The Golden Legacy: Looking At Raw’s Top Champions On The Road To Wrestlemania

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On Sunday January 29, the men of Raw and Smackdown entered the Alamo Dome with a variety of goals and statements to make.  After all, the Royal Rumble pay-per-view event is the official start of the Road to Wrestlemania.

Several champions were successful in their bid to walk out of the Dome with their respective titles; their ultimate goal is to  make it to Orlando with their reigns intact. Other champions weren’t as fortunate and new eras were forged.

In this second edition of Golden Legacy, we will take a look at how the champions of Monday Night Raw have fared heading into the Showcase of The Immortals

Of the five reigning champions, three will be defending their gold against key competition.

All statistics are accurate as of 1/31/17.

The WWE Universal Championship

Photo: WWE.com

Current Champion: Kevin Owens

Photo: WWE.com
Reign: 1st
Date Won: 8/29/16
Event: Monday Night Raw
Won From: Defeated Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Big Cass in a Fatal Four Way to win the vacant title
Days Held: 154
Successful Defenses: 33
Current Ranking: Tied with Chris Benoit and Kane’s World Heavyweight Championship reigns for the 30th longest ever

Notable Title Defenses:

Television and Pay-Per-View: Clash of Champions 9/25/16, d. Seth Rollins; Hell In a Cell 10/30/16, d. Seth Rollins in a Hell in a Cell match; Monday Night Raw 11/21/16, d. Seth Rollins in a No DQ Match; Roadblock: End of The Line 12/18/16, d. Roman Reigns via DQ; Royal Rumble 1/29/17, d. Roman Reigns in a No DQ Match; Monday Night Raw 1/30/17, L. to Braun Strowman (retained via DQ)
Live Events: September to October 2016, Owens either defeated Rollins and Sami Zayn in Triple Threat matches or retained via DQ losses to Rollins; November to December 2016, Owens retained against Rollins in a series of Street Fights.
The Breakdown:
When the unfortunate injury of Finn Balor occurred at Summerslam ’16, many were heartbroken to see the founder of Bullet Club and resident Demon King sidelined as just as he achieved his ultimate goal.  But while one door closed, Kevin Owens was more than ready to kick another open.
Many have clamored for the take no prisoners attitude KO carried in NXT,  it would be foolish to dismiss his championship reign as a “failure” or a “waste”. While it is true the majority of it has been spent as a hilarious compliment to all things Chris Jericho (and The LIST!), Owens has had plenty of his own strong outings in the ring and on the microphone since capturing his second World Title in a major company.
Like a classic villain, Owens infuriates many by bending the rules in his favor in spite of possessing the ability to put people down on his own.  Ric Flair often relied on three other men while KO has only needed his best friend in the world to turn back the likes of Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins. His series with Rollins produced several great matches, their HIAC encounter being somewhat underrated in my view. He and Reigns have had several hard hitting encounters even if some of the outcomes weren’t universally met with praise.
Like his Smackdown counterpart, Owens has been regularly and heavily featured on the company’s flagship program both competing and in various talking segments (most recently the debut of The Kevin Owens Show) to build up his title defenses. If there is one qualm I have about this run, it’s that the focus hasn’t always been on the Championship or its holder.
As Roman Reigns has ascended back into the World Title scene, Owens has spent much of his time trying to take away the United States Championship both on TV and on the road. He finally succeeded in doing so and getting the belt onto Jericho on the January 9 edition of Raw but at what cost?
Owens went into the Royal Rumble to defend  his championship against Reigns at the Royal Rumble with Jericho suspended above the ring inside a shark cage. Just prior to the first major PPV of the new year, we finally saw a glimpse of the old Owens when he power bombed Reigns through the announce table on Raw. Despite the savage nature on display, many felt it was inevitable Reigns would return to title glory without the Best Friend advantage in play. But as suspected, The Prize Fighter didn’t go down so easily or come unprepared.
With a No DQ stipulation added, the two went to war in a physical match that both will most likely still be feeling come Wrestlemania. Reigns seemed to have victory at hand when Braun Strowman suddenly appeared and left him for dead.  This allowed KO to crawl into a cover and score the pinfall.
The next night, however, Owens jumped from the frying pan into the fire when Strowman interrupted his celebration at the top of Raw.  The Monster Among Men reminded KO he was owed a title shot spoken of by Owens several weeks prior. GM Mick Foley made the match official and while Owens would retain his title, he was on the receiving end of a beating from Strowman and a spear from an interfering Reigns.
The good news is Owen will remain a prominent and visible force on the show with a little over 60 days left until we get to ‘Mania.  The bad news is he just might not make it there as Universal Champion.
Raw has one final stop in March at Fastlane.  While there has yet to be an official challenger named, there is little doubt Owens will not like whoever Foley selects. The key item is what happens with Owens once his reign does come to an end.  Will he remain in the top tier of Raw Superstars and in the Universal Title mix or will he moved down the totem pole starting with a likely implosion of JeriKO and feud between he and Y2J?
In today’s era where titles aren’t always treated as major league accomplishments, it’s hard to gauge whether he will be in a better position than before he won it.
Regardless, Owens will shine in whatever spot he lands in.  A man of his talent is too good not to, especially as he rules over the entire Universe.

