On this week’s Post-WrestleMania edition of Smackdown! Jack Swagger, who debuted on WWE television less than two years ago, officially cashed in his Money-In-The-Bank contract and snatched the World Heavyweight Championship from Chris Jericho.
The BIG question is: Is this too soon for Swagger? He moved from third-string ECW programming to RAW last summer and in less than a year finds himself with a world title...WWE has clearly altered its previous standards, elevating young superstars, many without a mainstream familiarity or sizable fan bases, to World Title status.
In the past, superstars like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Steve Austin, and Edge worked for YEARS before tasting a World Title (Jeff Hardy waited a decade).
Lately, a younger generation of wrestlers has been given the ball almost instantly, often in their rookie campaigns. But is this a good thing?
Does giving a title to someone like Swagger or Sheamus help get them over and provide instant legitimacy and star status?
Does the near-instant elevation of a superstar provide enough of a game change to justify putting the belt on someone so soon?
Most importantly, is the questionable nature in which many of these superstars are now beginning their inaugural title reigns appropriate?
Swagger, like most before him, bypassed a traditional match with his Money-In-The-Bank win and instead played the opportunist, taking one move to dispatch an injured and speared Jericho.
This might seem normal in the 21st century of short attention spans, but MITB wins seem more reminiscent of the now defunct Hardcore Title.
Last December, RAW superstar Sheamus, on the television roster for less than six months and without so much as a pay-per-view singles match under his belt, defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship...by winning a tables match?
After just over a year spent inspiring groans from fans around the world, The “Great” Khali suddenly found himself champion after winning...a Battle Royal. His reign lasted only two months and was the definition of forgettable.
Khali didn't enjoy instant legitimacy and is now headed home to India to repair his injuries and regain his stamina (or possibly to repackage his uninspired Punjabi Playboy gimmick).
While C.M. Punk had already enjoyed an ECW Title reign (not a true World Title in my opinion), he too cashed in the Money-In-The-Bank a week into his RAW run to take the title from Edge. I still feel Punk has not lived up to World Title expectations or his past ROH greatness.
The other question that might be asked backstage is: Do stars like Swagger deserve so much so soon? Legends like Roddy Piper and Arn Anderson never enjoyed a World Title victory during decades-long careers, while Yokozuna defeated Bret Hart in the Main Event of WrestleMania IX after six months on the job.
Kane has competed at 13 straight WrestleManias, though he has only spent 24 hours as a World Champion. Scott Hall, Ted DiBiase, Mr. Perfect? Never World Champions at the WWE level.
Instant elevation isn’t always a bad thing. Brock Lesnar rode a tidal wave of success and had the backing of 20,000 fans at SummerSlam when he destroyed The Rock just six months after his RAW debut.
Kurt Angle also took less than a year, dispatching The Rock in a shocker at No Mercy in 2000.
Both of these wrestlers had well known amateur credentials at the collegiate and Olympic levels, and were far more over with the fans than a Swagger, a Sheamus, or a “Great” Khali.
They both put on a hell of a show in their title wins as well, which no doubt brought more legitimacy to their initial title reigns than throwing John Cena through a table or tossing someone over the top rope can provide.
The questions for Swagger still loom large over his young title reign. Is it too soon? Was his character elevated enough?
Does he deserve a World Heavyweight Championship at this stage in his career? Regardless of the answers, the responsibility rests on him to deliver.