Though we are in the midst of a new era wherein almost every athlete on the payroll plays a pivotal role, it still holds true that no division is made without a credible champion.
The reintroduction of the brand extension has doubled the WWE’s respective divisions in size, splitting tag-team, mid-card, women’s and main event stars down the middle and having them compete exclusively to either Raw or SmackDown. This separation has brought with it four new championships to level the playing field, which is why we’ve seen some competitors reach that championship level whom otherwise wouldn’t have under the old regime.
In order to create two reputable rosters, each brand needs to host some credible champions to represent each entity on the show and since we’re still in the early days of the split, this makes each champion pivotal in setting a precedent for their colleagues to uphold.
In many ways, the champion sets the standard for the level of character and ability the fans should expect to see from their respective divisions and anytime someone fails to do their duty as champion, the wrestlers working under them suffer the brunt of that.
So who is doing their job well as a titleholder on the roster, and who could be improved?
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12 Heath Slater & Rhyno
The story of Heath Slater has been one of the most consistently entertaining since the brand extension went underway. Going undrafted to either Raw or SmackDown in July allowed Slater the opportunity to go against guys like Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, getting fans to rally behind him in a way that we never thought possible.
But in the weeks since reaching the climax of that storyline and winning a contract with the blue brand, as well as his very own SmackDown Tag Team Championship along with Rhyno, the buzz surrounding Heath Slater has significantly lost steam in favour of the other more intense rivalries in the SmackDown tag-team division.
The Usos are picking up speed as the biggest heels on Tuesday nights and with a serious chance to capture the titles from Slater and Rhyno on Sunday at No Mercy, the odds of the self-proclaimed “Beauty and the Man-Beast” having a short-lived run as the inaugural champions are getting higher and higher as the days go by.
11 TJ Perkins
This summer, the WWE Cruiserweight Classic hosted some of the most extraordinary matches produced by the company in years, showcasing incredible athletes from all over the globe and even enlisting some of them for the brand new cruiserweight division on Raw.
As the winner of said tournament, TJ Perkins, went into the flagship show as its WWE Cruiserweight Champion, but there seems to be something missing when it comes to the division each week. The magic that accompanied the CWC has subsided and it’s like the fans in attendance are much less enthused by the enthralling display going on when guys like Perkins step in the ring, or that the WWE is putting more of an emphasis on the high-flying ability than on the in-ring storytelling that made the CWC so appealing.
As such, TJ Perkins has yet to strike home with the crowd as a fixture on Raw and it’s worth wondering if the man, and the division as a whole, would have fared better on SmackDown Live where in-ring competition seems to be more appreciated.
Perkins is a great athlete for sure and his ability holds up against an established WWE star like Brian Kendrick, but it wouldn’t be all that shocking to see the company opt towards giving the veteran the title soon, in hopes of increasing the buzz surrounding the division.
10 New Day
The trio of Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods has been electrifying the WWE Universe for almost two years at this point and in that time they’ve accomplished quite a lot when it comes to tag-team wrestling under the company umbrella.
They are the longest reigning W… W… E… World… Tag… Team… Champions in the history of the titles, currently in the midst of their second run with the gold and it goes without saying that their presence has helped the division quite a lot since they joined forces.
That being said, there comes a time when the repetitive nature of their gimmick becomes a little too much and fans start to pursue other interests, and that appears to be happening with New Day right now. Their successful championship defenses against Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows at SummerSlam and Clash of Champions brought on more disdain than rejoice, as many believe that the crazed and energetic title reign of The New Day has run its course.
As good as the team is, there is a whole host of great alliances awaiting an opportunity on Monday Night Raw and it’s about time they received one.
9 Roman Reigns
Having only carried the United States Championship for little over a week after Clash of Champions, it’s quite difficult to gauge how Roman Reigns’ run with the mid-card title is going to pan out. What can be said for sure, however, is that the WWE needs to ensure that this new stage of Roman’s career doesn’t put him in the main event scene on the weekly.
He needs to be used solely for the purpose of building up the undercard and bringing the best out of guys like Rusev, Cesaro, Chris Jericho, Sheamus and Sami Zayn, otherwise Reigns’ title run is just going to take away from the WWE Universal Championship’s image on Raw.
“The Big Dog” will find himself in the main event title picture again before too long, maybe even by WrestleMania season, but they need to use this U.S. Title run to its fullest potential if they want Reigns to head back up the card with the slightest bit of fan support.
