First CM Punk, now Thunder Rosa. The touted ‘Summer of Punk’ quickly became the ‘Summer of the Interim Champion,’ with both of AEW’s men’s and women’s champions getting injured and being replaced by interim champions.
It’s been an area of contention, though on the evidence so far it would seem that interim champions are a major success for AEW. It isn’t a disagreement that will be easily solved, as those who prefer an admittedly simpler vacation of championships remain steadfast. Though, if the Interim Women’s Champion has a reign that’s half as successful as Jon Moxley, then it’s sure to sway most people. But what does the evidence suggest so far, good and bad, for interim champs in AEW?
Interim champions are better than vacating titles because it fits in with AEW’s image, which edges more towards other combat sports and TNT/TBS programming. When AEW Dynamite was announced to be coming to TV, it was billed as a more seriously presented wrestling program. Regardless of what you think of this branding, it was clearly an attempt to position AEW as more like a sport than it conventionally is in the global market.
Interim champions are a fixture of combat sports like boxing and MMA (including UFC), so it makes sense for AEW to adopt them. In an attempt to push legitimacy, it really works.
Despite it being commonplace in combat sports, interim champions aren’t typical in pro wrestling. This means AEW has a unique commodity that sets them apart. This is hardly earth-shattering, but interim champions nevertheless make AEW stand out from their competitors, in a subtle way that implies greater stylistic differences.
More importantly, it’s expected that interim champions defend their title in a unification match against the champion that was forced out due to injury. For me, this is the biggest positive of AEW’s interim champions.
The unification match is easily marketable, an easy big-money match (Punk vs. Moxley saw a raised audience on TBS) and cements legitimacy for either the returning or interim champion.
AEW’s floundering, poorly-booked women’s division will certainly benefit from a marquee match when Thunder Rosa’s title will be unified with the interim champion as soon as she returns from injury. Jamie Hayter, Britt Baker, Hikaru Shida and Toni Storm will battle for the AEW Interim Women’s Championship at All Out, all of which provide an exciting unification bout with Thunder Rosa.
A unification match is better and more legitimate than a former champion getting a title match because they never lost the title. Although AEW went against expectations and didn’t hold off on the Punk vs. Moxley unification match until All Out, it was still a successful and momentous match.
That being said, there are negatives to interim championships. You could say it’s unnecessary (JR definitely would). It would be much simpler to vacate the title and move on when a champion gets injured, even if this crushes what could’ve been a fruitful championship reign.
In reality, vacating the title results in the same scenario as crowning an interim champion, just with less steps and perhaps less convolution.
A bigger issue is that becoming champion is devalued if it’s under an interim banner, as opposed to a permanent one. This wasn’t an issue for Jon Moxley as he looked and presented himself as legitimate during his AEW Interim World title reign, doing so as a second-time champion.
If a wrestler was to have their first title reign as interim champion then this accomplishment is devalued as even though they’ve technically held the championship, in actuality it’s only “fool’s gold”. This could be an issue that the women’s division runs into as if Toni Storm or Jamie Hayter were to win the four-way, it’d begin their first AEW Women’s Championship reigns.
This is an important point, which was raised at the time when Jon Moxley won the interim title. Though it was seemingly never in doubt, if someone like Eddie Kingston or Bryan Danielson became interim champion then their accomplishment would’ve felt different to what would’ve been a triumphant crowning moment as the one and only AEW World Champion.
So, Good or Bad?
AEW’s use of interim champions is a creative and workable method of ensuring the injured champion remains relevant during their injury while cementing their importance on return. The potentially money-spinning unification match is the major upside of an interim champion that a simpler vacation doesn’t have.
Introducing interim champions instead of vacating the belts adds the legitimacy and combat sports feel that AEW has made central to its branding as an alternative to sports entertainment. It will be interesting to see if AEW remains steadfast in this decision, or if they’ll opt to vacate some titles and make interim champions out of others.
Whichever way AEW falls in future, interim champions will remain an ever-present and undeniable feature of the company. Jon Moxley proved that it’s something that can work perfectly, but can the future Interim Women’s Champion have the same success? There’s no reason why not.
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