Custom Championship Belts And How Wrestlers Handle Their Championship Belts
Note: I saw the thread in the General WWE section about wrestlers wearing title belts as opposed to carrying them over their shoulders. This gave me the idea to write an entire column about how title belts are used in unique ways by different wrestlers. Some posters in the thread reminded me of a few things to use as examples in this column.
In professional wrestling, a world championship belt is supposed to be a symbol of prestige. It’s ten pounds of gold and leather that almost every wrestler not named Tommy Dreamer wants to win. Whether the design featured the eagle with the outstretched wings (Rockin’ Wrestling Era and New Generation), the green and blue painted globe (Attitude Era), the large surface area that was all gold (WCW and WWE’s World Heavyweight Championship), or any of the other various designs we’ve seen over the years, world championship belts have almost always looked prestigious and their physical appearance reflected the high stature of the champion holding it. However, wrestling is first and foremost a show with over the top characters and storylines. What a champion does with his or her belt should be in line with their character, even if they do things that some people may argue as disrespecting the title.
Some versions of world title belts, and mid card belts as well, are customized to a small degree by having engraved name plates attached that have the holder’s name on it. And sometimes, like Brock Lesnar has done, they will have custom side plates with their name or logo specially branded on them. This is a good thing as you would expect any wrestler’s character would like a title belt to be customized specially for them, at least to a small degree. It signifies that the belt belongs to them and no one else. And while many wrestlers’ characters seem like they would be content with nothing more than a special name plate to signify that the belt is in their possession, some wrestlers’ characters want to take it a step further.
In the original ECW, there was a point where Shane Douglas got injured while he was world champion, yet he was never forced to vacate his title. For a long stretch of time the world title was not defended. During this time Taz, who many considered the number one contender, declared himself the real world champion, and created his own title belt, the “FTW Championship”, or “Fuck The World Championship”. Since the belt was custom made for him, it had orange and black painted on it, his trademark colors, and had “Taz” on it. It had plenty of gold on the main plate, so it still looked prestigious while being customized specially for him. It was unrecognized by ECW as an official title, but Taz defended it in matches and eventually lost it to Sabu. Sabu’s character was an out of control maniac, so he didn’t care about the belt looking fancy. He took a piece of white tape, put it over Taz’s name, and wrote “SABU” on it with a marker. It made it look tacky and less prestigious, but it fit Sabu’s character perfectly.
In WCW, the N.W.O. was a tremendously successful storyline. N.W.O. t-shirts were selling out at shows at lightening speed. When Hollywood Hulk Hogan won the WCW title from the Giant, he decided to customize the belt in traditional N.W.O. fashion. The group’s image was that of a bunch of rebels trying to take over the company, so Hogan spray painted the group’s initials over the big gold belt. The graffiti signified that the symbolic soul of the company, the company’s flag, was in possession of the rebels. Again, this is something that you could argue took physical prestige away from the belt, but it made complete sense for Hogan’s character to do this, as the group often spray painted their initials on the backs of battered WCW wrestlers. Why not do it to their belt to?
The Ultimate Warrior was famous for the different bright, neon colors of his face paint and ring attire. When he was the WWF champion, he didn’t customize any of the gold itself, but he wore different versions of the belt with different colored neon straps. This was perfectly acceptable as Ultimate Warrior was putting his own spin on the championship belt, yet it still always looked like a valuable prize, whether the leather strap was bright purple, white, or whatever color. During Daniel Bryan’s current run as “The New Daniel Bryan” he has tried to portray himself as an eco-friendly wrestler. When he was the WWE champion he declared himself “The Planet’s Champion” and had a special belt manufactured for him that had a similar design to the regular WWE championship belt, but it was clearly made out of wood. I can understand why some people may think replacing the gold with wood for a title belt devalues it, but again, it’s just a show and having a wooden belt falls in line with Bryan’s character. Fans pay to see the wrestlers first and foremost, and everything a wrestler does should fit their character.
And while some may have had a problem with Bryan’s wooden belt, the custom championship belt I have heard the most criticism for is by far John Cena’s spinner belt. People thought that because the WWE logo could spin around, it cheapened the physical image of the championship that many wrestlers worked their whole careers to attain. I personally didn’t have a problem with it. The belt still looked like it cost a lot of money as it had a lot of gold on it, while being customized to fit Cena’s character.
The only thing I had a problem with was that the same belt design, minus the spinning logo, was used for several different holders of the title, not just Cena. It didn’t make sense in the storylines for guys like Randy Orton, Triple H, and CM Punk, not to introduce at least a more traditional version of the belt. But I suppose since Cena was always regaining the title and Vince wanted him to have his own custom belt, it would look weird to keep reintroducing Cena’s special belt when he won it and a more traditional belt anytime he lost it. Edge put his own trademark “Rated R’ logo on the spinner plate when he won it, and The Miz put his logo on it, the upside down WWE logo that formed an “M”. I have an issue with them keeping the same general design of the belt that was specially made for Cena. In kayfabe, if they’re going to customize the belt, why not customize the whole thing?
Out of everyone who held WWE’s World Heavyweight Championship, none of those champions ever customized that belt besides having their own engraved name plate. The belt that was used was always the same general design of the big gold belt that originated in 1985 in the N.W.A. and was used throughout WCW’s entire existence. I think because the general design of the belt had so much history behind it Vince McMahon just thought it was more special for a wrestler to hold that version of the belt than any type of customized belt.
