Blame a deficiency in rivals for the WWE Intercontinental and United States champions not being nearly as compelling as they should be.
Telling stories that center around the champion and the challengers' animosity elevate the titles, the wrestlers involved and WWE programming as a whole. WWE hasn't told those stories enough lately, neglecting both Big E Langston and Dean Ambrose in the process.
Fans saw a glimpse of what a competitive midcard championship picture would look like this week, when Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus, Christian and Alberto Del Rio all battled over the right to face Big E on Tuesday's Main Event with the intercontinental title on the line.
The title felt important with four former world champions slugging it out for a shot at it. Big E benefited, getting more focus and looking strong by retaining against Ziggler after Christian was pulled due to a concussion, per F4WOnline.com.
Deciding the No. 1 contender with Fatal 4-Ways or Battle Royals is an exciting option to turn to at times, but it lacks the personal nature of a feud. Neither Ambrose or Big E have had rivalries of the extended, personal varieties as champion.
It's easy to name men who have bad blood aplenty with John Cena.
Randy Orton, Damien Sandow, Bray Wyatt and Ryback all have various issues with the former world champ. Ambrose and Big E's lists would be much harder to compose.
Big E has taken on Fandango during his reign, but there isn't enough personal animosity for that to be considered a feud. Ambrose and Mark Henry have collided a few times, but WWE hasn't focused on that enough for it to blossom into an actual rivalry.
Henry's title matches against Ambrose have had little energy. Ziggler vying for the intercontinental title on Main Event produced good ring work, but there wasn't anything particularly memorable about the bout.
Fans do remember Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat's intercontinental title match, though, despite it happening 27 years ago.
A huge part of that is certainly how magnificent a match that was, but this was not some random pairing of wrestlers—it was the climax of a well-built rivalry. Savage had injured Steamboat by striking him in the throat with the ring bell.
An injured larynx gave Steamboat plenty of time for his anger to build and for WWE to stir up the anticipation for this meeting.
The two men's dislike for each other felt real. Steamboat didn't just win that title at WrestleMania III—he vanquished an enemy.
That element has been missing from the midcard title scene for too long.
Big E hasn't had a true enemy in that way, only opponents. Ambrose is so often caught up in The Shield's stories that he hasn't been able to develop a one-on-one hatred with anyone, either.
Rick Rude and The Ultimate Warrior feuded with the intercontinental title on the line. Longtime enemies Ric Flair and Sting battled for the WCW United States Championship years ago.
Where is Big E's Rude and Ambrose's Sting?
Neither man is defending their title at WrestleMania. Ambrose hasn't put the title on the line at a pay-per-view since Hell in a Cell 2013 in October.
When he and Big E do get a challenger headed their way, the results are often underwhelming. It's not that their matches aren't well-worked, it's the lack of story that is hurting those bouts.
Big E vs. Jack Swagger at Elimination Chamber 2014 won't be remembered as one of the year's highlights. Swagger won a Fatal 4-Way match to get that opportunity, and WWE did little to add to that narrative.
In contrast, Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho's battles for the WWE Intercontinental Championship in 2009 got so heated that it culminated in a Mask vs. Title match. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon's feud 20 years ago led to ladder matches at WrestleMania X and SummerSlam 1995.
In both cases, there was an intensity to their clashes powered by a story that received ample attention.
WWE is going to struggle to elevate Big E if it doesn't get him involved in similarly drawn-out feuds. He'll just have to wait around until another bit of downtime when the company decides to toss together a Fatal 4-Way to decide the No. 1 contender.
Ambrose has so few title defenses that it has become a running joke for the announcers.
Were those men to each have their own bitter enemy, title defenses wouldn't be an issue. It would just be a way to further the developing story.
Get Bad News Barrett from behind the podium and attack Big E. Bring Tyson Kidd out of obscurity and have him start banging heads with Ambrose.
Their matches will mean so much more when personal stakes combine with championship bids. Their titles will begin to feel more significant.
WWE needs to find men for Big E and Ambrose to hate, or else they will be doomed to suffer only spurts of interest in their championships.
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