Matt Riddle and Top WWE Intercontinental Title Contenders After Tournament

Mike Chiari@mikechiariFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2020

Photo credit: WWE.com.

After Daniel Bryan's victory over Sheamus on Friday's SmackDown, the final of the Intercontinental Championship tournament between Bryan and AJ Styles is set for the next episode of SmackDown.

The IC title has been made to feel more important during the tourney than at any point in the past couple of years, but in order to further that perception, WWE must find some capable opponents for the winner.

Regardless of who wins between Bryan and Styles, here are a few Superstars who would go a long way toward adding to the prestige of the Intercontinental Championship as challengers after the tournament.


Matt Riddle

After a great deal of speculation, WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle announced Friday on SmackDown that Matt Riddle is getting called up from NXT to the main roster as part of the blue brand.

While it is possible that WWE will build up Riddle slowly before putting him in the title scene, having him go after the Intercontinental Championship immediately after getting called up would show just how important the title is.

Riddle vs. Styles would make the most sense in terms of a face vs. heel dynamic, but Riddle vs. Bryan is a dream match because of the manner in which their in-ring styles project to mesh. Because of that, Riddle is an ideal challenger regardless of who wins the tournament.

The fact that Riddle never won a singles title in NXT is something that should fuel him on the main roster. He has all the makings of a future world champion, but the IC title would be a great stepping stone.

Bryan and Styles are two of the biggest stars WWE has to offer, and a feud with either or even both of them in a Triple Threat scenario would show fans that Riddle is viewed as the next big thing in the company.

Riddle showed throughout his NXT run that he can have great matches with just about anyone, and there is little doubt that he would have some instant classics against the likes of Bryan and Styles if given the opportunity.


Shinsuke Nakamura

Shinsuke Nakamura fell to Styles in the first round of the Intercontinental Championship tournament, but putting him right back in the title hunt would be a positive for all involved, as well as the championship itself.

Nakamura is a former intercontinental champion, and although his reign wasn't as fruitful as most fans probably hoped it would be, there is no denying his cachet, star power and ability to put on great matches with a wide variety of opponents.

The King of Strong Style has mixed it up with Styles all over the world and on some of the industry's biggest stages, including WrestleMania. As noted, he also faced him to kick off the competition, so there is enough history there to build another feud between them despite the fact that they are both heels.

Even so, the more compelling rivalry for fans would likely be Bryan vs. Nakamura. That has long been viewed as a dream match, and it still hasn't  happened under the right circumstances. Bryan and Nakamura had a singles match in 2018, but it was a dark match that only the fans in attendance saw. They had another one-on-one meeting in March, but it ended in a dissatisfying disqualification.

A proper Bryan vs. Nakamura feud would be a great way to elevate the IC title and get Nakamura back on track. It could also open the door for Sami Zayn to return and go after the title since he and Nakamura are in a stable together along with Cesaro.


Shorty G

SmackDown has several Superstars on its roster who deserve more of the spotlight than they have been given in recent weeks and months, and Shorty G fits that description.

After a lengthy stay in no man's land, Shorty G finally got the opportunity to shine on Friday's SmackDown. He performed well in a Battle Royal and then beat Cesaro in a match later in the night despite the fact that he had Nakamura in his corner.

That suggests WWE may have some bigger plans in place for Shorty G, and vying for the Intercontinental Championship would be a great fit for him. His underdog babyface persona would work well against Styles, and there is no question that they could make magic in the ring. Shorty G vs. Bryan would be more of a friendly rivalry since they are both faces, but the matches between them could be something special.

Both Bryan and Shorty G are excellent technical wrestlers, and if they can put on some matches similar to what Bryan and Gulak have produced together, it would help restore the IC title's reputation as being the workhorse belt for the company's best pure wrestlers.

Even if Shorty G doesn't win in that scenario, working with Bryan would elevate him in a big way.


Listen to Ring Rust Radio for all of the hot wrestling topics. Catch the latest episode in the player below (warning: some language NSFW).