On Raw this week, 11th of July, Dean Ambrose made a pretty good point. He said he likes to have fun, he likes to have a joke and enjoy himself, but that he, himself isn’t a joke champion. I heaved a sigh of relief. This is something I’ve been worrying about since Dean got the championship, because he’s been played for laughs an awful lot recently, and that’s something WWE have taken to doing with their title holders.
Part of the reason why the Intercontinental Title and the United States Championship don’t hold the prestige they used to is that they’ve been tossed around from guy to guy like they’re worthless, those title matches never main event pay-per-views anymore, and that the feuds behind the matches for the titles aren’t taken seriously. There’s nothing like a feud run off something other than bad blood to make a match look silly, and this is in a company where Edge and Booker T had WrestleMania matches over shampoo.
Of course, silliness is to be expected in professional wrestling, and even more so in the era of sports entertainment and PG television; things can’t all be blood and murder, because that’s no fun. And, of course, eventually you’d run out of wrestlers. But Dean’s championship run started with all logic saying he’d be the one holding it at the end of the night, all storytelling leading us in that direction, but leaving some of us with misgivings about how it would be handled.
To hear Dean say that he isn’t a joke, and he refuses to be a joke champion – that’s great to hear, that makes us think that WWE are taking this run seriously. There was a lot of worry online that Dean was only being a placeholder champion, as we learned of Roman’s suspension the following week, and that this was to be a short-term thing until Vince’s favourite guy gets back from his little slap on the wrist month off. It looks like that might not be the case, and that’s brilliant to hear. Dean’s title run has been incredibly fun so far, and it’s exciting to think we could see a lot more of it.
Speaking of Roman Reigns, the fact that they’re talking about his suspension on TV is a pretty interesting thing. Of course, you could say, what are they supposed to do when everyone knows why he’s not there? Kayfabe is well and truly dead, we all have the internet, and despite wrestlers still being interviewed on talk shows as their characters, and not as themselves, we all know that when a wrestler is outside of the ring, their deeds are their own. So, sure, you could argue that there was no way that WWE could afford not to address Roman’s wellness policy violation, and you’d almost be correct.
The reason they have to address it is because they’re keeping him in the title match triple threat at Battleground. Were they to take him out and just say, within kayfabe, that he’s injured, or taking a leave of absence, the crowd might be angry that we weren’t hearing the truth, but we’d all be happy that we felt he was being properly punished. Losing a title match spot, after a month off TV, with no pay? That’s got to sting, and we’d all feel that was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, WWE have chosen to keep Roman in the match, to keep it a triple threat, and that’s where the difficulties come in.
In order for a feud to look good going into a big PPV title match, the opponents have to interact with each other. This is pretty hard to do when one of your stars is, by your own rules, not allowed to be on television. They got round this pretty handily by splicing old footage together for the Rollins Report, and that’s a fairly good idea – it reminds us of Roman’s relationship with the other characters who’ll be in the ring with him, while making him look foolish because of the way the footage is put together. But we’re missing a crucial point in this, which is where Dean stands. We know Seth Rollins will assassinate Roman’s character to the ends of the earth, and that’s great, but Dean’s been pretty silent on how he feels about the entire thing. You’d think, as Roman’s kayfabe buddy, and guy he was calling ‘brother’ not that long ago, he’d have some feelings on the matter, be they defending his friend or lambasting him, but he’s been curiously quiet. Sure, he comes out to trash talk at Seth when the roasting of Roman gets a bit much, but he doesn’t exactly stick up for him.
With one person missing from the build up to the triple threat, the other two are having to work twice as hard to generate the same sort of interest, and that’s got to be weighing on both of them as we get closer to Battleground. People are already talking about Roman taking the title back from this match, which would be such a poor move on WWE’s part that I almost can’t believe they’d do it. No build up, no interest going into the feud, and a man who’s already unpopular with the crowd? It can’t be done, surely. It mustn’t be done. If WWE want their three top guys – because that’s exactly what these three have become – to be respected equally and to shine, then they need to keep that title on Dean Ambrose. A fighting champion who holds his prize like it means something is exactly what we need, and exactly what we want.