With the Elimination Chamber behind us, we’re on the edge of the fastlane toward WrestleMania with one world title match finally set for the big show to the surprise of few, while another raises more questions for what’s next.
Battle for the Head Spot at the Table
WWE promotes the Universal Championship as its premier title, so it should be little to no surprise they made the sensible decision with Roman Reigns as the titleholder to presumably run Reigns vs. Edge as the second night’s main event at WrestleMania.
Although, the Elimination Chamber match itself with the Universal title shot at stake was great, it was also a little anti-climactic when the result was never really in question. It served to build on Reigns’ current character as a vicious, ego-obsessed (yet whiny) heel, but the opening of Sunday’s show served only to set up the post-match angle with Edge attacking Reigns with a spear which Roman sold like he was struck by an Andre-sized battering ram.
With that set though, now several weeks out we can begin building toward their match in earnest, and given the amount of attention to detail Reigns’ matches get with Heyman on-side, Edge and his track record of selling builds to matches and Reigns’ own work over the last few months their feud is the main event match to run for the show (and for Smackdown) as WWE shifts into its deal with NBC Universal and Peacock next month. No other option on the table was truly going to create buzz for the program, so WWE made the right call.
Smackdown is the flagship show now, regardless of what the company might sell you regarding Raw. Smackdown is the show aired on Fox, and regardless of any call for parity between both nights, Sasha Banks and Bianca Belair should main event whichever night doesn’t feature Edge and Reigns and it’s a pure indictment of Monday Night Raw’s booking and trajectory that there are no other options as much as it is Banks and Belair flatly deserving it. These two matches deserve main event slots.
What matters now though with Edge and Reigns is how they build the match and sell the story — moreover, what the story even is because that’s always the most important component of a match. Right away we need to know why Edge chose Reigns, and it can’t simply feed into Reigns’ “Head of the Table” moniker. The best stories in wrestling are ones that are made personal, so we need to know what Reigns said to Edge on Friday. It can’t simply rehash the tone of Orton and Edge from 2020 either, and I don’t suspect it will with Heyman aligned with this story.
There are two primary realities here. First, Edge’s improbable comeback sings the same tune as HBK’s in 2002. We’re perhaps a little more comfortable now with Edge being in the ring, but realistically no one wants to see Edge reinjure his neck. That needs to be part of the story though. Look at AEW as an example with Sting at the moment. For weeks now if you’ve watched the show, they’ve run back the same angle points on consecutive weeks, and they ran those points into the ground. They’ve shot some vignettes, done some run-ins, but it’s all been the same. Who cares? Most companies are guilty of this, but that’s how you go from, “It’s STTTTTTIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNG!!!!!,” to “hey, it’s Sting.” It wasn’t until Brian Cage powerbombed Sting last week where the stakes were upped, where some gravity and heat were added to the match coupled with the realization that Sting could be seriously hurt at Revolution. If you know Sting’s neck history, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of Show A or Show B, that powerbomb makes you cringe. It makes your hair stand up as a wave of nausea hits you because you know how fragile these injuries are. It was a serious risk, but it worked. That’s storytelling though, because we care about Sting’s health (and thankfully he’s OK). The same needs to be done with Edge, and it needs to happen sooner than later. You could venture toward having Edge sell a piledriver if he’s up for it and it can be done safely.
Edge’s neck and his story need to be front and centre because Reigns’ heel arc in and of itself isn’t enough; however Edge is an optimum choice to play off it and maximize its effectiveness. Edge needs to disrespect him. Edge’s story and his desire to return and fight and claw and win needs to be the story, even if the result is him losing because that isn’t the point. Edge’s tale is a clear-cut comeback story, and Reigns is the perfect foil in more ways than one to counteract it by being a brutal, remorseless, calculating monster without a shred of compassion for Edge as a character or his family. The reason why this will be a great main event is because they’re going to be able to tell the story that needs to be told, and if they do it right it wouldn’t be terribly daring to call it a potential classic.
