WWE: What is the Payoff for Apollo Crews with Titus O’Neil?


An impromptu partnership with Titus O’Neil has helped transform Apollo Crews from one of the most boring superstars in the WWE to somebody with an engaging storyline and interesting edge to his character. But what exactly does the future entail for the newest (read: only) member of the “Titus Brand”?

On WWE SmackDown Live, Apollo Crews received one opportunity at The Miz’s Intercontinental Championship, and he was buried down the card for the duration of his time with the blue brand. Crews was an example of how SmackDown isn’t necessarily “The Land of Opportunity” for everybody, and while he thanked Shane McMahon’s show for giving him chances, it’s clear that he’s doing much better for himself on Raw.

Crews has been taken under the wing of Titus O’Neil, who was an even less compelling character prior to the “Superstar Shakeup”. Don’t get me wrong, watching Titus is always entertaining, and it’s admirable how he’s willing to make a fool out of himself on camera for our enjoyment. He’s still up to his goofy antics, such as during his one-man press conferences or yelling at someone else to clean up the literal mess he made, but he actually feels like more than just a comedy character with Apollo on his “brand”.

For the most part, Crews and O’Neil have been excellent in this partnership. O’Neil is much better on the mic than that infamous promo in August would indicate, and he’s been even better than expected as a manager.

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The problem is that while the script has changed for Crews, the booking hasn’t. He lost to Kalisto at Extreme Rules in the kick-off show and has yet to obtain a meaningful victory over a superstar who was just as poorly booked as Crews over on SmackDown. It is a huge plus that Crews and Kalisto were given ample time to put on one of the best matches of the night, and there are easy storyline-related explanations for Crews’s inability to pick up a victory.

But at this point, I am left with just as many questions as answers when it comes to Crews’s future. Maybe most immediately, it’s unclear what his finishing maneuver is. It certainly isn’t his spin-out powerbomb, and it doesn’t appear to be his standing shooting star press either. O’Neil kept urging Crews to “do the flippy thing”, and when Crews finally hit the move, Kalisto kicked out.

There has to be some sort of payoff for this partnership beyond just “better television”, because Crews can’t spin his wheels with O’Neil for eternity. Now, the partnership needs to be maintained in order to keep building Crews’s character, but I wonder which branching point the creative team will choose for Crews.

For now, it looks like Crews remains a babyface. He hasn’t cheated to win, and he is willing to call out O’Neil for pulling the tights or using other shady tactics. Of the two of them, Crews is more polite at the Titus Brand’s “press conferences”, but he has been ribbing the reporters. In the past, Crews was a milquetoast babyface who gave polite, positive answers with a smile on his face. Now, he has a more humorous side and could finally get that edge to his character that fans have been hoping for since his hastily thrown together feud with Dolph Ziggler.

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If that “edge” is to appear, Crews would likely have to make a full heel turn. So far, he is buying into the Titus Brand, but he hasn’t done so completely. Again, Crews does not cheat, and he remains friends with others on the roster, such as Akira Tozawa. Dating back to that chairs match against Ziggler that was the feud’s blow-off match, Crews has shown almost as little of a mean streak as Bayley, who is the WWE’s ultimate babyface.

Or could the WWE go in a different direction by simply maintaining the status quo in the relationship between O’Neil and Crews? In this case, O’Neil would remain the mentor and would do most of the talking for his protege, but Crews wouldn’t turn heel. He would pick up new tricks and possibly character quirks from his flamboyant manager, but he would mostly stay humble and polite, albeit without being as boring as he was before. Then, Crews could finally turn against O’Neil and set out on his own, perhaps challenging for the Intercontinental Championship in the most optimistic world.

Both rosters are stocked with talent, and there’s a clear “Big 8” on Raw of Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose, and The Miz. Crews is highly unlikely to break into a title picture at this stage.

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Let’s say the WWE is high enough on Crews that they would want to push him higher up the card. For that to happen, Crews’s character would have to be a lot more compelling than it is now, and the only way I see this happening is if he becomes a fully-fledged, arrogant heel under the tutelage of his manager. Crews has the flashy in-ring style to pull this off, and as a heel, he could put on some good, traditional babyface-heel storytelling in the ring. Furthermore, his possibly natural inclination to smile could benefit him as a heel, because the audience would read his happy demeanor as being smug as opposed to being genuine.