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On Thursday afternoon, we all got the bad news. Seth Rollins has torn ligaments in his knee. The WWE Heavyweight Champion will need surgery. Rollins is expected to be out for six months, which means he will not be in a match at WrestleMania 32 in Dallas. As a result of this, WWE announced a tournament to crown a new heavyweight champion at Survivor Series on November 22.
At the moment, three of WWE’s top four full-time wrestlers are out of action, either with injuries (Rollins & Orton) or resting up from injuries (John Cena). With only one top-level protected star on the main roster, it looks like this tournament is a simple yet effective wrestling concept. Not even Crazy Vince McMahon and the Sports Entertainment Backup Singers can screw this up.
How Big Is Your Tournament?: The two best known title tournaments in WWF/WWE history took place in 1988 and 1998. In 1988, the promotion held a 14-man tournament at WrestleMania IV to crown a new WWF Heavyweight Champion. It was a 14-man tournament because Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant each received first-round bye. The show itself was disappointing, both from a financial and artistic standpoint.
In 1998, the promotion held another 14-man tournament as part of that year’s WWF Survivor Series. The move was made to get the title off “Stone Cold” Steve Austin without having Austin lose to his WrestleMania XV opponent, The Rock. That show was also an artistic disaster, as WWE crammed the entire title tournament, a tag match, and a ladies match into three hours.
While a 14-man tournament is more traditional, let’s shoot for a 16-man tournament here. Sixteen is a nice, round number.
Who Is In The Tournament?: Right now, many fans don’t think WWE has a lot of depth. But, there is certainly enough talent here to fill out a 16-man field.
You start with the eight wrestlers who worked the top contenders’s tournament on the October 26 Raw. That gives you Roman Reigns, Dolph Ziggler, Adrian Neville, Antonio Cesaro, Kofi Kingston, Big E. Langston, Kevin Owens, and Alberto Del Rio.
Now we need eight more wrestlers. Start with Sheamus. Sheamus already has the Money In The Bank briefcase, and he’s a former WWE champion. Speaking of former world champions, we can add a few of those, in the form of Mark Henry, The Miz, and Big Show. On the babyface side, you can include uppercard wrestlers Dean Ambrose and Ryback. The final two spots? Let’s say they go to King Barrett and James Storm.
Why James Storm? Storm is an experienced talent with a good look, who can fit in with this group. Sure, he debuted on NXT, but he’s only made one appearance on NXT, and he isn’t figured into NXT’s main storylines at the moment. With Rollins and Orton sidelined, the main roster needs another charismatic guy who’s a good hand in the ring.
When Is The Tournament?: Unlike the other title tournaments we discussed, the 2015 WWE Title Tournament should kick off on Monday’s episode of Raw from Manchester.
Why so soon? Because putting a 16-man tournament into one night on pay-per-view doesn’t work. You can have the quarterfinals, semi-finals, and finals of the tournament at Survivor Series. That makes for seven total matches. That also makes for better matches, matches that aren’t rushed.
It also means the first round of the tournament, the opening eight matches, can take place on WWE television. Ratings have been down for both Raw and Smackdown. There are two weeks of television between now and Survivor Series. Put three tournament matches on Raw and one on Smackdown for the next two weeks. It couldn’t hurt.
Why Aren’t John Cena & Brock Lesnar In The Tournament?: The real answer is that Lesnar isn’t in the tournament because WWE isn’t going to pay the money it would take to add dates onto Brock’s deal. But there are other reasons to keep Cena and Lesnar away from Atlanta on the 22nd.
Cena and Lesnar in the tournament might pay off in the short-term, but it’s high time for WWE to concern itself with long-term booking. Whoever ends up with the title can then have natural programs defending the title against the returning John Cena, and then the returning Brock Lesnar. (And, when the time comes, you can add the returns of Randy Orton and Seth Rollins to that last.) That leaves you several months of fresh main event feuds. It also leaves one more question.
Who Wins The Tournament?: Obviously, there are several good options here. The PWTorch website poll says that the fans want either Dean Ambrose or Kevin Owens to win the title. Either of them would do a fine job as champion.
But, of all the wrestlers on the active WWE roster, the wrestler who has been pushed the hardest is Roman Reigns. There is never going to be a better opportunity to put the title on Reigns. Have Roman beat The Miz in the first round of the tournament. There’s no way you’ll get a WWE crowd to cheer Miz, no matter who he’s facing. Then, pit Reigns against Wade Barrett in the quarterfinals, Big Show in the semifinals, and Sheamus in the finals. There’s very little chance of Roman being booed against any of those three heels.
Then, depending on how things work out, WWE can have Dean Ambrose turn on Reigns and challenge him for the title on the line. Or, if fans refuse to get behind The Big Dog, have Reigns turn heel on Ambrose, which is guaranteed to get the desired reaction.
Pat McNeill of Greenville, South Carolina has been a PWTorch columnist since February 2001. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.