On January 1, 1975, in Tallahassee, Florida, Harley Race was named the first NWA United States Heavyweight Champion. Over the past 37 years, the championship has been held by such legendary wrestlers as Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Lex Luger, Sting and many more.
None of those men could have ever imagined the United States Championship would have such little value in 2012.
When I began closely following the WWE, Chris Benoit was United States Champion. As a former World Heavyweight Champion and world-renowned professional wrestler, Benoit brought a lot of prestige to the belt.
Young up-and-comer MVP was gunning for Benoit’s championship. In the months surrounding WrestleMania 23, MVP would contend for the U.S. Championship. Finally, at Judgment Day 2007, MVP would defeat Benoit in a Two of Three Falls match to win the title, instantly putting MVP on the map.
Five years later, the United States Championship is no more than a prop for the midcard wrestlers.
The United States Championship has never really been the title that would be used to mark a future world champion. There have been a few wrestlers in the past few years that would go on to win the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship, but the United States Championship has generally been something for the lower-tier midcard wrestlers to compete for.
In my opinion, the best use for the belt would be to use it as a means to move talent up the midcard. Take, for example, the feud between Dolph Ziggler and Zack Ryder from late last year. Ziggler was an established upper-midcard wrestler and Ryder had just begun to climb the ranks. When Ryder won the title, it seemed as if he had solidified himself within the midcard by defeating an established midcard champion.
Instead, Ryder would lose the title 29 days later. Since then, Ryder has been portrayed as a loser and isn’t even a regular performer on Monday Night Raw. Jack Swagger, who defeated Ryder for the title, has similarly been booked as a loser. When you look at how some of the former champions have been portrayed, it’s hard to take the title seriously.
And now Santino Marella is United States Champion. Everything from his character to his reign has been detrimental to the championship’s prestige.
While Santino is a great wrestler, is character is nothing more than a midcard comedy act. He is very popular with the crowd, but he is the farthest thing from a serious competitor. His reign has only consisted of a handful of title defenses, and he has yet to have anything even close to a feud.
The WWE hasn’t given fans any reason to believe the United States Championship is anything more than a prop. However, with Raw becoming a three-hour show soon, there is reason to be optimistic.
If the WWE uses the extra hour of Raw to put a stronger focus on the midcard, they could rebuild the prestige of the title. Compelling competition over the championship would greatly improve the importance of the belt.
Other than that, they must have legitimate champions. No more booking the champion like a goof or a punk. After all, how can you take a championship seriously if you can’t take the champion seriously?