- Championship (professional wrestling)
Championship reigns are determined by professional wrestling matches, in which competitors are involved in scripted rivalries. These narratives create feuds between the various competitors, which cast them as villains and heroes.
Professional wrestling utilizes the structure of title match combat sports. Participants compete for a championship, and must defend it after winning it. These titles are represented physically by a belt that can be worn by the champion. In the case of team wrestling, there is a belt for each member of the team.
Almost all professional wrestling promotions have one major title, and some have more. Championships are designated by divisions of weight, height, gender, wrestling style and other qualifications.
Typically, each promotion only recognizes the "legitimacy" of their own titles, although cross-promotion does happen. When one promotion absorbs or purchases another, the titles from the defunct promotion may continue to be defended in the new promotion or be decommissioned, usually through championship unification.
Behind the scenes, the bookers in a company will place the title on the most accomplished performer, or those the bookers believe will generate fan interest in terms of event attendance and television viewership. Lower ranked titles may also be used on the performers who show potential, thus allowing them greater exposure to the audience. However other circumstances may also determine the use of a championship. A combination of a championship's lineage, the caliber of performers as champion, and the frequency and manner of title changes, dictates the audience's perception of the title's quality, significance and reputation.
A wrestler's championship accomplishments can be central to their career, becoming a measure of their performance ability and drawing power. The most accomplished or decorated wrestlers tend to be revered as legends. American wrestler Ric Flair has had multiple world heavyweight championship reigns spanning over three decades. Japanese wrestler Último Dragón once held and defended a record 10 titles simultaneously.
Professional wrestling's championship belts are modeled similarly to the championship belts in boxing, and other combat sports such as mixed martial arts. They are made of elaborately designed plates of gold or other precious metals, usually bearing the name of the title and the wrestling promotion, on a leather strap. The color and designs vary with each title and promotion.
Since 2002, all major World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) titles, with the exception of the current design of the WWE Tag Team Championship and the WWE Intercontinental Championship, have included a nameplate with the current titleholder on the bottom of the main faceplate. This is in the style of the NWA Championship of the 1980s (nicknamed the "Big Gold Belt"), which later became the primary title belt of World Championship Wrestling, which included a nameplate. When the WWE and WCW titles were unified to become the WWE Undisputed Championship, the new belt included a nameplate which has since been added to the design of new WWE championship belts.
The fate of a title depends on the champion's condition, and the importance of the Title to the promotion (e.g. Gregory Helms held the WWE Cruiserweight Championship, despite being sidelined with an injury, because the Cruiserweight Championship was not very important to the company). The champion may be forced to vacate their title if the injury becomes too severe and the championship is too important.
However, a champion may keep their title despite a severe injury, and despite the championship being quite important. In 1998, Shane Douglas kept the ECW World Heavyweight Championship while sidelined.
Professional wrestling championships are often split up into various different classifications, each of which designate varying levels of importance to the belts.
The most common types of championships are regional championships. Most national promotions will hold claim to a World Heavyweight Championship or something of the same global status, which always holds the premier position within the promotion. These promotions will also sometimes have other titles of national or international importance as secondary championships.
Examples of Major Heavyweight titles include (bold indicates the title is currently active):
- World Heavyweight Championship
- WWE Championship
- TNA World Heavyweight Championship
- ECW World Heavyweight Championship
- ROH World Championship
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship
- IWGP Heavyweight Championship
- AJPW Triple Crown Championship
- GHC Heavyweight Championship
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship
- WCW International World Heavyweight Championship
- AWA World Heavyweight Championship
- AAA World Heavyweight Championship
- CMLL World Heavyweight Championship
Examples of National and International titles include:
- WWE Intercontinental Championship
- WWE United States Championship
- WWE European Championship
- IWGP Intercontinental Championship
- NWA North American Heavyweight Championship
Smaller promotions often opt not to claim a world title due to their scope being limited to a specific area. In these promotions, a national title, state title, or even more sectioned regional title will be considered the top prize in the promotion.
Examples of State and Regional titles include:
Regional designations are also used to apply to other types of titles.
Weight class championships
Another common classification of championships are by weight classes. Typically promotions prefer to have a heavyweight title as their top prize, with other designators such as cruiserweight, middleweight, or light-heavyweight titles. Despite having different weight limits from their boxing counterparts, these titles are considered to be equal standing with their boxing classes. Promotions often utilize one sub-heavyweight classification, while others sometimes may have more. In the rise of British wrestling, Mountevans' committee (a governing body that instilled rules from professional wrestling) created seven formal weight divisions:
- Lightweight (154 pound limit)
- Welterweight (165)
- Middleweight (176)
- Heavy middleweight (187)
- Light heavyweight (198)
- Mid-heavyweight (209)
- Heavyweight (220)
Calling for champions to be crowned at each weight.
Examples of other Weight Class championships include:
- WWE Cruiserweight Championship (under 220)
- WWF Light Heavyweight Championship (under 215)
- TNA X Division Championship (under 225)
- CZW World Junior Heavyweight Championship (under 220)
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship (under 220)
Note that weight class championships are largely defunct in mainstream wrestling now (although you will occasionally see them on the independent circuit) due to the WWE Cruiserweight Championship being retired. Japanese wrestling is known for keeping its roots in combat sports and maintaining strict weight divisions, mainly junior heavyweight and heavyweight.
