We all love the WWE brand split, right?
Okay, maybe it isn’t perfect. However, there are definitely some pros and cons that come with the concept. While breaking all of that down seems like a great idea, I will save it for another time. The subject at hand today is about the WWE/World Champions. Since the 2002 brand split and introducing two titles on top, we have seen some amazing champions crowned. We have also seen some…no so amazing champions crowned. Thanks to @WWEFactoids on Twitter, let’s take a deeper dive…
10. The Great Khali – Yes, this is going to be a countdown. As always, this column is just my opinion. You have your opinion, just as I have mine. Basically, my only rules are it must be a WWE or World Title victory after the 2002 brand split. I am not including the Universal Championship. Otherwise, I could make a good case for Kevin Owens and perhaps even Finn Balor for being on this top ten list. Maybe even The Fiend? Alright, alright. Enough rambling. The Great Khali was the World Champion in July 2007. You remember it? No? Well, most don’t because it didn’t last long. Edge had become injured and had to vacate the belt. Smackdown needed a new champion as soon as possible, and a GIANT battle royal was made for later that evening. Not a ton of great options for the blue brand at the time. Kane? Meh. Batista? His time would come, don’t worry. Mark Henry was not quite there yet as a main event act. That left the biggest man on the roster as one of the only legitimate options left, The Great Khali. At the same time, John Cena was running wild as champ on Raw with the WWE Championship. Because there was a brand split and Smackdown needed somebody (anybody!) to carry their top title, boom! The Great Khali won the World Title. I understand the move was to simply set up a face to beat the big heel down the road but yeah, this was clearly due to the brand split opening up a whole ton of space to fill.
9. Sheamus (2009) – As you see, I have only the 2009 WWE Championship win included. I am actually a big fan of The Celtic Warrior. He has very quietly assembled quite the resume. He is a former King of the Ring winner. He is a former Royal Rumble winner. He is a former Money in the Bank winner (success cash in too). He is a former WWE Champion. He is a former World Champion, and the dude even has a few WrestleMania moments. Like I said, quite the resume. Very few men have all of those accolades. In December 2009 though, he was brand new to RAW. He just jumped over from ECW after debuting a months prior and suddenly found himself in a main event setting versus then champ John Cena. One Tables Match later at TLC, and we had a new WWE Title holder. It was a shocker to anybody watching at the time. Even more shocking was this all took place just as the company was entering the Road to WrestleMania. He did end up dropping the title a month before the big event but still. Two months WWE Title reign from a relative newcomer. The Undertaker was World Champion over on Smackdown and could have easily carried both shows. After this, Sheamus would go on to win the WWE Championship again that summer (over Cena again) and have a Hall of Fame worthy career. At the time though? Yeah, pretty darn early.
8. Rob Van Dam – This may be a bit controversial. I have never been a huge Rob Van Dam fan. Sorry. I dug his theme music. I love his HIGH flying five star frog splash. I even thought his ring attire was pretty sweet. When it came to his wrestling matches or promo ability, it never caught me. Maybe it’s because I only caught onto ECW towards the end of their run? Maybe it’s because I don’t smoke pot? Maybe it’s because the guy has just always had certain limitations that other main event acts didn’t. He was always RIGHT near the top in my book. Then what happened when WWE finally gave him the ball? He dropped it. He failed in spectacular fashion, thus proving all the doubters right all those years before. He won Money in the Bank at WrestleMania 22 in 2006 and captured the WWE Title in June by pinning John Cen at an eventul ECW One Night Stand II pay-per-view. He was also dubbed ECW Champion for the returning harccore brand. Not only was there two brands at the time…this now included a third brand with main roster stars appearing. Rey Mysterio was World Champion at the time for Smackdown (a questionable move in itself but well deserved). RVD’s hopes and dreams went up in smoke, and I can’t say I really cared all that much. back down to the mid-card where he belongs.
