship Coin: Comparing How AEW and WWE Treat their Titles

Seth Rollins and Orange Cassidy win Gold

This week, both WWE and AEW saw major championship changes as a big part of their main programs (Raw and AEW Dynamite). While both changes were treated with great reverence, the circumstances behind both highlight the differences between the two companies – both in how they treat their championships, as well as their respective storytelling.

Seth Rollins Wins the United States Championship

On this week’s episode of Monday Night Raw, Seth Rollins defeated Bobby Lashley to end his 100 day reign. The victory came thanks to the return of Brock Lesnar, who arrived prior to the match to attack Lashley. This allowed Seth, who suffered injuries during the Fightpit match, to end up having an advantage now that Lashley was weakened by Lesnar. Ultimately, he defeated Lashley to win the title.

This victory came after Lashley had successfully defended the title five times. Once on SummerSlam and the rest on Raw. In the midst of this reign, the Vince McMahon/Triple H creative turnover took place and starting with Lashley’s second defense, the importance and legacy of the United States title began to be highlighted more often. The number of defenses also radically increased as Lashley only had one defense in his first month (July), a full 4 week gap as Champion, followed by two defenses on the second (August) and third (September), before dropping it the second week of October. The defenses of Lashley’s reign had taken place once as an opening match (versus Rollins, September 19) and once as the main event (versus The Miz in a Cage Match, September 5).

Seth Rollins won the title on his second attempt at the title. Of course, Seth is one of the top stars of WWE as well as one of its most popular attractions, even despite being a heel. In short, his title victory has been treated as a big deal. As stated, it was his second attempt to dethrone Lashley and yet despite this, most notably, it comes just one day after losing to Matt Riddle in the main event of a Premium Live Event.

Orange Cassidy Wins The All-Atlantic Title

The same week, Orange Cassidy defeated PAC in the main event of AEW Dynamite to become the second ever All-Atlantic Champion. This ended PAC’s 108 day title reign; so, just to add to the comparisons, the previous reigns were close in length. The story of the match is actually the opposite of what happened between Rollins and Lashley, as PAC was stopped from cheating to retain when Danhausen took away the ringbell hammer. This allowed Cassidy to rally and eventually overcome PAC in the ring to defeat him.

PAC was able to have six successful defenses, 3 of which took place outside the native company of the championship. Two of those outside defenses were the main event of their respective cards, both taking place in Rev-Pro before also being broadcast on AEW Dark. The title also opened a show once, on AEW’s Battle of the Belts IV. The recent title change also took place in the main event of AEW Dynamite. After being crowned at AEW x NJPW Forbidden Door, PAC would not actually defend the title in AEW until All Out’s Zero Hour, 10 weeks later. And it would go a full 13 weeks before seeing a title defense take place on TV (Dynamite Grand Slam).

Orange Cassidy’s victory comes as a revival of his initial feud with PAC back in the early spring of 2020, when the two faced off at Revolution that year. The feud was revived after their respective trios, Death Triangle and Best Friends, faced off for the vacant Trios titles. Just like Seth, this was Cassidy’s second attempt at the title. With the first attempt being the same week as Seth’s own first challenge against Lashley. Also similar to Seth, Cassidy was also coming off a losing record, though the difference is that those losses were coming as a direct consequence of PAC cheating with the ring bell hammer. The story that culminated in this title change.

The Philosophical Differences

The circumstances between these two title changes are very similar. But also differ in big ways. For one, while Seth’s US Championship win was treated as a big deal, it was also clearly done due to circumstance. Lashley lost the title in order to set him up for a match against Brock Lesnar. While Seth won the title, it’s presented as him only winning it by chance. He’s a heel, after all.

In contrast, Orange Cassidy’s victory was very much the most important thing on his end – overcoming PAC’s cheating and then besting him in the ring. It wasn’t a title change that came due to some storyline circumstance. PAC isn’t moving into a more important feud or something of the sort. Cassidy’s celebration was the main event of the show.

WWE under Triple H has clearly made an effort to present championships outside of the Unified Universal WWE Championship as being important as well. They’re no longer treated as afterthoughts and their defenses are treated as major parts of their broadcasts. However, there is still clearly a sense of them being treated more as storytelling tools rather than major prizes. There are still times when title matches happen as soon as they are set up on TV. Is that wrong? That completely depends on who you ask and their preference. It’s not my personal preference.

While the All-Atlantic title was treated as a tertiary title, primarily showcased on external promotions and secondary programming, the title change in itself was presented as something major. It culminated a 2 year story based completely on the actions and results of the wrestling matches. The title was treated as the most important thing.

So Who’s Right And Who’s Wrong Here?

No one, it depends on preference. We could sit and judge but at the end of the day, it all boils down to personal preference and how you, the viewers, like your wrestling. AEW may have an abundance in titles, (13 in total, split between AEW + Ring of Honor titles) showcased on 4 weekly programs (excluding outside titles, as while these may see defenses within AEW, are granted by external promotions that book AEW talent.), but they choose to acknowledge some of those outside titles, with some even changing hands on AEW TV, the most notable being the Impact World Championship.

WWE currently has 12 active titles (not counting the 24/7 Championship, which may have been scrapped) between 3 programs (Raw, SmackDown, NXT) – with the titles assigned to these specific programs, meaning there is much more organization between them,. Additionally, the majority of the titles help shape the identities of the three respective brands, as well as setting up the figureheads of each program. WWE treats title matches as important, but also does not shy away from the fact that they’re primarily storytelling devices. They shape and motivate the wrestlers to act in certain ways. In contrast to AEW where the titles are the story, point blank, more often than not.

At least they both know how to make matches and changes appear meaningful, with both doing so with relative success these days, especially now with the big creative changes over in WWE. That wasn’t always the case in American pro wrestling.

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