Boy, for a belt that was meant to be for the fans, the WWE Universe sure does hate the WWE Universal Championship, and they have every right to. Its lazy, repetitive design is an insult to the fans, for whom the belt was supposedly created. Add to this the newly created Smackdown Women’s and Tag Team Championships (exact replicas of their Raw counterparts, just in blue) and it really isn’t a good time to be a fan of belt designing, is it?
One thing this recent wave of bad WWE belts has led to is a discussion about belt design in general. A great belt not only looks great, but also says a lot about the championship it represents and can help elevate a title from a simple prop to a piece of wrestling history. Equally, a bad belt can make fans ruin one of the best matches at SummerSlam 2016. Oops.
Anyway, since the topic of belt design is so hot right now, I felt it would be a good idea to give you some of my personal favourite title designs from throughout wrestling history, as well as some of the straps that I just cannot stand. Whether their designs were lazy, insulting or just really, really boring, some of the following titles are ones I cannot stand to look at, whereas the other belts ignited my imagination and make me crave for their return. Of course, these are just my own opinions, so feel free to leave your own best and worst belts in the comments, but, for now, enjoy the 8 best and 7 worst belt designs in wrestling history. And please, try not to boo.
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17 BEST: Ring of Honor World Championship
This’ll please the smarks. Ring of Honor has exploded in popularity over the past few years, going from a small indie fed to one of the biggest and most popular alternatives to WWE in America, if not the world, and a big part of this success comes down to the calibre of their world title. Three men who have held the ROH World title have gone on to hold the WWE Championship – CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins – and other champions include Samoa Joe, Kevin Owens and Austin Aries. The title is one of the most respected titles on the independent scene and part of this comes down to how it looks. The current design is solid and neat; the wreath around the centre plate adds an element of regality to the design and the side plates and centre logo let the audience know exactly what the belt means and who it belongs too. A beautiful looking title that has been held by some of the greatest performers of this generation. What more do you want really?
15 WORST: ECW World Tag Team Championships
This one might not sit well with a couple of the old school fans, but save your anger, because you’ll need it for number 12. The ECW World Tag Team Championships existed from 1992 until the company’s closure in 2001 and was held by such legendary teams as The Suicide Blonds, The Public Enemy and The Dudley Boyz, as well as other acclaimed performers like Sabu, Rob Van Dam and New Jack. Despite being a coveted and respected title, I find it very hard to actually like this belt. Not only is it an odd shape, but the design in the background looks like that thing you put in front of a fireplace. The lacklustre attempt at a circular saw around the centre of the belt is hardly pretty and the whole thing looks like it was cobbled together out of what they had left from the other belts. Despite being a championship soaked in history and with an incredible lineage, the ECW World Tag Team Championship is not a looker. Saying that, I think the last thing on most ECW fans was how their belts looked, so it probably doesn’t bother them that match.
14 BEST: AAA World Mixed Tag Team Championship
This one kinda needs some set up. For this next great belt design on the list, we head to Mexico; more specifically, Asistencia Asesoría y Administración or AAA for short. When they’re not rescuing cars at the roadside (little joke for the American readers there), AAA is known for its crazy gimmicks, hardcore bouts and six-sided ring. Another thing pretty unique about AAA is that they offer a Mixed Tag Team Championship, for which teams of one man and one woman compete in matches together. The belt has been held by numerous famous faces, including Lucha Underground stars, Pentagon Jr. and Sexy Star, and has been contested in some pretty good matches over the years. The reason I include this belt is, quite frankly, because of the red strap. The strap itself isn’t too special but the gold plating makes the belt look classy, which is something the WWE Universal Championship wishes it could say. Including this title on the list is my way of saying that the problem with the Universal title isn’t the colour; you can have a red strap and still make a nice looking belt. I’ll stop bringing up the Universal Championship now, sorry.