7. Dolph Ziggler (2011) – No, that is not a typo. Dolph Ziggler is recognized as a two time World Champion. We all know about his epic victory in 2013 on the Raw after WrestleMania 29. We all remember that moment and his fall from grace afterwards. However, that’s not what this is about. He was ready for that. He was NOT ready for this. In February 2011, for one night only, Ziggler was declared the World Champion over a dispute with then reigning title holder Edge. Yeah, it was a mess, but again, it is official. Lots of garbage and totally forgettable. The Miz (best heel at the time) was riding high as WWE Champion on the red brand at the time and really was doing his best work ever. because of the brand split, my guess is WWE wanted to spice up Smackdown a little before WM27 as RAW’s path was fairly clear.
6. Kane (2010) – Ah, yes. Pop quiz: Kane defeated The Undertaker at how many PPV events in 2010? The answer is three. The Dead Man literally returned a few month hiatus and promptly lost to Kane three straight pay-per-views in a row and then disappeared again…only to come back and face off with Triple H totally ignoring everything he had just done with Kane. Oh, and Kane was then a lovable face after spending all this time as a dastardly heel. You getting all of this? Another pop quiz: Kane was the 2010 Money in the Bank ladder, true or false? Got it? The answer is true. However, that is a trick question because WWE had THREE MITB ladder matches that year. Yes, three. We will get to another one in a bit. The fact is Smackdown’s roster was thin (again), and WWE decided to reward Kane with a gold watch. In this case, a real World Title run. His one day reign in 1998 was often used as a punchline. With two brands and two titles, I don’t know if Kane ever gets this little ‘thank you’ five month run on top. We did get Paul Bearer back on television, so I suppose it was all worth it.
5. Jack Swagger (2010) – Here we go! Jack Swagger won the 2010 WrestleMania MITB ladder match. Kane won the PPV version of the bout, as did The Miz for his brand but as noted above, he was on fire at the time and isn’t in this column. Swagger was another guy who had just jumped over to RAW from ECW. Kinda like Sheamus, officially behind the scenes loved him. He had a real amateur background. He had a good look. He had the in-ring personality. He had all the bragging tools needed to be a heel in this business. It made sense. WWE was desperate for star power at the time. Triple H was done as a full-timer, Batista was leaving the company, Shawn Michaels was retiring, Edge and Kane were hit or miss with injuries, The Undertaker was a part-timer, etc. WWE needed somebody new on top and gave Swagger a shot. He cashed in his briefcase on World Champion Chris Jericho on Smackdown to the shock of many. The man had switched brands and with his Swagger Soaring Eagle, he was the World Champion. Now, if there was just one undisputed title holder, would this have happened? Probably not. We can all admit that. John Cena was feuding with Batista over the WWE Title, and that would have dominated TV time. Not Jack Swagger.
4. CM Punk (2008) – Only the 2008 win. Like many mentioned in this column, he was a Money in the Bank victor. He had also just jumped over to Raw from ECW and was poised to break out in the main event scene. Obviously, WWE saw SOMETHING in him. Otherwise, he would not have the briefcase and would not have been moved from ECW to Raw. Nobody expected him to immediately become World Champion by cashing in on Edge the first night after the WWE Draft went into effect. Edge was out there saying ‘goodbye’ to the brand, as he was Smackdown…and then freakin’ CM Punk cashes in to win the belt. An assist from Batista is only a foot note. CM Punk was YOUR World Champion. Smackdown had Triple H (moved over in the WWE Draft) as WWE Champion. He was in the middle of a lengthy run, so don’t think the company was struggling. There was Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels. There was HHH as your stable main eventer on top working with Jeff Hardy and others. John Cena vs. Batista was at Summerslam during that time for their first ever meeting on PPV. Edge and The Undertaker was feuding. There was A LOT going on…then there was CM Punk as World Champion. Meh.
