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In pro wrestling, championships are the driving force behind most of the major feuds and storylines that populate the weekly shows.
While many companies have different types of titles, a formula has emerged that the major promotions tend to stick with over time.
At the top are the men’s and women’s world champions. Those are the titles that every kid dreams of holding when they first decide they want to be a pro wrestler.
In addition to those, we have a midcard championship and a set of tag team titles. Some promotions have also begun including a set of women’s tag titles, most notably Impact Wrestling and WWE.
After that, you have the novelty belts. The 24/7 Championship, Million Dollar Championship, FTW title and Hardcore Championship fall into this category. They are either used as comedy props or are never defended under normal circumstances.
When it comes to WWE and All Elite Wrestling, the differences in quality between the divisions can vary wildly. On one show, the tag title scene might be infinitely more entertaining than that of the World Championship. The opposite could be true on a different brand.
We are nearing the halfway point of 2021, so this is the perfect time to take stock of the current divisions in WWE and AEW to see where they stand. For the sake of keeping this manageable, we will not include NXT or NXT UK. We will focus solely on Raw, SmackDown and AEW.
We will look at the current champion, recent rivals and the most recent title bout in that division when making our assessment.
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Current Champion: Bobby Lashley
Recent Rivals: Drew McIntyre, Braun Strowman, Kofi Kingston
Most Recent Title Defense: Lashley vs. Strowman vs. McIntyre at WrestleMania Backlash
The WWE title picture has benefitted from great performances by Lashley and McIntyre, but there has also been a problem with repetition for quite some time.
The pandemic certainly affected how WWE told stories for a long time, but the Raw roster has more than enough talent to allow for more combinations than we are getting.
Other than The Miz’s short transitional title reign, Lashley and McIntyre have dominated the WWE Championship feud for most of 2021. Before his recent release from the company, Strowman was in and out of the title picture to add a little variety.
While WWE has finally used Lashley to his fullest potential, it needs to give him some new challengers. His upcoming match against McIntyre will supposedly be The Scottish Warrior’s last chance to win the belt while The All Mighty is champion, so that should open the door for something new for the rest of the summer.
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Current Champion: Roman Reigns
Recent Rivals: Cesaro, Daniel Bryan, Edge, Kevin Owens
Most Recent Title Defense: Reigns vs. Cesaro at WrestleMania Backlash
Reigns has found his true calling as a heel on SmackDown. Saying he is one of the best characters in all of pro wrestling at the moment would be a huge understatement.
His feuds as universal champion have seen him battle the likes of Owens, Cesaro, Edge, Bryan and his own cousin, Jey Uso. All of this comes from his most recent reign as champion.
The variety of opponents and matches have helped make Reigns’ current run the best of his career, which has also helped make SmackDown the superior WWE brand.
Acknowledge your Tribal Chief for his greatness.
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Current Champion: Rhea Ripley
Recent Rivals: Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Nikki Cross
Most Recent Title Defense: Ripley vs. Asuka vs. Charlotte from WrestleMania Backlash
Seeing Ripley win the Raw women’s title from Asuka at WrestleMania 37 was a great moment that felt overdue after her defeat at the hands of Charlotte a year prior.
However, The Nightmare’s title reign has been taking longer than expected to take off the way many had hoped, and part of the problem is the way WWE books Charlotte.
Whether she is the champion or not, The Queen is always portrayed as the measuring stick of the women’s division. Even the titleholder feels like she is playing second fiddle to her at times.
This is not Charlotte’s fault. She is doing her job and does it well. The fault lies with the WWE creative team for not being able to properly book anyone as being on her level since Becky Lynch.
Thankfully, Ripley is young at 24 and has plenty of time to establish herself as being just as good as The Queen. The matches and feuds have been decent in 2021, but they need to pick up in the second half of the year if the Australian is ever going to be viewed as a major player in the division.
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Current Champion: Apollo Crews
Recent Rivals: Big E, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn
Most Recent Title Defense: Crews vs. Owens, SmackDown on June 4
While SmackDown has been able to book a competitive world title division, the Intercontinental Championship has been relying on the same couple of people for several months.
Big E and Crews had several encounters before the current champion won the belt at WrestleMania 37. Since then, Crews has been continuing to feud with the former New Day man while also fighting KO more recently.
