In wrestling, a championship or title is a recognition of a wrestler being the best in their promotion.
A wrestler can earn a championship by defeating the current champion in a match (by far the most common) or in other ways determined by the promotion, such as winning a tournament for a vacant championship (occasionally, though very rare, in an effort to get a Heel over, an on-screen authority figure may simply hand a championship to a wrestler without the wrestler earning it, as was the case with Triple H and the World Championship in 2002). Most championships are represented by a championship belt, which the wrestler wears around the waist, carries over the shoulder, or carries around by hand.
How champions are determined
Championships are usually won/held by a wrestler whom the promotion's bookers believe will generate fan interest in terms of event attendance and TV viewership. Usually, these are wrestlers who generate large fan interest and crowd reactions over a sustained period of time, whether as a Face or a Heel.
The wrestler can create this crowd reaction either through in-ring skill, from a quirky gimmick (e.g. Eugene), or from mic skills while cutting promos. Generally, the wrestlers who draw the greatest fan response will be rewarded with a storyline in which they compete with the current champion for the title, and eventually the championship itself.
Professional wrestling's championship belts are modeled after the championship belts in boxing. They are made of elaborately designed gold plates (thus their common nickname "gold," for example, "Your son has a fondness for gold," means he's either a current or former champion), 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.
Since 2002, all major WWE titles have included a nameplate with the current titleholder on the bottom of the main faceplate. This is in the style of the NWA Championship of the 1980s (nicknamed the "Big Gold Belt"), which later became the primary title belt of World Championship Wrestling, which included a nameplate. When the WWE and WCW titles were unified to become the WWE Undisputed Championship, the new belt included a nameplate which has since been added to the design of new WWE championship belts.
Types of championships
Professional wrestling championships are often split up into various different classifications, each of which designate varying levels of importance to the belts.
The most common types of championships are regional championships. Most national promotions will hold claim to a World Heavyweight Championship or something of the same global status, which always holds the premier position within the promotion. These promotions will also sometimes have other titles of national or international importance as secondary championships.
Examples of Major Heavyweight titles include:
- IWGP Heavyweight Championship
- AJPW Triple Crown Championship
- NWA World Heavyweight Championship
- WWE Championship
- World Heavyweight Championship (WWE)
- ECW World Championship
- WCW World Heavyweight Championship
- TNA World Heavyweight Championship
Examples of National and International titles include:
- NWA North American Heavyweight Championship
- WWE United States Championship
- WWE Intercontinental Championship
- WWE European Championship
- NWA National Heavyweight Championship
- WCW International World Heavyweight Championship
Smaller promotions often opt not to claim a world title due to their scope being limited to a specific area. In these promotions, a national title, state title, or even more sectioned regional title will be considered the top prize in the promotion.
Examples of State and Regional titles include:
- ECW Maryland Championship
- ECW Pennsylvania Championship
- NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship
- NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Championship
- NWA Hawaii Heavyweight Championship
Regional designations are also used to apply to other types of titles.
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 cruiser weight, middleweight, or light-heavyweight titles. Despite having different weight limits from their boxing counterparts, these titles are considered to be equal standing with their boxing classes. Promotions often utilize one sub-heavyweight classification, while others sometimes may have more. In the rise of British wrestling, Mountevans' committee (a governing body that instilled rules from professional wrestling) created seven formal weight divisions:
- Lightweight (154 pound limit)
- Welterweight (165)
- Middleweight (176)
- Heavy middleweight (187)
- Light heavyweight (198)
- Mid-heavyweight (209)
- Heavyweight (210)
Calling for champions to be crowned at each weight.
Examples of other Weight Class championships include:
- WWE Cruiserweight Championship (under 220)
- WWF Light Heavyweight Championship (under 215)
- NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship (EMLL/CMLL) (Note: This Title Is Not Sanctioned By The NWA)
- NWA World Welterweight Championship (EMLL/CMLL) (Note: This Title Is No Longer Sanctioned By The NWA)
- NWA World Middleweight Championship (EMLL/CMLL) (Note: This Title Is No Longer Sanctioned By The NWA)
- NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship
Gender occasionally plays a role in the classifications of championship belts. For gender-specific titles, the classification "Men's" or "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 men are allowed to win the championships without a gender specification, though Chyna winning the WWE Intercontinental Championship in 1999 against Jeff Jarrett is a notable exception. In promotions featuring only a single gender (such as Women of Wrestling or SHIMMER), gender classifications are often thrown out the window as well.
Entertainer and comedian Andy Kaufman once parlayed 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.
Examples of gender championships include:
- NWA World Women's Championship
- WCW Women's Championship
- WWE Women's Championship
- WWE Divas Championship
- WWF Women's Tag Team Championship
- AWA World Women's Championship
- TNA Knockouts Championship
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 pay-per-view or unbroadcast "house" shows) within a 15-minute time limit.
Style championships also take very different forms. A Pure Wrestling Championship focuses on mat-based and technical wrestling, while the X Division title in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling promotes a faster-paced, high-flying style. The cruiser weight title is often considered to be a style championship due to the X Division like pace and style of its competitors.
Examples of Gimmick and Style championships include:
- WWE Hardcore Championship
- WCW World Television Championship
- ECW World Television Championship
- ROH Pure Championship
- TNA X Division Championship
- NWA World Television Championship
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.
Examples of Tag Team Championships include:
- IWGP Tag Team Championship
- NWA World Tag Team Championship
- World Tag Team Championship (WWE)
- WWE Tag Team Championship
- TNA World Tag Team Championship
- ECW World Tag Team Championship
- WCW World Tag Team Championship
Tag Team Championships are also often combined with regional modifiers, gimmick modifiers, and weight class modifiers to further distinguish them. In such cases, the world championships are often given higher priority, while the other championships are seen as secondary tag team titles.
Examples of Modified Tag Team Championships include:
- NWA North American Tag Team Championship
- WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Championship
- NWA National Tag Team Championship
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 ECW FTW Heavyweight Championship in ECW
- Sports Entertainment Extreme's Australian Heavyweight Championship in TNA
- Shawn Michaels' disputed WWF Intercontinental Championship
- Ric Flair brought the Big Gold Belt with him when he first entered the WWF and claimed to be the "real world champion"
- On the Ring of Honor show Transform, Larry Sweeney named Chris Hero and Sara Del Ray the ROH World Inter-Gender Tag Team Champions
- James Storm's Beer Drinking Championship in TNA
A wrestler may also win a sanctioned championship and "rename" it for the duration of his or her reign. Examples of this include:
- Lance Storm renamed his three titles in WCW:
- World Cruiserweight as 100 Kilos and Under
- United States Heavyweight as Canadian Heavyweight
- Hardcore as the Saskatchewan Hardcore International Title (S.H.I.T.)
- Hulk Hogan and the New World Order claimed Hogan's WCW World Heavyweight Championship as the NWO World Heavyweight Championship