Professional wrestling established itself in North America with a very simple premise – may the best man win. With this very simple approach, it was very easy for the fans to get behind the sport and root for their local heroes to work their way to the top against increasingly challenging foes until they laid claim to the championship. The promoters, however, saw that there was money to be made by manipulating the contests.
First, there was no way that a single champion could appear in every major city or territory with enough regularity to maintain the status of a title holder that would keep local ticket buyers engaged, so regional champions started to appear in each territory, each devising their own lineage to “world” title status. Eventually, the world of wrestling became so populated with champions, that the aura around many title claims became somewhat dubious.
Aside from the championships, the sport of wrestling has attempted to create prestige with the special billing of some of its featured performers both in and out of the ring. However, not every ‘coronation’ has been a slam dunk either. The following list explores the 15 most useless titles in wrestling history.
15. WWWF North American Title
Most wrestling fans, except those who perhaps followed the northeastern wrestling scene in the U.S. during the late 1970s, may have forgotten completely about the WWWF North American championship. In more recent years, the title has been recognized as a pre-cursor to the WWE Intercontinental title, though the two men to hold the little known championship do not appear on any official record for the IC crown. A young Ted DiBiase was the first man to hold the title, later dropping it to Pat Patterson (who would incidentally be awarded the first Intercontinental title). In an interview, DiBiase claimed that Vince McMahon Sr. was unaware that Bill Watts recognized his top spot as the North American champion, so the plans were abruptly changed. But it was not with a simple re-branding, but rather an abrupt scrapping of the championship all together. Sadly, this is not the only time that Ted DiBiase would be associated with one of wrestling’s most questionable titles.
14. Any Television Title
When the idea of a television championship first appeared, the concept was very clear. The television champion would defend his credentials in televised matches against all comers. In Los Angeles, they didn’t have a belt for the championship, but rather they used the billing to help elevate a mid-card wrestler to credibility to run against the headliners. There, the “beat the champ” concept was more like a game show. A wrestler who won the championship would defend it for up to seven weeks on TV. If he was successful, at the end of seven weeks, he would simply vacate and two other wrestlers would have the honor to compete. Meanwhile the undefeated television champion was now in good standing to rise to the main events with some momentum behind him. In more recent years, though TV titles started to be recognized at house shows and other formats where the relevance of that billing gets a little more confusing. Could a TV champion lose his title on a non-televised arena show? If not, then why promote the wrestler as champion in that venue at all?
13. Most Championships On The Independents
It occurs with alarming frequency – the number of times that a diehard fan walks into an independent wrestling show with his replica championship belt that he purchased off the internet hanging over his shoulder, only to find out that the one in the crowd is nicer than the replica belt that the penny-pinching promoter is using to celebrate the championship credentials of his top stars. There is a rampant belief on the independent scene that obscuring the WWE logos with paint or stickers is fooling the fans – but it isn’t. Not surprisingly, the lack of investment in the prestige of the championships themselves does translate into the diminished value of that wrestler’s title claim. Fans are rightfully dubious of an obscure wrestler’s “world title” status for a belt which may only be defended in a single city. Add to that the number of title changes that seem to occur on an independent card on a weekly basis and it further demonstrates that the belt has become little more than a prop in a locker room that has lost sight of what a title belt is supposed to signify.
12. WWE Presidency
In the 1980s, the appearance of Jack Tunney on television screens as the figurehead president of the then-WWF carried with it an aura of significance as the President of a newly-minted national sports organization. Sadly, after Tunney, the WWE Presidency and any “general manager” that followed as part of the on-screen storyline has had very little bearing on the sport and has probably factored more heavily into the programming than needed. In fact, after the recent WWE draft, Cesaro spoke to this directly, identifying that the questions surrounding how Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon would co-exist as administrators should not over-shadow the wrestlers and the action that takes place between the ropes. He’s right. Gorilla Monsoon as president … we could buy that. A retired wrestler and former broadcaster, he suited the figurehead role. But then there was Roddy Piper, a self-described rebel well known for defying authority both on and off screen. That’s where things went off the rails.
