When John Cena introduced the U.S. Open Challenge in 2015, it was a novel concept that produced entertaining matches and spotlighted several promising superstars. And what helped make it compelling was that one of WWE’s secondary titles, the United States Championship, was on the line, lending credence that a title switch could happen to help elevate a new star.
Since then, open title challenges have become a thing in WWE, whether it’s to put someone over as a noble and active champion or just a lazy excuse to fill time on television. Either way, fans seem to love it, hence why WWE keeps returning to that well.
And while it’s a fitting concept for WWE’s lesser championships, it’s absolutely ridiculous when applied to a world title, which is what’s happening this Monday on Raw when Seth Rollins defends his second-to-Roman Reigns prize against Damian Priest.
I get that WWE is leaning heavily into promoting Seth Rollins as a fighting champion and that this is a vehicle to get him over as such. Unquestionably, he and Priest will have an excellent showing despite being interrupted by multiple commercial breaks. Because that’s what it’ll be: glimpses of cool moves between several advertisements before Seth Rollins retains his runner-up trophy.
Fans can rail on Roman Reigns for being a part-time champion all they want, which is unfortunate considering how many times he gave them free title defenses on SmackDown throughout the pandemic. But when Reigns shows up to defend the Undisputed Universal Championship, it means something. Thanks to great storytelling, his matches have real stakes. Real stakes create drama, and drama produces superior television.
I like Damian Priest and believe he should be challenging for a world championship. But it should be in the main event of a premium live event following weeks of intense build, not as a response to a Twitter challenge days before a TV show.
As a traditionalist, I prefer a compelling storyline leading into a world title match, as it makes the bout more exciting and raises my emotional investment in the participants and the outcome. It’s even better when there’s even the slightest possibility the champ could be in danger, such as we saw with Roman Reigns and Sami Zayn at Elimination Chamber. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe such as an injury, Seth Rollins will be fine. He’s not losing the belt in his first title defense, and it’s certainly not happening on Raw.
Instead, WWE will burn through a worthy challenger they could’ve drawn money with at a significant time and place just to get fans to hoot and holler over Rollins, who they are clearly trying to distinguish from Reigns.
Well, WWE, congratulations, you’ve succeeded. While King Nothing serves empty championship calories to hungry fans, I patiently await with great anticipation for the next time the Undisputed Universal Champion defends his crown, giving us all the rich sustenance a world championship match truly deserves.