The WWE is enjoying somewhat of a golden period right now, with 2015 representing one of the best years in the company’s recent history.
With the pay-per-view Battleground on the horizon, match-ups including a third, decisive John Cena vs Kevin Owens match for the US title and Brock Lesnar vs Seth Rollins for the latter’s World Heavyweight title are truly tantalizing affairs.
The tag-team division is in rude health also, and the Divas are blessed with the excellent storytelling of the Bella Sisters and a locker room that boasts some fine female athletes in the shape of Paige and the NXT competitors who finally graced the RAW ring on Monday.
And while these facets of the company all continue to shine, it is the title that showed the most promise early on in the year that is now being left behind.
When Daniel Bryan claimed the Intercontinental belt by beating champion Bad News Barrett, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, Luke Harper, R-Truth and Stardust at WrestleMania in March, it looked like one of the most iconic belts in the WWE’s long history was finally being restored to its rightful reputation.
What followed, however, was a nasty injury to Bryan which saw him once again vacate a top title.
— WrestlingNewsSource (@WNSource) July 14, 2015
Instead of reinvigorating the battle for Intercontinental glory by utilising the deep pool of talent waiting in the wings, the WWE went to some old hands in a move that now seems rather flat.
Compare that WrestleMania field to the Elimination Chamber combatants for the vacant title and it explains a lot.
Ryback has held the belt since that May PPV, where he overcame Mark Henry, Sheamus, King Barrett, Truth and Ziggler (the latter three the only survivors from WrestleMania).
Only Ziggler has had a storyline of note this year in his previous scamper towards the top of WWE, the others all having been sidelined to just that: sideline stories.
It would be unfair to include Sheamus in that mix as he was returning from injury around that time but the others garnered far less excitement in what should have been a superb follow-up to WrestleMania.
You need look no further than the excellent work done by Cena in his pursuit of and subsequent reign as US champion to see what the WWE have missed out on.
With regular open challenges and two superb rivalries with Rusev and Owens, the WWE have made it the most intriguing championship chase in the company.
And it is not like they didn’t have the opportunity to do so with the Intercontinental title.
Randy Savage holding his WWF Title belt and Ultimate Warrior’s Intercontinental Title – March 1989 pic.twitter.com/qxmseVLh8v
— Wrestlings Past (@WrestlingsPast) July 12, 2015
Seen as the stepping stone to go on to greater things (Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H and many, many more have all worn the belt with distinction), people want to be Intercontinental champion.
And with the likes of Ambrose, Ziggler, Adrian Neville and Harper they have some worthy champions who can sell a story and who the WWE Universe can get behind.
In Big Show, Ryback and The Miz – who battle it out next Monday morning (UAE time) for the championship – you feel there is less interest.
That is not meant with any disrespect to three fine wrestlers in their own right.
The problem is, they’ve been there and done it before and in a company refreshed by its openness to evolution in other divisions, it is a shame not to see the IC title follow suit.
In last week’s TLC, this column bemoaned the lack of Brock Lesnar on our screens but it is not just The Beast who we want more of, it is also his mega manager Paul Heyman.
The 49-year-old ECW visionary is a true master of wrestling.
Not in the sense of the likes of John Cena, Hulk Hogan or Bret Hart, but in his use of the microphone and ability to sell a storyline.
Heyman has been at the heart of professional wrestling since 1987 and has forged himself a career as a booker, manager, interviewer, CEO and star of the show.
And on this week’s RAW we saw these attributes come together in true Heyman fashion as he set about hyping up this month’s Battleground main event between Lesnar and Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight title.
Taking to the ring alongside his destructive brute, Heyman did what he does best, coining such phrases as ‘The Mayor of Suplex City’ and ‘The Beast of Battleground’ to describe his ally.
It is this wordplay and ability to develop a story to the liking (or disliking, they’re equally effective) of the fans that truly sets him apart from anyone else.
It means that the absence of Lesnar week-in, week-out is less of a blow thanks to the mastery of Heyman.
As long as he is in the ring, doing the talking on behalf of his wrestler, no momentum is lost and a rivalry can develop without the need of constant exchanges between the Superstars.
Heyman’s true value can be seen in the fact that Vince McMahon moved to great lengths to get him on board at the WWE.
The two had a fierce rivalry as two combatant companies and some of the things Heyman has previously roared in the direction of McMahon cannot be repeated in this article.
But, McMahon being the savvy businessman he is, knew that Heyman would be an asset.
Not an asset in the shape of diminishing a rival brand, but an asset that would improve his own company.
And Heyman has done just that.
You can be sure that the WWE Universe will look forward as much to Heyman’s promos as any of his wrestler’s matches, a rare commodity for a role that in recent years has diminished.
With Heyman at the fore, however, the abrasive manager lives on and reverberates around your living room in fantastic voice.
HEYMAN’S BEST QUOTES
Heyman on life
“You cannot achieve success without the risk of failure. And I learned a long time ago you cannot achieve success if you fear failure. If you’re not afraid to fail, man you have a chance to succeed. But you’re never gonna get there unless you risk it, all the way.”