12 WORST: NWA World Heavyweight Championship
Told you you’d be upset. Before you light your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, hear me out. The NWA World Heavyweight Championship is one of, if not the, most significant wrestling championships still in existence. Despite the official start date of the title being 1948, the belt can trace its history back to 1905 and the first ever World Heavyweight Championship, held by George Hackenschmidt. The title has been held by an absolute plethora of legends: Sting, Ric Flair, Lou Thesz, A.J. Styles, Ricky Steamboat, Christian, R-Truth, Ken Shamrock... maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. Anyway, the belt is an esteemed piece of wrestling history, but god is it ugly. The blocky front plate, the tiny side plates, the complete lack of excitement in the title’s design, the whole thing is dull to look at and hardly inspires the feelings of grandeur and value you’d expect from such an esteemed belt. Maybe you can say that it’s subtle, a throwback to a time where flashiness wasn’t a key part of wrestling. However, we’re not in those times anymore and the NWA World Heavyweight Championship just seems stuck in the past. As much as I hate to say it, I’m with Shane Douglas. If I’d have been given that horrible looking title, I’d have thrown it down as well.
11 BEST: The Million Dollar Championship
Ted DiBiase is one of my all-time favourite wrestlers. No, not the one that was in Legacy, The Million Dollar Man, dammit. DiBiase’s Million Dollar Man gimmick made him one of wrestling’s biggest heels in the 80s and 90s and his feuds with the likes of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage catapulted him to stardom. Whilst DiBiase’s snooty, wealthy persona helped to get him over, one of the biggest talking points surrounding DiBiase was his very own, personal championship. DiBiase unveiled the Million Dollar Championship in 1989 and would flaunt the expensive looking belt every chance he could. The gold plated, dollar sign shaped title was covered with “diamonds” (the only real diamonds on the belt were at the back, fun fact) and just reeked of wealth and superiority. In the campy, pantomime era of the 80s and early 90s, The Million Dollar Man creating his own championship and offering to defend it as a legitimate title was complete plausible and fitted DiBiase’s character perfectly. The belt itself looks great; it looked sleek, expensive and you know exactly what it means. Despite never being a “real” title, the Million Dollar belt might just be one of the most famous championships of all time and its great design is a huge factor in that. Just no one bring up Steve Austin’s time with the belt as “The Ringmaster”. Ugh.
10 WORST: Lucha Underground Gift of the Gods Championship
When it debuted in 2014, Lucha Underground took the world of wrestling by storm. A weekly, serial wrestling show that ran in seasons and focused more on production values than wrestling. Sounds like Netflix had an affair with Reddit Squared Circle. The show has produced some incredible moments and has shed some light on some incredibly talented performers. The show also produced some exciting ideas when it comes to championships and match types; perhaps most notably their Gift of the Gods Championship. The title works like Money In The Bank in the sense that it can be “cashed in” any time the holder wants (with a week’s notice) but is defended and retained like a normal title, allowing it to change hands without being cashed in. The title is a very interesting concept that’s made some great TV and has been held by incredible talents such as Pentagon Jr., Johnny Mundo (that’s John Morrison to all you WWE diehards, or Johnny nitro for all you slightly older WWE diehards) and Brian Cage (umm, that’s it really, he’s just Brian Cage). However, the actual title itself is, and please pardon the pun, god awful. The idea of the championship being formed from seven ancient Aztec medallions is cool and plays into the mystique of the show, but was there really no other way to make a belt with seven plates? The long, unsightly rectangles that form the belt make it look more like some fencing than a wrestling championship and the jagged edges are just so ugly, especially when the belt is being worn properly. As interesting a concept as it may be, the Gift of the Gods Championship is one bad looking belt and I am willing to risk being struck down by ancient Aztec deities to say so. Come at me.
9 BEST: NXT Championship
From its humble beginnings as a developmental territory to a legitimate brand with one of the most stacked rosters in the world, NXT has come a long, long way over the past few years and its premier championship has followed suit. The title has been held by numerous top stars including Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe and, of course, Bo Dallas and has been included in some amazing matches down on NXT, including several incredible matches between Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens and the latest battle for the belt which saw Samoa Joe take on Shinsuke Nakamura. The belt itself looks fantastic; the design is dominated by the giant “X” in the middle of “NXT”, which actually serves as a great centrepiece for the title and looks wonderful in gold. The belt might be kinda plain, just spelling out the name of the show, but it reflects quite well on NXT as a brand; simple, but effective. For a belt as prestigious as the NXT Championship is now, it’s really lucky that the title was designed so well in its early stages. Such a shame that Bo Dallas kind of ruins the perfect record of the title. Poor Bo.
