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Drew McIntyre still has not headlined a pay-per-view as WWE champion

Drew McIntyre has been the top male babyface in WWE throughout 2020. He began the year by winning the Royal Rumble match, and then he defeated Brock Lesnar for the WWE championship at WrestleMania 36. Since winning the top prize in the promotion, McIntyre has gone on to successfully defend the gold on all four WWE pay-per-view events, including a victory over Randy Orton at SummerSlam.

That’s all well and good, but I happen to be a wrestling fan with a strange fascination for keeping track of which wrestlers are chosen for pay-per-view (PPV) main event matches. It always stands out when the WWE champion doesn’t headline a PPV. McIntyre did main event WrestleMania 36 against Big Show Lesnar, but he was the challenger on that night. Drew has not headlined any subsequent PPV as the defending WWE champion.

Here is a list of the each WWE PPV since WrestleMania 36, along with the corresponding main event match. McIntyre’s opponent is also listed, as well as some relevant context:

Money in the Bank 2020

  • Main event: Men and Women’s Money in the Bank ladder matches
  • McIntyre’s opponent: Seth Rollins
  • Context: Rollins was booked in a WWE championship match despite coming off a loss to Kevin Owens at WrestleMania 36.

Backlash 2020

  • Main event: Edge vs. Randy Orton
  • McIntyre’s opponent: Bobby Lashley
  • Context: Two months prior to this, Lashley lost against Aleister Black in less than eight minutes at WrestleMania 36. He received a sudden push with a new Full Nelson finisher in the build up to Backlash. Meanwhile, Edge vs. Orton was promoted as The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever.

The Horror Show at Extreme Rules

  • Main event: Braun Strowman vs. Bray Wyatt (Swamp Fight)
  • McIntyre’s opponent: Dolph Ziggler
  • Context: After losing a feud against Otis, Ziggler was traded from SmackDown to Raw. He was immediately granted a WWE championship match against McIntyre, his former tag partner.

SummerSlam 2020

  • Main event: Braun Strowman vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (Universal championship match)
  • McIntyre’s opponent: Randy Orton
  • Context: Orton was pushed all summer long as the top heel on Raw, punting legends like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels, but it wasn’t enough to main event over The Fiend and a surprise return from Roman Reigns.

None of McIntyre’s matches on the first three events felt like they were important enough to main event the card. Money in the Bank’s big attraction was a cinematic ladder match at WWE headquarters. Backlash included “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” between Edge and Orton, which was always the clear main event. Extreme Rules didn’t have an obvious main event match, but being booked in a WWE championship match against mid-carder Dolph Ziggler is a surefire way to not headline a card.

SummerSlam was the card where McIntyre seemingly had the best chance to wrestle in the main event, because WWE’s top babyface (McIntyre) was booked against the top heel (Orton). But there was a big angle planned with the return of Roman Reigns, and that was enough to keep Drew out of the final match of the night.

This actually happened last year as well. Kofi Kingston won the WWE championship at WrestleMania 35 (unlike Drew, his title win was not the main event), and then Kingston held the title into October without ever headlining a PPV as the defending champ. This included two championship defenses on PPV against Dolph Ziggler, because of course it did. Kingston then defended the title against Randy Orton at SummerSlam, in a match that did not have a winner.

So, what does this mean for Drew? Unlike Kingston’s case from 2019, I don’t think this means that Vince McMahon is not sold on McIntyre as the top star in the promotion. The main difference between Kofi and Drew is that McIntyre has the big win over Brock Lesnar, whereas Kingston was presented as being nowhere in Brock’s league. That’s all you need to know to figure out what McMahon thinks of McIntyre in comparison to Kingston.

I think Drew’s lack of main events as the defending champ is largely a reflection of Raw’s dearth of top heels to match him up against. When WWE did finally pair him up with a hot heel for SummerSlam, the match took a backseat to the return of Roman Reigns.

Drew’s absence from the main event is also related to cinematic matches becoming a top focus in WWE during the pandemic era; the main events of Money in the Bank, Backlash, and Extreme Rules were all recorded well ahead of time and did not air live.

The window is now closing on McIntyre’s chances of headlining a PPV during his current WWE championship reign. It looks like he’ll miss the next PPV, Payback 2020 (Aug. 30), as a result of a potential (kayfabe) skull fracture via a whiffed punt from Randy Orton. Assuming McIntyre returns in September, he’ll have to compete with Roman Reigns and The Fiend for PPV main event spots, at least in the short-term. With Roman Reigns back in the fold, Drew McIntyre is no longer the top babyface in WWE.

What do you make of Drew’s inability to main event a PPV as the defending WWE champion?

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