Raw Women’s Championship

Photo: WWE.com

Current Champion: Charlotte Flair

Photo: WWE.com
Reign: 4th
Date Won: 12/18/16
Event: Roadblock: End of The Line
Won From: Sasha Banks in a 30 minute Ironman Match
Days Held: 44
Successful Defenses: 1
Current Ranking: 71st longest reign

Notable Defenses:

Television and Pay-Per-View: Royal Rumble 1/29/17, d. Bayley.
Previous Reigns by Charlotte Flair:
1st Reign: 9/20/15-7/25/16
Days Held: 309
Successful Defenses: 63
Rank: 11th longest
2nd Reign: 8/21/16-10/3/16
Days held: 24
Successful Defenses: 4
Rank: 84th longest
3rd Reign: 10/30/16-11/28/16
Days held: 29
Successful Defenses: 7
Rank: Tied with Debra for the 78th longest
The Breakdown:
Since her turn to the dark side in late 2015, Charlotte has cemented herself as the premier woman in either of the women’s division on Raw or Smackdown Live. Along the way, she has seamlessly morphed into the world class champion and thinker that her father “Nature Boy” Ric Flair was when he ruled the roost in the NWA/WCW and WWF as World Champion.
No matter how many times Sasha Banks rallied to hand her three straight defeats on Monday Night Raw (two occurring in the main event), Flair maintained her composure and came big on PPV where she is unbeaten in title matches. She has maintained one of the highest profiles of any women’s champion in recent history.  If she isn’t competing, she’s on the microphone running down anyone who comes to mind or on commentary espousing her superior genetics. And although she has only one made one title defense against Bayley, it was an important one.  Her victory on Sunday put her PPV record at 16-0.
And she has kept busy engaging in psychological warfare against her old NXT rival turned friend turned bitter enemy. Bayley however kept her name in the picture by pinning Flair in mixed tag team action on the January 30 edition of Raw.  Her chase for glory will continue no doubt.
The Raw Women’s Championship has almost been defined by and become synonymous with Charlotte so it is very likely she will always remain in the hunt for it should Bayley or some other fortunate soul be able to topple her once more.  She has ensured she won’t be forgotten or relegated to the back of the line simply because she is minus her title for a moment or two.
Bayley has provided ample competition but just behind her are Sasha Banks and Nia Jax.  Those two are currently embroiled in their own grudge feud but the clear cut winner should emerge as a legitimate contender.  Sasha has proven she can defeat Flair in high pressure television matches while Jax is a flat out threat to anyone with a pulse.
Beyond that core, few others are considered credible at a championship level. Paige and Summer Rae are sidelined with injuries, Emmalina is taking her sweet time returning, and Alicia Fox is all in on whatever her intentions are with Cedric Alexander and/or Noam Dar.  Her former protege Dana Brooke has fallen off the radar since their association quietly came to an end. That leaves much uncertainty for the division going forward unless some of NXT’s best women are brought in to shore it up.
One thing for certain however is Flair will play a pivotal part in Wrestlemania as either champion or challenger and that bodes well for her long term future. Her dedication to her craft has already yielded many accolades but I feel the best from her may actually be yet to come.  Good for her, bad for everyone else.

The WWE United States Championship

Photo: WWE.com

Current Champion: Chris Jericho

Photo: WWE.com

Reign: 1st
Date Won: 1/9/17
Event: Monday Night Raw
Won From: Roman Reigns
Days held: 22
Successful Defenses: 4
Current Ranking: Tied with Bobo  Brazil and Shane Douglas for the 119th longest ever

Notable defenses:

Television and Pay-Per-View: Monday Night Raw 1/23/17, L. to Roman Reigns (retained via DQ)
Live Events: On January 14, 15 and 21 of 2017, Jericho retained his title via DQ losses to Seth Rollins

 

The Breakdown:

The United States Championship had been in quite the holding pattern on television since Hell in a Cell back in October.  It wasn’t that then-champion Roman Reigns was ever absent from Raw or its brand exclusive PPV events, it was just a case of priorities being placed elsewhere.