His reign has gotten off to a rocky start, but with some competitive matches and a vested interest in improving Raw’s mid-card, Roman Reigns’ run as United States Champion could be the best possible thing for both the man’s career and the title itself going forward.
At a time when great names like Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Becky Lynch were making the permanent transition from NXT to the main roster, many feared that the once stacked women’s division on the developmental brand would take a huge hit from the loss.
But “The Empress of Tomorrow” soon emerged with her stiff and intimidating style to give the NXT scene a huge breath of fresh air with regards to women’s wrestling and keep the division booming against the likes of Bayley, Dana Brooke, Emma, Nia Jax and Alexa Bliss.
Now that each of those women are known only to the main roster, however, the female representation on NXT has taken a much bigger dive than we feared it would in 2015. Sure, there are some bright prospects there, but they’re actually building the division on the fact that Asuka sees nobody on the roster as worthy of a championship opportunity, which isn’t necessarily the best way to establish a division and build up its stars.
A champion is only as good as the division it represents and, in Asuka’s case, as incredible as she is inside the ring, the level of talent at her disposal right now is forcing her to take a backseat for the time being on NXT. When a worthy talent emerges, that might change, but until then, Asuka will remain as NXT Women’s Champion.
7 The Revival
The team of Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson has been a treat to watch since joining forces on NXT and, although things got off to a slow start, The Revival are where they belong as the only two-time NXT Tag-Team Champions in the brief history of the brand.
Their impeccable championship defense against Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn said it all. It was one of the best tag matches that WWE has seen in a long time and did well to increase the stock of all four men involved, as well as the titles.
Dash and Dawson are on par with some of the best teams in all of WWE when it comes to weaving the perfect tag match together, and it’s given the already prestigious championships a great image heading into the second Dusty Rhodes Tag-Team Classic.
The tournament showcases an enormous level of talent, and with the way they’ve dominated this year, it’s definitely possible that The Revival will make it to the finals at NXT Takeover: Toronto and go on to represent the division not only as its champions, but as the second team to claim the trophy in honor of the late “American Dream” when it’s all said and done.
Who better than the champs, right?
6 Shinsuke Nakamura
Despite only being on the roster for roughly seven months, Shinsuke Nakamura has made some serious waves on NXT, quickly becoming the most popular star on the roster. Renowned globally for his immense charisma both in the ring and during his stylish entrance, not to mention due to the contrasting strong style technique he adopts between the ropes, it’s no surprise that Shinsuke Nakamura quickly became a hit with the NXT fan base.
As a brand that typically rewards ability, popularity and star power, Shinsuke Nakamura’s position as NXT Champion is completely deserved and “The King of Strong Style” has done well since NXT Takeover: Brooklyn to represent the brand as its centerpiece.
Language barrier aside, it’s undeniable that a man with Nakamura’s unique aura was born to make it big on a global scale, so although the man will likely remain atop the NXT mountain for the remainder of 2016, don’t be surprised if Nakamura drops the title in favor of somebody like Bobby Roode, allowing himself to become a fixture on the main roster.
For now, however, Nakamura is doing his job perfectly, and a few successful title defenses will cement him as one of the most impactful champions in the history of NXT.
5 Becky Lynch
Having only become active last month, the SmackDown Women’s Championship is still in its early days with regards to relevancy and prestige. But even so, the introduction of the title has lit a fire under just about everyone in the SmackDown women’s division, making each and every segment involving the ladies of the blue brand worth watching every week.
Standing at the forefront of that division is none other than Becky Lynch, one of the most experienced wrestlers on SmackDown and of the most popular women in the brand.
Her introduction to the WWE over the last year has been a contributing factor in sparking the “women’s evolution” that the company likes to brag about these days and its proven true in the fact that everyone on SmackDown has their sights set on dethroning Becky Lynch as the champion and the standard bearer in the SmackDown Live women’s division.
"The Irish Lasskicker" has the full package and her rivalry with Alexa Bliss heading into No Mercy has been a lot of fun to watch, and promises to culminate in a match with the potential to steal the show and slot the SmackDown Women’s Title higher than that of Raw.
4 Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks may have only just won the Raw Women’s Championship back after losing it to Charlotte at SummerSlam, but we already know how much good having a talented performer like “The Boss” as the female representative of the flagship show will do for the brand.
