Monday, October 6, 2008

Top Ten Cases: Coolest looking championship belts

Sorry for the lateness of this edition of Top Ten Cases (I am committed to posting an installment every single week). I spent last week enjoying my first full week of being an uncle, and man....that can be time consuming! So many family members live in the area, so you usually need to take a number to simply hold the baby. But it's worth the wait!

Anyway, for as long as I've been watching wrestling (pretty much my entire life), I've always been a belt mark. When I was little, I used to buy any and all foam belts that were made available. Even though they looked like crap (I mean, really, the plates were black instead of gold, and the Intercontinental Championship came on a brown foam strap. BROWN!) And I am actually only slightly ashamed to admit that I do own an actual replica belt (you'll find out which one in the list), but it was a gift. Sorta.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to rank the ten championship belts, past and present, that I think look the coolest. Since I didn't watch much WCW/NWA when I was little, this list will be skewed more towards WWF/WWE. Oh, and I should issue a forewarning: you won't see the classic WWF "Winged Eagle" Championship on this list. Yes, I think it's a fine enough looking title, but compared to its WCW counterpart at the time -- the Big Gold Belt -- it looked so unsubstantial and unimpressive. Hell, I think it was even smaller than the Intercontinental title at the time.

Moving on.... Click the "Read More" link for the list!

10. WWE Tag Team Championship

This refers the the tag titles that appear on Smackdown. For the most part, this is a pretty basic championship. So why does it make the list? First off, I was having trouble with the #10 spot. But to the title's credit, I actually think it's one of the coolest looking of all the current championship belts. It's reminiscent in shape and style of the classic World Tag Team Championship (the ones we grew up with), but features blue as its accent color (appropriately so, since it's a Smackdown belt). And blue is my favorite color. And I think the combination of the blue on the gold looks really cool. Along with that, at any given time (for the most part), the WWE Tag Team Champions have blown the World Tag Team Champions out of the water as far as pure entertainment and overall talent goes.

Overall, it's just a nice looking championship belt. There's nothing flashy and special about it, but that's okay. And it's also why it's at number ten.

9. WWE United States Spinner Championship

The predecessor to what is likely the least popular championship in modern history. When John Cena won his third and last United States Championship, he unveiled a customized version of the belt (the first time a Superstar has done that since, I believe, Stone Cold Steve Austin in the late 90's). To fit with his freestyling character, the entire center plate was blinged out (did I say that right? Seems unnatural to even write it) and spun. It was actually pretty creative and cool looking. It wasn't for traditionalists, of course, but what new ever is? And unlike its WWE Championship counterpart, it didn't overstay its welcome. When John Cena lost the belt a couple of months later, it was quietly retired. And by "quietly retired" I mean "blown up in a trash can."

8. WCW United States Championship

And another incarnation of the United States Championship appears just one spot higher. This version -- which I'm sure is more popular with traditionalists -- was used since before WCW's most popular run (at least the beginning of the 1990's), and is likely the look people are most familiar with. The belt is actually quite straight forward and simple, really. It's got an eagle on the front and a small stars and stripes version of the United States just above it. What I like about it, though, is its similarity in shape to the classic Intercontinental Championship. While I don't have a problem with the current version of the Intercontinental Championship, it would have been cool seeing the similar US and IC titles side by side during the Invasion angle.

Oh, and for what it's worth, I actually don't mind the waving American flag WWE version of the United States Championship. It's actually grown on me in the past few years, but it's also definitely not one of my favorite titles.

7. WWE Spinner Championship

Yeah yeah, I know. Terrible title, blah, blah, blah. I'm sure I am going to be forced to turn in my IWC membership card for putting this on my list. Truth be told, when John Cena first debuted this customized championship after WrestleMania 22, it grew on me pretty quickly. It definitely fit his character, and it was something unique. As long as it was over his shoulder or around his waist, I had no problem with it. Actually, guys like Edge and RVD could pull off the belt as well. Edge is relatively gaudy and alternative -- as well as completely ego maniacal -- and I (like some others) got a kick out of total pothead RVD getting mesmerized by the spinning centerpiece.

Admittedly, I think this championship design should have been abandoned when Randy Orton was awarded the title last year. I mean, the belt looks absolutely ridiculous on Triple H, who by all intents and purposes is a wrestling traditionalist, and John Cena isn't even on the same program as the championship anymore. And on top of that, the main feature of the belt -- the spinning centerpiece -- doesn't even work anymore! I refuse to believe that they continue using this version for merchandise purposes. The belt has been around for, what, over three years? People who love it have probably already bought it. And those who are on the fence might be even more motivated to buy it after it's retired and becomes a "collector's item." Honestly, after three years, the belt has lost any allure it may have once had.