Reigns had some really good-great matches when he did defend the title but his challenger pool was limited to Kevin Owens and/or Chris Jericho.  In fact he lost the title to Jericho in a Handicap Match featuring Owens. The rest of his reign was spent on live events headlining against Owens where only the US Title was at stake or challenging Owens for the Universal Championship at Roadblock: End of The Line.  As a result the title was something of an accessory on his shoulder for the duration and really did little to enhance his career in the grand scheme of things.

History was made though when Jericho finally captured it; it was the last major singles title he had yet to win in his career. The other good news is if the title is going to stay with him during Wrestlemania season, he’s capable of working with just about anybody that is elevated up to US Title level and produce as only he can.

Several scenarios could be at play.  With Owens now past Reigns from the Royal Rumble, and JeriKO explodes, we could be in store for a heck of a champion vs. champion grudge match.

Reigns was owed a trusty contractually obligated rematch and the “Big Dog” came hunting  on the  1/23 edition of Raw.  Jericho found himself once again fending off his best friend’s relentless challenger and was fortunate that Owens came to his rescue, saving the title through a DQ loss.

With Reigns fully locked in on KO,  several new challengers may emerge for the US Title. Braun Strowman lurks in the background dead set on inflicting unspeakable harm to anyone, especially Reigns. Jericho could be collateral damage and not long as US Champion.
Big Cass has begun competing as a singles star more frequently and he and Jericho are no strangers to one another. What better way for Cass to prove his solo aspirations aren’t SAWFT by gunning for the US Title?
A new potential contender emerged the night after the Royal Rumble when Sami Zayn scored a non-title victory over Y2J.  In theory that sets him up for an opportunity to capture his first title since his NXT Championship reign.

There is a great opportunity for the US Title to regain some of its shine and it would be greatly disappointing if it were squandered while being held by Jericho. He is a prominent part of Raw and someone who many view as the best part of the show.  These elements need to be taken advantage of to elevate the title and anyone who is able to defeat him for it.

You know the fortunate wrestler who eventually dethrones Jericho  may just end up on the LIST!

Raw World Tag Team Championships

Photo: WWE.com

Current Champions: Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows

Photo: WWE.com
Reign: 1st
Date won:
 1/29/17
Event: Royal Rumble ’17
Won From: Sheamus & Cesaro
Days held: 2
Successful Defenses: Yet to defend
Ranking: Tied with The Steiner Brothers’ first reign, Men on a Mission, and The Godwinns second reign for the 212th longest ever
The Breakdown:
Who could have imagined that when their Best of 7 Series began in the Summer of 2016 that not only would Sheamus and Cesaro become a world class tag team but become the duo to end the record breaking reign of The New Day?
That is exactly what happened prior to and at the last PPV of 2016. Though their prior efforts saw them come up short and briefly toy with the idea of going their separate ways, the Swiss and Irish athletes stuck to their guns and figured out a way to neutralize New Day’s numbers advantage.
After their title victory, the pair of maintained a relatively high profile on the Flagship show and ironically wound up sharing one unwanted trait of New Day’s 384 day run: the relentless pursuit of Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows.
As soon as Sheamus and Cesaro turned back the challenge of New Day on December 26, the former IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions didn’t miss a beat in stepping up as the next in line.  They still have something to prove after repeated failed attempts last year to dethrone New Day.
For weeks The Club saw a measure of success against the current champions. Both Gallows and Anderson scored singles victories over Cesaro, while Sheamus was able to defeat Gallows several weeks ago.  But it was their closest taste of gold to date that set the stage for this Sunday.
On the January 16 edition of Raw, Gallows and Anderson seemingly won the titles but wound up only with a DQ victory.  Sheamus had accidentally clocked the referee leading to a second one coming down and counting the pinfall.  However, before a celebration could commence , the original referee called for a DQ despite the contact being inadvertent.
Due to the controversy, the two teams met on the Kickoff Show for the titles, but with two referees assigned to the match this time around.
While the match took place before the PPV itself, the stakes were no less high. Sheamus and Cesaro entered the Royal Rumble Match and were seeking to both retain their titles and gain momentum headed into the 30 man free for all. The Club looked to exploit the latter and finally claim the titles they and many others believed would have been already around their waists.
It was a smash mouth style bout where this time, the use of two officials went in the favor of the challengers.  An errant Brogue Kick took out one but the second was there when Anderson rolled up Cesaro to win the titles.
For the former champions it will be a very interesting story to keep an eye on regardless of the outcome on Sunday. The animosity that was front and center during their series has cooled off and they have become one of the best teams in recent memory.  Still one gets the sense that all it would take is the title loss to reignite the flame.
After all you have to think in the back of their minds each still yearns for singles glory and the title opportunity they thought they would receive when their Best of 7 concluded. Their team has kept them on TV and fresh in people’s minds so in theory a their standings as singles wrestlers would see much improvement should a split occur. Only time will tell if either man is better off because of this current run but it is clear they have made the most of their time as a team and the potential is there for even greater heights.
As for Anderson and Gallows, this is a pivotal time for the Good Brothers.   With their win they became only the third tag team in wrestling history to win tag gold in WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling.  It was a long struggle but that makes the accomplishment only too sweeter.
For now Sheamus and Cesaro remain their top challengers as on the January 30th edition of Raw they paired with Bayley to defeat The Club and Raw Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair in mixed tag team action.
However as noted, the challengers aren’t too cohesive after some tense moments between them in the Royal Rumble match.  That isn’t exactly a recipe for regaining the gold, not when Anderson and Gallows are riding high and ready to be mean while making green. Should they retain in a return match,  the story becomes who would be next?  Scanning Raw’s tag division, there is no obvious answer.
The Golden Truth and The Shining Stars are formidable teams but not realistically too much of a threat to the titles at present time.  With Big Cass pointed towards singles matches, he and Enzo Amore have seemingly put the tag titles on hold for the time being. There is a chance an upstart team from NXT could arrive on the scene and give it a go.
At any rate,  all who step the The Club will have to bring their A game.  Anything less and they fall victim to the omen in the sky.

