So, Sami Zayn is now the new Intercontinental Champion. That’s coming off a 189-title reign from Shinsuke Nakamura, who essentially did nothing with the belt except hold it as an accessory. That’s not the former Intercontinental Champions’ fault. There was nothing wrong with Nakamura, but the company clearly didn’t know what to do with him. Sami Zayn can actually make an excellent champion. Perhaps one of the best title holders of all time. The problem isn’t the talent per se. The reason that the Intercontinental title has essentially been worthless for the past decade-plus is due to the fact that the company hasn’t booked the belt in a meaningful manner for a long time. And there’s been a decent number of champions in the past several years. However, none of them have reached the heights that the likes of Chris Jericho, Mr. Perfect, Bret Hart, The Rock, Triple H or even The Miz has.
Who could forget the classic ladder match Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon? Or even The Rock and Triple H? The Intercontinental title represented what the future held for the company as a whole. The reason guys like Rock, Triple, Razor Ramon, or Randy Orton held the belts in the first place was to prepare them for the main event scene. Now, not every man or woman who’s held the belt ended up being elevated into the main event scene, but the point is that the championship always felt important because it was treated as something major. Unforgettable feuds came out of these guys wearing this belt, which is why it has such a rich history. These days, it appears that WWE could care less about the Intercontinental title and their mid-card in general.
There’s no shortage of great matches that have taken place in the last decade when it comes to the Intercontinental Championship. Has anyone truly been elevated because of the belt? Apollo Crews is stuck down in RAW jobbing left and right since he dropped the belt to Nakamura. Jeff Hardy and Braun Strowman are gone from the company. Big E. got a temporary boost from holding the belt, but what memorable feuds did he have when he was holding it? One of the main reasons that Big E’s WWE title reign was a failure is due to the fact that his character never developed past his New Day antics. Big E was too goofy of a champion; thus, it was hard to take him seriously as the top dog. Big E has the power to be a serious character when he’s allowed to be. His feud with the Bludgeon Brothers in 2018 proved that notion. Following the attack on Kofi and Woods, the former WWE Champion was forced to team with Jimmy Uso and he came down with such a serious demeanor. No jokes or New Day antics. Because the company failed to anything with Big E. as Intercontinental Champion that allowed his character to grow and organically get off with the WWE audience, fans just didn’t buy into him as a singles star. Of course, the horrendous booking for both reigns is the ultimate culprit.
But Shinsuke Nakamura’s title reign was a nail in the coffin. Shinsuke Nakamura is one of the best IWGP Intercontinental Champions of all time. That’s because New Japan Pro-Wrestling developed his character and booked him against memorable opponents. It isn’t just the champions itself, it’s the division around the title. Wrestlers just exist in the mid card without a defined character or much motivation. There doesn’t seem to be a fight to be the next IC title holder. WWE’s formula usually goes like this: Champion loses non-title match. Challenger gets championship match. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Rarely are their intimate or personal stories surrounding the potential opponent for the IC belt. WWE’s mid-card has been stuck in limbo for years and the only time the company gives it a decent amount of respect is when a top name like John Cena or Seth Rollins would hold the belt. It’s not too late for the company to change course and make the title mean something again. It’s not just about great matches or holding the belt for a lengthy period of time. It’s about crafting memorable feuds that remind people why the title was such a prestigous belt 20 years ago. Vince McMahon needs to start showing some love to guys not named Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar. Sami Zayn has all the tools to be one of the best Intercontinental Champions of all time. Let’s hope the company gives him that chance to be.
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