8 WORST: ECW Championship (WWE)
The second appearance of ECW on this list, but not quite in the same way as before. When ECW was dragged kicking and screaming back into the world in 2006, the title was brought back with it, retaining the original design of the belt as it was in Paul Heyman’s original promotion. However, as with the ECW reboot as a whole, the championship resulted in a massive disappointment. In 2008, Teddy long (who was kayfabe in charge of ECW for some reason) issued a redesign of the treasured title, turning it into a chrome covered phoenix with no exciting features or distinguishable traits whatsoever. The new design of the title spoke volumes about WWE’s treatment of ECW. The previous title looked messy and rugged and rough, much like the ECW of old and the show fan hoped and prayed they’d get when WWE announced the reboot. The new belt was safe, corporate looking and just plain boring. It was clear from this design that WWE had no idea how to recreate the magic of ECW with their rebrand and it wasn’t long before the brand folded, killing off ECW once and for all, taking the terrible redesigned belt with it. Belts are meant to signify what the championship represents and this one did one hundred per cent; it represented WWE trying to squeeze a little bit more cash out of its audience, dragging the ECW name through the mud as it did so. Now that is what I call extreme.
7 BEST: WWE Hardcore Championship
If you were watching the then-WWF in the Attitude Era, then you will no doubt have plenty of fond memories of the Hardcore Championship. Introduced in 1998, the title only existed for just under four years, but would change hands over two hundred times, thanks to the innovative 24/7 rule, which allowed a match for the title to take place anytime and anywhere as long as a referee is present. A whole host of WWE performers held the belt – from Mick Foley to Pat Patterson, The Undertaker to Trish Stratus – and the crazy places that championship matches took place lead to it becoming one of the most famous and beloved titles in WWE history. The title’s appearance actual has a myth to it; it is rumoured that the title was the remains of the old winged eagle variation of the WWE Championship, which had been smashed up by Mr. Perfect during a feud with Hulk Hogan in 1989. However, WWE themselves confirmed on an episode of their YouTube series “Five Things” that this was not the case and that the two belts were completely separate. Sorry to shatter some dreams there. Anyway, despite not being an old world title, the belt still looks great; smashed up and hastily put back together, the belt was a perfect representation of the hardcore division and the wrestlers that it comprised of, most of whom were basically being held together with sticky tape and hope. A title that personified one of WWE’s most successful periods and one of the most recognisable belts in wrestling history, the Hardcore Championship will always be one of the WWE Universe’s favourite designs. And whilst we’re busting myths, Hulk Hogan wasn’t the first man to slam Andre The Giant, Goldust didn’t run GTV and there weren’t two Ultimate Warriors. Thanks “Five Things”, is nothing sacred anymore?
6 WORST: WWE Championship (Brahma Bull)
Ok, so I kinda cheated for this one. This championship was never actually used in WWE, but it was certainly created and it very much exists, so, in my book, it counts. We all know that “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had his own version of the WWE title as champion, featuring a smoking skull on the centre plate. In an attempt to imitate this success with another top star, WWE commissioned a personal championship for The Rock, only this time with a giant bull’s head on the centre plate; a Brahma Bull for the Brahma Bull, as it were. Now, I can get behind pretty much everything The Rock does, no matter how terrible it is. WrestleMania 27? I’ll watch that just to see The Rock host. His song, Pie? Put it on repeat, that’s cool with me. Hell, I’ll even watch Tooth Fairy if I have to. But I cannot, I will not, get behind this truly awful belt design. The bull on the front looks like it was added on at the last minute and it really just distracts from the rest of the design. I can’t get too upset about this belt because it was never used, but the fact that it was made at all does annoy me slightly. If you’re going to create a belt for your top star, you need to put more effort into it than this. Austin’s belt looked fantastic and clearly had a lot of thought put into it, whereas Rock’s belt is clearly the Smoking Skull design, but with a bull instead of a skull. It’s lazy and ugly to look at it and I for one am glad that this title never made it to TV. And if you think this personal championship got me riled up, you just wait until we get to number four.
