Patience is a must when it comes to WWE storylines.
The term “let it play out”, while nearly being universally despised, exists for a reason. Not every detail of a story or WWE’s long-term creative plans for a certain Superstar, or for the purposes of this article a certain Championship belt, are going to be known right away.
They want to hook you. They want you to tune in to the next show to see what happens and have your questions answered.
That said. Enough time has passed now, and when it comes to WWE’s top prizes, there are a number of questions that still need definitive answers. The most prevalent being, what in the world is the plan for the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships?
Bianca Belair was selected by the Blue Brand in the first round of the WWE Draft three weeks ago today, kickstarting the conundrum that the creative team has yet to deal with.
Belair is the reigning Raw Women’s Champion, and as of this writing, is the longest reigning Women’s Champion in WWE of the past 17 years. The E-S-T is an integral part of Triple H’s reported goal of modernizing the company’s record books.
In the past couple of years we’ve seen the Usos shatter the New Day’s previous record for the longest Tag Team Title reign. Jimmy and Jey held the gold for a dominating 622 days before finally losing to Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens at WrestleMania 39.
Every wrestling fan, casual or hardcore, knows what type of run Roman Reigns is on at the moment. Argue all you want about whether Cody Rhodes should have dethroned the Tribal Chief the same weekend his cousin’s dropped the tag titles, but it didn’t happen.
The beat goes on for the Head of Table as he’s going to waltz to 1000 days as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion. The first man to do that in my lifetime, almost to the day actually. Andre the Giant ended Hulk Hogan’s four year reign as World Champion, albeit in controversial fashion, on February 8th, 1988.
65 days later, on a much less significant date in history, Rick Ucchino was born. Just putting things in perspective here. Roman Reigns is about to do something that no one else has done in well over three decades.
Also, to rub salt in the wounds of some fans out there, Roman has already more than doubled the accumulative time his very famous cousin spent as World Champion in just this one title reign. The Rock won the WWE Championship eight times and the WCW World Championship twice - he only held on those titles for 468 days combined, believe it or not.
To reiterate, Roman Reigns has currently been the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion for 991 days. Although, there’s a major issue with that word, undisputed, now.
As soon as Seth Rollins or AJ Styles is crowned the new World Heavyweight Champion, Roman Reigns will cease to be the Undisputed Champion. If the WHC is supposed to the Raw equivalent to SmackDown’s WWE Universal Championship, than the title of undisputed needs to be dropped.
Another clarification that needs to be made once and for all is whether the WHC is the company’s second World Championship, or its third.
When Roman Reigns unified the WWE and Universal Championships by defeating Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 38, that should have been the end of the debate. There shouldn’t have been a debate at all, actually. It was a title unification match. End of story.
But in the months that followed, even though neither title belt has been defended separately, there was no consolidation. No new prize was introduced. Roman has continued to hold up both Championships in his thirst for acknowledgement. His trophies. His proof that he finally and definitively buried the Beast beneath his table.
WWE’s own website only added to the confusion. Until quite recently, the Champions page had Roman listed separately as the WWE Champion and the Universal Champion. Not the unified Undisputed WWE Universal Champion. That has since changed.
The separate lineages of the WWE and Universal Championships still remain on the website, which is understandable. Without carrying the Universal Championship separately first, Roman’s official reign would be far shorter than where it currently stands.
Expectations should be for the Universal Championship to simply be phased out whenever Roman does eventually lose, with the new WHC serving the purpose that it once had. But again, that’s if the WWE and Universal belts collectively are one Championship.
Paul Heyman’s recent promo on Raw regarding the title situation, sure made it sound like Roman’s belts are still considered separate entities. This is one debate that the company needs to settle, but it’s very likely that won’t happen until after this historic reign comes to an end.
At least we do know that the Undisputed Tag Team Championships will stay united. That is one question that WWE has answered. Michael Cole on commentary last week declaring that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens will be eligible to float between brands to defend their titles as long as they have them.
This despite the Usos actually defending the Raw and SmackDown Tag Team Championships separately at times during their run.
Outside of what the Bloodline has accomplished, it’s hard to look past what GUNTHER has done for the Intercontinental Championship. With the full support of Triple H behind him, the Ring General has restored the workman’s title to its former glory with the most significant reign since, arguably, Cody Rhodes held the gold during his first tenure with the company.
Mustafa Ali is a remarkable talent and 100 percent deserves his long overdue opportunity to be in the ring with GUNTHER at Night of Champions. He’s going to give it a valiant effort and put on a great show, but in the end he’s likely going to get swatted out of the air with the full force of a bug hitting a windshield on the highway.
GUNTHER’s march toward the Honk Tonk Man’s 453 day mark as Intercontinental Champion will continue, and honestly, he should get there. The Ring General has future World Champion written all over him, but there’s no need to rush him to that spot on the card.
If the end game with his current reign as Champion is not to shatter another record that’s existed since the late 80’s, then Sheamus should have just pinned Drew McIntyre at ‘Mania to finally win the gold that’s eluded him in his no doubt Hall of Fame career.
