AJ Styles and Jinder Mahal are currently occupying the WWE Championship picture, but that hasn't stopped a title-less Kevin Owens from thriving as one of SmackDown Live's brightest stars.
Since arriving on the WWE scene, Owens has captured his fair share of gold between the Intercontinental, Universal and United States Championships. However, he has never needed a title to remain relevant, because his unmatched abilities on the mic and in the ring constantly keep him in the spotlight.
During his last stint with the star-spangled prize earlier this year, he proclaimed himself to be the "Face of America" before dropping the strap to Styles in late July. Despite not contending for a championship in recent months, Owens has actually been a bigger focal point on the program than ever before thanks to his recent rivalries with Shane McMahon and Randy Orton.
There is no doubt that Owens would have been a better choice as WWE champion compared to Mahal for the six months The Maharaja held the title, but the lack of hardware around his waist hardly mattered. He still went on to do some of the best work of his career to date with Shane and now Sami Zayn.
Kevin Owens is an exemplary example of someone who doesn't need to be a champion in order to maintain their top spot on the card, and he is far from the only one who is capable of that. Although him as WWE champ would be a sight worth seeing at some point, he is perfectly fine right where he is at the moment.
In the seven months he has been a part of the blue brand, Owens has headlined most episodes of SmackDown Live in matches with Styles, Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura and The New Day—a testament to his tremendous talent as a performer.
Titles are indeed prestigious, but they do not necessarily make Superstars. It's entirely possible that was exactly what the company thought they could accomplish by having Mahal, who was an enhancement talent at the start of 2017, win the WWE title so quickly in the spring.
Owens has made every title he's held feel important, not because of his sheer star power but rather because he constantly boasts about that belt being what everyone wants. His "Prizefighter" nickname stems from him saying in NXT that he would do whatever it took to provide for his family, so having clear intentions has helped him create a compelling character for himself.
When he isn't gunning for gold, however, that is when Owens truly shines. Look no further than the immediate aftermath of his loss of the Universal Championship back in March when he became much more aggressive and generated genuine heat for his ruthless attacks on former "friend" Chris Jericho.
It's well-established Owens is a world-championship-caliber competitor, but there is no rush for him to return to vying for SmackDown's most prestigious prize. His last run as Universal champion was poorly booked and ended with a whimper (not to mention he never received a rematch for the title).
Regardless of whether he's sporting a suit or his signature shorts and cut-off tee, he makes the most of whatever situation he's in, especially when there is nothing at stake. There are other individuals on the active roster who could benefit from doing the same.
Shinsuke Nakamura and Bray Wyatt are two notable names who shouldn't be fighting for television time on a weekly basis, but that isn't to say either of them should be a champion right now. A gripping storyline would be more than enough to ensure they aren't directionless at any given time.
With only so many titles to go around, Superstars are forced to find other ways to flourish. After all, winning a championship doesn't automatically mean that fans' perception of that wrestler will change overnight, and it is what they do with that title that determines their worth.
Owens will secure countless championships in the remainder of his career in WWE, but his status as a main-event player won't falter no matter what. That has been evident based off how SmackDown has largely revolved around him throughout the year and how him vs. Shane at Hell in a Cell took precedence over the WWE title match.
Thanks to his exceptional work across the card in the past two-and-a-half years, Owens is undoubtedly among the upper-echelon of athletes that can succeed without having to target a title, a position others can only aspire to eventually reach.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.