5 BEST: WWE Intercontinental Championship (Oval)
Some newer fans may not know this, but the current design for the Intercontinental Championship actually dates back to the 1980s. The current blocky incarnation of the title is very similar to the belt held by the likes of The Honky Tonk Man, The Ultimate Warrior and Rick Rude in the 80s and 90s and there can be no doubt that this newer version is most definitely a throwback to one of wrestling’s golden periods. However, this does not make it the best version of the belt. That accolade goes to the oval shaped strap that represented the championship from 1998 until 2011. Debuting the night after WrestleMania XIV, the new title was a drastic change from its predecessor, mainly due to the WWE failing to secure the rights to the belt’s design following the change in manufactures. The new design was sleeker, smoother and more organised; the way the oval centre plate sat nicely in the middle, not clashing or interfering with the smaller side plates made the title very easy on the eye and the long centre plate made the belt look great either around the waist or slung over the shoulder of the champion. This version of the title is my particular favourite incarnation of WWE’s second biggest prize and I’m actually pretty upset that they got rid of it. Sure, the new design does look nice and yes, it is a throwback to a classic era, but when I see old videos of that oval shaped belt, it makes me pine for the good old days. Well, not really because I was a foetus in the good old days, but you know what I mean.
4 WORST: WWE Championship (Spinner)
The spinner. The god damn spinner. Can somebody please tell me why, when someone suggested that the most prestigious belt in WWE, if not professional wrestling as a whole, would be represented by something that looks like it belongs on Pimp My Ride? The WWE Championship had always been a respectable looking belt. From the early designs of the fifties, right through to the winged eagle belt of the Attitude Era, every strap to ever be called the WWE Championship looked like it was a world title. Then along came John freaking Cena. After defeating JBL at WrestleMania 21 to claim his first world title, Cena did what he had done to the US title a year earlier and tricked it out. Completely overhauling the Undisputed Championship belt that had come before it, Cena’s belt was flashy, completely covered in gold with the words “champ” across the bottom in big, shiny letter. However, the worst part of this absolute tackfest was the centre plate; a giant WWE logo that rotated. It. Spun. Why? Who asked for the world title belt to spin? I certainly didn’t. I don’t know anybody else that wanted it to. So why did it happen?! Not only did the belt look tacky, but every time someone held it, the logo in the middle flipped the wrong way up! It looked ridiculous! The absolute worst part of this belt though was the fact that, despite its design clearly being specifically for John Cena’s white rapper gimmick, this was the look of the belt for nearly eight years. Triple H, Randy Orton, CM Punk, Edge, everyone who held this belt after 2005 looked completely out of place with it, because it was designed for Cena. That would be like having the Smoking Skull belt as the main championship in the Attitude Era; it wouldn’t look right or make any sense on anybody but Steve Austin. Anyone who wonders why John Cena held the title as often and as much as he did in the 2000s just has to look at this belt. The company were so far up Cena’s backside that they tailored their world title specifically for him. No one else stood a chance. Thankfully this belt was replaced in 2013 and we’ve never had to sit through another spinning belt since, but the legacy of this absolute piece of trash will live on in infamy for the rest of time. Forget about The Nexus, forget about Bray Wyatt, forget about Rusev. This was John Cena’s biggest burial. Told you I’d be riled.