And if Edge wins, it’s a timeless WrestleMania moment. It’s a win-win scenario.
That was all sarcasm.
Without getting into the actual situation with the WWE title just yet, the well-travelled Money in the Bank contract of 2020 never at any point could be taken seriously while Otis held it because no one could seriously buy into the idea of him toppling Drew McIntyre, Randy Orton, Braun Strowman or the Fiend, much less Reigns, or whomever else encircled the orbit of the world titles throughout the last year. Either title would be instantly devalued because you could never view him beyond a comedy trope. It wasn’t until Miz took the briefcase that you could at least watch and say, “I don’t like it, but I can at least see it happening,” whether or not you totally agreed with the choice. Miz still holds the credibility that comes from having been on the WWE roster as long as he has.
The problem with Miz as the briefcase holder is it never seemed like there was ever an endgame in motion, even now that we can retroactively tie the story threads together between Drew, Miz and the Hurt Business. Nonetheless, The Miz is once again WWE champion, and naturally given the time of year it is the next questions that come forward and the answers that arrive from them define what their next steps should be.
The Miz as champion is problematic because it’s difficult to take him seriously as a threat on Raw to the legit challengers to the WWE world title. Truthfully there’s a reason it’s been over a decade since Miz last held any world title, and it comes down to his credibility as a mainstay near the top of the card while never quite getting over the hump. He’s been a great midcard heel these last years and did some great work in rehabilitating the health of the Intercontinental title, but were he a legitimate challenger to say, present day Roman Reigns or Drew McIntyre — or even Bobby Lashley — then we’d have seen him outright challenging for the titles, getting into the mix more frequently and building up his main event character rather than sabotaging Otis and Mandy’s relationship throughout 2020, and trying litigate his way into getting the MitB briefcase before ultimately winning it.
Taking it a step further, it’s additionally difficult to take Miz seriously as champion given how he won. Admittedly there have been points in the past where the soon-to-be former champion was beat down by multiple people before the briefcase holder arrived, yet these circumstances saw Miz secure the championship after McIntyre competed in a 6-man Elimination Chamber match, him getting trampled by Lashley, and then having to compete in a short match with an exhausted opponent. It highlights the undertone of the briefcase, yes, but it also undermines his championship credibility as it has most who’ve got their reigns through this method with few exceptions. It also backs the champion, Miz in this case, into a corner where underhanded tactics define their wins; that’s the mark of a good heel, yes, but when those tactics are the primary trait over credibility in how you’re winning matches its effect waters down how you look at him.
When you consider this, there’s an extremely stark contrast in how we look at Roman Reigns vs. Miz, or Kenny Omega vs. Kota Ibushi and so on; one cheated their opponents out of the title, the others took the titles and there’s ingrained, increased stock in how we view those reigns because of how they were accomplished irrespective of face and heel dynamics. True, Miz and Omega are different types of heels from Reigns but it no less puts them behind the 8-ball from the word “go” to the point of being hampered by it. “How” matters.
In terms of where this leaves the WWE title as we head into WrestleMania, that’s not going to be resolved before Raw next week, which is fine as there’s still comfortable time to wait. But for the moment, it isn’t looking great. On Raw Monday what most suspected became true as Lashley demanded his title match as promised by Miz for helping him win the title at Elimination Chamber. The waters muddied a bit when Braun Strowman lumbered down to the ring and demanded his own title shot, dangling the threat of a clustered-up triple threat match on Raw next week; this thankfully didn’t happen as Lashley won their match cleanly later in the night to determine whether Strowman could enter.
Next week The Miz and Lashley battle for the WWE title. McIntyre, who was oddly absent from Raw, is surely going to involve himself, if not at the very least making himself known regardless of the result at the end of the match. There are some scenarios we could see happen.
First, and most obviously, we could see a triple threat match between Drew, Miz and Lashley at WrestleMania for the WWE world title, and if Miz were to at least connive his way into outlasting onslaughts that long it would help his stock more than getting howitzered next week by Lashley outright. You can easily set this up by having McIntyre attack both next week. Which leads into the second likely scenario: through one of three avenues: either Drew costs Miz the title, Bad Bunny costs the Miz the title and Drew challenges Lashley right after, or Lashley wins cleanly, and gets challenged by Drew. These all result in singles matches.