As great as many of these matches have been, the midcard title scene should be much more competitive than it is. Crews should be fending off challenges from most of the locker room because just about anybody can be considered for an IC title shot.
Zayn has also been in and out of the title hunt since last year. He seems less concerned with getting the belt back lately, but that could change at any time.
The IC title scene has done well in 2021, but some new blood is needed to liven things up and give Crews some new challenges to overcome as the champion.
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Current Champion: Bianca Belair
Recent Rivals: Bayley, Sasha Banks
Most Recent Title Defense: Belair vs. Bayley from WrestleMania Backlash
If we were just grading Belair as the SmackDown women’s champion, she would get a much higher score, but this is about the division surrounding the belt.
If you look at the PPV schedule for 2021, you might notice that the SmackDown women’s title has not appeared on as many shows as other championships. It wasn’t defended at Elimination Chamber or Fastlane.
Belair has not been champion long enough to have had many rivals, but there isn’t much to work with at the moment. Other than Bayley and Banks, Carmella, Liv Morgan, Tamina and Natalya are the only other active competitors in the SmackDown women’s division.
Natalya and Tamina are the women’s tag champs, Sonya Deville is still working as an authority figure and Mia Yim has yet to debut on the blue brand, so the options are quite limited.
Thankfully, the matches we have seen from this division in 2021 have been good to great. The in-ring action has definitely trumped the storytelling in this case.
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Current Champion: Sheamus
Recent Rivals: Ricochet, Humberto Carrillo, Riddle
Most Recent Title Defense: Sheamus vs. Ricochet from WrestleMania Backlash
Sheamus has been one of the most consistent workers on the main roster for a long time, but even he can’t force WWE to tell interesting stories.
Winning the title from Riddle at WrestleMania 37 gave The Celtic Warrior new life. Since then, he has been fending off people like Ricochet, Humberto Carrillo and Mansoor in non-title bouts.
While it’s great to see some of these guys circling the title scene, it feels like the company is wasting Sheamus’ talents to some degree. He could be right there mixing it up with Lashley and McIntyre for the WWE title instead of being regularly embarrassed by two midcard talents.
If and when Ricochet or Carrillo wins the title, Sheamus needs to be put back into the main event rotation while the U.S. title is used to build stars such as Mansoor, Mustafa Ali and others.
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Current Champions: AJ Styles and Omos
Recent Rivals: The New Day, Jaxson Ryker and Elias, The Viking Raiders
Most Recent Title Defense: Styles and Omos vs. Elias and Ryker from Raw on May 31
The Raw tag team division is so random these days that it feels like there is no long-term plan in place for anyone. And that includes the champions.
The Viking Raiders recently returned and earned a shot at the titles held by Styles and Omos, but the odds of them winning seem slim since the titleholders only began their reign at WrestleMania 37.
WWE broke up Elias and Ryker, and The Miz and John Morrison don’t seem concerned with tag team gold. Veer and Shanky have made only one televised appearance, and Lucha House Party is almost never taken seriously.
There is hope for the division if WWE actually puts some effort into it, though. With teams like The New Day and R-K-Bro providing us with entertaining segments, there is a base from which to work.
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Current Champion: Rey and Dominik Mysterio
Recent Rivals: The Usos, Dolph Ziggler and Robert Roode
Most Recent Title Defense: The Usos vs. Mysterios from SmackDown on June 4
The SmackDown tag title scene is limited to just a handful of teams. We have The Street Profits, Dirty Dawgs, The Usos and Alpha Academy.
Even with a limited number of teams to work with, the blue brand has managed to keep the tag scene interesting by tying the title feud into the Universal Championship storyline.
The Usos wanting the belts only for Reigns to spoil it for them will create more drama and give us the possibility of seeing Rey Mysterio challenge The Tribal Chief for the universal title.
Unfortunately, those are very recent developments. Up until then, it felt like WWE was treading water with Ziggler and Roode as champions. They are a great team, but they did nothing of note during their reign.
The matches are always good but the storylines surrounding them have only just started to become interesting.
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Current Champions: Natalya and Tamina
Recent Rivals: Dana Brooke and Mandy Rose, Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax
Most Recent Title Defense: Natalya and Tamina vs. Jax and Baszler from May 24
WWE recently released Lana and Ruby Riott, leaving their respective partners, Naomi and Liv Morgan, to go it alone. With the breakup of Jax and Baszler likely imminent, the division is about to be gutted.
