There is something about a beautiful championship that adds a little je ne sais quoi to the art of professional wrestling. The WWE Championship and the WWE Universal Championship are the most recognizable championships in the annals of wrestling, but the titles often lack a sense of individuality. But what exactly is uniqueness in a tried and trusted form of a wrestling title belt? We can answer that by looking at some historic examples.
NWA Worlds Light Heavyweight Championship
The NWA World Heavyweight Championship is the most prestigious championship in wrestling history. Introduced in 1948, the design we know didn’t come about until 1973: a gold rectangular centerpiece, adorned with a silver globe at the top and the flags of countries it’s been defended in on the four side plates.
Long before WWE used palette-swapped designs for their championships, The NWA took the iconography of the NWA Domed Globe and decided to mirror it onto lower-tier championships, with subtle changes.
On secondary and tertiary prizes, instead of being gold, like the majority of wrestling championships, they opted to make the metal plates silver, but with a golden dome. While the Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, and Junior Heavyweight championships would never be as iconic as “Sweet Charlotte”, their very simple aesthetic changes made them unique.
Stampede Wrestling North American Heavyweight Championship
During its on-again off-again run as a dominant promotion in Canada, Stampede featured belts from the NWA, including the NWA Canadian Heavyweight Championship which Stampede promoted as its top prize.
In 1968, when the Stampede Wrestling North American Heavyweight Championship was introduced, it was clear that this new top prize was modeled after its predecessor. The center plate was a semi-rounded rectangle, which was emblazoned with the US and Canadian flags. The first two side plates featured an eagle, while the remaining four plates showcased the names of its champions.
Modern fans familiar with Stampede see this title as synonymous with Owen Hart who held it for 403 days. In 2022 All Elite Wrestling held the Owen Hart Foundation Tournament the trophies for which were modeled after this iconic championship, with additional Hart family flair.
Mid-South North American Heavyweight Championship
At Mid-South’s peak, it introduced four main championships; the Tag Team, Louisiana, and the North American Heavyweight, all of which were underlings to the NWA World’s Heavyweight Championship that dominated wrestling at the time.
Let’s be real, this championship wasn’t pretty, although it is unique. The center plate features four circular rivets at each corner, which was an odd, but fun choice. Synonymous with Magnum T.A., the title features immaculate filigree (delicate ornamental work of fine silver, gold, or other metal wires), and lives on as the inspiration for the AEW Women’s Championship.
New South Heavyweight Championship
I mean, look at it! Suge D is over six feet tall and this belt makes him look tiny.
Despite having few design features, a huge selling point for its uniqueness is just how large this belt is. I’m not overly familiar with the New South promotion, but the championship is as over the top and carny as wrestling was intended to be. It’s a gimmick on top of a gimmick, and that’s why I love it so much. I can’t comment on how anyone travels with it, because it must be an absolute nightmare to get that through customs.
Campeonato de Parejas de la Arena Coliseo del CMLL/CMLL Arena Coliseo Tag Team Championships
It is gaudy, dark burgundy, and a shape unlike anything seen in wrestling, but man, is it art.
These tag titles served as second-tier titles to the CMLL World Tag Team Championships, but would only be defended at the Arena Coliseo in Mexico City. Arena-specific championships are commonplace in lucha libre, similar to how regional championships used to be in the states.
The title would only last for about 19 years, for seven of which it was vacant. While the shape, color, and side plates are a bit bizarre, it is very cool to see some lucha libre icons front and center. I hate this championship in the most amazing ways, and there is nothing quite like it.
Lucha Underground Gift of the Gods Championship
The Lucha Underground (LU) Gift of the God’s Championship presented one of the most unique stipulations in wrestling: a belt and seven medallions, each of which can be challenged for, but when combined grant the holder a world title opportunity.
These ancient medallions represented the seven Aztec tribes in the world of LU. Once the title opportunity was selected, the G.o.t.G.’s Championship would be vacated, separated, and the medallions can be contested once more. The G.o.t.G.’s Championship can be contested like any other championship, potentially losing the world title opportunity.