WWE Cruiserweight Championship

Photo: WWE.com

Current Champion: Neville

Photo: WWE.com
Reign: 1st
Date won: 1/29/27
Event: Royal Rumble ’17
Won From: Rich Swann
Days Held: 2
Successful Defenses: Yet to defend
Current Ranking: Tied with Oklahoma for the 78th longest ever
The Breakdown:
Much has been said and written about the presentation of the Cruiserweight Division since the critically acclaimed Cruiserweight Classic concluded last Summer. Since then it has been featured multiple times on Raw and currently has its own distinct show 205 Live every Tuesday.  The success rate of the experiment thus far can be debated until the cows come home.
However, little can be argued against the fact Rich Swann took the ball and scored a few touchdowns in the two months he held the Cruiserweight Championship. The man who is sometimes described as “Outlandish” parlayed a wildly popular run in the CWC into becoming one of the division’s most colorful and entertaining fixtures.  From his wild face expressions to funky dance moves, one does not simply see Rich Swann and forget about him moments later.
He captured the Cruiserweight Championship in a thrilling main event of the premier episode of 205 Live from The Brian Kendrick and save for a week spent recovering from an assault courtesy of Neville he has been a staple of both the show and appearances on Raw. He has one successful PPV defense under his belt and after a great story being told of the bitter and emboldened Neville, the two squared at the Royal Rumble in the first Cruiserweight Championship match for that event since 2006.
For it to have taken place at the massive Alamodome, it could be argued it was the highest profile match for the title itself since Wrestlemania 19 where then-champion Matt Hardy retained over Rey Mysterio Jr.
All eyes were on Swann and Neville, both of whom brought the very best each has in their playbook. In the end Neville was officially anointed King of The Cruiserweights with an impressive submission of Swann to claim the championship. Swann wasn’t going to take the loss lying down however.  The next night on Raw he confronted the new champion and got the best of him in a wild brawl. Swann benefits from natural charisma and ability which means he has a better chance than most champions at maintaining a steady level of visibility although his reign came to an end.
Now that Neville has backed up his claim from the second he returned at the end of December, he is now the flag bearer for 205 Live and should see frequent action on the most exciting hour WWE offers on any given week. His dark edge and increased opportunities to speak have made him a hot commodity and he should enjoy a successful reign. A continuance of his issues with Swann should make for even better matches to increase their respective standings.
Another positive is the quality of opposition salivating at the chance for championship glory. Jack Gallagher, Tajiri,  Kendrick, Perkins, Cedric Alexander, Tony Nese, and Akira Tozawa are just many names who have seen much success of late , or will be arriving shortly in Tozawa’s case, and would all provide a stiff challenge to either Swann or Neville coming out their next match.
In any scenario, both he and Swann have shown they can cultivate a following when given ample opportunity to and I expect them to be  key components of the Cruiserweights for the long haul.
The question is.. can you handle it?  Or Hail the King?
That wraps up this edition of Golden Legacy.  Join us post-Elimination Chamber where we will take another look at Smackdown Live‘s champions following their last stop on the Road To Wrestlemania!

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