WWE fumbled potentially legendary road to Night of Champions’ world heavyweight title match

night of champions
Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

On April 13, the WWE announced a name change to their premium-live event (PLE) scheduled for May 27 in Saudi Arabia. Initially, the show would be titled King and Queen of the Ring before it was switched to Night of Champions. As expected, the internet was buzzing with the news.

Then, on the April 24 edition of Monday Night Raw, WWE’s Chief Operating Officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque introduced the long-awaited new WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Ultimately, a new champion will be crowned in Jeddah during the main event.

Related: WWE schedule 2023 – Roman Reigns returns at WWE Night of Champions

In hindsight, the PLE name change made sense. However, we needed more information regarding the possible contenders and the qualifying process. Interestingly, the WWE announced a single elimination tournament on Raw and Smackdown, with the winners meeting in the final at Night of Champions. Realistically, the idea sounded good on paper, but ultimately the build has lacked all the pomp and circumstance one would expect with an initial crowning.

WWE sets up confusing road to Night of Champions main event

While unveiling the new title, set to be exclusive to Raw, Triple H took a couple of swipes at current Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns, whose reign is approaching a thousand days. Since the “Tribal Chief” has reworked his contract only to defend his titles at select events, the company’s most significant prizes — the WWE championship and Universal championship — are rarely on TV, especially on Monday nights.

Considering WWE wanted a champion on each show, the message was clear: the new World Heavyweight Championship belt would go to the show that did not draft Reigns, which turned out to be Raw. During his introductory speech, Triple H specifically said that only members of that show’s roster would challenge for the title. However, WWE Creative didn’t follow through with that plan, offering a chance to six Smackdown wrestlers as part of a 12-man tournament. 

Most fans understand that Smackdown superstars AJ Styles, Bobby Lashley, Rey Mysterio, and Austin Theory are all worthy of world title shots, but why participate in a tournament to crown a champion on a different show? Yes, the brand split has always had vague rules and guidelines, but realistically, no one from the blue brand should have wrestled in the tournament. 

Right now, Seth “Freaking” Rollins is going head-to-head with Styles. So, if the main goal was to give Raw a new champion, why give anyone from Smackdown a chance to win it, potentially providing that brand with three world titles? Even though WWE is known to trip over their storylines, unless there is a monumental swerve in the finale, everyone knows Styles will eat the pin so Rollins can become world champion.  

Considering how they have built up Rollins to be “the change the WWE needs,” it won’t shock anyone when he walks out with the gold on Saturday afternoon. However, instead of facing Styles in Saudi Arabia, he could have wrestled Finn Balor in the main event instead of during a lackluster semi-final match on Raw. Nevertheless, since WWE tried to include all the big names in the tournament for viewership, they disregarded the brand split rules. Therefore, two separate rosters are battling for a title that is meant to be exclusive to only one. 

WWE missed a unique opportunity to channel previous success

Everyone knows Reigns is the top dog in the business, holding both the Universal and WWE championships. Although the company wants to showcase the new World Heavyweight title on the same level, they have failed to make it feel that way. 

If the WWE considered making this new championship prestigious, they should have used Wrestlemania IV and Survivor Series 1998 as inspiration. Historically, those two events crowned first-time champions, with the Macho Man winning a single-day tournament at Wrestlemania IV and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson surviving the Deadly Games tournament at Survivor Series in 1998.

Yes, the WWE utilized the tournament format for this belt, introducing two triple-threat matches, followed by singles matches on the same night to get two finalists. However, those matches took place two weeks before Night of Champions, and there’s hardly been a build-up since. Of course, everyone is talking about the upcoming title bout, with Styles appearing in “The Grayson Waller Effect” show and Cory Graves interviewing Rollins. However, there has been no face-to-face action.

Moreover, fans will be excited for a winner, but imagine the gratitude and excitement they would feel if they watched Rollins and Styles win several matches in one night. Ultimately, these two superstars would limp into the finale to give it their all one last time, shocking fans with their durability from wrestling several times in three hours. 

If the WWE wanted to make us seriously care about the World Heavyweight Championship and consider it on par with both of Reigns’ titles, that was the storyline that would have yielded the best outcome. Whether for the performers or the fans’ sake, a single-night tournament would have significantly impacted how everyone views the new title, associating it with a symbol of perseverance, endurance, and overcoming adversity.

WWE creates a PR nightmare with Rollins and Styles’ bout 

Apr 3, 2022; Arlington, TX, USA; AJ Styles enters the arena during WrestleMania at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Historically, WWE has always painted itself into a corner with some of its storylines, and this World Heavyweight Championship tournament is no exception. Initially, the reaction to Rollins representing Raw as its champion would be a hit with the fans and ratings. However, shortly after winning his spot in the finale, he disappeared from live TV to film a movie.

Now, departing the company to pursue other interests for his family is not a knock on him or his character. However, since he couldn’t be at the arenas in person, the WWE ran a four-part interview series with Graves. Interestingly, during the sitdown, Rollins talked about being the change the WWE needs, that he would be around every day to defend the title, and was tired of his former SHIELD running mate holding the company’s main titles hostage. 

Even though filming a movie right now may be a one-time thing, it sends mixed messages to the fans. Ultimately, Rollins wants to win because he’s not a part-timer, yet he disappears while pursuing the company’s newest prize. Of course, the Architect will be in the ring on Saturday, and he’s usually got a significant role on Monday nights. However, the tournament’s timing and other professional endeavors couldn’t have come at a worse time. 

But Rollins’ schedule is one of many problems arising in the build-up to Night of Champions. Recently, Styles sat down with the New York Post and openly admitted that this new title belt was “secondary” to Reign’s Universal Championship. Even though the script may call for such comments, it is odd that the man fighting to be the company’s world heavyweight champion ultimately compares the primary title to the Intercontinental and United States championships, the company’s secondary titles. 

Only a few people will know whether this build-up was all part of the plan or if they called an audible during the execution. Either way, WWE Creative missed a significant opportunity by poorly structuring the introduction of a new championship. Ultimately, fans are excited to see a new title be routinely defended on live TV and at premium live events. However, the reintroduction of the World Heavyweight Championship needed to be more compelling since, right now, it doesn’t feel as special as it could be. 

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