We are less than six weeks away from WrestleMania 38 and that means it is time to really start hammering home the show’s card. Now we already have the four men’s and women’s title matches set (because there are four of those) but there are more than a few other matches that have to be built up. Since we are probably looking at sixteen matches over two days, that means we are likely going to need a dozen more to fill out the card. I’m not sure what we are going to see, but there is someone who has gotten my attention over the last few weeks in a good way.

Over the last two weeks, United States Champion Damian Priest has defeated both AJ Styles and Shelton Benjamin. Now that might not sound like much (especially in Styles’ case when he was evening the score after Styles beat him the previous week), but it suggests that WWE is actually building Priest up for once. That is something the company has needed to do after Priest took a few losses in the previous weeks, so maybe things are starting to turn around for him. Or at least the title.

After Priest’s win over Benjamin this week on Monday Night Raw, Priest issued an open challenge for the United States Title on next week’s show. Priest said he wanted a World Title level challenger, which drew out former Universal Champion Finn Balor to accept the challenge. Balor said he would love to take the title from Priest and the match was made for the February 28 show.

Now yes, there is a very real chance that Priest will lose the title to Balor next week, sending Balor on to WrestleMania as United States Champion. What matters here though is the fact that WWE is actually building up the title during the most important time of the year. WWE is setting things up to make for what could be a special moment at WrestleMania. I’m not sure what that is going to be, but what matters is that they are actually doing something.

I don’t think it is any secret to say that WWE does not have the best recent history with its midcard titles. The company has a bad tendency to not do much with them even on the best of days, with Shinsuke Nakamura’s Intercontinental Title reign being a great example. Nakamura lost the title to Sami Zayn last week on SmackDown, ending his reign at a little over six months. That defense against Zayn was only his second televised title defense and his first since September.

How in the world is that the best you can do with one of the most important titles WWE has to offer? I’m aware that Nakamura was injured, but he was wrestling well into November and even short matches in December. If he can stand on the apron with a hand injury, one could think he could hit a quick Kinshasa and retain the title over some goon right? Is that too much to ask?

Compare this to Priest, who has already had three televised title defenses this year alone, which isn’t even counting the scheduled title defense against Balor. They might not be amazing title matches or defenses, but look at how many people have been challenging for the title since Priest won the championship: Drew McIntyre, Sheamus, Jeff Hardy, Sami Zayn, Apollo Crews, Robert Roode, Dolph Ziggler, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles. Priest has been the United States Champion for six months and has defended the title against six former World Champions (some of whom have had multiple title shots).

I know I’ve talked about this before and said how simple of a concept it is, but that’s because it is such a basic idea: titles feel important when people are going after them. If you have one former World Champion after another coming after the United States Title, that title is elevated because a who’s who of challengers are coming after the gold. The title feels like it matters and that is going to make both Priest and whomever takes it from him look that much more important.

Then you have Nakamura, who was literally going months without putting the title on the line. That doesn’t make the title look important. It makes the title look like a paperweight that happens to go wherever Nakamura goes. Yes Nakamura had Rick Boogs and the guitar intro and the weird dancing and the charisma, but that isn’t making the title seem more important. Instead, it was inflating Nakamura’s title reign by making it longer without actually doing anything with the championship.

So now it’s time to head in to WrestleMania and which title seems more important? The one around the waist of someone defending it every few weeks against some solid names? Or the one where the new champion has been feuding with Johnny Knoxville, who is about to turn 51 years old and is there to promote Jackass Forever? There is a good chance that Knoxville is going to get the title shot against Zayn at WrestleMania in some kind of wacky stipulation match that probably features a bunch of the Jackass guys in cameos that cater to a pretty specific demographic. But at least it’s such a valuable title….right?

If that isn’t enough, consider what happened when the two champions faced off at Survivor Series (on the Kickoff Show, because the United States Champion vs. the Intercontinental Champion isn’t good enough for the main show, unlike…Omos winning a battle royal in honor of the Rock, who had nothing to do with the thing). The focus of the match was on Boogs, who kept bringing Nakamura back to life through the power of the guitar. Eventually Priest got sick of the thing and broke it, before using the pieces to hit Nakamura for the disqualification.

I don’t know how much more evidence you need about how serious these titles are taken. When the champions faced off, one of them was focused on a guitar playing strongman on the floor while the other was mad that the match was focused on a guitar playing strongman on the floor. Throw in the lack of title defenses and the lack of competition (again, six former World Champions plus Zayn, who Priest defeated as well, and Apollo Crews) for one title and this is about as clear as you can get.

So that’s where we are heading into WrestleMania 38. Over the last six months, the United States Title has been sought after and challenged for by multiple former World Champions with Priest holding onto it at all costs (albeit with some losses). On the other hand, the Intercontinental Title has barely been defended while the champion has seemed to be designed as a way to get Boogs over. Boogs certainly is a cool guy and someone that is very fun to watch, but isn’t there another way to make people care about him without sacrificing the title?

There’s a very good reason why this sounds so simple. The easiest way to get a championship over is to have people want it and that has not exactly been the case with one of the company’s midcard titles in recent months. We are rolling into WrestleMania 38 and I have no idea why I would care about whatever happens to Zayn and the Intercontinental Title. Priest might not be the champion by then, but at least it feels like his title might be important on the biggest show of the year.

Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 60,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 6,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books

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