Like nearly everything else the Big Dog does, Roman Reigns’ United States title run wasn’t exactly well-received by hardcore fans. Some of the concerns were little more than Roman hate madlibs, such as the claims that he was disrespecting the title by slinging it over his shoulder. God forbid you ruin the prestige of the lowest tiered belt on the roster.
Fans also didn’t appreciate Roman’s supposed lack of defenses, despite the fact he defended the title an admirable six times in 15 weeks (twice more than AJ Styles in the same time span). This is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that, you know, Roman doesn’t book the show, and thus shouldn’t take heat for a lack of title defenses.
Enter this week’s Raw. A handicapped match that many saw as another chance for Roman to overcome the odds turned out to be what plenty of fans had hoped for. Roman dropped the title, and dropped it to perpetual internet favorite Chris Jericho.
Jericho’s title win last night has been well-received by fans, but why? The same issues that plagued Roman’s run will taint Jericho’s run as well.
The problem was never Roman. The problem is that the United States title is being used as a prop in the WWE Universal Championship storyline. Chris Jericho’s focus is still the feud with Roman and the growing tensions with Universal Champion Kevin Owens. Passing the belt to Chris Jericho doesn’t free up the title to be defended more, and it doesn’t give the title its own storyline. It just puts the title on someone fans are less likely to scapegoat.
The only way to interpret the title change as being particularly positive for the prestige of the title is if you take an “Anyone but Roman” approach to your wrestling. And a great deal of fans do just that. But in a few weeks’ time, what is the best-case scenario for the United States title? The only way it gets its own storyline would be if Owens drops the Universal Championship to Roman and Owens comes after Jericho for his United States title. This is a feud that has been brewing for months and doesn’t require a belt to sell it.
On a three hour show that desperately needs some depth, why can’t Titus O’Neil cut his teeth with a goofy heel run with the United States title? It would give his segments, by far the most aimless part of Raw right now, a little more direction. Or one of the members of the New Day could win the belt. New Day trying to convince Stephanie McMahon to allow them to defend the United States title under the Freebird Rule would be a fun segment.
Dragging a lower-tiered title onto the shoulders of main eventers does not make the title more prestigious. It stunts its growth and removes an important element from the undercard. Was Roman as great of a United States champion as John Cena? No, and not many have ever been. But Jericho’s run doesn’t appear on the surface to have the potential to be much better.
Dion Beary is into craft beer, vintage videogames, pro wrestling, and internet culture. His work has been featured in The Atlantic, Time, Buzzfeed, HuffPost Live, and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @hashtagdion.