Quick Takes on Booking AJ Styles, WWE Creative, Jericho vs. Orange Cassidy, More

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    Who will be first to challenge AJ Styles for his newly won Intercontinental Championship?

    Who will be first to challenge AJ Styles for his newly won Intercontinental Championship?Credit: WWE.com

    Regardless of what goes down at Sunday’s Backlash pay-per-view, the WWE landscape is about to change one way or another as we enter the summer season, especially if this past week was any indication of what the immediate future holds.

    The most talked-about development among fans involved Bruce Prichard taking over for Paul Heyman as the lead creative force for both Raw and SmackDown, per WWE. The brands have undergone several creative overhauls in the past year or so, but it’s become clear that the status quo will remain the same so long as CEO Vince McMahon is still calling the shots.

    On the bright side, SmackDown at least appears to be headed back in the right direction coming off the gem of a match between AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan on Friday night. The lengthy bout saw Styles become the new intercontinental champion, which creates countless possibilities in the blue brand’s midcard scene.

    Styles can have a fun run as champ provided that he’s booked to look strong and not to lose every non-title match he competes in. Multiple titleholders have fallen victim to this trope lately, and it’s hurt the prestige of the midcard belts considerably.

    All of this and much more, including Chris Jericho and Orange Cassidy bringing out the best in each other in All Elite Wrestling and a Queen of the Ring tournament’s reportedly cancellation, will be broken down in this week’s Quick Takes.

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    Between AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan, The Phenomenal One was the right choice for WWE to go with as the new intercontinental champion.

    Bryan has held the gold before, and while he didn’t have a proper run it the first time because of a career-threatening injury, he could always regain the belt down the road. The money is in the chase, and it would mean more for him to win it from Styles after having a full-fledged feud with him this summer.

    Besides, a number of credible babyface challengers from the blue brand are waiting in the wings. In addition to Bryan, Jeff Hardy would be a logical opponent for him at some point, not to mention that the matches they could have would be nothing short of excellent.

    Mustafa Ali and Shorty G, despite not being on WWE TV a lot lately, would benefit a ton from feuding with Styles over the Intercontinental Championship, not to mention winning it at some point. Elias and Otis are options as well, along with ex-champ Sami Zayn once he returns to the ring.

    Matt Riddle stepping up to Styles and challenging him for the title would be the ultimate feud. The King of Bros would be cemented as a star if he were to win that championship from Styles following a series of stellar matchups.

    Before anyone else, however, Drew Gulak should be afforded the first shot at the strap because he beat Styles clean earlier in June. It wouldn’t have to be saved for the next pay-per-view, either. As a featured attraction on SmackDown, it could be a blast.

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    The COVID-19 pandemic caused WWE to change plans for multiple major events, most notably everything that was set to transpire over WrestleMania 36 weekend. However, another event that was forced to be canceled that didn’t become public knowledge until recently was a Queen of the Ring tournament.

    Bryan Alvarez noted on Wrestling Observer Live recently that while there weren’t any plans to bring back the Mae Young Classic in 2020, a Queen of the Ring tourney would have taken its place. With all of the company’s events taking place at the Performance Center, with no fans set to return for the foreseeable future, it seems those plans have been put on the back-burner indefinitely.

    It’s a real shame because WWE has enough women between Raw, SmackDown, NXT and NXT UK to make something like that work without having to bring in anyone from outside of the company (as it normally would with the Mae Young Classic). It also would have been timely with the King of the Ring returning last year for the men.

    With a possible title shot up for grabs, Queen of the Ring could have been an effective way of creating new stars and giving fans fresh matchups. Charlotte Flair calls herself The Queen, but she wouldn’t need the accolade as much as Shayna Baszler, the Queen of Spades, does right now.

    WWE was smart to hold off on doing the tournament for a little while to ensure that it’s as special as it should be with fans in attendance. When it does come to fruition, it could be as much of a benefit to WWE TV as last year’s King of the Ring matches were.

