Great performers, memorable eras and celebrity associations come and go but a world heavyweight championship, like the finest diamond, is forever. The oldest and most effective yardstick by which to measure the current (or potential) prosperity of a wrestling organisation remains the world title. In the glory days of the National Wrestling Alliance, the man with the belt was regarded as the main player and focal point of the various shows and tours. There existed the notion of the ?championship standard?. An NWA champion was expected to dress properly, wrestle twice and sometimes thrice nightly and carry the feuds and generate the business integral to the existence of professional wrestling as was then known.
Once the dynamic double act of Vince McMahon and Hulk Hogan began their invasion of the territories in 1983, much that was true in wrestling changed. By mounting a national assault, the ambitious WWF laid asunder the established order and enfeebled the NWA. Though relegated by the MTV sheen and the Hollywood glitz of Vince’s grand idea, the NWA remained steadfast and prosperous for half a decade. Throughout this time the NWA title remained truly prestigious.
Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association and Vincent J. McMahon’s World Wide Wrestling Federation both operated singles heavyweight championships. These belts were lucrative and coveted but both were secondary to the NWA title. The NWA title had been since the roaring twenties wrestling’s one true world title. It was the glory of Lou Thesz and the passion of Ric Flair. It was to these men the symbol of the personal dedication they had invested. Though arguably little more than a stage prop in professional wrestling a world title, treated with the proper respect, encourages fan interest and provides a pure, competitive raison d?etre.
It is the knowing status of the best and the most deserving and it carries the responsibility of headline status. It is true a booker or promoter picks the champion. It serves to follow however that the man chosen is gauged for his in-ring talent and connection to the fee-paying audience. Many mistakes and leaps of impossible faith have been made. The public reveres the title holder as being king of the hill. If the crown doesn?t fit it can be damaging to all. Just ask Ron Garvin.
I suppose, in many ways the world title is the most vivid example of the suspension of disbelief. Anyone even vaguely acquainted with the inner layers of wrestling knows politics, nepotism and hegemony will conspire to interfere with the championship equilibrium. The attainment of the championship was (one such) reason numerous female audience members were weeping when Jeff Hardy captured his first title. It is the same reason numerous wrestling fans from marks to insiders were outraged when John ?Bradshaw? Layfield became champion, at Eddie Guerrero’s expense, in 2004. Like anything awarded it can be corrupted and falsely given. It may be with a wink and a smile, like everything in wrestling, but in this case it truly matters.
I still regard the present world title situation in WWE to be folly. When the WWE was pressing ahead with the distinct division of rosters, dual world titles sort of made sense. Even then a champion on both shows, as originally envisaged with the Undisputed Championship, made better sense. It was certainly more clearly in keeping with the idea of the world title being above all others. This is difficult to maintain when two, apparently equally prestigious titles inhabit the same (WWE) universe. Given the collapse of discipline in maintaining brand division, the major heavyweight titles in WWE have come to resemble two halves of a coin. They are illustrious individually, but diminished in the wake of split accolades. There cannot be two WWE world champions. There most certainly can be two WWE champions. I hope you can see the difference.
It can be a murky endeavour dismissing the credentials of a world title. TNA enjoyed a slightly easier task when the NWA title was involved. Despite years in exile, it was still in essence the same title once contested by the Funks, the Briscoes, Harley Race etc. It boasted historical credibility. In the absence of the NWA moniker, the TNA title waivers somewhat in its attempts to justify so called ?World? championship status. As a newly established championship it possesses only the collateral of TNA wrestling’s fleeting existence. History is thus one such way a legitimate world title is established. There are, however, other considerations and they are as follows:
Quality of competition.
Kurt Angle, Sting, Booker T, Samoa Joe. The TNA title stands up reasonably well in this particular evaluation. Let us not bring up Matt Morgan, however.
Growing steadily. A working relationship with, most notably, New Japan and a couple of very successful tours of the United Kingdom (and excellent television ratings). Not exactly Live Aid, but plenty of scope for progression.
Most non-wrestling or casual wrestling observers have either not heard of TNA or assume it has something to do with Carmen Electra. It stands to reason they know nothing of the TNA title. Nul Points.
This is slightly more relative but at the same time discernable. Vince Russo was renowned for treating the once mighty WCW title like a golden haemorrhoid. His treatment of the TNA title has been considerably more restrained, which leads me to deduce he has less control over it than most other aspects of TNA programming. This is a very good thing. Still, allowing Mick Foley to sweat all over it did no one any favours. This leads nicely onto?
TNA is ostensibly a healthy, viable company. At least it is to the unseasoned observer. To the rest of us it’s a precarious house of cards. The primary income is derived from the Spike TV deal. Having recently renewed this deal for another three years, TNA is seemingly safe. Impact and the various pay-per-views draw in a steady yet altogether spectacular manner. The thirst exists amongst national and international wrestling fans for a legitimate alternative to WWE. There’s been enough quality about TNA to weather Vince Russo’s scattergun approach to creative writing. For the moment at least, TNA better hope Kurt Angle stays. Alas, that cast of characters and precious egos is an implosion waiting to happen.
At this point in time, I consider the ?world? in TNA world championship to be more a nod to accepted traditions and less a genuine denoted status. TNA can, if some serious decisions are made, arrive at such a status some time in the not too distant future. For the record (in case you think I?ve forgotten it) I do not consider the silver jock strap with ?ECW? written on it to be the genuine ECW title. It is an echo of times past and a pretty dim one at that. Even if you argue the toss over the lineage, WWE has devalued that belt to the extent it ultimately means very little. In every classical sense of the terminology the current ECW title is by no means a world title. Just like perfect means perfection, world means global. Globally sized apathy and denigration is not the stated intent. Ric Flair, Wrestlemania, Starrcade and (ahem) 93,000 people are what world championships are made of.
Daniel R. Browne.