Heyman on his legal history
“I’ve been sued more times than Martha Stewart.”
Heyman to McMahon
“Hey McMahon, I’ve gotta tell you something. You impress me as an announcer. If this WWF thing does not work out for you, we could actually give you a job in ECW”
Heyman describing Jerry ‘the King’ Lawler
“You said anyone can get extreme. I doubt very seriously that the court jester sitting next to you could ever be extreme.”
Heyman speaking after Lesnar defeats Cena at SumemrSlam in 2014
“Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Paul Heyman, and I’m the one behind the one who conquered the one who thought he was the one to beat the 1 in 21-1.”
Speaking after teaming with Lesnar against the Hardy Boyz at Judgment Day in 2002
“For one thing, I’m not qualified to do this. For another thing, I don’t have the balls these guys have. It’s so easy to take what these guys do for granted. People don’t realize just how dangerous this business really is. Something as simple as a backdrop, if you land on your head just a little you can break your neck…It’s an exceedingly dangerous business, but these guys make it look easy. Tonight was a testament to their work ethic and a testament to their courage. It takes a lot of courage to do what they do so regularly.”
Referring to a 1992 WCW match vs. Madusa, the last time he had competed in the ring prior to Judgment Day
“It took 10 years for people in this business to kill that from their memories!”
— Tommy Dreamer (@THETOMMYDREAMER) July 7, 2015
— Rich Criado (@RichCriado) April 28, 2015
When The Beast signed a new three-year contract with the WWE in March this year, wrestling fans were delighted by the prospect of seeing more of Brock Lesnar in the ring.
Turning down a lucrative deal with UFC – and announcing his retirement from the MMA scene – Lesnar had handed the WWE a major coup in beating one of their market rivals.
It all started so promising.
A huge night at WrestleMania followed where Lesnar took Roman Reigns apart in their bout for the former’s World Heavyweight title before Seth Rollins steamed down the runway, cashed in his Money in the Bank and took the gold.
It wasn’t how Lesnar would like to be remembered but it set up the potential of a huge rivalry between the former UFC champion and his heir to the WWE title.
At this stage, however, it became clear that his new WWE deal was very much the ‘part-time’ arrangement he had previously alluded to.
Sparing appearances on RAW and no pay-per-view bouts since have seen Lesnar become the elusive figure he already portrayed when his future with the company was in doubt.
For fans, this is divisive.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) June 29, 2015
On the one hand, Lesnar’s appearances are even more special for their rarity.
He is an omnipresent figure that sporadically appears on screens and when he does grace the WWE Universe with his presence it is explosive.
Sitting in the other camp are those that feel a little cheated by his lack of appearances.
Lesnar’s ‘Supplex City’ line against Reigns was one of the year’s most talked about moments and his sheer brutality bordered on being beautiful.
To not have this ring out around arenas and Lesnar to not be dominating his counterparts or facing off against the top tier of an immensely competitive roster is a bitter pill to swallow.
He has an aura, a presence of the ring which is both believable and terrifying in equal measure.
But the longer it goes on that Lesnar pops up as and when he, Paul Haymon and the WWE see fit, the longer fans will be disappointed.
With Kevin Owens, Rollins, John Cena, Bray Wyatt & co. putting in shift after shift, week after week, we are not short of talent to grow more of an association with.
For the WWE and Lesnar not to build more of a bond between fans and the most impressive athlete in the locker room seems an opportunity missed.
Hopefully, Battleground’s Main Event against Rollins will finally see Lesnar become a more permanent figure on our screens.
Saying that, you wouldn’t stake your house on the Universe being taken for regular trips to Supplex City any time soon, Lesnar seemingly very content with his part-time performances.
Considering his pay packet to do just that, you can’t blame the guy.
MOVE OF THE WEEK – Rollins flying powerbomb through a table
A little bit brutal, a little bit raw and a great deal of fun. Seth Rollins (with the aid of J&J Security) launches Reigns through a table (below from 3:16 – great number!).
TWEETS OF THE WEEK – #RockReturns
The Great One had fans talking this week as he made a special appearance at a house-show in Boston. You never quite know what you’re in for at a WWE Live event.
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) June 28, 2015
The Rock hitting Bo Dallas with the Rock bottom. Bray should have confronted The Rock after! DAMN! that would have been good.
— Dev. (@itsDevT82) June 28, 2015
Bo Dallas has been in the same ring as Sting and The Rock.
— OleOleOle (@BrockSolidBlue) June 28, 2015
The Rock returned to tell Bo Dallas to tell Bray Wyatt to make Roman Reigns look strong at their match at #WWEBattleground.
— CM Punk (@CMPunkFight) June 28, 2015
— Jack (@Jack_Hesselden) June 28, 2015
— Jason Solomon (@solomonster) June 28, 2015
THE ROCK VS BO DALLAS IM SCREAMING
— Alex (@BanksBossx) June 28, 2015
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) June 29, 2015