There’s not a whole lot I want to say about the Titus O’Neil suspension. For one thing, a ton has already been said - The downside of not being on Twitter 24/7. I was really counting on Powerball to be my ticket to wrestling writer stardom. . . Oh well. . .
The main reason why I’m choosing not to say much about it is because there’s so much that is unknown about what happened. Did something else happen, either before or after the incident, that made things worse? Is there some WWE edict against touching or surprising Vince McMahon? (perhaps due to illness or injury - The conspiracy theorist in me will not die!) How much of it, if any at all, was racially motivated?
There are just too many questions left unanswered, so I’m going to remain mum on the majority of this situation for now. All I will say is this -
One thing that we know for sure is that Titus O’Neil, prior to Monday Night Raw, was one of WWE’s most public relations - friendly superstars. So much so that back in August of 2015, I wrote an article on this very website in which I mused that Titus could one day because World Heavyweight Champion.
Despite what happened, I still feel that way. In fact, I might even feel it more strongly than before.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times - WWE is at its best when art imitates life. One of your fastest rising superstars, seemingly a paragon of virtue, decent enough in the ring and camera-friendly to boot, has just been “unfairly” suspended by, in essence, The Authority. The story writes itself.
When Titus comes back, and I think it’ll be well before the 90 days, based on public reaction, let him come out and air his grievances. Truthfully, you could go to either end of the spectrum with this.
Titus could come out as an angry minority who, in taking issue with the company that wronged him, becomes a monster heel and in his rage, decimates all who stand in his way of the World Heavyweight Championship. If WWE REALLY wanted to upturn the apple-cart and get serious about the perception of racism within the company, this is the way to go. Titus can say all of the things that many fans have been thinking for years AND be justified in doing so.
Titus could come out as an humbled but frustrated family man who, in taking issue with the evil company who wronged him, begins his own road to redemption, one that could hopefully lead to him winning the World Heavyweight Championship. This, I think, would be the more likely option, as we are still in enough of the PG era for WWE to likely not want to talk too much about their history with race.
No matter which way WWE chose to go, there is a natural, potentially history-making storyline just waiting for them when Titus comes back, should they choose to accept it...
Or he can become Main Event’s resident jobber. Which, sadly, is probably the more likely scenario.
What do YOU think? Be Heard
Remember when Hulk Hogan and race in wrestling was all anybody could talk about? You know. . . About 10 days ago? How quickly things change in this social media world, for in less than a fortnight, we’re now talking about Piper (obviously, that would have happened no matter what), Ultima Lucha and some team that may or may not be called ‘Beef Mode’.
For those who wondered how Hogan survives the fallout of his released audio, the answer is in the previous paragraph. Today’s society has a massive case of collective ADHD - We automatically move to the next shiny thing that captures our attention. If Hogan were to disappear from the public eye for a while, only to come back in 18-24 months with a series of tell-all interviews, giving a total mea culpa for his actions and showing us that he is actively seeking forgiveness, a lot of people would break out the red and yellow boas and welcome him back with open arms.
It might seem ludicrous right now, but its true. It could, and possibly will, happen.
Regardless, while most of the world is now too focused on the difference between the “fake” and the “real” forms of entertainment, there’s still the racial elephant in the room, specifically when it comes to how WWE responds in the coming days and weeks. Tonight’s Roddy Piper tribute will offer an opening answer - We’ll see through the editing and clip selection how far away from Hogan the company will choose to go, but it’s even more than that.
While Vince McMahon & company have avoided the majority of the racial magnifying glass, at least with the mainstream media, they still should probably do something in response, and not just crown John Cena as the new World Heavyweight Champion, and thus the REAL American WWE flag-bearer. If I’m on the WWE creative team, I’m trying to find the best way to put as much focus on African American talent as possible, and as much as I like them, I’m not talking about New Day.
Now is the time to start trying to build to the first ‘black’ World Champion in WWE history, and in this Chief of Staff’s opinion, there’s a talent currently on the main roster that could be that guy.