That brings us to Bianca Belair. Not only has the E-S-T taken what was once considered a spectacular in-ring performance and turned it into a standard, but outside of the ring she has become a fantastic ambassador for WWE, a remarkable role model for young women and men everywhere, and the shining light of representation in the company.
In addition to holding onto the Raw Women’s Championship for more days than anybody who came before her, Belair’s reign is the longest for any Black Superstar in WWE history. That’s any title, male or female. She broke that record earlier this year when she surpassed MVP’s 342 day reign as United States Champion, that came to an end in early 2008.
410#ESTofWWE pic.twitter.com/Gzi14UehKZ— Bianca Belair (@BiancaBelairWWE) May 18, 2023
Belair is also less than a month now from passing Trish Status as the longest reigning Women’s Champion of modern wrestling. The only exceptions being the untouchable reign of the Fabulous Moolah, who is credited by WWE for holding the gold from 1956-1984, and Rockin’ Robin’s 501 day run with the Women’s title in late 80’s and early 90’s.
Adding onto the historical significance of Belair’s reign as the Raw Women’s Champion is, much like the situation the company has with Roman Reigns, that they have the opportunity to truly make somebody by having them be the one to knock Bianca off the top of the mountain.
That’s a really long way of saying there is absolutely no way that WWE can end Belair’s run with a title swap. And the company may have realized that, because if a swap was in the works, surely it would have happened already.
Here we are, though. Multiple weeks into the new brand split and the status quo of both Bianca and SmackDown Women’s Champion Rhea Ripley, who was selected by Raw No. 1 overall on night two of the WWE Draft, remains unchanged.
It was understandable, if not entirely forgivable, why WWE wouldn’t make a significant move with the women’s title belts a week out from Backlash. Although, Belair was defending her gold against IYO SKY, who was also drafted to SmackDown. That title was staying on Friday night’s regardless.
However, there has not been a peep regarding the future of the Raw or SmackDown Women’s Championships on any episode of television that has succeeded WWE’s extremely profitable trip to Puerto Rico. In fact, both Belair and Ripley are moving on to their next title defenses - one of which has already been made official.
Last week on SmackDown, Asuka returned to television for the first time since her WrestleMania loss and blinded the E-S-T by spraying her with mist infused with hot chili pepper oil. Now fans will be treated to a ‘Mania rematch at Night of Champions.
#WWERaw Women's Champion @BiancaBelairWWE will defend against @WWEAsuka at #WWENOC! pic.twitter.com/wjK9gF5Lo8— WWE (@WWE) May 18, 2023
That’s right folks. Bianca Belair, a SmackDown Superstar, will be defending her Raw Women’s Championship against fellow SmackDown Superstar, Asuka.
Apologies if that sentence gave you a headache. Take comfort in the fact that it was a little painful to write.
Rhea Ripley meanwhile does not have a match at Night of Champions, but it sure looks like Natalya is on deck while the Nightmare keeps a close eye on what’s going on between Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus from afar.
All of those women - yeah, you already know - are Raw Superstars.
So, what’s the plan WWE? How many more weeks is the company going to carry on with the wrong Women’s Championship belt being represented on each show?
Could the creative team simply be waiting for Belair to pass Trish Stratus’ record title run first before executing the dreaded swap option? Or is Asuka going to be the one to finally defeat Belair in Saudi Arabia and lessen the blow of an exchange?
The argument could be made however, that the entire point of doing a swap would be to further tease a future showdown between Bianca Belair and Rhea Ripley - which has to be the betting favorite to headline one of the two WrestleMania nights in Philadelphia next year.
Maybe, just maybe, the company is doing what it should have done years ago and that is rebrand the title belts. Making them non-specific to each brand, like the Men’s World Championships have always been, would be the permanent solution to making sure a situation like this never happens again.
Having new Championship belts commissioned, however, takes time. Everything from the design to the actual assembly could take several weeks, if not months. Honestly, the creative meetings to simply decide what to name each belt could be as tumultuous as a family of seven deciding where to go for dinner while on vacation.
Depending on when WWE made the decision to move Belair to SmackDown, they could be stalling for time well into the summer.
The more likely answer, unfortunately, is that WWE has not decided what they are going to do yet. It appears as though when it came to the reshuffling the rosters in the draft this year, it was a classic case of shoot first and ask questions later. A philosophy that has actually be advocated for by yours truly in the past - à la crowning Sami Zayn at Elimination Chamber.
Whatever direction they decide to go in, hopefully the creative team makes up its mind soon. It may not seem like a huge deal to some, but the longer things like this drag on, the more doors to hate, negativity and criticism get opened up.
Some in the media have already declared that the brand split is dead before the second episode of SmackDown, with the new rosters, has even aired.
Creating stability from the top, by firmly solidifying the status of your main Championships will go a long way with the audience. It’s not a high bar that’s being set. Make things makes sense. Right now, they just don’t, and the audience is left wondering... why?
What do you guys think? Let us know in the comment section below. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.