With the WWE and world heavyweight titles both changing hands at the Hell in a Cell pay-per-view Sunday night, the trend of having world champions in WWE whose reigns are measured in weeks not months continued.
John Cena had only been WWE champion for three weeks before dropping the title to Randy Orton, while CM Punk had held the world heavyweight title for six weeks – almost an eternity by today’s standards – when he lost to The Undertaker.
WWE really needs to slow things down a bit. So far in 2009, the world heavyweight title has changed hands eight times, while the WWE title has changed hands seven. No one has had a reign last more than three months. To give that some perspective, during WWE’s first 21 years in existence (1963-1984), the title changed hands just nine times.
I understand that it’s a different era now and the days of Bruno Sammartino defending the title for more than seven and a half years straight are over. And I’m not suggesting that something like that would work today. However, I do think world title programs would mean a lot more if the champion held the belt for six months to a year, maybe even two years.
It’s true that the WWE title changed hands a lot during the Attitude Era (12 times in 1999), but the company was just so hot because it was pushing the envelope and had stars such as Steve Austin, The Rock, Mankind, The Undertaker and Triple H – as well as the McMahons – that the frequent title changes did not take away from the product. Those days are over, too.
It stands to reason that if you establish a credible champion who wracks up a number of successful title defenses, then it becomes a big deal when he is dethroned. Wins and losses and titles become more meaningful, thus creating more interest and, theoretically, more pay-per-view buys. When you just keep trading the titles back and forth every few weeks, fans become numb to it. It’s like, “Hey, so-and-so just won the belt, but who really cares? He’ll probably lose it at the next pay-per-view and then get it back again at the one after that. Then the next challenger in line will win it from him.”
These days it seems as if every challenger involved in a world title program ends up winning the championship. To me, the title became more prestigious during Cena’s 13-month title reign in 2006-2007,when he turned back challenges from Shawn Michaels, Umaga, The Great Khali, Bobby Lashley and, in a five-way match, Booker T. and Mick Foley.
Why not give guys such as MVP, Mark Henry, Kofi Kingston, Jack Swagger, John Morrison, R-Truth, Mike Knox and Matt Hardy title shots on pay-per-view? If booked the right way, fans could be convinced that they at least have a chance, and everyone likes to root for the underdog. In the case of potential future champions such as Swagger and Morrison, a good showing in a world title program would elevate them and help prepare them for a title run if and when they’re ready for it.
Another drawback to all the quickie title reigns is that it becomes impossible to build anticipation for a major showdown between an established champion and the guy who is looked at as the potential heir apparent. Here’s how it works: Once you create a buzz around the challenger, you set up roadblocks to keep him away from the champion for as long as possible. When the fans are really dying to see it, you wait a little longer – and then you finally give it to them.
Remember when WCW teased Hulk Hogan versus Sting for a whole year before finally pulling the trigger? Guess what? It resulted in the biggest buy rate in company history. It seems that the decision makers in WWE lack the patience to execute anything like that.