Championship (professional wrestling)
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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.
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 belt design, others (such as Stone Cold Steve Austin's Smoking Skull Belt and Edge's Rated-R Spinner) were not used after their respective title reign.
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 a major championship). 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, and in 2012, CM Punk kept the WWE Championship, WWE's primary championship, while undergoing and recovering from knee surgery.
Professional wrestling championships are often split up into various different classifications, each of which designate varying levels of importance to the belts.
The World (Heavyweight) Championship - alternatively, the Global, International or Universal (Heavyweight) Championship is the name given to certain championships. The name of the promotion is often preceded to the term "world heavyweight championship" as the complete name of the title, however some are also correctly known simply as the "World Heavyweight Championship" without bearing the name of an organization. However, in some cases the world championship simply bears the name of the organization and does not include "world (heavyweight) championship". The name is usually (but not always) given to the championship that is presented as being the most prestigious of those contested within a promotion. The wrestler holding a championship with this name is referred to as the "World (Heavyweight) Champion". The first recognized world heavyweight championship was the World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship, created in 1905, and the inaugural champion was George Hackenschmidt. The lineage of many prominent contemporary world championships can be traced back to the World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship.
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. Promotions often have one sub-heavyweight classification, while others sometimes may have more. Mountevans' committee (a governing body that instilled rules for professional wrestling) created seven formal weight divisions:
- Lightweight (154 pounds (70 kg))
- Welterweight (165 pounds (75 kg))
- Middleweight (176 pounds (80 kg))
- Heavy middleweight (187 pounds (85 kg))
- Light heavyweight (198 pounds (90 kg))
- Mid-heavyweight (209 pounds (95 kg))
- Heavyweight (above 220 pounds (100 kg))
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 women are allowed to win the championships without a gender specification, though Chyna winning the WWF 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.
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.
On rare occasions a male wrestler will compete in championship matches for championships generally contested exclusively in the women's division. Such examples include Harvey Wippleman becoming the only male to capture the WWF Women's Championship in 2000 and Eric Young winning one half of the TNA Knockouts Tag Team Championship in 2012.
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 non-televised house shows) within a 15-minute time limit.
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.
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.
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" (FTW) Heavyweight Championship in ECW
- The Headbangers' Tag Team Championship of the Universe in the WWF
- Sports Entertainment Xtreme's Australian Heavyweight Championship in TNA
- James Storm's TNA World Beer Drinking Championship in TNA
- 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
- "Women's Title History: Hervina". World Wrestling Entertainment.
- Turner, Scott (2012-03-09). "Turner's TNA Impact Wrestling report 3/9: Garett & Hardy vs. Angle & Gunner main event, Anderson returns, Abyss's "brother" emerges, X Title match, one title change". Pro Wrestling Torch. Retrieved 2013-07-13.