Wraith (wraithtdk) wrote,

Dear Wrestling: value your titles!

I've notice a big problem with pro wrestling these days: companies devaluing their titles.

Once upon a time, everything in a given promotion revolved around the titles. Everyone wanted to be champion. That's why they were there. And the people who were champions? They were the best. They were the marquee players. They were the faces of the company. When Hulk Hogan held the WWF championship, he was the man. Bret Hart, HBK, The Rock, Stone Cold, Ric Flair, Sting, The Undertaker, it used to be that if you wanted to know who were the top guys in a company, all you had to do was look for the guys with the gigantic, gold belt buckles.

These days, most titles as symbols of excellence has been all but destroyed. They've become novelties. Here now are the commandments for keeping your titles sacred:

1. Though shalt have no one but top talent hold the belt.
2. Though shalt not have your champions incapable of gaining clean wins.
3. If though cannot find time to feature thy titles, thous shalt officially retire them.
4. Thou shall not have redundant titles.
5. Though shalt not directly treat thy weight division titles as second-class.

1. Though shalt have no one but top talent hold the belt.

These days, titles are used to make stars, instead of recognizing them. They put the belts around the waists of the guys they think they can do something with, and hope that doing so will make them great; and it just doesn't work.

I understand the theory. John Cena is money. He sells merch, he puts butts in seats. Whether he has gold or not, he's going to be the face of WWE. So why not put the belt on someone else, and have two guys visible as "top guys?" The trouble is that when a company does this, they're essentially trying to tell the audience "hey guys, see this guy? He's the best, and he's the one you should love and cheer for." History has shown time and again that this doesn't work. Audiences don't respond to having guys forced on them. Look at what happened with Batista's return. The audience wanted Daniel Bryan or Punk to win the Rumble and headline Wrestlemania. WWE wanted a bankable bigman, and decided that Batista was going to be it, and the audience would love it; they just don't realize that's what they want.

What happened? Batista became Bootista. And no matter what they did, no matter how much they insisted "no, really, this guy's great!" The audience was having none of it. So ultimately, they lost Punk, and they had to scramble to get something going with Daniel Brian for WM 30.

What's even worse is when they put the belt on someone who's not even a wrestler (or at least not ordinarily). The best example of this, of course, was when David Arquette won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in what is widely considered to be the lowest part in that company's history.

2. Though shalt not have your champions incapable of gaining clean wins.

This goes hand-in-hand with commandment 1. A champion should be a champion. I understand the concept of a heel champ, and that heel champs cheat, and they'll do anything to keep their belts. The occasional swerve is OK, but for the most part; that stuff should be kept to the build-up to the championship matches. If you your champion cheat every time he's in a title match; particularly if they win using interference, it send the message that the best wrestler you've got can't win a match without people running in to save him. It makes your champ look bad, and that makes your company look bad.

3. If though cannot find time to feature thy titles, thous shalt officially retire them.

Dean Ambrose held the United States Championship for a record 351 days - but only defended it 6 times. He went
at a time without doing so. If you're not defending a title, the title doesn't mean anything. A belt is supposed to mean you can beat people. But if you never actually doing so, it's just costume jewelry. TNA had a TV title for years, and they'd just kind of "forget" about them for months at a time, with the "champ" walking out regularly without it, and and then every few months or so, they'd remember it was a thing and there'd be a title match, until eventually they retired it. Same thing with the TNA Knockouts tag titles. A title is supposed to be something important that you can build story around. If you can't do that, there's no reason to have it.

4. Thou shall not have redundant titles.

Sometimes, a company will create a belt to cash in on a trend, or to expand their company. The problem is, when that trend ends, or the company shrinks, the belts become redundant. Going back to commandment 3, the United States championship is a perfect example. It started as a WCW title, and was brought over during the invasion angle after The WWF bought out WCW. Subsequently, when WWF held its brand extension, with Smackdown and Raw each having their own rosters and separate story lines; the US title had a purpose: it was the mid-card "workhorse" title for Smackdown. It was their Intercontinental belt. But when the brand extension was abolished, all superstars became eligible for both the US and the Intercontinental title. The IC title was created 7 months after WWWF became WWF; and while the US title is older, they're never going to put a belt brought over from a dead company they aquired over as more prestigious than one of their own creations. As a result, it's become entirely redundant. They're both mid-card titles, used to represent the "workhorse," the up-and coming talent who goes out and gives everything in the ring; but you might as well call the US belt "the not good enough for the IC title" belt.

They had the same problem with the WWE and the World Heavyweight championship, but eventually they figured that out, and they unified the titles (even if they didn't create a single belt, as they need to). They need to do the same thing with the US/IC titles.

5. Though shalt not directly treat thy division titles as second-class.

Let's talk about WWECW. Let's talk about The X-Division. Let's talk about WWE's inactive cruiser-weight division. The truth of the matter is that no major promotion in the US is going to focus their show entirely around a non-heavyweight belt. High-flyers are a big attraction, but if there is a title devoted to the smaller guys, that title is never going to have the same prestige. We all know that.

But from a story-line standpoint, the point of those titles is supposed to be that they are world championships, just like the heavyweight belts. The only difference is that they're for a different weight class. Look at boxing. Look at MMA. Look at collegiate or Olympic wrestling. They all have weight classes, but they don't act like one weight class is more important than another.

So how do you reconcile these two facts? Simple, really; you do the same thing those other sports do: you keep the divisions divided. If a wrestler is a contender for the cruiser-weight, don't have the division champion talking about how he wants to be "the real champ." The biggest offender here is unquestionably TNA with its "option c." One of the things that put TNA on the map was the X-Division. Basically a cruiser-weight division, based on high-flying, high-risk wrestlers. Watching them fly around that six-sided ring was an amazing spectacle.

Once a year, TNA even held a pay-per-view dedicated entirely to the X-Division: Destination X. Traditionally, the highlight of Destination X was an X-Division title match, often held in their signature "Ultimate X" match. A few years ago, however, Austin Aeries, who was the X-Division champ at the time, said that "he wanted to be the man." Which meant winning the heavyweight title. Hulk Hogan, who was in charge at the time (total disaster) told him he couldn't have one man holding both belts (similar to when The Ultimate Warrior beat Hogan at WM VI and had to relinquish his IC belt). So Aries created "option c," which was that every year the X-Division champ would get the option to "cash in" the X-Division belt for a heavyweight title shot. Since then, that's been the big draw of the belt - to "cash it in" for a another belt. And what's worse, for the past 3 years, Destination-X, the "X-Division showcase" has been head-lined by a heavyweight title match, with no X-Division title match.

All this does is send a clear message: The X-Division is, in TNA's eyes, a consolation prize for the guys who can't hack it against the heavyweights. How is that a draw?

Another good example was the WWECW title. When WWF relaunched ECW, the idea was supposed to be that it was a whole other brand. It was supposed to be "the second coming of Extreme Championship Wrestling." As such, the ECW belt should have been on par with the WH Title and the WWE Title; yet in the 2008 Royal Rumble, Chavo Guerrero, the ECW champion, competed in the Rumble for a shot at the WH or WWE title. Total slap in the face to ECW (I mean, everyone knew WWECW was unofficially the red-headed stepchild, but this was pretty blatant about it).

Bottom line: your promotion is only as good as your champion. If you can't draw money by building around your title, AFAIC, you're doing it wrong.

Tags: ecw, tna, wrestling, wwe
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