I’ll freely admit, up until the Prime Time Players reunited recently, I didn’t have a high opinion of O’Neil as a wrestling talent, and based on the conversations I had on Twitter last night, there are a number of you that still feel the same way. Take a look at his work thus far in 2015 (both in NXT and as one half of the PTP), though, and you’ll see there’s some workable talent there.
I’m not saying he’s the second coming of William Regal, or that he’s even on the level of Booker T, but Titus has shown he can be a dominant ‘power-wrestler’ who can hold his own in a match. Take a look at the history of World Champions (can you say Batista? I knew that you could), and you’ll see that the description I just gave you is good enough for a title or two. WWE will happily overlook a deficit in wrestling ability if you make up for it in other ways.
There’s far more than just talent to being a World Heavyweight Champion, otherwise Shelton Benjamin would have won about half a dozen or so during his WWE stay, as would Billy Gunn, Mr. Perfect, Tito Santana and, oh yeah, that Sandow guy. . .
Being the World Heavyweight Champion means you are an ambassador for WWE. Besides John Cena, who has long passed the point of needing championships to define him, the WHC is THE public face of professional wrestling. Seth Rollins was on The Daily Show last week, not Sheamus or Roman Reigns or even The Miz. World champions appear on talk shows (I remember Kevin Nash going on Regis and Kathie Lee with his WWF title), they do promotional appearances, and they walk around in public carrying a large gold trophy. Ring ability is not their only pre-requisite.
A World Champion needs to be eloquent, camera-friendly (that’s a very politically correct way of saying physically attractive), and preferably trying to make a positive difference. In other words, just like Titus.
We’ve heard him on commentary verbally slapping JBL around - Titus can talk. He’s a physically imposing specimen who smiles a lot and puts people at ease. He’s been voted best Dad and he takes homeless people out to dinner. He’s ALREADY one of WWE’s best superstars from a public relations standpoint. He is, from a color blind viewpoint, the ideal talent to consider as a future World Champion.
I’m not willing to delve too far into the intricacies of the racial views of the folks behind the WWE curtain, so for the purposes of this column, I’ll assume that Titus would get serious consideration as a contender for the title. So, our major question is. . .
How do you get Titus from his current position in the company to World Champion?
It can’t be too quick - If he randomly won the title in the next month or two, everyone would know EXACTLY what was going on. This needs to be relatively gradual. . . In fact, the ideal scenario would be building Titus to his own “Wrestlemania moment”, which gives us 8 months to work with. I’ve put on my fantasy booking hat, and sketched out a PPV schedule that I think could work. Are there better options? I’m sure there are, and I invite you to leave a comment with your own plan.
- Prime Time Players lose their titles to New Day in whatever multi-team match they’re planning. In my head, New Day cheats (obviously) to get their belts back, causing even more bad blood between the tandems.
- Titus and Darren, extremely frustrated at how New Day used their three man advantage to win, sets out to end the trio tyranny, challenging the Positive Power to one more match at NOC. The stipulation? The losing team must disband.
New Day wins, of course, because this group is amazing and must remain together, and this forces the split between Darren and Titus. In a perfect world, Darren Young goes on to get a solid mid-card push while also being able to address being the first openly homosexual wrestler in WWE, but that’s another column.
- Titus begins his singles run and almost immediately falls into conflict with Big Show. Hate him if you must, but there’s no denying that a win over Paul Wight is almost always the first step towards main event status. Cena did it, Reigns did it, and frighteningly enough, Ryback’s going to do it.
Titus battles and defeats Big Show at HIAC, sending Titus into the upper mid-card. This leads us to. . .
- In an actual Survivor Series elimination match (shocking, I know), Titus, along with Ryback and the recently promoted team of Enzo and Big Cass, takes on Big Show, Rusev, and a team I’ve had in mind for quite a while now, King Barrett and a newly heel Neville.
