For Wrestling To Regain Former Glory, Championships Have To Mean Something
I love pro wrestling. The talking, the athleticism, the spectacle, the storylines, I love it all and I likely always will. As the world around us changes and evolves, so too does professional wrestling. For one, we’re now and instant gratification society and as such, much of our wrestling has followed suit. More television programming options means things move a whole lot faster than they once did, and the days of year long feuds are all but a thing of the past. That’s fine, time moves on and you better be moving with it, but as wrestling has ‘progressed’, it seems an extremely important aspect of it has been allowed to wither into virtual nothingness: The Championship Title.
When I was a kid, the NWA World Heavyweight Title was synonymous with the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. WWF’s World Title was Hulk Hogan’s all day long and twice on Sunday. Starting with Tito Santana back in ‘84, I could (and still can) name you every Intercontinental Champion for 10 years worth of title reigns. Part of that was because it didn’t change hands every other month. The other part of it was because titles were showcased and made to feel important. Now, it seems almost everyone, if they can just hold their water and last long enough, will get themselves a shot at carrying around some second rate, poorly booked title of some kind. In this era where everyone is referred to as a “superstar” instead of a wrestler, fans are often left wondering who the real stars are. In the last year alone, fans have been force fed Santino Marella as a United States Champion. He’s the perfect example of someone who should not hold a title belt. Yes, he’s very entertaining and yes, the crowd pops for him each and every night, but his gimmick is a sock painted like a snake. He’s a clown and as such, should have never been anything more than a transitional champion to get the U.S. Title moved from one wrestler to another. Though not his fault in the least, he’s effectively killed the United States Title, much like Hornswoggle killed the Cruiserweight Title. Comedy relief shouldn’t wear championship gold, it’s as simple as that.
I’d love to see pro wrestling go back to some sort of ranking system to determine contendership for titles. I know this would put added pressure on the writers as it would force them to retain some actual continuity in their storytelling (what a concept), but a rating system is certainly one way to make title matches and title contendership mean more. Just this last week I saw Rey Mysterio, Jr. in a 4-way match to determine the #1 contender for the World Heavyweight Title. Really? Rey’s been M.I.A. for a year (including a drug suspension) and he just gets to come back and wrestle to become the #1 contender for what’s at least supposed to be a very important championship? This just makes no sense at all. What does say about guys like Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow, wrestlers whom have been in the ring winning matches all year long? Rey’s been gone a year. Wouldn’t it seem a bit more plausible for him to come out and tell the fans he’s been gone a long time, but he’s better than ever and will prove it by going through every member of the Smackdown roster to reclaim the World Title? To me, that’s good storytelling. Cramming Rey in a 4-way for the #1 spot two weeks into his return just seems like lazy writing.
Fewer title defenses on regular television would also be nice to see. I understand there are exceptions to this, especially in the case of TNA’s Television Title (which is back to never being seen on television, by the way), but Heavyweight Titles, U.S. and IC Titles, and Tag Titles should be defended on PPV and/or special events. Giving away title matches for free all the time only cheapens them further, overexposing not only the championship, but the wrestler wearing it. One of the reasons Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair were such big deals were because you weren’t going to get to see them get in the ring every week. You had to wait for that Saturday Night’s Main Event, or the PPV, or a Clash of the Champions to see the top dog put the title on the line. Ricky Steamboat didn’t beat Randy Savage for the IC Title on an episode of Superstars. Regular programming should be used to build title angles. If you want your Tag Titles to mean something again (they currently don’t in either the WWE or TNA), showcase them. Make people believe they mean more than just being defended on a pre-match internet show prior to a PPV.
Lastly, I’m flat begging someone to please take the necessary steps and do away with the automatic rematch clause. I don’t know when this was first pitched and accepted as gospel, but it’s clearly long past its shelf date and should be stopped. Losing a championship should come some sense of urgency. Where’s the urgency in CM Punk losing his title to John Cena if the following night he can march right back out to the ring and invoke a rematch clause? If you lose a title, whether it’s dead center in the middle of the ring with your shoulders on the mat, via submission, or even if your opponent cheated to win, you go to the back of the line. That’s how you ensure new and fresh talent continues to be cultivated and groomed for top spots. The rematch clause does so much to hinder new talent from being pushed because rather than names moving up and down in the rankings, they’re grouped together by 5’s and simply play musical chairs. If the same five people wrestle for a title over and over again, if they’re the only ones allowed a shot, where’s the prestige in holding the title? Your champions aren’t exactly taking on all comers, are they? Hulk Hogan didn’t just fight “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Andre the Giant until the cows came home. He also feuded with King Kong Bundy, Paul Orndorff, Randy Savage, Bob Orton, Earthquake, Terry Funk, Don Muraco, Yokozuna, Sgt. Slaughter and many others. Yes, most of the time Hogan held on to the title, but in the process, new names were being allowed to shine in the main event with the biggest name in the business.
Unless changes are made to the way championship titles are treated, they’ll continue to mean very little. When someone like Kofi Kingston or Tyson Kidd goes out and tears the house down, gets a great fan reaction, and still finds themselves relegated to lesser storylines on lesser shows, that’s proof positive a new plan for how titles are treated is needed. Pro Wrestling, especially in the recent months, has been moving in such a great direction. With CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Bobby Roode, Kevin Steen, Austin Aries, etc. stepping up their collective game, we as fans are being treated to some awesome wrestling, night in and night out. Imagine how much better it could be if the championships they were wrestling for meant as much as they did when the likes of Harley Race, Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan held them.