(CBSNewYork/CBS Local) — What a week.
In the span of 72 hours, the Raw Women’s Championship was relinquished, the Intercontinental title was stripped from its champion, and a quarter-century-old pay-per-view was brought back to life. That’s just the start.
Title changes in professional wrestling happen all the time. However, what doesn’t happen frequently is a title changing when no match has taken place. Even more rare? That it happens on consecutive days.
Becky Lynch relinquished the Raw Women’s Championship on Monday after stunning the WWE Universe by announcing that she and fiancé Seth Rollins are expecting their first child. With “The Man” now set to become “The Mom,” the championship was awarded to Asuka who won the Money In The Bank ladder match just 24 hours earlier. The transition ends Lynch’s record-setting 398-day championship reign, which began at WrestleMania 35, when she defeated Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair. The trio became the first women to ever perform in the main event of the Showcase of the Immortals.
The other shoe dropped just one day later on the men’s side, when it was announced that Sami Zayn was being stripped of the Intercontinental Championship due to an inability to defend the title. Subsequently, a tournament to crown a new champion will begin Friday night on SmackDown.
Compared to the Irish Lass Kicker’s 13 months at the top, Zayn’s time as champion was a flash in the pan. The 35-year-old Canadian won the title at the Elimination Chamber event on March 8, WWE’s final pay-per-view before setting up shop at the fanless Performance Center to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic. In his only title defense, he defeated Daniel Bryan on the first night of WrestleMania and hasn’t competed since.
Zayn voiced his displeasure on social media shortly after WWE announced the change.
“I disagree with this decision and no matter what anyone says, I am still undefeated and therefore still the Intercontinental Champion,” Zayn tweeted.
More on this momentarily.
Meanwhile, NXT is dusting off WWE’s old In Your House pay-per-view concept with NXT TakeOver: In Your House on June 7. In a mini Degeneration X reunion, Shawn Michaels and Triple H made the announcement during the brand’s Wednesday night broadcast.
The In Your House series had 27 events during its run from 1995 until 1999. Since that time it had gone dormant until the black and gold brand breathed new life into it this week. The card for the show will be announced in the coming weeks.
Back to Zayn.
He is reportedly choosing to stay home and not travel to the television tapings due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. WWE has publicly stated that all performers and employees are welcome to do so at their choosing without the risk of repercussion. However, there has also been an anonymous allegation levied against the company that some personnel are being forced to work while being fearful of losing their jobs if they voice concerns to their supervisor. The company has strongly denied the claim.
A number of other Superstars, including top talent Roman Reigns, have also chosen to remain home at this time. Reigns informed WWE of his decision shortly before WrestleMania, leaving the creative team to scramble to replace him in the main event against Goldberg for the Universal Championship. He would ultimately be replaced by current champion Braun Strowman.
The absence of Lynch, arguably the company’s most popular Superstar, comes at a particularly difficult time for WWE. Television viewership continues to fall without the energy of a live crowd and with a lack of familiar faces.
For years the brand had been built around aging talents while the up-and-comers largely failed to gain traction. John Cena was the last of a generation to truly seize the brass ring. Sparse appearances from The Undertaker, Goldberg, Triple H, and others from the previous generation are no longer enough to give traction to the current crop of talent.
So what can WWE do? A lot, actually.
Although familiarity may be an issue, one that even Vince McMahon has acknowledged, the current roster may be among the most athletically gifted in history. What made The Attitude Era so successful wasn’t that its talents were just good in the ring, it was that they were allowed to be more authentic and build a connection with fans.
Give this roster a chance to do the same, and they will pull WWE back up to prominence.
Asuka is being given such a chance right now, and look at the results. She’s become appointment television and a gem on commentary, even though she’s speaking a mile a minute in Japanese. Making her champion was the right decision. Can she fill Becky Lynch’s shoes? Absolutely not. But Becky Lynch couldn’t fill Asuka’s shoes either. They are unique individuals tapping into parts of their true personas. That is why they are beloved.
Alexa Bliss, Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Naomi, Natalya, Liv Morgan and Lacy Evans can all help take the women’s roster to new heights. Each have proven that they can forge a connection with the audience and build believability into their characters. Morgan, in particular, is one good push away from becoming the next big star following her time in the Riott Squad.
To elevate the Intercontinental Championship, why not tap into Edge and Randy Orton’s feud? Any gold around Edge’s waist would almost guarantee lapsed fans would tune in to see what happens next. Another wise contender for the vacant title is the recently returned Jeff Hardy. He too would bring notoriety to the championship and could be positioned to elevate younger talent who have not yet solidified their standing.
Giving Daniel Bryan another run as champion would also make sense provided he is booked strongly as the proven talent that he is.
So where do we go from here? I have no idea. But for the first time in a while I’m excited by the possibilities that lay ahead. There are many roads WWE can take here. All will be bumpy, but some might just create enough buzz so that fans will be beating down the doors to get in when the time comes.
Lynch’s pregnancy, Zayn’s absence, the title changes, and the pandemic all equal opportunity. Now it’s time for WWE to capitalize on it.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.