World Heavyweight Championship vs WWE Championship
For years now the WWE has had two “World Championships”, the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship and many fans of pro wrestling may be wondering exactly which championship is the top championship in the sport of professional wrestling. In this piece I will explain to you exactly which belt is the top of the top and the reasons as to why one belt is above the other as well as my own personal views of the title's and what each one means. But before going into my explanation I'm going to spoil my answer early as a way to tickle your palms before I unload the salt on the snowy road. The answer is the World Heavyweight Championship.
The WWE Championship is NOT the same championship as the WWF Championship or the WWF World Heavyweight Championship despite what many may think. When the WWE changed it's name from the WWF it had to basically re-design the company and all copyright’s and assets (including championships) had to be reset to reflect the name change. By doing this the WWE basically became a “new” company, and even though it seemed nothing more than a name change on the surface there was a lot more going on behind the scenes than what fans got to see on television or on paper. The WWE Championship is a direct descendant of the old WWF Championship (sometimes referred to as the WWF World Heavyweight Championship but does NOT share the lineage despite the ruse that the WWE puts on toward it's fanbase. Sure, you could just simply connect the two and that's usually what people do, but deep within it's core by legal definition the two championship's are separate from one another and should be seen as such.
So, why do I not place the WWE Championship above the World Heavyweight Championship, you ask? Well, the WWE Championship is a company title, that means that the holder is the champion of the WWE as defined by the name of the championship. The holder of the title is defined as the champion of World Wrestling Entertainment and is promoted as such, but that's really as far as it goes. The WWE Championship is considered to be a “World Championship” because it is the top championship in the WWE and the WWE is indeed a world-wide company which is aired on television all over the world, as well as the internet and since the holder of the belt is holding the top title in the WWE they are noted as being a “World Champion”. But, with that title comes limitations. There is a ceiling there that you can't break and that's the ceiling of the title being named after a single company, you cannot claim to be anything higher than that despite the WWE Championship usually getting the main event slot on a pay-per-view card. Think about it this way: Would you rather be the champion of a company, or champion of the world?
See, when you hold the World Heavyweight Championship there is an illusion there that the title is not just a company title, but instead a title that spans the entire world which includes hundreds of wrestling companies and promotions. Simply put, they don't call the title the “WWE World Heavyweight Championship”. You can go ahead and watch video tape from pretty much every title defense and you will see that it's simply noted as the “World Heavyweight Championship”, and aside from a small WWE logo toward the top of the belt you would never know that the championship came with any brand recognition. That creates an illusion that you are not just the champion of the WWE, but instead you represent the entire world as the champion of the sport of pro wrestling. That includes every major company, every promotion, every wrestler, and superiority above every championship across the entire world. That's a huge responsibility to bear if you're the holder of the belt, that put's you at the very top of the food chain. Sure, it's rare that a World Heavyweight Championship match headlines a WWE pay-per-view (maybe 2 or 3 times a year), but for my money the matches put on for the title outshine the WWE Championship matches for the most part (not always) and the competitors who have held the title over the past several years (Undertaker, Kane, Big Show) are what I like to call “legacy” competitors who are throwbacks to an older age of the sport. On top of all that, since the title does not come with a true company branding it could be noted that a World Heavyweight Championship match could take place outside of the WWE seeing as how there is no verbal branding, though I'm sure this would probably never happen again (though it has in the past). And going even more forward, if you try hard, and I mean really hard, you can almost piece together a lineage between today's World Heavyweight Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship contested back in 1905 by Gotch and Hackenschmidt, though that is a daunting task even more me (but it can be done).
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Major (World) Championships I recognize/follow
World Heavyweight Championship (as of 2009)
WWE Championship (as of 2009)
ROH World Championship (since inception)
IWGP Heavyweight Championship (since inception)