Since the brand split, the WWE Championship has changed hands three times. Dean Ambrose brought the title with him to SmackDown, opening the door for RAW to create the WWE Universal Championship. AJ Styles dethroned Ambrose at Backlash and held the title for 140 days before losing to John Cena at the Royal Rumble. Cena’s WWE Championship reign (his record-tying 16th) lasted all of two weeks before he dropped it to the current champ, Bray Wyatt, at Elimination Chamber.
The same night Cena toppled Styles, Randy Orton outlasted 29 other superstars to win the Royal Rumble match, earning the right to face the champion of his choosing at WrestleMania. However, since Wyatt won a fortnight later, Orton refused to cash in his WWE Championship opportunity on the grand stage due to his allegiance to The Eater of Worlds.
As a result, a Battle Royal was booked for this past Tuesday’s episode of SmackDown to determine a new number one contender for Bray Wyatt and the WWE Championship. The match, of course, ended in a draw when Luke Harper and AJ Styles both appeared to hit the floor simultaneously. Daniel Bryan would go on to announce that the two will compete in a singles match next week, with the winner advancing to WrestleMania.
If the strategy seems convoluted, it may be because backstage, WWE officials haven’t completely made up their mind as to the direction of the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, according to a recent report. Vince McMahon and company have penciled in Wyatt and Orton already, but a final decision has not been made as to whether it will end up as that singles match or if another superstar(s) gets added.
Last week, the Inquisitr reported that officials were already considering adding Luke Harper to the mix and making the WWE Championship match a triple threat bout at WrestleMania between the most recent iteration of the Wyatt Family. That option is still apparently on the table, and one of the reasons for the inconclusive finish in the main event this past Tuesday night. So as of now, Harper could be in a main event or a part of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, with no options in between.
Adding AJ Styles has been bandied about, but Vince is still determined to book AJ in a marquee match with Shane McMahon despite a largely negative reaction to the concept. It appears as if the WWE Championship will be defended among Wyatt Family members only, past or present.
The other notable element to this angle that officials are heavily considering is the idea of turning Bray Wyatt babyface. It had been widely assumed that Orton would eventually be the one to turn face, but it’s now being discussed to go in the other direction. The original thought was that Orton would pull a similar move to that of Daniel Bryan from 2013, albeit slightly different. Bryan was forced to join the family while Orton did it voluntarily. The end game would be the same, however.
That thought has been altered a bit in the recent weeks since Wyatt became WWE Champion. The crowd showered him with “You deserve it!” chants on the first SmackDown after capturing his first singles title in the WWE, and Jim Ross even stated that the company may have a major babyface in the making. As noted, Orton and Wyatt are both scheduled for the match, so a character change will be made one way or another.
The execution of the turn will be key, as an Orton attack several weeks ago may have prompted a positive reaction, cementing The Viper as the face, a similar approach may now result in boos as the fans have shown adulation for the new WWE Champion. Harper is a transitioning babyface, stuck in the middle, so his involvement could hold the key to the whole angle.
[Featured Image by WWE]