6. Million Dollar Championship

It's incredibly how the Spinner WWE Championship is almost universally loathed because of its "blinged out" look (twice in one column? Really?), while the Million Dollar Championship is so popular for the same reason. That observation aside, how could you not love the Million Dollar Championship? Perhaps the best part about it was that it was created during a time in which the "fakeness" of wrestling was far more protected. According to Ted DiBiase, who portrayed the Million Dollar Man, Vince McMahon was so determined to make people believe that he was a mega-millionaire that McMahon would give him hundreds of dollars just to carry around for spending money. He'd also have DiBiase travel in limos and private jets (provided this is all true, DiBiase really fell ass backwards into the poshest character in the history of wrestling -- considering how often they're on the road, traveling in a private jet and limos is a HUGE luxury). With that in mind, there was a certain legitimacy behind the Million Dollar Championship that, in my opinion, simply cannot be replicated. You could really believe that the Million Dollar Man spent millions of dollars to create a championship specially for him (for those curious, DiBiase once claimed that the belt actually cost $40,000). And that's the other thing about this title -- it's accumulated such a legendary status that is unmatched by any other championship in wrestling history. How much did it really cost? How many diamonds are on it? Is it REALLY kept in a vault in Titan Towers? It hasn't appeared on television in over a decade, yet people still talk and marvel about it to this day. That says something.

5. Classic Intercontinental Championship

Growing up, THIS was my favorite championship belt. I loved it! Like I said in the introduction, I actually used to feel like this belt had a more impressive presence than the classic WWF Championship belt. It was bigger and looked more stylish. I especially loved the "staircase columns" (honestly, that's the best way I can explain it) shape of it.

Oh, and I always loved when wrestlers would do something personal with their belt when they were champion. And the Intercontinental Championship was that king of that tradition. The Ultimate Warrior put it on a yellow strap. Shawn Michaels selectively used a light blue strap and a white strap. Goldust wore a gold strap. And that's just off the top of my head (I believe Jeff Jarrett also used a white strap)! I actually wish champions would do more of that now (for example, wouldn't it be fitting for Rey Mysterio to have different colored straps depending on the color of his mask and uniform?) I actually like the new version of the belt, and I think its more modern and as such fits better with the current product. But, when push comes to shove, THIS belt is the one everybody will think of when they hear "Intercontinental Championship."

4. ECW Championship (2007 version)

Without further adieu, the classic version -- with the purple ECW logo -- is the replica belt that I own. I was never a huge follower of the original ECW, but I always thought they had the coolest World Championship. It was traditional, lacking the gaudiness of the Spinner belts, but was unconventional at the same time. It was so fitting that the globe was wrapped in barbed wire. I loved how the background was etched to look like a chain link fence. And my absolute FAVORITE part? The BELT WAS BLEEDING! How awesome is that?

That being said, I do have to admit that I think that WWE made the belt even cooler when they turned ECW into their third brand. For all they did wrong -- and there was a lot -- using their unique marketing abilities helped improve an already really cool championship. The first thing they did was change the logo from purple to red. I never realized it until the alteration, but the purple logo really did clash with the rest of the belt. The red logo just fit much better. They also added some black to the etched background. This was done to varying degrees. During Lashley and Morrison's title reigns, the background was basically completely black, with the chain link fence appearing in gold. By the end of CM Punk's reign and the beginning of Chavo Guerrero's, the background was basically back to gold, with black accents. Nevertheless, it still looked mighty cool.

This classic design has since been retired and replaced with a sleeker silver version. I must admit that I was initially disappointed, but the new championship has since grown on me. Yes, the silver does make it look like a second place prize (which, ironically, would actually be a step UP for the C-Brand title), but truth be told I don't think it would look quite as cool if it were gold. Along with that, while the belt originally looked a bit small on Mark Henry, now that we see it on Matt Hardy, it looks quite impressive. Sure, it's not bleeding. But that ECW is long dead.

3. Smoking Skull WWE Championship

This is arguably the best known instance of a customized championship. When Stone Cold Steve Austin won the WWE Championship after WrestleMania XIV, he immediately began a feud with company owner Vince McMahon. Mr. McMahon, as the story goes, wanted Steve Austin to become more corporate. In one act of rebellion, Stone Cold abandoned the new "Attitude Era" championship and adopted the Smoking Skull belt.

