Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles Would Be Ideal Final Match in WWE IC Title TournamentMay 26, 2020
The prestige the Intercontinental Championship enjoyed throughout the 1980s and 1990s is probably never returning, but recent history has shown WWE's secondary titles can get a momentary boost when they're held by top stars.
Heading into Friday's edition of SmackDown, four wrestlers remain in the intercontinental title tournament: Daniel Bryan, Jeff Hardy, Elias and AJ Styles.
In a previous generation, Elias would make a lot of sense as the titleholder. The Intercontinental Championship could be his springboard to bigger and better things or allow him to excel in matches with tangible stakes.
Likewise, a Hardy run would have been fun when he was younger and closer to his in-ring peak. He's a four-time IC champion, with his most recent reign coming in 2007.
Considering they're on opposite sides of the bracket, Bryan vs. Styles is the most obvious outcome from Friday's semifinals.
John Cena's United States Championship Open Challenge series set the template for how WWE can make fans value minor belts. He'd often wrestle guys who weren't main eventers and deliver good-to-great matches.
The promotion didn't stick the landing as Alberto Del Rio made little sense as the person to dethrone Cena once and for all. Still, the U.S. Championship was a hot commodity for a brief stretch in 2015.
The Miz also demonstrated that if a talented, established performer says something enough times, fans will start to believe it. Through sheer force of will, The A-Lister made the Intercontinental Championship feel relevant.
Bryan or Styles are largely at the same point in their careers, so the net effect of either Superstar winning the tournament would probably be the same. They'd be equally capable of staging their own version of Cena's U.S. Open Challenge.
The Phenomenal One teased he would do so in 2017 upon becoming the champion but didn't really get the chance.
Likewise, Bryan's time as the intercontinental champion in 2015 ended shortly after it began when he had to step away for health reasons. He announced what he thought to be his retirement from wrestling in February 2016.
One consequence of these empty-arena shows is that WWE seems more willing to run smaller cards while allowing each match more time to unfold.
Including the pre-show, only one of the eight bouts at Money in the Bank lasted fewer than 10 minutes. The 2019 iteration of the pay-per-view, on the other hand, had 12 matches—one of which was Bayley's quick cash-in on Charlotte Flair—with six getting more than 10 minutes.
Assuming the IC tournament final happens at Backlash on June 14, a Bryan vs. Styles clash would get the kind of status it deserved.
No matter the outcome, it would be a great way to set the tone of the Intercontinental Championship picture, too.