Titus is the sole survivor of this match, overcoming 3 on 1 odds by defeating Big Show, Neville and finally Rusev all on his own. Rusev attacks him after the match, however, which takes us into. . .
and a “Bulgarian Brawl” - basically a No DQ streetfight between Titus and Rusev, who obviously is back to being a monster, and not just a funny fishmonger.
Since I can’t fantasy book one guy without fantasy booking others, I’m going to say that Rusev wins this match, just barely, although TItus continues his strong showing. He definitely doesn’t tap or pass out to The Accolade - I’ll say the two of them wind up crashing through a table somehow, and Rusev manages to drape his arm over Titus.
- Entering somewhere in the middle (14th? 17th?), Titus is one of the more dominant participants in this year’s Rumble, eliminating multiple guys, including Rusev, earning a little bit of payback from his loss at TLC.
Dominant participants are the name of the game this year, as Titus, Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns all have single handedly eliminated more than 5 men. They are so strong, in fact, that the three of them are all alone in the ring before all 30 men have entered the Rumble.
In fact, we’re just about to see who drew Number 30. . . The buzzer goes off, there’s a little bit of silence, and then. . .
Sami Zayn, making his return to ring action and his official WWE debut, sprints to the ring, springboarding off the top rope and diving onto Kevin Owens, enacting just the beginning of his revenge for the NXT events of 2015. The two of them wind up brawling with such fervor and fury that they eliminate each other, continuing to fight all the way backstage, setting the scene for their Wrestlemania clash.
That leaves Titus and Roman Reigns. . . The same Roman Reigns who won last year’s Rumble, the same Roman Reigns who has spent the last 12 months fighting and clawing his way to the top, overcoming overwhelming obstacles and finding respect and admiration from the fans of World Wrestling Entertainment.
And then Titus tosses him out. . . Fairly easily, I might add.
Roman snaps, as we’ve all been hoping he would, and the Samoan Savage is unleashed, taking out Titus, maybe even dusting off the powerbomb and putting O’Neil through the announce table.
I’m taking way too long for this booking, so moving quickly through 2016. . .
- Titus vs. Reigns, not for the chance to go to Wrestlemania, just because they hate each other. Steel cage match, and a brutal one at that. Much like TLC, this is another chance to showcase Titus’ bona fides as a main event star, but just like TLC, Roman gets the win, escaping the cage mere seconds before Titus can climb out.
Regardless, as winner of the Rumble, Titus heads to. . .
to take on the World Heavyweight Champion. I considered Lesnar as the champ, but Jason Moltov is right, the next person to beat Lesnar needs to be, really and truly, the Next Big Thing, and at 38 years old, Titus isn’t that.
(In case you’re curious, in this alternate universe I’d have heel Reigns exact some revenge, beating a face Lesnar)
No no, the champ really needs to be John Cena for this to work. Being the first African American champ is amazing unto itself, but doing so by beating THE superstar of WWE. . . That’s really something. It’s an unspoken signal that the race problems in WWE, while they might still exist, have overcome their biggest hurdle.
Wrestlemania 32 ends with Titus O’Neil’s children in the ring with him, celebrating. John Cena shaking his hand and raising his arm to the Dallas faithful. The ring is filled with wrestlers who have come to congratulate the new champion, of all races, though Darren Young chief among them. The Prime Time Players embrace in the middle of the ring, doing the Millions of Dollars dance one more time, but this time Titus has the World title on his shoulders.
And, just for fun, we’ll have Darren Young as the US champ as well.
Will it happen? Sadly, I doubt it. WWE is set in their ways, and I mean more than just race when I say that. Roman Reigns looks to be THE guy in 2016, and if not him it’ll be Kevin Owens or maybe even Cesaro. I don’t think many of us would complain if that was the case.
But, the fact remains, Titus O’Neil COULD be a World Heavyweight Champion. He’s got the tools, he’s got the look, and, as you just read, he could have the story.
What do YOU think? Could Titus be the first? How would you book it? Be Heard.