World Title Unification Madness: (Too) SWEET 16

WrestleMania week has arrived. On Sunday night, the WWE Universal and WWE Championship titles will merge into one World Title when Roman Reigns goes up against Brock Lesnar – their 3rd (and final?) WrestleMania main event as competitors. But I think we can all agree, what really matters in the mind of pro wrestling fans everywhere, is who will have the distinction of being named the One True WWE World Champion in our bracket of madness.

We’ve arrived at the sweet 16 – and man, is it a murder’s row. Half of the 16 are WWE Hall of Famers. The 8 who aren’t there yet are all still active, except for John Cena and The Rock. The only one you can’t see going into the hall is CM Punk, and that’s not certainly not for lack of contributions to WWE’s legacy.

After a first round that delivered a decent amount of upsets, our final 16 are more chalky. All the 1 and 2 seeds survived and advanced. Only one 3 seed is absent (Edge lost in round 1). The “lower seeds” still in it include three 5 seeds and the only real “Cinderella” left, 14 seed Eddie Guerrero.

There were some quasi-scares to the big dogs up until this point – but now, it’s going to be extremely hard to see all 1 v 2s in our Elite 8.

Scroll below to see the results of round 2, and to vote on the Sweet 16
(Voting is from March 31st – April 7th)


That’s right! Vote along, and sign up at the bottom of the page to be eligible to win the gift card. We will announce the winner on the podcast
sometime after WrestleMania!

big gold belt region

It was a big week for Triple H. He announced on ESPN that his recent heart issues have ended his in-ring career, and then he almost got upset by Ric Flair. In fact, this was the closest round 2 match, with Flair leading for a considerable portion of it. Perhaps the headlines pushed Trips over the line, but now he’s got best friend Shawn Michaels waiting for him (and then either Evolution mate Randy Orton or former foe Bret Hart after that).

HHH vs HBK as the better World Champion comes down to what you value most as a fan. I’ve joked about Triple H’s Ruthless Aggression Title Run being a “Reign Of Terror,” one that kept a younger Me watching every week hoping that RVD, Jericho, Booker T, SOMEBODY would dethrone him. But there is real value in the heel champion, and Triple H played this part to elevate faces even later in his career with Jeff Hardy, Roman Reigns, and Daniel Bryan. Shawn Michaels was one of the few people to win titles off of HHH, perhaps the most memorable being his comeback win at Survivor Series 2002 in the first Elimination Chamber match. This is one of those moments where the hero prevails and makes the past struggles worth it for the fans, but you can argue that the euphoria wouldn’t be so high without the struggle and pain Triple H as champ caused. Without heel Bret Hart, you don’t get “The boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels.”

Speaking of Bret – he’s also in the sweet 16 against Randy Orton in a match that I’m suddenly so sad we never got to experience in real life. These are arguably the two most naturally smooth working wrestlers WWE has ever employed. The question here for the voting populous to ponder is: Do you value a handful of title reigns that cemented Bret Hart as the face of “The New Federation” for a few years, or, do you value that Randy Orton could and has continued to be a viable candidate as World Champion longer than any of his contemporaries (Cena, Batista, Edge) even if none of the reigns were particularly memorable?

winged eagle region

Round 2 saw only one upset in the Winded Eagle region, but it’s hard to call it an upset when the two competitors are so equally matched and were contemporaries. Chris Jericho snuck past Kurt Angle to make the sweet 16 (this was the second closest match of the round). Both were main stays of the IC title picture for the end of the Attitude Era, both had multiple World Title reigns in the Ruthless Aggression era, and both were known for their technical ability and comedy chops. So why did Jericho win? Maybe it’s because so much of Angle’s prime was spent as the champ in TNA. Or maybe it’s because when talking about title unification, it’s hard not to picture Chris Jericho, the “first” undisputed WWE Champion, and the man “who beat the Rock and Stone Cold in the SAME NIGHT!” to do so.

But now Chris has got a whole different kind of problem. He’s drawn the most identifiable wrestler of all time, Hulk Hogan. After two days of voting, it looked like Mysterio might actually pull an upset, but then the Hulkamaniacs came out in full force. With another generation gone by, and Hogan’s recent cultural contributions being a Gawker lawsuit, being booed at WrestleMania 37 in his home town, and shaded by the New Day, maybe it’s becoming hard to remember just how big the character was? I don’t think Hogan is going to make it to the final 4, but could Chris step up and take him out now? I’m not so sure.

