At the end of “Wrestlemania XXXI”, Seth Rollins stood tall with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He had defeated the unstoppable monster Brock Lesnar and even conquered his old Shield compatriot Roman Reigns to accomplish his ultimate goal. Despite all the victories though, above all else was the title. This is something that doesn’t happen enough in wrestling and that’s a shame. Today we’re going to take a look at what titles should mean and why it should almost always be the top priority.
Before we get to historical examples, we’ll start with a recent line that summed up what should be the attitude regarding championships. A few weeks ago on an episode of “NXT”, newcomer Solomon Crowe, who had only wrestled once on television so far, said that he wanted the NXT Title. Crowe hasn’t been involved in a title feud or any feud whatsoever and is still just another guy on the roster, but for some reason he was talking about becoming NXT Champion. Why was he doing that you ask?
It’s a very simple answer: because that’s the point of being in NXT. As current NXT Champion Kevin Steen says, holding that title means more money for his family and a better chance of moving up to the main roster. In other words, it’s all about holding the NXT Championship because it’s the top prize at the moment and a path towards the biggest prize in the wrestling world.
Unfortunately Crowe and NXT as a whole are more of an exception than the rule. There are so many wrestlers where this just isn’t the case. Look at how often wrestlers are just watching the world go by, floating from feud to feud and waiting for something to happen to them. When is the last time Dolph Ziggler talked about winning the World Title? How about Ryback or even Erick Rowan?
It’s been a long time, because they’re all occupied with their current stories (or losing to Big Show at every turn in Rowan’s case) to worry about the title. This consistent behavior is a big part of why there’s such a tiered structure in WWE. People like Randy Orton, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins are the current main event stars and it’s very rare to see people move from one level to the next. This is a big reason why the shows are so predictable and why it’s so easy to predict who is going to come out for a match. Big Show is in the ring? Time for Rowan. You need someone to challenge Rollins in a non-title match? Get Ziggler.
Most of these guys seem to want to be a champion. If they do, they’re certainly keeping it a secret. Obviously there are cases or characters where the title isn’t what matters (see Cactus Jack in 1992 as he just wanted to hurt Sting instead of taking Sting’s championship), but very rarely does it make sense for someone to be content with anything less than going after some form of gold. Occasionally you’ll see someone put into the title scene and then they want to be a champion, but how often do you hear them actively pursuing gold or using it to advance a story?
The good thing is that this problem is easy to solve. All you have to do is make the titles seem like the most important thing in the company. Wanting a title doesn’t have to be the focus of every feud of course and it doesn’t have to be brought up all the time, but a mention here and there keeps it clear that the titles are the wrestlers’ ultimate goals. They may have something else to do in between, but once they’re done with their current feud, they want a belt around their waist.
On the other hand, let’s take a look at what can happen when titles become worthless. I know it’s an easy answer, but let’s look at the Fingerpoke of Doom. Ignoring all the continuity it destroyed and how it went against what the fans wanted, it turned the World Heavyweight Title into something that was literally being handed over without a fight for the sake of a swerve.
Looking back at the story, Kevin Nash had defeated Goldberg without cheating (remember that the match at “Starrcade 1998” had no disqualifications so the taser wasn’t illegal) and should have been free and clear. Instead though, he’d rather be a lieutenant to Hogan than be World Champion. What does that mean for the future of the title, not to mention Nash as a main event star? Why should I believe Nash will keep the title when he wins it again?
As for the title though, it’s officially turned into a prop. Instead of the focal point of the company and what all feuds and stories revolved around, it was now just a plot point in a bigger story. The title has just been handed over because Nash didn’t want it. There was no value to it and the belt was almost completely worthless just over a year later. Shockingly enough, with the World and later the rest of the titles rendered worthless, fans stopped caring about WCW and (among a long list of other factors) WCW was soon out of business.
If you want to see how simple it is to fix, look no further than John Cena’s open challenges for the US Title. The matches have been decent and there have been a few surprises, but above all else it’s showing wrestlers wanting to be a champion again. Most of them have no personal issue with Cena, but by answering the open challenge, it shows that they want to be US Champion because it means something to them. Couple that with Cena holding the title and it makes the belt seem that much more important.
No matter how you look at it, titles have been the driving force in wrestling for almost as long as it’s been around. You compete because you want to be the best, and the best is the wrestler who holds the championship. Sometime in the late 1990s, it was decided that titles should just be handed around as part of a story instead of what the stories led to. Interestingly enough, since that time, the midcard titles have stopped meaning much and the World Title took its sweet time in recovering.
While there are other very important things in the world of wrestling, the item on the top of everyone’s list should be titles. It can be the World Title, a midcard title or even the Tag Team Titles, but more often than not those things should be what the wrestlers want. Personal feuds and retribution are important, but wrestling is about being the best, and making a title the top priority is a good way to get there.
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