Gender occasionally plays a role in the classifications of championship belts. For gender-specific titles, the classification "Women's" is often included at the beginning of the championship's name. Due to professional wrestling generally being a sport dominated by men, only women's titles are given official gender classifications. Generally, only men are allowed to win the championships without a gender specification, though Chyna winning the WWE Intercontinental Championship in 1999 from Jeff Jarrett is a notable exception. In promotions featuring only a single gender (such as Women of Wrestling or Shimmer Women Athletes), gender classifications are often unnecessary as well.
Entertainer and comedian Andy Kaufman once used gender classifications to his advantage, turning inter-gender competitions into a unique wrestling side-show. Kaufman declared himself the "Inter-Gender Champion of the World", and offered $1,000 to any woman who could pin him. None were successful during the run of the gimmick, though in other promotions such as WCW and WWE, women have successfully pinned men, most notably in a few isolated championship matches.
Examples of female championships include:
- WWE Women's Championship
- WWE Divas Championship
- TNA Women's Knockout Championship
- NWA Women's Championship
- Shimmer Championship
- WCW Women's Championship
- AAA Reina de Reinas Championship
Gimmick match classifications sometime come into prominence in the creation of title belts. In these classifications, special skill in a certain type of match or a certain style of wrestling is the signature of the division, and the champion is considered to be the most skilled wrestler at that specific style.
Gimmick championships often take very differing forms. A common variation is the Hardcore Championship, which throws rules out the window in favor of a weapons-filled and often bloody competition. Another common variation is the Television Championship, which involves more frequent title defenses as well as the stipulations that the belt can only change hands on television (as opposed to pay-per-view or unbroadcast "house" shows) within a 15-minute time limit.
Style championships also take very different forms. A Pure Wrestling Championship focuses on mat-based and technical wrestling, while the X Division title in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling promotes a faster-paced, high-flying style (although there are no specific rules for the X Division matches themselves, so theoretically, any "style" can win the title). The cruiser weight title is often considered to be a style championship due to the X Division like pace and style of its competitors. After nine years of being promoted as a "no weight limits" title, TNA implemented a 225 pound weight limit on the X Division Championship in August 2011.
Examples of Gimmick and Style championships include:
- WWE Hardcore Championship
- WCW World Television Championship
- ECW World Television Championship
- ROH World Television Championship
- ROH Pure Championship
- TNA X Division Championship
- TNA Television Championship
- WCW Hardcore Championship
Tag team championships
Tag Team championships are yet another different form of wrestling title. Some consider it to be a style championship, but tag team championships are unique in their ability to include multiple wrestlers on teams competing for multiple belts. The most common form of tag team championships are in 2-on-2 format, which is often implicitly understood. Other tag team championships include 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 formats, which are often explicitly stated within the championship name to distinguish them from the 2-on-2 championships.
Examples of Tag Team Championships include:
- WWE World Tag Team Championship
- WWE Tag Team Championship
- ROH World Tag Team Championship
- TNA World Tag Team Championship
- NWA World Tag Team Championship
- IWGP Tag Team Championship
- GHC Tag Team Championship
- WCW World Tag Team Championship
- ECW World Tag Team Championship
- AWA World Tag Team Championship
- AAA World Tag Team Championship
Tag Team Championships are also often combined with regional modifiers, gimmick modifiers, gender modifiers, and weight class modifiers to further distinguish them. In such cases, the world tag team championships are often given higher priority, while the other championships are seen as secondary tag team titles.
Examples of Modified Tag Team Championships include:
- NWA North American Tag Team Championship
- NWA United States Tag Team Championship
- WCW United States Tag Team Championship
- TNA Knockouts Tag Team Championship
- WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Championship
- IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
- GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship
The concept of championships, and their central role in wrestling, allow for the potential for angles. One such angle is an unsanctioned championship title. These are claimed by a wrestler and defended in sanctioned matches, but are not recognized as legitimate titles by the promotion.
Examples of unsanctioned championships include:
- Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar Championship in the WWF
- Taz's "Fuck The World" Heavyweight Championship in ECW
- Sports Entertainment Xtreme's Australian Heavyweight Championship in TNA
- Ric Flair brought the Big Gold Belt with him when he first entered the WWF and claimed to be the "real world champion"
- Zack Ryder's WWE Internet Championship.
- On the Ring of Honor show Transform, Larry Sweeney named Chris Hero and Sara Del Rey the ROH World Inter-Gender Tag Team Champions
- James Storm's Beer Drinking Championship in TNA
- In late 2008, Booker T introduced the TNA Legends Championship and named himself the champion. This is a rare example of an unsanctioned championship later becoming sanctioned.
- The CZW Ultraviolent Underground Championship in Combat Zone Wrestling.
A wrestler may also win a sanctioned championship and "rename" it for the duration of his or her reign. Examples of this include:
- Lance Storm renamed his three titles in WCW:
- World Cruiserweight as 100 Kilos and Under
- United States Heavyweight as Canadian Heavyweight
- Hardcore as the Saskatchewan Hardcore International Title
Also, a wrestler may win a sanctioned championship and redesign the belt itself. Some (such as Ric Flair's Big Gold Belt and John Cena's Spinner Belt) later became the official belts, others (such as Stone Cold Steve Austin's Smoking Skull Belt and Edge's Rated-R Spinner) are gone with the title reign.
- World Heavyweight Championship
- World Tag Team Championship
- Championship unification
- Undisputed Championship
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