Updated 11:16 PM EDT, Wed, Jul 28, 2021

WWE Unifying the World Championships is Bad for Business

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Ladies and gentlemen, can we have a moment of silence for the World Heavyweight Championship?

For 11 years, the Big Gold Belt has been a staple in WWE, a belt whose design was so famous that it transcended wrestling itself. With roots dating back to the days of icons and legends of the wrestling world such as "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, and Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat, the belt known as the World Heavyweight Championship, the crowning jewel of the now-defunct WCW, disappeared in April 2002 after a new design for the unified WCW and WWE world titles was crafted.

However, the iconic gold-plated title once again resurfaced on Sept. 2, 2002 on an edition of WWE Raw, after then-Undisputed Champion Brock Lesnar was permanently shifted to the Smackdown roster, leaving Raw without a champion. Behind the scenes, WWE had decided to take its brand extension that made Raw and Smackdown their own separate shows even further with the featuring of not one, but two world titles. Thus, then-Raw GM Eric Bischoff reactivated the title, rechristening it as the World Heavyweight Championship, and presented it to Triple H, the first of a decade-long chain of world champions.

Since that time, the world title has seen a prestigious class of wrestling greats and modern-day stars of the sport hold the coveted title. Shawn Michaels. Batista. The Undertaker. Sheamus. Goldberg. Kurt Angle. John Cena. Randy Orton. Edge. Chris Jericho. Big Show.

But more importantly than that list of greats in the business, perhaps, is the list of stars that the title has helped to give a chance to shine. The list of stars and talented individuals that the World Heavyweight Championship helped to make into true superstars. CM Punk. Chris Benoit. Rey Mysterio. Kane. Jeff Hardy. Daniel Bryan. Christian. Dolph Ziggler. The list goes on and on.

The World Heavyweight Championship's role in the last few years was a vital one, helping the WWE elevate talents to the next level to replace yesterday's stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, the Undertaker and Mick Foley.

And now, the title is gone, possibly forever. Randy Orton's win over John Cena Sunday at WWE TLC 2013 in their title unification match has once again united both Raw and Smackdown under the umbrella of one undisputed WWE champion, and it will likely stay that way for the foreseeable future.

But to quote Triple H for a moment, is that a move that is truly "Best for Business?"

The brand extension has basically been over since mid-2011, after the WWE entered its "Supershows" era, where Raw and Smackdown stars would appear on each other's shows, in an effort to promote each other's storylines across all platforms. That in itself was a novel idea. It gave the company's creative team more opportunities to create and flesh out storylines for both shows. And as long as there were still two prestigious titles to center the shows around, it worked. Talents that were on the cusp of becoming stars still had the chance to break through the glass ceiling and have a chance of being "The Man" on whatever show the title was on, specifically on Smackdown, where talent on the brink has traditionally gone to burst into the spotlight. 

But with one world title--and only one--now existing in WWE, the pool of opportunities for the budding stars of the company to take their game to new heights has now considerably shrunken.

There are certain stars that are perennially in the main event scene, Cena and Orton being at the top of that list. Other stars that once fit the mold for being at the top of the card have long since left the company. Brock Lesnar, The Rock, Triple H, Undertaker and Jericho are only part-time attractions now. Batista left to pursue an MMA career and movies. Angle and Jeff Hardy left for the "greener" pastures of TNA Wrestling. Eddie Guerrero died tragically in 2005. Shawn Michaels retired in 2010. The list of "A-list" stars has shrunken over time and that has hurt the WWE, especially in the ratings.

For that reason, having the World Heavyweight Championship is crucial to the WWE. While primarily used on the secondary show, Smackdown, instead of the flagship show Monday Night Raw, it served, if nothing else, as the perfect platform for guys on the brink of being stars to be taken seriously, an audition for the next step, which is becoming a star on Monday nights.

