Champions losing non-title matches is acceptable when done right – but apparently doing it right is the tricky part. After Randy Orton’s non-title loss in his House of Horrors match against Bray Wyatt (which truly had no kayfabe reason not to be a title match anyway,) he’s now on the victorious end of the fight, besting Jinder Mahal in a grudge match in the main event of this week’s Smackdown LIVE. This happened to the benefit of… well, no one but an audience tired of this storyline.
If we were supposed to take away that Jinder is an unworthy champion, we already knew that. If we were supposed to take away that Randy Orton finally got his revenge, I don’t think anybody really cared. Nothing changed. No new information was imparted. It’s not like Randy’s character is suddenly legitimized because he can beat Jinder Mahal. It’s the same problem Seth Rollins started coming up against in the latter portion of his title run – when the champ is clearly a weasel who can’t win on his own, at a certain point it stops meaning anything to beat him.
Contrast this to my favorite WWE non-title win of the past few years: Cesaro beating (surprise surprise) Randy Orton on a random Smackdown before Elimination Chamber 2014. In a lead-up to a multi-man title match, Cesaro, then half of a middling tag team, pinned Orton clean. Sure, the title didn’t change hands, but character standings changed. Orton was established enough that losing to Cesaro didn’t suddenly make him trash, but the clearly-incredibly-talented Cesaro “rising above his station” in a sense and beating the champ was huge for his credibility. It didn’t elevate him to world champion status, sadly, but the concrete, believable accolade of defeating a credible champion did wonders for a time. There was no title change, but we got new information.
Contrast this also to NJPW’s approach: in circumstances like the G1 Climax, the tournament structure inherently means that there are going to be flukes and champs are going to lose. In the past few days, Okada has eaten a handful of losses, but it’s not because EVIL is necessarily better than him or a rightful champion – rather, the strain of a round-robin tournament setting results in some unpredictable victories. (In addition, New Japan sees champions pinned in tag matches relatively frequently, which is easily kayfabe-explained away by considering it’s a different type of wrestling and the partners being able to shoulder some blame.) Okada remains the ace, and anyone who can beat him gets a bump.
All we learned from the main event of Smackdown was that Orton/Mahal is, mercifully, finally over. Really, nothing more.
Written by Bobby Murphy (@RobertJMurph)
Image courtesy of WWE.com
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