11. ECW World Heavyweight Title (WWE version)
Under Paul Heyman, Extreme Championship Wrestling pushed the envelope and despite not having the deep pockets of the financiers behind either the WWE or WCW, ECW became the number three wrestling company in the United States in the 1990s. Edgy storylines, the opportunity for wrestlers to re-invent themselves, the forum for dark horses to prove their marquee appeal to rise to a contract were all part of what made ECW great. However, the re-engineered ECW under the WWE banner, the product lost a step. It wasn’t a reflection of the talent, but from a fan’s perspective – the anti-establishment ECW now being presented as a corporate brand, it simply didn’t fit. The increased budget and production values weren’t enough to sway the diehards to the regional product their remembered from a Philadelphia bingo hall. The ECW World title – bestowed on fast-tracked WWE recruits like Bobby Lashley, bore little connection to the initial bloodline of Paul Heyman’s franchise.
10. Western States Heritage Title
Many of us would still like someone to explain how the Western States Heritage title fit into the grand scheme of things during the second half of the 1980s. At a time when Jim Crockett had bought out Bill Watts and the Universal Wrestling Federation, there seemed to be too many title flying around that needed to be unified or explained away. In the mix of all of that was Larry Zbyzsko parading around as the Western States Heritage champion. What? Did anyone ever care about this title? Was it ever contested in a main event? As we read this today, there are probably thousands of readers that couldn’t even pick this title out of a line up.
9. NWA World Heavyweight Title (current)
In an interview reflecting on Ric Flair’s defection to the WWE in 1990 while still carrying the NWA World title, Ole Anderson was quick to antagonize his interviewer with a gruff question: “Champion of what?” In Anderson’s view, by the time of Flair’s defection to work for Vince McMahon, professional wrestling’s territory system had died. The status of the NWA was dead. In the years since, many champions have committed their body of work to re-establishing value to the title as travelling champions such as Lou Thesz, Jack Brisco and Harley Race had been – bringing the world title to every city and town where a local contender could be elevated. Adam Pearce could be arguably identified as the last great NWA World champion, regularly appearing across the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Australia as champion. However, since the Bruce Tharpe regime took the reins of the organization, the world title has diminished to obscurity. The world title has since been contested and changed hands in front of unpaid crowds at Vegas trade shows. Chances are, you may not know who the current NWA World champion is … but you’re sure to find a photo of President Tharpe mugging with the title belt for photo opportunities.
8. WrestleMania 4 Battle Royal Trophy
There was a great deal of pomp and pageantry that surrounded the presentation of the WrestleMania 4 battle royal trophy at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. The gaudy seven foot prize to serve as some consolation to the twenty wrestlers who weren’t lucky enough to be featured otherwise on the card that the battle royal carried with it equal prestige. However, what we will remember most about the WrestleMania 4 trophy was its immediate and systematic destruction at the hands of Bret Hart, seemingly having a public temper tantrum at having lost the match to the winner, Bad News Brown and starting a lengthy feud for house shows in the months to follow. Sadly, the trophy was a waste of money… as we saw recently after a video game rated Triple H higher than Bret, or when he was featured lower than expected in Greg Oliver’s book ranking the greatest Canadian wrestlers of all time. Bret doesn’t need a trophy to be upset about not getting his hand raised.
7. ECCW Jobber Title
In the late 1990s, the Vancouver-based Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling had gained a lot of notoriety for its edgy product on the Pacific Coast. Not unlike the Philadelphia promotion of similar name and style, there were no limits in this organization, that built its reputation on bloody battles between Matt Borne and Billy Two Eagles and frequently pushed the envelope to generate momentum. However, in trying to be provocative and pull back the curtain a little on wrestling, the league introduced the Jobber Title in 1999. The belt, labelled with a wrestling term for a wrestler that fails to secure a mark in the win column, was bestowed upon the losing-est wrestler in the organization. The inaugural crowning featured a tournament in which the combatants had to lose to advance. As amusing as it was to the wrestlers in the back, it was too “inside” for the majority of the crowd.
6. The Slammy Awards
Owen Hart relished his billing as a “Slammy Award Winner” and carried the statuettes around with him for live appearances like he’d won an Oscar, two in fact. However, we must also remember that Owen carried with him a reputation as a practical joker with a taste for the absurdities of the sport. The idea of the Slammy Awards, for the WWE to recognize their own best and brightest while professional wrestling is ignored by most sports halls of fames and award presentations, is a great idea. But the job of establishing credibility for the proprietary trophies after its unforgettably hokey introduction in 1987 would be no easy feat. It doesn’t matter who is the Slammy Award-winning Superstar of the year for an award brand that once honored King Kong Bundy with a “Hygiene Award” during its maiden prime time broadcast.