There are many more examples of wrestlers having their own customized World Title belts, and they’re all great because they made sense and looked cool. Stone Cold Steve Austin had a title belt with his logo, a smoking skull on it. Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase had an unrecognized title belt made just for him called “The Million Dollar Championship”. It consisted entirely of multiple huge, gold dollar signs. This strayed significantly from a traditional title belt, but it wasn’t an official title, so I don’t think any criticism is warranted. Going into WrestleMania 3, Andre The Giant’s manager, Bobby Heenan, had a special championship belt made for him if he beat Hulk Hogan for the world title. Andre was over 500 lbs., so this new belt had extra long straps to fit around his huge waist. Andre never used this title, as he lost at WrestleMania 3 and was stripped of the title minutes after the only time he did win it. But the fact that a custom belt was made for him and shown on tv really gave fans the impression that Andre seriously might become champion.
However, as cool as customized championship belts are, they would get boring if every single holder of the world championship had their own special belt. It just wouldn’t be special if more world champions than not had their own version of the belt. It would still make sense, as you could argue every wrestler might want to do that. But the appeal would go down significantly. A traditional version of the world title being used by most wrestlers is necessary. Because as I said, while it does fit a lot of wrestlers’ characters to have their own belts, it sometimes does lower the physical prestige of it. It’s cool sometimes, but not all the time.
Another way for a wrestler to put their own spin on a world title belt is by how they hold on to the belt. For pretty much any wrestler, it would be perfectly acceptable for them to either wear the belt around their waist or carry it over their shoulder. In my opinion, and you might disagree, it’s just as prestigious to carry the belt over your shoulder as it is to wear it around your waist, and either way can fit any wrestler’s character. Ric Flair and other wrestlers who wore robes to the ring would wear their belt around their waist but under their robe, so fans didn’t see the belt until they opened the robe, sort of like unveiling it in a special way. This technique sort glorified the fact that they were champion. Ultimate Warrior always wore the title around his waist when he made his entrance. He sprinted to the ring as fast as he could, so he needed to wear it because if he carried it, he might drop it and look like an idiot. Yokozuna always carried the belt over his shoulder because it just didn’t fit around his massive waist, and he didn’t have a special title made like Andre did.
Diesel and Steve Austin often times dragged the world title belt on the ground as they walked to the ring. Diesel, as a face, had a very laid back character, and Austin just didn’t give a fuck about most things, so it made sense for their characters to carry the belt like this. If a lot more people did this it would make the belt seem less special and it would lose its appeal. But when Diesel and Austin did this it was just one of several things they did to accentuate their character and get them more over. Austin and Cena both would throw their championship belt into the ring from the outside. This fit their characters, but if everyone did this it would be overdone. Bret Hart would kiss the world title belt before he handed it over to the referee. Bret’s character took a lot of pride in his accomplishments, so kissing the title made sense as it was something he took pride in. Hollywood Hogan would use the WCW title to play the air guitar, made sense as his character tried hard to look cool. (I personally thought it looked stupid, just my opinion.) Again, fans are paying to see the wrestlers, and anything the wrestlers can do to develop their characters and get themselves more over will make fans want to see them. If that means doing unique things with the title belts, so be it.
Any promotion takes a great deal of pride in their championship belts, even their midcard titles. That’s why the times a company’s title belts have appeared on another wrestling company’s television show, it’s extremely embarrassing. In 1991 when Ric Flair came over to the WWF from WCW, he was still in legal possession of WCW’s world title belt. Vince McMahon let Ric appear on television with the belt, and Ric declared himself “The Real World’s Champion”. After WCW took legal action, they stopped using the big gold belt and Ric began using a tag title that the production team censored, with commentators saying it was because Flair did not win that title in the WWF. WCW still took further legal action, and Vince finally solved this issue by putting the actual WWF championship on Flair and getting rid of the perceived WCW title altogether.
This had to be extremely embarrassing for WCW, to have their world title belt paraded around WWF television like that. But Flair was treated like a big deal throughout his entire initial WWF run, so at least the WWF didn’t devalue the championship by jobbing him out in the midcard. They could have thrown the belt in the trash, as Madusa did to the WWF Womens’ Title when she signed with WCW before dropping that title. When Taz won the ECW Championship while under contract with the WWF, it sometimes added value to the title when he wore it on WWF television. When he wore it to the ring when he wrestled Triple H, who was the WWF Champion at the time, it added respect to the belt. When he wore it to ring when he lost to Crash Holly, not so much. While title belts are now established as intellectual property and this can no longer take place (Vince McMahon and Paul Heyman worked out a deal to let Taz do that), any promotion should have been nervous whenever one of their own title belts fell into the hands of the enemy, their competition.
But ultimately, a title belt can look any way imaginable. It can be strapped together with another title and worn around the neck like Cena did. They can be used like Bryan used them to do the Yes chant. It can be worn around the waist or dragged on the ground. A title belt’s true value is determined by who’s holding it and how long he’s held it. How over is the wrestler? Who has he defended the title against? Title belts are just a symbol, and the best looking belt in the world will be meaningless if a terrible wrestler is holding it or it’s changing hands too often.
What a champion does with a championship belt should fit their character. Whether they just add their own name plate to the traditional title or get a completely customized belt, it should fit their character. Not everyone can have their own special belt because it would tarnish its appeal, but a handful of guys doing it is perfectly fine. How a champion carries a belt to the ring and other things he does with it should also fall in line with their character. And while it won’t happen anymore, any time a promotion’s title belts fall into the hands of the competition, that promotion should be very nervous. But ultimately, a title belt can look any way and be carried any way, it’s only as valuable as the champion holding it.