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    Chris Jericho has unsurprisingly turned everything he’s touched in AEW to gold, and his feud with Orange Cassidy is proving to be the latest example of that.

    The inaugural AEW world champion is coming off two high-profile losses (to Jon Moxley at Revolution and The Elite at Double or Nothing). In other words, he’s due a victory on a major stage. And while a match against Mike Tyson at All Out is still up in the air, it’s imperative that he defeats Orange Cassidy at Fyter Fest.

    The best part about the program is that Cassidy loses nothing from being beaten by Jericho. If anything, he gains a ton simply by proving he can hang with him in the ring, the same way he did versus Pac at Revolution.

    He and Best Friends scored a surprise win over Inner Circle’s Jake Hager, Santana and Ortiz on Wednesday’s Dynamite before being brutally beaten down by the faction afterward. Jericho’s assault on Cassidy looked particularly vicious and made their feud feel that much more personal.

    Jericho vs. Tyson could be a spectacle if booked the right way, but Orange Cassidy is exactly the type of person Jericho should be working with at this stage of his career. He’s a fresh face with potential and needs a bit of a boost from a guy like Jericho.

    Cassidy will likely never be a world champion in AEW, but given how popular he is with the audience, he should be positioned prominently on the show. His ongoing storyline with Jericho has been handled properly thus far and has helped fans view him as more than just a comedy act who’s known for doing very little.

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    It shouldn’t be too difficult for WWE to book their champions to look strong and feel special, but that sadly has not been the case in quite some time. Officials’ insistence on wanting their titleholders to lose non-title matches more often than not has rendered a vast majority of the championships irrelevant.

    WWE has been guilty of this far too much lately. Fans saw it on Friday’s SmackDown when Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro knocked off SmackDown tag team champions The New Days. Days earlier on Raw, Sasha Banks and Bayley lost in Triple Threat tag team action immediately after capturing the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship.

    On that same show, Raw women’s champion Asuka lost to Charlotte Flair in the main event. Finally, Andrade suffered his fair share of losses while United States champion, and his reign was a total joke as a result.

    Thankfully, Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman have been immune to this since WrestleMania 36, but no one else is nearly as safe, and WWE is paying the price for it. Fans have been conditioned to not care about championships or the Superstars holding them because, at this point, none of it means much of anything.

    If the idea is to set up future contenders by having them beat the champions, that’s what No. 1 contender matches are for. New intercontinental champion AJ Styles shouldn’t suffer this same fate; he already did as United States champion a year ago.

    Kofi Kingston won the majority of his matches while in possession of the WWE Championship in 2019 and was always over with the audience. Why WWE doesn’t follow that same formula with its other champs is anyone’s guess.

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    It’s amazing to think that it was almost exactly one year ago that WWE appointed Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff to be the new executive directors of Raw and SmackDown, respectively. A majority of fans reacted well to the news but realized that these promotions were pointless provided that Vince McMahon still had full creative control over the product.

    Interestingly enough, it took all of a few months for Bischoff to be removed from his post and replaced with Bruce Prichard, who has helped run SmackDown since then. Heyman, all things considered, has done a decent job of building up new names and making Raw far more tolerable than it once was.

    But even he reached his breaking point, leading to what happened this past week.

    Needless to say, WWE’s announcement Thursday night that Prichard will be overseeing the creative process for both brands going forward does not bode well for the future of the brand extension. With the two teams being consolidated into one, it’s possible we see wrestlers bounce back and forth between the shows more frequently sooner rather than later.

    If viewers weren’t already tuning in to see these same Superstars before, with ratings hitting an all-time low, what will compel them to want to watch two nights a week? How is anyone below the main event level ever going to get television time?

    Whether it be Bischoff, Prichard, Heyman or whoever, these moves are meaningless so long as McMahon is at the helm of Creative. There has been zero indication that he plans on relinquishing that role anytime soon, and with the XFL seemingly dead and buried, we can unfortunately expect a lot more McMahon influence on the product for years to come.

    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham “GSM” Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and “like” his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.

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