3. Brock Lesnar (2014) – I don’t even know if this qualifies. I just feel like I need to mention a couple of things here. First off, I am a massive Brock Lesnar fan. Whatever he is being paid is worth every penny. I could list his main event performances throughout the years, and he is The Beast for a reason. Money in the Bank, Royal Rumble, WM main event winner, King of the Ring, etc. He has done it all and still has plenty to give. I don’t even mind him as a special attraction. Brock Lesnar SHOULD be a special attraction. You should have to pay to see him wrestle. That is the entire point. He is that good, and I’d love to see him stick around in WWE. That being said, it was a tough go in 2014 after Summerslam when he decimated John Cena for the WWE World Champion. There was NO other champion at the time. The belts had been unified in late 2013. When he won both titles and disappeared, it was tough for awhile. Others did step up and get the opportunity to shine, but it still stunk knowing the top champ was sitting at home. You kinda need a title to be fighting for something. With the brand split, at least one of the shows would have a WWE or World Champion. Not in this case. Brock ruled the world from his couch and kept the titles hostage. I will defend this dude on and on and on and on and on and on…not here. Come summer 2016, the company realized this and introduced the Universal Champion to go along with the WWE Championship.
2. Kofi Kingston – Go ahead and hate. Go ahead. You can send all your hate mail to email@example.com and send all your lovely tweets to @JustinWatry – that is me! Go ahead, I will wait. When you are all done doing that, come back here and finish this paragraph. The bottom line is WWE didn’t want to crown Kofi Kingston as the WWE Champion at WrestleMania 25 last year. That was never a part of ANY plan. He was thrust into the Elimination Chamber as a one off lucky replacement due to Ali getting hurt. Without that circumstance, Kingston would have been at Mania throwing pancakes and dancing in Booty’s cereal or something else. Not competing against Daniel Bryan for the WWE Title. All because of an injury and him filling a spot…he became WWE Champion. Unbelievable moment and a surreal celebration to follow. In the end though, he never felt like a main event act. The entire nonsense with The New Day belongs in the tag scene or done for mid-card laughs. His matches on PPV were fairly blah and when the company saw a chance to bail out, they did. Brock Lesnar absolutely destroyed him for the WWE Championship in mere seconds, and it felt like all was right with the world again. While all of this was going down on the blue brand, Seth Rollins was burning it down with his great run on top of Raw. More of that please, as we fast forward a year. Kofi is doing nothing once again, and Rollins is carrying his show.
1. Jinder Mahal – Was there any doubt? I am not big on fantasy booking, but if the company really wanted to crown Jinder Mahal their new WWE Champion at Backlash, here is what you DO NOT DO! Do not have Jinder Mahal lose to Mojo Rawley right before winning a number one contenders match. Do NOT have Jinder Mahal cheat to win three straight pay-per-view matches against Randy Orton. Do not have him cut borderline offense promos and then try to erase it all a week later. Do not have Jinder go from 0 to 60 within a month. Losing to Mojo clean to beating Orton for the gold in main events only two months later was never going to work. He is what you could have done. Air promos of him working out in a gym. Show him getting into the best shape of his life following the WM33 embarrassment from Gronk (ha!) and Mojo. Heel or face, run those vignettes for the first month. Then have him wreck Rawley in their bout. Just beat him down. Then do that for another month with various opponents, slowing rising up the card. All the while, let him speak. He had pretty good mic skills. Then when it comes time for that number one contender’s match, he actually belongs in there. Still a long shot no doubt but at least fits the billing. Then when he pulls off the upset, continue the gym promos, the speaking time, the dominant victories…and then the official passing of the torch by defeating Randy Orton. Instead, it was all so rushed. Literally, he went from losing to Mojo to beating Orton for the WWE Championship in weeks. All felt forced and despite a good six month run, it never clicked. Regardless of the motive, it wasn’t a terrible idea to try and elevate a guy who was working hard and wanting to prove himself. As much as Jinder failed us fans, WWE failed Jinder.
Written by Justin Watry