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In our latest reader poll here at PWTorch, I asked: Who do you want to be the first World Hvt. Champion on Raw, among those listed? (The list consists of all wrestlers not assigned to Smackdown at this time, so by the end of tonight, some will be assigned to Smackdown and thus ruled out.)
The top vote-getter is Seth Rollins, with more than twice the votes (38%) of anyone else. This is my pick, too. He’s the most ready and he’s the one whom fans will embrace right away as being “deserving.” Seth has talked about beating Roman Reigns at the Royal Rumble (albeit by DQ when Reigns refused to break a guillotine, so hardly something to brag about). Seth has made it clear storyline-wise and in real life that he wants to be an alpha centerpiece main event act with a world title.
He can deliver great matches regularly and passes one key test that isn’t easy: Will fans see it as a letdown if his title defense concludes a PLE that Reigns also has a title defense on earlier in the card? This is a safe, prudent call for WWE if they go this route. Nobody will be too upset and it gives the second world title instant credibility.
The second most votes so far is going to Cody Rhodes (14%). At first glance, this might seem like the obvious choice. Cody has been pushed as the top babyface in WWE since his return, he main-evented a successful WrestleMania against Reigns and only lost due to interference and distractions from Paul Heyman and Solo Sikoa. He is popular with fans, he’s fresher than Seth at this moment, and he can have really good matches.
I think he has the star power and in-ring skills to headline a PLE against a variety of heels even if Reigns has a defense also earlier in the show. (I’m not sure how often this is going to happen, by the way. Reigns might be on fewer PLEs than ever, and when he is, he might always conclude the PLE, although the symbolism of that damages the prestige of this new World Hvt. Title, which Triple H set forth last week is supposed to be a world title fans can be proud of because of the frequency of title defenses the champion will be making. If it’s always treated as “less than” Reigns’s Universal Title on PLEs, it defines it down quite a bit, as was the case when WWE had a clear priority of one World Title over the other – usually the Raw-based title in the pre-Fox Smackdown era.)
The downside of Cody winning this new title is substantial. This is not the title Cody is on a quest to win. Anyone who wins this new World Title is going to be battling the perception that this is a consolation prize for a wrestler with less clout than Reigns. If Cody wins this title (in Saudi Arabia, of all places), it’ll look like a title created for him because he came up short against Reigns. WWE has been soft in pushing that Reigns cheated to win and Cody deserves an immediate rematch given the circumstances. WWE might go back to Reigns vs. Cody at WrestleMania next year, and if Cody has already won a World Title and either still holds or has since lost it, it complicates “his story” and takes away the hook of his next match against Reigns being his chance to finally win a WWE world title, something his dad aspired to accomplish but came up short.
The next group top vote-getters are very different wrestlers with very different arguments for and against.
Drew McIntyre was once a co-top star for WWE along with Reigns. Going into Survivor Series 2020, there was some debate over who should win. It wasn’t just a given that Reigns would or should be booked to win. He’s in a different place now. His last really big moment was at Clash at the Castle last fall and he, like Cody, could make a case he deserves a rematch given the circumstances of the loss – also interference. Since then, though, Drew has been featured in a lower position on the card n(although having a lot of “bangers!”).
He’s been off-TV lately during contract negotiations and perhaps to let some nagging injuries heal. If he and WWE have come to terms and WWE paid big money to sign Drew to a long-term deal, WWE will want to get their money’s worth out of him; therefore, he’d a legit candidate to win and a better choice than Cody.
I could see Drew turning heel, also, as that would be a spark for his character. He could feud against Seth right away. As a babyface, he could defend against Gunther, for instance. Winning this newly established title wouldn’t hurt Drew as much as it would hurt Cody since Drew is a colder character without a story that necessitates beating Reigns. It essentially would be Drew getting back the Raw-based world title that he once held.
Another top vote-getter is Gunther. He’s the Intercontinental Champion and there’s more of a story to be told with that reign. That said, the IC Title instantly meant less the second Triple H announced the new World Title last Monday night. Still, the ideal trajectory for him seems to be a challenger to Reigns perhaps more than a year from now after the next draft while he dominates as IC Champ in the mean time. However, if Seth, Cody, or Drew are the new World Champion, he could be shifted into a top heel challenger role sooner than that. He isn’t clearly at the World Title level yet, but he hasn’t been defined down to the point that he’s too damaged or stale to be in that role. He’s a wildcard in this situation.
Shinsuke Nakamura is fresh back from time off. He’s getting similar votes as Gunther and McIntyre. That surprised me. I don’t see him, at age 43, moving from a feud with Karrion Kross to winning the World Title tournament. Maybe he’s refreshed physically and mentally and he’s ready to add a great new chapter to his WWE run. Maybe winning a World Title tournament would be the best way to elevate him in the eyes of fans quickly. As a babyface, there aren’t many established top tier opponents for him to defend against (although a heel Drew along with Gunther come to mind). If he were a heel, then he’d have Seth, Cody, Drew, and perhaps Kevin Owens or Sami Zayn to eventually defend against, depending on which brand they land on. It’d be tough to put his title defense on last on a card unless he really stormed back and established himself as rejuvenated.
Brock Lesnar isn’t getting many votes, and I don’t blame readers for not voting for him. He wouldn’t exactly live up to the spirit of a champion who is likely to defend the title often enough to make fans proud compared to Reigns’s light schedule. He’s stale and feels like a better fit as a special attraction and not a centerpiece act. That said, if WWE wants to have a true top top name on the Raw marquee as champion to placate USA Network execs or whomever bids on Raw, if he were champ, that would offset a mainstream perception of Raw having an inferior consolation prize as champion.
Lesnar’s contract status and number of available dates is also a factor. If he were to win, I think it’d be short-term and he’d be used to give whomever beats him the credibility of having defeating him to win the title. If Seth or Drew, for instance, beat Lesnar at Summerslam, it’d give him and the belt more credibility than if instead one of them won the tournament final over someone else.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn aren’t getting many votes, in part because they seem wrapped up in the tag division and a feud with the Bloodline. Either could be a “good champion,” but not a great choice at this point. Sami was red hot earlier this year, but has cooled off. His popularity seems mostly built around his dynamic with the Bloodline. I’m not sure he’s a safe pick to be champion if he seems like a secondary wrestler who came up short against Reigns. The timing just doesn’t seem right, either. Owens would have good matches, but he feels a notch or two lower on the roster chart now than most of the other vote getters.
Comment below with your thoughts and vote in our poll if you haven’t yet.