Last Friday on SmackDown, we saw Braun Strowman defeat Shinsuke Nakamura to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
Despite reigning as the Intercontinental champion for over 200 days, Nakamura made just three title defences during this time – a stat that makes Brock Lesnar look like an absolute workaholic. The more likely story is that creative simply forgot about the title, with other matters such as the move to new TV Broadcaster FOX taking priority. A long running trope of the title has been wrestlers wanting to restore the title to its former glory, and it seems like only yesterday that The Miz and Dolph Ziggler feuded over the title, the last time it truly felt important. Unfortunately, the title has since faded into insignificance.
Despite an incredibly lacklustre run with the title, one aspect that Nakamura’s reign is notable for was the introduction of a new belt design, which replaced the ‘classic’ white championship design introduced by Cody Rhodes in 2011, and has divided opinions online. Suffice to say, this design is not off to a great start.
While this was Nakamura’s first Intercontinental title reign in WWE, The Artist was no stranger to the Intercontinental title in New Japan Pro Wrestling where he held the IWGP Intercontinental Championship five times (a feat matched only by current champion Tetsuya Naito). While his run with the WWE IC title will be criticised for the lack of defences, which of course came as no fault of his own, his reigns as Intercontinental champion in New Japan will warrant no such scrutiny with the title being successfully defended a record 17 times over a record-breaking combined reign of 901 days.
Nakamura is also part of an exclusive list of wrestlers who have held both the WWE and IWGP Intercontinental titles, with Chris Jericho being the only other person to do so (although both Andrade and MVP have held the IWGP Intercontinental Title and the WWE US title, an equivalent title on a different WWE brand).
When Nakamura signed for WWE in 2016, there was a buzz around the wrestling community. After two NXT titles, a win in the 2018 Royal Rumble, and an unsuccessful challenge for the WWE title at Wrestlemania 34, many fans have been disappointed with Nakamura’s run in WWE having seemingly never reached the same peak that his New Japan run did.
Simon Gotch once remarked that Finn Balor made his art in New Japan and is now making his money in WWE, and I would think that statement extends to Nakamura. I would liken it to a Premier League footballer moving to China; he’s not going to be performing to the same standard week in week out – and he doesn’t need to – but his paychecks more than makeup for that.
Strowman’s run in WWE, on the other hand, has been a resounding success. After several failed pursuits of the Universal Championship, this victory marks Strowman’s first WWE singles championship, although he has previously won the Money in the Bank briefcase, the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal trophy, and was awarded a commemorative green belt for winning the 50 man ‘Greatest Royal Rumble’ match held in Saudi Arabia in 2018. Strowman has also experienced some degree of success as a tag team wrestler, twice winning the RAW Tag Team Championships in an oddball pairing with Seth Rollins, and of course with 9-year-old Nicholas in a WrestleMania moment that will forever be etched in our memories.
The Monster’s path to the main roster was somewhat unusual. Having skipped NXT TV entirely, Strowman debuted in 2015 as a surprise member of the Wyatt family, replacing Erik Rowan who had sustained a long term injury. Despite the aforementioned accolades Strowman has achieved in his WWE run, this title win feels like a major step forward in Strowman’s career. What is next for the Monster remains to be seen, but with the IC title in hand, it will hopefully ensure he has something to do at Wrestlemania where it can become easy to get lost in the shuffle.
Strowman is one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE at the moment, and many believe that a title reign for the Monster is long overdue. Now that the opportunity has presented itself, it is up to Braun to grab the ball and run with it. Having seen him run through numerous opponents on the outside of the ring, I can’t see that being much an issue for him.