However, you can’t deny how much effort the company has put into featuring the women’s tag titles regularly. They have been fixtures on Raw and SmackDown for the past few months with regular title defenses and appearances by the champs on both brands.
Unfortunately, the limited number of teams has led to severe repetition. It’s easy to lose track of how many times Jax and Baszler have faced Natalya and Tamina at this point.
If Asuka and Nikki Cross remain allies, they could add some more variety to the division, but it’s difficult to envisage much hope after WWE unceremoniously broke up two teams in one day.
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Current Champion: R-Truth
Recent Rivals: N/A
Most Recent Title Defense: N/A
There was a time when the 24/7 Championship segments were some of the most entertaining moments of the week, but those times are long gone.
Ever since Bad Bunny held the title for a short time, WWE has all but forgotten about it. R-Truth still regularly appears on Raw Talk, so it’s not as if he isn’t around to defend the belt.
The problem with a comedy title is the joke eventually stops being funny. Truth is always hilarious, but he can only do so much when he isn’t given anything substantial.
WWE should either retire the belt or come up with a meaningful way to use it.
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Current Champion: Kenny Omega
Recent Rivals: Jon Moxley, Orange Cassidy, PAC
Most Recent Title Defense: Omega vs. Cassidy vs. PAC from Double or Nothing
The AEW World Championship has only been held by three men since it was introduced in 2019, so management has made sure its prestige is protected.
We have seen a variety of people fight for it this year. We began with Moxley running roughshod over the division before Omega began collecting belts.
Having the AEW champion also hold the Impact and AAA titles has given us something we have not seen before on a national level. Plenty of people have held multiple indie belts but few have held several titles across different promotions.
Omega is not everybody’s cup of tea but denying his star power and skill is pointless. He is a major player in the world of pro wrestling and brings international attention to the brand.
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Current Champion: Britt Baker
Recent Rivals: Hikaru Shida
Most Recent Title Defense: Shida vs. Baker from Double or Nothing
The AEW women’s division suffered during the first half of the pandemic when the company lost several talents to international travel restrictions, but it has come roaring back in recent months.
With talents like Thunder Rosa, Shida, Baker, Nyla Rose and Serena Deeb, AEW has one of the most talented pools of female wrestlers in the world.
The main issue with this division is the lack of long-term storytelling. With the exception of Baker vs. Shida being built up over several weeks, most of the recent title defenses have felt somewhat random.
With The Doctor now on top and a ton of talented women waiting to take her out, the next few months should produce some memorable encounters.
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Current Champions: The Young Bucks
Recent Rivals: The Varsity Blonds, Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston, Santana and Ortiz
Most Recent Title Defense: The Bucks vs. Mox and Kingston from Double or Nothing
What AEW’s tag team division lacks in long-term storytelling, it more than makes up for with the variety of teams who challenge for the titles.
The Young Bucks are good champions who play their roles well. They have had some fun bouts since winning the belts and will continue to do so until they lose them.
The only real problem is, unfortunately, a big one. AEW has several young tag teams who need to be built up into real contenders, but doing that all at once is no easy feat.
Private Party, The Acclaimed, Bear Country, The Varsity Blonds, Jurassic Express, The Gunn Club, the various teams in The Dark Order, the Sydals, and The Butcher and The Blade are just some of the teams in need of consistent TV time and a proper push. Doing all of that will take a long time.
Teams like Santana and Ortiz, FTR and The Lucha Bros are already established, so they are the ones who need to help the young teams push forward.
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Current Champion: Miro
Recent Rivals: Darby Allin, Lance Archer
Most Recent Title Defense: Archer vs. Miro at Double or Nothing
Like the world title, the TNT Championship has been well-protected through long title reigns, competitive matches and interesting rivalries.
Allin was a great underdog champion who persevered through some of the biggest challenges he could face, but Miro was too much for him.
With the new champion already proving himself against Archer at Double or Nothing, it’s hard to imagine he will drop the title to anyone in the near future.
There isn’t much to criticize in this division. AEW has done a great job giving a number of young stars title shots on Dynamite and at PPVs.
How would you grade each of WWE and AEW’s different divisions at the moment?