Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Case for an Interim WWE World Heavyweight Champion

Bryan's injury should create an opportunity for an Interim Champion to step in
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Daniel Bryan is injured right now. The announcement of his injury was public and acknowledged both in storyline and in real life. The severity of the injury is unknown at this point to the general public. While questions swirled around him before his surgery, some optimistic scuttlebutt doesn't have Bryan missing any time whatsoever. Realistically, the man is going to miss some ring time. Why else would WWE cease advertising him for future shows?

Normally, when a wrestler gets hurt and has to miss time, he or she is recused from the story by some means, either by announcement or by playing up said injury (or another fictitious one on another body part). However, Bryan's status as WWE World Heavyweight Champion has muddled the issue entirely. Normally, when WWE, or any other wrestling company really, has come up with a Champion having to face a longterm injury, those promotions have vacated the Championship in question and placed it up for grabs in some manner of speaking in the ring. The dread truth is that if Bryan has to miss a lot of time between now and SummerSlam - which includes several weeks of RAW and three pay-per-views special events, then he'd have to give up the titles.

Or would he? An interesting option between stripping the belts and letting Bryan keep them without defense would be the crowning of an Interim WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The concept is in fairly wide use in other combat sports with singular Champions, specifically mixed-martial arts and the Ultimate Fighting Championships. If a titleholder goes down with an injury, the next two contenders fight it out for an Interim Championship that the winner holds and defends until the regular, nominal Champion is ready to fight again. The concept has worked well in the past for the real life fighting outfit, and sure, while I never want WWE to BECOME UFC, borrowing some of the better concepts from the promotion/sport is never a bad idea. Wrestlers have borrowed moves from the octagon to use in a worked capacity in the squared circle; why can't a promoter port some ideas over into a story?

The audience knows that Stephanie McMahon is hot to strip Bryan of the title in general continuity. A simple way to swerve from that end to letting Bryan keep the major title while crowning an Interim Champion would be to do what WWE loves to do most, bring in a dueling authority figure. Basically, Vince McMahon comes back, announces that the integrity of his top Championship is too important to let it change hands without a pinfall or a submission in the ring. So he would then introduce an Interim Championship, which would be decided by tournament. As soon as Bryan gets healthy, he would have to "unify" the titles over again by giving his first defense to whoever holds the Interim Championship at that point in time. The storytelling is simple, the logic is sound, and it sets up a ready-made match.

Furthermore, the idea allows Bryan to coalesce without being forgotten and the title lineage to stay unbroken. Granted, Bryan's so over right now that it would take three people/separate entities (The Shield only counts as one in my mind) ascending to the same heights he has over the last two years in a few short months and knockout writing from WWE Creative to expel him from memory. However, every time an announcer says "interim," it conjures up the image that the man in the ring defending the Championship is only a placeholder until Bryan gets back. Sure, that looming shadow would hurt the Interim Champion a bit, but again, this situation is less than optimal to begin with. Besides, all the placeholder would need is strong booking to back him in order to overcome the idea that he's only filling in for the true Champ.

And to me, the only thing worse to the integrity of a Championship than having it change hands outside of a match is when the guy or gal holding the belt is made to look like a chump throughout the reign (which is a huge reason why the WWE World Heavyweight Championship is the only title worth a good God damn in the company right now). If creating a proxy title to be reunified with the inert Championship can retain the lineage despite a prolonged injury, then why shouldn't that avenue be taken? The implication of an Interim Champion has far more positives than any other option, and those positives further outweigh its negatives than the alternatives. I don't expect WWE to go down this route, but if Bryan has to miss a bunch of time thanks to his injuries, then this option seems like the best one the company could and absolutely should take.