WWE: Is Sheamus the Weakest World Champ in Recent Memory?
With consistent reference being made on TV to the longevity of CM Punk's WWE Championship reign, it's easy to overlook the fact that Sheamus' World Heavyweight Championship reign is the longest in seven years for that title.
That makes it clear that the WWE has a lot of faith in him as a top guy—but is it justified?
When it comes to assessing a wrestler, there are two measures of how strong or weak they are.
The first is the kayfabe definition whereby a wrestler is strong because they consistently win cleanly and decisively. In general, the WWE sticks to a formula where faces are strong and heels are weak and cowardly.
However, a couple of noted faces have gone beyond that, to the point where wrestling fans pejoratively call them "supermen". For several years John Cena and Randy Orton were the only two, but now there's good reason to include Sheamus.
Two things make a superman: the fact they almost never lose cleanly and the predictable way their matches go.
Cena is the archetype; the term was invented for him specifically. Not only was his loss to The Rock at WrestleMania 28 his first clean singles defeat for five years, but there's an established pattern to many of his matches: he'll be beaten up for much of the duration, then pull his so-called "Five Moves of Doom" and win.
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Sheamus' standard match is perhaps even guiltier of being superman-like.
With his kicking out being his only gimmick, his opponents lower down the card are often put over even less than when they face Cena. The match at Night of Champions with Alberto Del Rio saw Sheamus dominated throughout, only to win after the Brogue Kick—practically a One Move of Doom.
So it's clear that in kayfabe terms, Sheamus is not only strong, but one of the strongest.
In comparison to recent champions, he doesn't seem as challenged in his matches. The last time he seemed genuinely in danger of losing was to Daniel Bryan at Extreme Rules.
Since then he's seen Dolph Ziggler off easily and beaten Del Rio three times—and considering he went over Del Rio clean and decisively in their first encounter, no one would have bet against him in the following two.
In contrast, while CM Punk as a face was booked as strong (though that's changing now he's turned heel), there were still matches where he seemed in genuine danger of losing. Chris Jericho at WrestleMania, Daniel Bryan at Over the Limit and John Cena at Night of Champions all seemed like they could take his title.
He's even been beaten by Dolph Ziggler and Mark Henry on TV without the title changing hands.
The previous holder of the WWE Championship was Alberto Del Rio, who didn't have a clean title defence during that reign, and as that's over a year ago, I'd place champions before then as outside of recent memory.
Do you think Sheamus is the new WWE superman?
Before Sheamus, the World Heavyweight Champion was Daniel Bryan, who was consistently shown as weak and lucky to hold onto the title, which he won through a Money in the Bank cash-in. In three title defences on television, he manipulated circumstances to win once via disqualification and twice via a no-contest.
This weakness culminated in Sheamus' 18-second win at WrestleMania.
The Big Show held the championship for a matter of seconds, and thus can hardly be considered a strong champion. Mark Henry's world-title win and its defence against Randy Orton made him look very strong, and he looked set for a long, dominant reign.
Unfortunately, his time as champion was cut short by injury, and following Orton, his three pay-per-view title defences were against The Big Show. In fact, contrary to his image at the time as a strong monster, Big Show forced a disqualification in the second of these matches, which seemed cowardly.
So Sheamus may be the strongest recent champion kayfabe-wise, but how does he shape up in entertainment terms?
There are two criteria for analysis in this regard: in-ring work and character.
Sheamus' matches are of the predictable superman pattern described above, and that's if his opponent is allowed to look strong enough to mount a challenge at all.
On the one hand he has a good variety of well-performed moves, but his pacing and psychology let his matches down entirely.
Do you think Sheamus is strong in terms of entertainment quality?
If anyone does start to look like they'll be in with a chance, they're soon put away with the Brogue Kick. I've described this before as "anti-wrestling"—it goes against good in-ring storytelling when someone can deploy just one move and win.
Sheamus' character is insipid. There's no edge to it and no intrigue. He just smiles, tries to be a lovable cheeky chappy, uses the word "arse" a lot (or as he pronounces it, "urse") and kicks people in the head by surprise.
The most interesting thing he's done as champion was stealing and ruining Del Rio's car, and that ought to be a firmly heel action. He's a very boring talker, and never really has anything interesting to say. The occasional "Oi'll kick yer urse!" to get a small pop from the markier section of the crowd is the best he can muster.
In comparison, CM Punk's character—especially since he turned heel by attacking The Rock—has been interesting, and he's exceptional on the mic.
The WWE clearly recognises this, as he's delivered multiple promos and appeared every hour on recent Raw episodes. Punk's matches have been consistently good, too—his matches with Jericho, Bryan and Cena are match-of-the-year contenders, and as explained above, he's seemed genuinely challenged in his matches.
Alberto Del Rio's WWE Championship reign before Punk was widely considered a flop. His character has improved since then, but at the time he wasn't very over, and his mic work wasn't at all memorable. His PPV title matches were, however, all great.
On the World Heavyweight Championship side, Daniel Bryan's entertainment value came more from his character than his matches, despite being a fantastic wrestler.
As he defended against Big Show and Mark Henry mostly by cheating (and once by escaping the cage), his only really big victory as champion was at the Elimination Chamber.
His character development was great however, with his gradual heel-turn and the birth of the "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chant that will probably stay with him for the rest of his career.
The Big Show's title reign lasted 45 seconds, so we'll leave him out. Mark Henry's character as champion was informed by his buildup to that point, and his dominant monster was very engaging.
His matches may not have been technical masterpieces, and his latter two matches with The Big Show at Survivor Series and TLC were quite poor, but given the chance, his storytelling and psychology were brilliant—his title win against Randy Orton at Night of Champions 2011 was a masterpiece on those terms.
So, is Sheamus the weakest world champion in recent memory? In kayfabe terms, certainly not; he's been booked strongly to the point of being a Cena-level superman.
But in performance and entertainment terms, he's the weakest in a long time.
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