Sasha Banks has been arguably the most popular woman on the roster since debuting in the summer of 2015 and now that she’s back on her rightful throne after just over a month away from it, the potential going forward for Sasha Banks to take over is monumental.
Her inevitable rematch with Charlotte at Hell in a Cell included, the amount of new challengers that Banks will fit in against now is huge, with names like Paige, Nia Jax, Emmalina and Dana Brooke all going to be chomping at the bit for an opportunity at the title.
The possibilities are endless and if it somehow culminates in the dream concept of Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at WrestleMania, then this will all have been worth it.
For now though, before the potential heel turn comes, Banks should relish in the fact that her “dreams do come true” story is still just as special as it was the first time, to the extent that the women of Raw could main-event an episode with zero complaints from the fans.
3 The Miz
If this had been written prior to SummerSlam, The Miz would have found himself way down the list as someone with barely any draw as Intercontinental Champion, but ever since his confrontation with Daniel Bryan, the man has been completely reinvigorated.
He has shown tremendous drive, emotion and intensity on his quest to prove himself not only as a worthy titleholder, but as a worthy competitor in all aspects of the product, with a style that embodies that of a consistent entertainer as opposed to that of a coward.
His segments have contributed to making SmackDown the top brand and have allowed the Intercontinental Title to gain in image after a prolonged period of time out of the limelight.
The fact that so many fans would rather see a spectacular performer in Dolph Ziggler retire from in-ring competition, than to see The Miz lose the championship at arguably the pinnacle of his career, is only a testament to the way the man has been booked since SummerSlam. He’s making the mid-card scene on SmackDown Live an absolute treat to watch, so hopefully WWE can find a way to continue his run past Sunday’s No Mercy.
2 A.J. Styles
A.J. Styles didn’t waste any time in making an impact in his debut year with the WWE and with a clean pinfall victory against John Cena at SummerSlam, and a WWE World Championship win at SmackDown Live’s first brand-exclusive Pay-Per-View, “the champ that runs the camp” is quickly becoming one of the biggest names on the company payroll.
His ability speaks for itself after an eighteen-year career and the fact that his title reign is bringing the best out of John Cena and Dean Ambrose, two of the blue brand’s hottest commodities, is doing wonders for the main event picture on SmackDown.
The only thing prohibiting Styles from being at the top of this list, however, is that Styles has allowed his dirty Backlash win get the better of his composure as a champion.
Despite his many accolades, Styles’ run with the gold still feels like it hasn’t quite been cemented yet and likely won’t unless he somehow manages to walk out of No Mercy with the strap in a hard-fought and definitive win. That said, the triple threat stipulation sort of prevents that from happening and, up until now, Styles has allowed it to have Cena and Ambrose in the limelight almost more so than the titleholder himself.
As WWE World Champion, Styles needs to be front and center as the top dog on SmackDown, but the manner in which he won the title has made that difficult to accomplish.
1 Kevin Owens
As much as people complain about SmackDown being the consistently superior show and Monday Night Raw often being a chore to watch at 3+ hours every week, it’s undeniable that as far as feel-good moments in the brand extension era go, Kevin Owens winning the WWE Universal Championship takes the cake across all brands.
You can cut the show some slack for maybe not having the best booking going forward from SummerSlam since Finn Bálor’s injury really shook things up at a pivotal moment, but even then, their decision to place the strap on “The Prizefighter” was easily the best move in giving Raw a sense of refreshment we desperately needed to see.
Again, the week-to-week booking with Seth Rollins’ face turn heading into Clash of Champions could have been better, but Kevin Owens himself has definitely ticked all the boxes when it comes to being the heel champion on the flagship show.
The suits, the swagger, the cocky bravado, the promo work and the consistently magnificent ring work has already proven Owens to be a worthy investment and, despite Raw’s significant number of downfalls, more often than not, Kevin Owens does his job tremendously.
Of course, it can be argued that Owens is being labelled as an undeserving champion as a result of the shady antics from which he usually earns his victories, but he’s still marketed as the face of the programme, which is more than can be said for AJ Styles.
It’s made very clear each week on Raw that Owens is, in fact, the man to beat and until that changes, his performance and overall presence as champion is going to be superior to that of “The Phenomenal One” on Tuesday nights.
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