In total, ten people have earned this gift, with six of those champions cashing in for their World Title opportunity. Fortunately, every cash-in attempt has been successful.
While this concept is unique to the world of wrestling, it certainly isn’t an original idea.
World Martial Arts Council (WMAC) Masters was a 1995 live-action, campy, kid-friendly Mortal Kombat that had elements of beat ‘em up video games. The contestants would all compete for the Dragon Star, a belt that represented the greatest martial artist in the world. The Dragon Belt would be a placeholder for the Ki Symbols. Each fighter represented a Ki Symbol, and when they won a fight, their symbol would be placed into the Dragon Belt.
AJPW Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship
A title unification in wrestling is something pretty special. One of the earliest title unifications to take place was a match between Jumbo Tsuruta taking on “Fuchinkan” Stan Hansen.
Going into the match, the Thesz-trained Tsuruta was the NWA International Heavyweight Champion, while Hansen held the NWA United National Championship, and the Pacific Wrestling Federation World Heavyweight Championship.
In the middle of 2013, the tandem of titles was given to the founder of AJPW, Giant Baba’s, widow, and a new title was introduced. The new title uniquely featured all three main plates in its design. The PWF World title would make up the main plate on the new title, while the two NWA titles would be the side plates. To many fans of this title and its lineage, it represented the hard-hitting style from yesteryear, which is becoming less and less common in today’s sport.
PROGRESS Championships (World Heavyweight and Tag Team)
PROGRESS Wrestling has been at the forefront of wrestling in the United Kingdom, but wouldn’t introduce a traditional championship until Chapter 12: Very Very Very Breaky Breaky Breaky Bishi Bishii. Before the championship belt was introduced, the top prize in the promotion was represented by a giant staff, topped with the PROGRESS logo.
For the first two years, five champions had to carry around a giant staff, no doubt getting questionable looks from anyone who saw it. At Chapter 36: We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Room, the PROGRESS Tag Team championships were introduced. The team of FSU were the inaugural champions, and to represent the tag team division, they were each given one-half of a giant shield. This shield would be commonplace in PROGRESS until Chapter 47, where traditional tag team championships were introduced, still keeping the shield motif.
G.L.O.W. was campy fun that represented an underappreciated niche; women’s wrestling. With stars like Colonel Ninotchka, Gremlina, Little Egypt, and Mountain Fiji, the characters were unique
Similarly unique, G.L.O.W. chose to represent their top champion with something that not only represented the beauty and grace of these performers but the over-the-top campiness of wrestling; a crown. It was a really simple, yet original idea at the time. Today, we have the King of the Ring/Queen’s Crown in WWE, which is represented by a crown, but other than that they aren’t used.
DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship
The Hardcore Championship was all the rage during the attitude era. Its 24/7 concept allowed for a new champion to be crowned at any place/any time. It was an absolute fever dream.
Nearly five months after Crash Holly would introduce the 24/7 rule, Dramatic Dream Teams’ (DDT) Poison Julie Sawada would introduce a championship intended to be a parody of that title; The DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight Championship. Following the same rules as its inspiration, this title wouldn’t limit who, or what could win it.
Currently sitting at over 1540 total reigns, the real kicker of this championship isn’t the people who won it, but the objects. Those include; Vince McMahon’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star, multiple ladders, The Young Bucks autobiography, 100,000 subscribers to the DDT YouTube channel, an inflatable love doll named Yoshihiko, and the championship itself, becoming its own 1000th champion. Meta AF.
If you would have told me when I first got into wrestling that a rap star was going to turn the top prize of a promotion into a spinner wheel that would last just 2 years less than the Winged Eagle, then I would have said you were crazy.
But that’s the beauty of this sport.
Wrestling only moves forward when you try something new, fresh, and original. If every championship was represented by a cookie-cutter version then it would get boring.
In a really fun way, it’s a message about not taking life too seriously. Instead of clinging onto the dying concepts that the Winged Eagle and the era it represented, become the Ironman Heavymetalwight championship, and live your life in the most unique way imaginable.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
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