This ultra cool looking championship featured Stone Cold's "Smoking Skull" logo on the front, with an etching of a rattlesnake on each side (the background is also designed to look like a scaly, like snakeskin). On the skull's forehead reads a red "WWF" scratch logo (if I'm not mistaken, this was actually the first championship to feature that logo). The belt also reads "World Heavyweight Champion." It comes on a leather strap, with a snakeskin back. Although briefly used by The Rock and The Undertaker (for about a week), this championship was used exclusively for the Texas Rattlesnake.

Much like the Spinning WWE Championship, this belt fit PERFECTLY with Stone Cold's character. However, in this instance, WWE was smart enough to realize that the belt wasn't for everybody, and quickly reverted to the traditional championship when somebody else held the title.

2. WWWF World Heavyweight Championship

Now that is A LOT of W's. Many younger (or newer) fans may not remember this championship, but it was originally used in the 1970's, I believe (actually, it's the belt that was used when Hulk Hogan famously began his first historic reign as champion). Actually, it's fairly comparable to WCW's Big Gold Belt. It's pretty basic, lacking the color and flair of later versions. The main plate is round, and reads "World Wide Wrestling Heavy Weight Champion" and features an etched Oscar-looking statue raising a championship over its head, placed in front of a globe. This is all affixed to a green leather strap.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the belt is the fact that each title reign engraved onto one of the side plates (which, of course, wouldn't be practical in this day and age). It's almost like the Stanley Cup of wrestling belts!

1. The Big Gold Belt

Fair or not, this includes the WCW Championship and the subtle evolution of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. There's just something about this belt that screams "Prestigious!" From its size, to it being completely gold, to its intricate etchings, to the gems, to the NAMEPLATE!!! (an awesome addition, which at the time was unique and made the belt seem even more special), you could just tell that whoever held this title was THE MAN. I'm actually somewhat shocked that Vince McMahon allowed Ric Flair to walk around with this belt in the early 1990's, claiming to be the Real World's Champion, because it absolutely dwarfed Hulk Hogan's "Winged Eagle" belt. I was actually quite thrilled when WWE decided to resurrect the belt when they created distinct World Championships for each of their brands.

Through time, it's evolved slightly. I think I read that it was made slightly smaller. And the "WWE" logo now appears at the top center (which I personally have no problem with). They've also changed the engraving on the nameplate to something far darker and bolder (a bit improvement, actually. I will also add that I love how Edge added two red "R" logos to the nameplate when he was champion). I think the best addition, however, is that the plates are now slightly curved. It now looks far more natural and comfortable when it is worn around somebody's waist. If I'm not mistaken, I believe it's also now a brighter shade of gold.

I read reports that WWE is considering a new design for their World Heavyweight Championship -- which I suppose isn't surprising, since in the past few years virtually every title has been overhauled -- but I hope that's not the case. It's actually one of the very few remnants of the current product that embodies wrestling's heritage. And with many of the current champions looking increasingly cartoonish (the new Divas Championship, the WWE Championship, along with the super colorful -- but inoffensive -- US Championship), seeing a traditional, tasteful looking title is a bit refreshing.

Considering I've always been a WWF/WWE fan, who would have guessed that the prestigious number one spot would go to a belt that was made famous in WCW?


Javier Rivera said...

Hey Matt, great column, I seem to agree with most of your choices but I seem to have a soft spot for the "WWF Attitude Era" version of the WWF championship.It also looks as a traditional big belt, and I loved it.

Matt Basilo said...

I never had any issue with the Attitude Era WWE Championship. I thought it was a nice step up from the Winged Eagle version (due mostly to its size). That being said, it is popular among most Internet fans.

Hopefully the Spinner belt is retired soon, at which point I think they should revert back to the Undisputed Championship.

Unknown said...

most of your choices r good exept the gay ass spinner, smoking skull, and cenas us belt but the big gold now long gone was the best ever, just as ric flair was, even tho he dont kno when to call it quits, i wa an old nwa fan the 4 horsemen, flair ofcourse, magnum t,a, the road warriorsl midnight express etc. Hated hulk hogan n u r right his belt was skimpy, loved him as hollywood hogan altho spray painting nwo on the big gold was a disgrace, scott hall was cool as hell too, but the attitude belt, the winged eagle, even tho small was a good lookin belt, the nwa tag belts that tully n arn mostly had, the original wwf tag belts n the i.c..were the best, also liked the old silver television belt, oh and remember the original big gold had no logo at the top, no nwa, wcw, nothing just big n gold n world heavyweight wrestling champion, ahh the good ol days, after the attitude era and then wcw fell it all went to shit, dont watch it no more. Ufc is the new king.