3 BEST: WWE United States Championship
Onto happier things now and the only main roster WWE belt from this current era that I felt worthy of inclusion on the good side of this list. The United States Championship currently held by Rusev (as of September 2016) can trace its heritage back to the territory days of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA). The title was created in 1975 and held by numerous legends of the territory era such as WWE Hall of Famers Harley Race, Terry Funk, Ricky Steamboat and, of course, Ric Flair. The title stayed in the NWA until 1991, when it would become a part of World Championship Wrestling (WCW). WCW is where the belt really took shape and became the recognised championship it is today, only to be scrapped when the company was bought out in 2001. The belt didn’t go away forever though as, in 2003, it was reintroduced as the WWE United States Championship and has remained a staple of WWE programming ever since. The current design of the belt was introduced in 2003 and was won by Eddie Guerrero at Vengeance that year. The title is a pefectly representation of what the belt stands for; it’s bright, it’s colourful and you can’t look at it and not think of America. Some of you might find it too flashy and too cheesy, but there can be no denying that the design pefectly captures everything the title represents and is the only championship that a non-wrestling fan could easily identify by name. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea (or, for Americans, cup of PBR and freedom), but I think that a good belt should be iconic, creative and recognisable and this belt ticks all my boxes. Now, everybody – oh, say can’t you see...
2 WORST: WWE Divas Championship
The absolute worst belt in pro wrestling and probably one of the worst things ever made by anyone anywhere is this absolutely disgusting waste of materials that used to be the Divas Championship. When WWE first split its brands, Smackdown was left without a women’s championship. So, in 2008, Vickie Guerrero presented the women of the blue brand with the big, pink butterfly shaped turd that she called the Divas Championship. Just over two years later, the Women’s and Divas Championship were unified to create a single women’s championship once again, retiring the belt that had been held by the likes of The Fabulous Moolah, Lita and Trish Stratus and replacing it with something that looked like it came from a child’s jewelery set. The belt wasn’t ugly or badly designed, but god was it offensive as all hell. WWE must have thought “hmm, women, what do they like? I know, butterlfies and the colour pink. Genius!” How was this acceptable in 2008? How was this level of sexism and degradation ever allowed to make it on air, let alone be the only female championship in WWE for six years? No wonder nothing remarkable happened in the women’s division during this time; if the company couldn’t be bothered to make a decent championship, then how were the performers expected to bother putting on good matches? Can you imagine being a female wrestler, having the match of your life and then receiving this glorified keyring as your prize? It was unacceptable and they deserved more. Hell, most criminals would deserve more. Anyway, thankfully, the days of the Diva are long gone and it finally looks like the days of WWE treating women like second class citizens are behind us. However, no amount of revolutions, Horsewomen and Iron Women matches can ever, ever erase the memories of this absolute piece of crap belt.
1 BEST: The Big Gold Belt
Because, come on, what else? The Big Gold Belt is the name given to the championship that has represented at least six different world titles in its history. Originally commissioned for Ric Flair in 1986, the title first represented the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and marked a step away from the more refined championships of the past and the dawning of a new era of showier, more elaborate championship designs. The belt moved to WCW after it Jim Crocket Promotions (the company that owned the title) was bought out by Ted Turner and transformed in WCW. The represented WCW’s world title right up until its closure in 2001, even making a brief appearance on WWE TV when Ric Flair jumped ship in 1991. The title then went to WWE after it bought out WCW, still under the name of “WCW Championship” until it was unified with the WWE title to create the Undisputed Championship. The belt remained a part of this title until a new Undisputed belt was created, but the title was revitalised in 2002, when Eric Bischoff presented the title to Triple H, crowning him the first ever World Heavyweight Champion. The title would exist in this form until 2013, when it would be once again unified with the WWE title to create the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The belt was retired in 2014 after a new, single belt was created for this new championship. Ric Flair was such a game changer when it came to characters in the world of pro wrestling and the fact that this title was made for him is apparent. The belt was like nothing ever seen before; big, bold, exciting, bright and served as a great metaphor for the change in direction that wrestling was undertaking at the time. Wanna know the reason that WWE championships have name plates or personalised side plates nowadays? It’s because the Big Gold Belt was the first championship to ever bear the name of its holder. That may seem like a small detail, but really, it’s revolutionary. The fact it’s been held by more legends that I have time to go into right now only adds to the magnitude of this great belt and, the day it retired, a little piece of wrestling history died with it. The first belt to ever really feel like a world championship and the benchmark for every other major title to come, the Big Gold Belt will always be my favourite wrestling championship and, if you think about it for long enough, I doubt any of you will be disagreeing with any time soon.
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