5. WWE Hardcore Title
There may have been some fans during the WWE’s Attitude Era that waxed nostalgic for the “winged eagle” version of the WWE World title which was introduced at the height of the company’s national takeover of the sport in 1988. However, the belt’s re-introduction as the Hardcore title, looking a little too similar to some of the low-cost belts that are featured weekly on the independent scene at armories and community centres across the country, was irrelevant. Add to this that the WWE really never did anything to legitimize the division, instead lampooning the hardcore style of wrestling with their presentation of the title and it was quickly on a road to nowhere. Near the end, the title would change hands up to three times a night on house shows, making the official title history for the championship utterly nonsensical. The 24/7 rule, allowing the belt to change hands during backstage vignettes rather than contested bouts between the ropes signalled the death knell for this ill-conceived championship.
4. Brawl For All Championship
So let’s re-visit the concept for the Brawl for All tournament: The toughest fighters in the WWE would be paired off in a tournament with the winner being recognized as the toughest son of a gun to grace the ring. Let’s mull that one over for a minute. Shouldn’t the toughest wrestler in the organization be the man who sits upon the thrown as the WWE World champion? If not, then whoever should survive this tournament in a battle of the dark horse bad asses in the company should be in line to challenge the champion. Neither happened. In fact, the Brawl of All tournament quickly spiralled into disaster. In the end, the tournament winner Bart Gunn found his own career derailed after a WrestleMania showdown with Butterbean failed to legitimize his status as the WWE’s ultimate conquerer. We wonder if Bart Gunn is billed as the WWE Brawl for All winner at sports conventions and autograph signings?
3. WCW 6-man Tag Team Titles
In Texas during the 1980s, the World Class Championship Wrestling 6-man tag team titles may have made sense. You had the antagonist trio of the Fabulous Freebirds – Michael Hayes, Terry Gordy & Buddy Roberts at war with a trio of wrestling brothers – the sons of Fritz Von Erich – Kerry, Kevin & Mike Von Erich. The stage was set for a showdown for which camp would rule over the Lone Star State. However, when WCW introduced the 6-man tag team titles, on top of their World tag titles and the United States tag team championships, the idea of the 6-man championship quickly got lost in translation. It didn’t take long before the title would be contested by trios of mismatched, thrown-together teams like Dustin Rhodes (Goldust), Tom Zenk and Matt Borne. What the …?
2. WWE “King” Status
Harley Race re-invented history in his autobiography when he wrote that he became the WWE King with the blessing of his good friend in Memphis, Jerry Lawler. Of course, the newspaper press from the time tells a different tale as Lawler unsuccessfully sued Vince McMahon over the use of the King monicker which he had been using for years in Memphis. We have to admit that the gimmick was kind’ve a fit with Race, an elder statesman of the sport in the twilight of his career when he entered the WWE in 1986. However, let’s think about the number of wrestlers to be billed as “the King” in the WWE in the decades since. Haku, Jim Duggan, Randy Savage were among the first successors to Harley’s throne. Then add in the King of the Ring tournament winners, and more recently Booker T, and of course Triple H’s billing as the “King of Kings”. Oh, did we forget that now WWE Hall of Famer Jerry Lawler is still billed as the King? Being dubbed the King in the WWE may be one of the most over-used and ineffective titles that one can be assigned under Vince McMahon’s banner.
1. The Million Dollar Belt
No list of wrestling’s most nonsensical imaginings is complete without an acknowledgement of the Million Dollar Belt introduced by the WWE in 1988. If we are to believe wrestling lore, Ted DiBiase was in line to win the WWE World title in the championship tournament at WrestleMania 4. In the months preceding the tournament, Honky Tonk Man was to lose the Inter-Continental title to Randy Savage, giving him a second reign. However, when Honky Tonk refused to do the honors, the course of history was changed and Savage was given the nod for the world title, edging DiBiase out of the World title picture. The Million Dollar title was invented, contrived as DiBiase’s effort to save face by creating a belt that was more valuable than the world championship. A title without a history or a future, it became the central fixture of an extended feud between DiBiase and former valet Virgil. Astoundingly, the belt made two comebacks, first in 1996 when Steve Austin carried the belt upon his introduction to the WWE and then later a second generation would carry the meaningless hardware as Ted DiBiase Jr. would be saddled with the belt – though no longer recognized as a prize at stake in competition.