Tying back to Miz working from behind as champion, if it happens Lashley needs to win cleanly for his own sake. Not being the biggest Lashley fan ever, his work over the last 6 months has been undeniably his best work since his return to WWE — perhaps ever. Partnering with MVP has been a perfect fit. But beyond that his physicality and moves have all complemented his style, and beyond that he has been booked strongly the whole time. It would undercut him to win a world title — his first in WWE — any way other than by destroying Miz, never mind the odd optics of beating Strowman one week and needing assistance to mop the floor with Miz the next.
The Miz has worked in WWE since 2006, for almost 15 years. He’s a veteran of 18 years. He has worked hard, improved far beyond what anyone could have expected of him from the outset, and is clearly one of the best talkers in wrestling. But the question you have to ask is whether or not he’s world champion calibre. Some will argue he is, others less so, but an undeniable portion of the debate is his time to be a world champion is past insofar as he should have been contending at his recent peak 2 to 3 years ago, not now when he’s being setup as a transitional champion.
That’s how history will look at it when you look at the list of reigning champions and the days they held their belts. They won’t see the context of Miz being a two time champion, or the work he put in, anymore than you can look at Finn Balor’s Universal title reign. You will see that it says “1 day.” Eight days. Three weeks, however long Miz is champion. Although this may anger some given his first reign, but the WWE title has been so undervalued in its surrounding narratives over the last several years (think of any time it hasn’t been utilized in a main event slot since 2016, or when it was in an undercard spot a la CM Punk) that it deserves better than Miz at WrestleMania season given his 2020 booking, and he deserves better than that to be put into this odd position given his sacrifices to the company. It’s on par with Bray Wyatt’s WWE title win.
Hopefully the prevailing narratives surrounding Miz are wrong across the IWC, including this one, and they give him a serious run where it departs from the goofy, trope-like characterization of the last year. It may not be the best choice, but much like Lashley he’s also earned a chance again even if the “white hot” moment has passed. Nonetheless, Miz is not the ideal choice to lead the Raw brand into WrestleMania as the Peacock deal takes effect opposite Drew McIntyre or Lashley on their own.
This leads us back into the first scenario, that being a triple threat. Anything can happen next week and we could easily (and most likely see) McIntyre interfere given his absence this week and lay waste to both Miz and Lashley. Through this route, you at least don’t damage Miz with a short reign, loop Lashley into the title picture beyond a happenstance callback and Drew gets his revenge on both building toward WrestleMania. It isn’t a perfect scenario, but it feels like the most probable with no other real options left on the table.
Hot Tag: A Raw Indictment
It’s a workable scenario, but its planning in contrast to the Smackdown title pictures is also an indictment of Raw’s planning and further highlights the focus Smackdown receives over Raw where both the WWE and Raw Women’s titles (more so the latter) have been afterthoughts. It shows in Smackdown’s logic, reason and overall execution.
Asuka’s feuds have been inconsistent with the last serious singles matches she took part in being against Zelina Vega (Clash of Champions/Raw, Sept. 27-28), Sasha Banks (Survivor Series) and Shayna Baszler (Dec. 7). And yes, we’re omitting those Alexa Bliss matches. Additionally, take Randy Orton getting involved in one of the matches versus Bliss as an example that emphasizes how serious the women’s title has been taken when Asuka isn’t preoccupied with the tag titles.
The WWE title itself has been shown slightly more respect, although it was hot potatoed ahead of Survivor Series for no real reason. Them choosing now to cash-in either means they’ve planned this long term, or like dogs chasing cars they’re just “doing things” in the absence of oversight, and that’s no way to book what should be your definitive world title. No matter who holds it after next week, McIntyre, Lashley and Miz all deserve better than that heading into the most important WWE show of the year.