We start with what (unfortunately) have come to be known as the "undercard" titles: The United States title and the Intercontinental title.
1. The US Title
As with most of the current WWE championships the US title has a lot of history behind it. My personal recollections date back to WCW when Bret Hart and Sting feuded over the gold in 1999 – something that forever cemented Hart as a heel in my mind which goes to show the potential of the belt if promoted correctly. While still a championship title, and thus worthy of respect, the US title has never had the prestige of its fellow minor belt, the Intercontinental Title. Go back even further and names like Harley Race, Terry Funk, Eddie Guerrero, and Steve Austin help to tell the tale behind the gold.
How is it used these days?
As the male singles title with the lowest perceived level of importance, the US title is usually used to help build up younger talent to champion level. How many times have we seen a hot talent capture it as their first title with the implication that it will build to greater things in the future? Look at the US title reigns of Daniel Bryan, Sheamus, and John Cena. This helped to catapult them up the ranks and allowed the backstage powers to see how each superstar looked carrying some gold around their waist. Does it always work out? Of course it doesn't, as evidenced by the likes of Zack Ryder, R-Truth, and Orlando Jordan. No disrespect to any of these men but sometimes the US title is as high as you can punch comfortably. Now this leaves you with a gray area in between the two poles: those who have won it, have yet to win anything else, but we still expect greatness from. The perfect example is the Swiss Superman, Antonio Cesaro. I could rave endlessly about this talented gentleman but I'll save it for a later blog post.
The Current Champion: Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose debuted as part of The Shield stable at Survivor Series last year and has been running roughshod over everyone who stands in their way. As much of a fan as I am of Reigns and Rollins (easily two of the brightest young stars in the company), in terms of a 'complete package' singles performer Ambrose leaves them both in the dust. Since the other two lost their tag titles, he can now claim to be the MVP in the proverbial shark tank. It is not hard to see why the likes of CM Punk and William Regal – both highly respected in their own right - are so high on him. The powers-that-be even deemed Ambrose to be worthy of a rare singles match against The Undertaker in April this year. I can hardly think of a greater rub for someone who had only been on TV for six months at that point than facing the Phenom (even if it was on Smackdown instead of a PPV). Now that Ambrose is properly built up to be a threat I can see him losing the title sometime before Wrestlemania to give another up-and-comer the boost they deserve.
When I think of future stars to capture the US title a number of names come to mind. Somebody like Fandango could potentially fit the bill but it would almost feel like a step down from the work Ambrose has done to keep the title alive and relevant (sorry Johnny, I'm a big fan but this gold is not for you – at least not for a while yet). Bray Wyatt is also a possibility but I think he should be setting his sights much higher. Therefore I think the best next US Champion is none other than Big E “I need 5” Langston. This guy has all the tools he needs for success. He has the look that the company adores. He has an explosive set off offense that makes him look like a credible threat in the ring and is deceptively charismatic out of it. If you believe the rumours, he has the backing of some influential persons backstage. All of this and he is only 27 years old. If you doubt for a second that Langston could be your future United States champion just go back and re-watch his match against Dean Ambrose at Hell In A Cell. Even though he failed to leave Miami with the belt the kid looked like a million dollars out there. I for one will mark out when Big E captures his first gold and I think the US title is the perfect stepping stone to a long, illustrious, career.
2. The Intercontinental Title
When it comes to the coveted IC title one of the great constants is that Michael Cole will go out of his way to tell you how many Hall Of Famers have held the belt over the years. Pat Paterson, Randy Savage, British Bulldog, and so on. If the US title is the “rookie” belt then the Intercontinental is the “prestige” title for the undercard. The Intercontinental title has a solid history and can claim to have stolen the show more than once. Who can forget the ladder match for the strap between Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania X? Or how about when Kurt Angle had to defend both the IC and European championships in a triple threat 2 out of 3 falls match?
How is it used today?
Similar to the US title, the IC is over given to a younger competitor as an instant validation of their abilities. Current champion Curtis Axel, aside from a very forgettable run as tag champ, was seemingly handed the belt due to his association with Paul Heyman. Unlike the US title, it is also sometimes given to a veteran performer to keep them in the general title scene without crowding the World Heavyweight or WWE belts. In the last few years we have seen The Miz, Christian, and The Big Show hold onto the IC gold simply to say that they have done so and cross it off their list. Why else has Chris Jericho, arguably one of the all time greats of the modern era, held it a record-setting nine times?... (Continues on next page)