Another battle of cotemporaries here, with The Undertaker taking on The Rock. Both are potential WWE Mount Rushmore guys. Both were important to the Attitude Era, The Ruthless Aggression Era, and both had late career stints as World Champion. But also, both have arguably more memorable touchstones in wrestling history beyond their title runs. Sure, Rock was one of the people to dethrone Steve Austin, but we remember his interviews, his non-title match against Hogan, and his Hollywood career more than his title runs. It’s the same for the Undertaker. For a time, ending the streak was seen as a much bigger rub for a young star than winning the World Title could ever be. The Undertaker actually held World Championships only a few times and for relatively short reigns considering how long he was employed. But with those reigns he put over young talent (Jeff Hardy’s Raw Ladder Match comes to mind). Is that enough to get past the man who was big enough to take the baton from Hogan and pass it to Cena, though?

Big green belt region

We got Chalk in the Big Green Belt region, but it’s the most exciting and juicy chalk you can imagine. In one corner, we have a battle between two men who define their eras and had a legit war of words, and in the other, we have the very real main event of this year’s WrestleMania, the whole reason we thought to do this bracket to begin with!

During his WWE version of the “Summer of Punk,” Punk made some comments about how it was more impressive to hold the WWE title for over a year in modern times than it was for Bruno to hold it for thousands of days when they weren’t running as many shows. Superstar Billy Graham was heated. Bruno, to his credit, had a much calmer response, but still managed to slight CM Punk with this closing statement; “The only thing is I think if he was in my era, he would be a little bit too small, we had bigger built guys back then.” So, now we’re going to settle this once and for all. Two superstars who were considered the best workers and best lengthy champions, though those meant two very different things in their eras – are finally going to come to blows…by way of internet poll.

That leaves us with the two most notable WWE Champions in whatever the name of this post-Reality era of WWE will eventually be called, Roman and Brock. They both have been given the biggest storyline and personnel endorsements that WWE has to offer; Paul Heyman as a manager and beating The Undertaker at WrestleMania. They are the two most physically imposing and protected stars on the roster. They are the two biggest names in the company. And they share the same sort of doubters, both being throwbacks to 80s stalwart type characters but trapped in a modern day workrate climate. I don’t know how to guide the voters here. They are two sides of a similar coin. I suppose I’ll ask you all this, which of these two guys do you think has been used more to elevate the other one? That’s where the answer ultimately lies, and it might be clearer after Sunday.

spinner belt region

Our final region saw three clear cut favorites rise to the top, and our Cinderella get another upset. I thought JBL might have a chance against Seth, because his one title reign was such a great time for Smackdown and worked perfectly as a villain for the top faces of the time (Eddie and Mysterio) but it’s hard to beat Seth in any kind of internet voting anything.

Now, Seth is up against John Cena – a man who’s kayfabe ability to be the World Champion in WWE is only equaled by Hulk Hogan. Cena is so synonymous with being the champ that his special Spinner belt became the permanent design of the WWE Championship… and still sorta is today. Oh yeah, also whenever he returns he says “The Champ is Here.” Hard to top that. Though I’ll make an argument that Seth had the most interesting single title reign of the past five years with his Architect double-champ Authority run, that showed his physical value as someone who could wrestle two big matches on SummerSlam. Perhaps it’s not remembered that way by everyone because of how unfortunate the ending of his Sting match was, but I think Seth’s got a shot here.

Our final match involves two of the most universally liked wrestlers in history. Our Cinderella, the always underestimated Eddie Guerrero, might have reached the end of the line. Eddie’s win over Brock was the stuff of legend. The world would’ve been much worse had Eddie not got that run before his premature passing. But talking about the stuff of legend, that’s everything Steve Austin did from 1997-2001. He, for my money, reached the highest single moment of popularity for a star in wrestling history. The World Title, whether the winged eagle or his custom smoking skull belt, looks perfect in my mind’s eye being held by Austin with his hands up while standing on the turnbuckle. If you don’t believe the hype about Austin, just watch what happens when that glass shatters on Saturday night in Texas…

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