Continuing our series of targeted topics, we now reach one every wrestler dreams of, and every fan secretly frets about:
In sports entertainment, the concept of a champion is an incredibly tricky affair. Once everyone figured out that wrestling was scripted, the idea of a champion became pretty complicated. The NWA seemed incredibly eager to announce that its champions were chosen by a committee representing each of its major territories. Vince McMahon seems perfectly happy for everyone to believe his are champions of convenience, either designed to showcase the top stars, or calculated to move along a given storyline.
World champions, which can sometimes be considered heavyweight champions (but perhaps less so in the modern era) have been a staple of wrestling for more than a century, from George Hackenschmidt in 1904 to John Bradshaw Layfield in 2004. Owing to the fact that it’s very hard to appease everyone all the time, it’s always been a little difficult to determine a single, undisputed champion, not just on the world championship level, but from across the thousands of competitors at any given time, divided as they are in style, gender, weight and height, countries and languages, even permutations (it’s not all the time a tag team champion is also world champion).
Not every company competes on a global scale, naturally, so not every company can even rightly declare a world champion. So many championships have developed over the years, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of just how and why one of them should really carry any significance. The rule of thumb, as Vince McMahon will tell you, is that a championship should be given to someone who will be able to do something with it. Sometimes that means that the championship will forge a champion, and then sometimes that the champion will help define that championship. At no time is it guaranteed that either one is actually the best in that particular field, only that at that particular moment, it makes sense for the two to come together.
One of the things that really makes championships special is that they will make the wrestlers who hold them immediately involved in important matches, provided that the title is indeed on the line (this is not always the case), though any win against a champion, or a good match against them, is seen as a positive indicator. Sometimes fans will cheerfully ignore this distinction, but that’s just what fans like to do.
How many championships are too many for one company to promote? It’s too many when there’s a champion who doesn’t somehow feel special for being a champion, even in the slightest of ways. It’s too many when one of them feels redundant, when there truly seems nothing to prove or gain from its existence. No matter what that championship’s actually called (because world champions in wrestling compete just as internationally as world champions in baseball), if the idea behind it can’t properly be represented, it’s either time for reinvention, or recycling. Sometimes a good championship comes back, but it has to lay dormant for a while.
Good championships mean almost as much to a company as the wrestlers who capture them. They come to symbolize those wrestlers, the enduring legacy feeding itself, as long as that legacy is maintained, nurtured, and remembered. A championship title alone will not make or break a company’s fortunes, but if used properly it will help legitimize that company.
Fans will agonize over championships, over who has them, who’s had them many times, who may have had them too many times, those who never had them, and those who didn’t have enough time with them. Fans care more about them than they realize, and for that reason, championships are an integral part of wrestling. For all the talk that some championships have been spoiled by misuse over the years, that’s just another way of saying, the fans are obsessed with this stuff.