Let's put things in perspective. On June 27, 2011, CM Punk set the wrestling world ablaze when he sat on a stage in Las Vegas three weeks before his WWE contract was due to expire and delivered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, promos of the modern era—a scathing tirade against the entire company. That launched him from being a star to being one of the biggest megastars in the wrestling world. But would his promo declaring himself as "The Best in the World" have had as much impact if Punk didn't have three prior World Heavyweight Champonship reigns to his name already? That would have been a tough sell. But with Punk having come off strong programs against the likes of Jeff Hardy and the Undertaker during those title runs, firing on all cylinders as arguably the company's best villain, there was a lot of weight behind what Punk said when he declared to what would soon be legions of new fans that "I'm the best on this microphone, in that ring, even on commentary! Nobody can touch me!"

Here's another key example: Daniel Bryan. The 2013 WWE Superstar of the Year, has been on fire this year, the crowds exploding with chants of "YES! YES! YES!" at his very presence. But would Bryan have even been able to invent that phrase without having won the World Heavyweight Championship at TLC 2011? Would he have been able to get a huge main event push with WWE Championship matches against the likes of Cena and Orton for the last four months without that credibility of having a world title on his resume already, and the push and opportunities that world title run provided for him? Not likely. During Bryan's first world title run, he was allowed to flourish as a character. He was revealed to be a funny and entertaining, yet serious, hard-edged competitor that could be put into a main event segment and deliver. That one opportunity created by the world title opened the gates for the Daniel Bryan Phenomenon of 2013.

Those two guys are now two of the biggest stars in the company, and it all started with the Big Gold Belt for them.

Here's another thing to consider. Under the cap of one title, it would have been impossible for longtime company guys such as Big Show, Christian, Kane and Mark Henry, all of whom made their names in the Attitude Era, to have broken through and become champions. The world title gave all of those guys chances to show what they could do in the main event scene. Christian had a strong showing as a world champion, his feud with Orton in the summer of 2011 becoming one of the best programs on the show. Kane had an impressive reign with bouts against Mysterio, Undertaker and Edge. And Henry's dominant performance in the latter half of 2011 as world champion easily made him the biggest--quite literally--heel in the company. And who could forget Rey Mysterio's emotional world title run of 2006, fueled by the memory of his friend, the late great Eddie Guerrero? Such a reign would not have been possible then with Edge, Triple H and Cena dominating the main event scene on Raw.

That's not to say that everyone who was ever a champion under the brand extension was automatically a made man. When we're talking about the WWE Championship, for every John Cena, CM Punk and Randy Orton that held the title, there was the curious case of "The Miz," who went from winning the WWE title and headlining the company's biggest Pay Per View, Wrestlemania 27, in 2011 to being a complete afterthought in just two years. For every success story of a Daniel Bryan, Jeff Hardy and Rey Mysterio that held the world title, there's the Great Khali, Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger, all of whom failed to translate into longterm, viable main event options thanks to disappointing title reigns. But those success stories that came out of a world title program far outweigh any duds that accompanied the title. Stars were born under the banner of the Big Gold Belt and new stars are ultimately what keep the company going.

With only one title now, what does that mean for up and comers such as Dolph Ziggler, Damien Sandow, Big E Langston, Wade Barrett and Cody Rhodes? All of those guys had potential world champion written on them--in Ziggler's case, he held the belt twice, only to have both reigns be cut short disappointingly. Any of them could have easily become World Heavyweight Champion with the right push in 2014. And from there, once the stamp of being a champion was bestowed on them, it would have been a matter of time before they would have gotten a call to be featured with more prominent names in the company's main event scene. With the landscape set the way it is now, the chances for these guys to burst through the glass ceiling and become main event players doesn't look very good.

Therein lies the problem. In the old days, the Intercontinental Championship was the star-maker, the title that was able to give stars on the cusp of major stardom an audition for the big time. That role has since become one reserved for the world title. The IC and United States championships lost their luster a long time ago thanks to bad booking.

In this era, even with one big brand all over again, the need for the world title becomes magnified. The biggest stars like Cena, Orton and Punk don't always go on Smackdown; they need to rest their beat-up bodies. And those are guys who are usually in the main event title picture these days. The World Heavyweight Championship not only afforded them that opportunity to rest, but it gave others on the card, the Zigglers and Sheamuses and Daniel Bryans of the world a chance to shine. Without that title, the WWE will have to start getting a lot better with booking what titles they have left, because if any of those top stars go down for an extended period of time, the skys in their world are going to start looking pretty dark.

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