We’re well past Wrestlemania season at this point and the major stories are mostly wrapped up. The big events of the post-Wrestlemania episode of “Monday Night Raw” started the unofficial new year and brought with it some new talent, some new stories and some new ideas. One of these has me more interested than the others: John Cena’s weekly open challenges for the United States Title. Today we’re going to look at why this might be the best thing to happen to the title in years.
People have spent months talking about how to make the midcard titles mean more than they have in recent years. It’s no secret that both the United States and Intercontinental Titles have gone downhill in the last few years and something needed to change. Above all else, the title isn’t defended that often. Let’s take a look at some numbers from just this year alone.
In the ten days since Cena won the title, he has successfully defended it on TV twice. By comparison, counting the loss to Cena at “Wrestlemania XXXI”, the previous champion Rusev had defended the title twice in all of the year 2015 combined. In his entire reign, Rusev had a total of six defenses. That’s six defenses dating in roughly five months. Assuming the weekly defenses last and Cena holds the title, he will tie Rusev’s number of defenses on the “Monday Night Raw” after “Extreme Rules 2015.” In less than a month, Cena will tie the mark Rusev set in five months.
The worst part is that’s not just an issue with Rusev’s reign. A quick look back at the last five US Title reigns show us the following number of televised title defenses (including pay per view and WWE Network shows):
Sheamus – Seven defenses in about six months
Dean Ambrose – 14 defenses in just under 12 months
Kofi Kingston – Two defenses in about a month
Cesaro – 12 defenses in about eight months
Santino Marella – Six defenses in about five and a half months
That takes us back just over three years. In the span of three years and five champions, we’re lucky to get an average of a single televised title defense a month. Given the horrible lack of build to the majority of the title defenses these days, it was even rarer to find a title defense that actually felt like something special.
Now Cena’s defenses aren’t going to be able to be built up with just a random title challenger of the month, but that’s where we get to the second major point about the open challenge: it offers fresh matches. Let’s go back to those numbers for a bit and break them down a little bit. Here are the six title defenses for Rusev:
John Cena (twice) (2)
Dean Ambrose (2)
Jack Swagger (7)
Obvious writing off the battle royal, you might have noticed a number in parentheses. That number is the amount of time Rusev fought that person on television or pay per view in a singles match in the last year. Comparing these two Cena’s two defenses so far and counting the defenses towards the totals, Cena has fought Ambrose twice on TV/PPV in a year and Stardust once.
In other words, this series of challenges offers some fresh matchups. In the span of a year, Rusev fought Jack Swagger seven times and lost to him once. How is that supposed to be interesting? We get the concept: Rusev can beat Swagger and has done so several times. What would you rather see: a match you’ve seen several times in recent months with very little doubt as to who is going to win, or a match you’ve either never seen or might not have such an obvious ending.
Before someone calls me out on this, no I’m not saying Stardust beating Cena was a likely ending, but at least it was something new instead of the same match over and over again. I remember seeing a graphic for Rusev vs. Swagger in one of their most recent matches and saying to my TV: “Why? Why are we seeing this match again?” I can’t say that about a match I’ve never seen before and maybe it’s going to entertain me.
That brings me to the last and possibly most important item: facing Cena makes anyone look like a bigger deal than they are otherwise. Cena is still the biggest star in the company and one of the biggest of all time so rubbing elbows with him is going to be a big night for an opponent.
Look back to the night Damien Sandow cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Cena back in 2013. That one match, which didn’t even last fifteen minutes, was one of the top moments of Sandow’s career up to that point. Even though it wasn’t likely that he was going to win the title, being in the ring against Cena and challenging for a title made him a big deal, even if it was just for one night. If WWE had actually followed up on that idea, maybe Sandow could have been turned into a bigger star than he was. Either way, at least he had that one really awesome moment.
The open challenges for the US Title offer so many possibilities for big matches. Imagine if some guy we haven’t seen in a long time on “Monday Night Raw” like Rhyno came out to challenge. Or perhaps a tag guy like Jimmy Uso. Perhaps a debuting star like Samoa Joe, in a match that people have wanted to see for a very long time? Or maybe we could have someone come up from NXT for a one shot match like say Tyler Breeze? Finally, there’s the easy option of having someone debut from NXT as a full time member of the roster like Finn Balor.
This idea has a lot of legs to it and could really become a feature of the show. Just wondering who it’s going to be this week had me wanting to see a segment of the show for the first time in a very long time last night. Stardust may not have been the most interesting guy in the world to have come out and face Cena, but at least it wasn’t someone you could guess before the segment even started. Couple that with the idea of being able to bring up some names and give us some fresh matches with the title being regularly defended on television and these open challenges could be the best thing to happen to the title in years.
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