Once upon a time, the Intercontinental Championship meant something. In WCW, the United States Championship was similarly prestigious. Years before, the National Wrestling Alliance World Junior Heavyweight Championship was a vital tool for smaller, albeit highly-popular grapplers.
Sometime in the late 1990s, the WWE lost sight of the importance of their mid-card titles. The straps that once were used to elevate (and boost the confidence) of young wrestlers were all but forgotten. In the years that followed, the belts changed hands easily and often, and saw their value strongly diminished.
Perhaps 2014 is the year the tide turns. For the first time in what feels like a long time, the WWE is pushing its mid-card belts.
The Sheamus-Cesaro program over the U.S. title has been a refreshing change of pace. Their hard-hitting, competitive matches have boosted the notion that the United States Championship is something worth fighting for – and caring about. The same can be said for Bad News Barrett, the WWE’s current Intercontinental Champion. Barrett won the title on May 4, defeating Big E in East Rutherford at Extreme Rules. Barrett is better on promos than he is in the ring, but he continues to improve and his “bad news” gimmick has gotten him over. A long title reign with plenty of defenses won’t hurt him either.
Amazingly, the mid-card belts are finally being defended on a regular basis, both on television and (gasp!) PPV. The previous champions, Big E and Dean Ambrose, often went months at a time without defending their gold. Ambrose in particular had a stretch from Oct. to Feb. where his U.S. title wasn’t defended once.
If nobody ever challenges for a title, it leaves the audience with the impression that said belt is undesirable. If nobody is interested in winning it, why should the viewer care about the belt or the wrestler holding it? Now that the titles are being decided on a regular basis, the dynamic is completely different.
Barrett will put his IC title on the line tonight against Rob Van Dam on WWE Main Event, which is only available on the WWE Network. This will likely be the last match in their program. I expect Barrett to retain, and Van Dam will likely take time off towards the end of the month.
Who knows how long it will last, but I for one am thrilled that both the U.S. and IC titles are finally being utilized. It goes back to an old question: why even have the belts if you aren’t going to use them?