When bad is gold: How cruelty became a recipe for championship success
One look at the roll call of current champions reveals all you need to know about the sinister and seemingly lawless landscape of WWE.
A confluence of events, capped off by Randy Orton’s WWE Championship win at SummerSlam, has left WWE’s most precious hardware — the championship titles — in the hands of individuals with no regard for the rulebook, let alone the WWE Universe.
Every titleholder, from World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio to Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel, is among the most villainous, evil and reviled competitors in WWE today, and with Night of Champions just around the corner, the trend is impossible to ignore. But what does it say about WWE’s current state of affairs that championship gold appears to be the reward for callousness?
“It’s setting the standard for what it takes to be successful,” said The Shield’s Roman Reigns, one-half of the WWE Tag Team Champions with Seth Rollins. “A lot of times, the good guys finish last, and sometimes the bad guys just win. That’s what’s happening now in WWE.”
I wouldn’t call us cheaters ... I would just call us winners.Such a scenario is far from commonplace in WWE, though it is not without precedent. You’d have to go back to February, 2010, when “bad guys” like Batista and Chris Jericho dominated the title scenes, to recapture the same ominous overtone. Chalk it up to Superstars’ embrace of the “ruthless aggression” mantra long preached by WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon, or perhaps it’s the burgeoning influence of WWE COO Triple H.
However you cut it, the lowest of the low are once again riding high in title competition.
United States Champion Dean Ambrose doesn’t believe in assigning rigid labels like “rulebreaker,” nor does he concern himself with how the WWE Universe perceives The Shield’s actions. Instead, the volatile Hound of Justice simply focuses on the end result.
“I wouldn’t call us cheaters or unscrupulous or anything,” he said. “I would just call us winners. In any sport or any business, however you get the job done, the winners write the history books, and all the history books are gonna say is that we’re champions.”
The Shield’s collection of championship gold is just the beginning, they say — a foundation for “taking over,” as Reigns put it. “Dominance in its purest form,” Rollins concurred. The imposing squad took control of the U.S. and WWE Tag Team Titles in May at Extreme Rules. Del Rio, Lee and Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel all scored their championship victories the following month at WWE Payback.
“WWE is one of those whirlwinds where you never know what’s going to happen, but when opportunity arises, you have to rise to the occasion,” explained The Miz, who has also used controversial tactics in the past to win and retain championship gold. “Obviously, those guys who have the championships are doing whatever it takes to keep those, cheating included.”
Whereas The Shield sees a master plan coming to fruition, two-time World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler sees a deck being stacked.
According to The Showoff, WWE COO Triple H has surrounded himself with Superstars he believes will carry WWE into the future, alluding to The Game’s recent association with Orton and The Shield.
“It’s hard to overcome something that feels like it has been in the works, building for months and even years,” he said. “The champs, all the way through, are bad guys, heels — whatever you want to name it — who don’t have the company’s best interests in mind, and there are so many great Superstars backstage who do have the fans’ interests, and not just egos, in mind.”
Just days before Cody Rhodes' very public firing on the Sept. 9 edition of Raw — the result of Rhodes’ loss to WWE Champion Randy Orton — the second-generation Superstar opened up about WWE’s championship landscape. Like Ambrose, he refrained from using pejorative classifications.
“I hate terms that classify guys as villainous,” Rhodes said the week before his unexpected dismissal. “But yeah, safe to say, that all the current champions aren’t necessarily the nicest guys, and what that says to me is maybe nice guys finish last.”
“Take a page out of their book,” Rhodes said, referring to the unprincipled champions.
Some champions, such as Curtis Axel, care little about the attitudes of the other titleholders. “To me, it doesn’t matter if rulebreakers have all the championships, as long as I have mine,” he said. “I’ll do whatever I have to do to keep my Intercontinental Championship.”
Adding to the WWE Universe’s woes is the notable absence of two of the most beloved and dependable do-gooders, perennial World Title contenders John Cena and Sheamus. Both competitors are expected to be sidelined for months while recovering from surgery. Still, the fight isn’t insurmountable, Ziggler insists.
“At some point, someone has to say that their job doesn’t mean as much as having a backbone,” he said. “You put your ego aside, you put your money aside and maybe you risk your entire career to say, ‘This is enough, someone has to stand up to them.’”
Until that happens, don’t expect U.S. Champion Ambrose to lose any sleep over the chatter of the locker room or the passionate WWE fans.
“If you want to boo us, go ahead and boo us,” he said. “If people want to have their opinions on the way we do business, then let them. The bottom line is business is getting done.”