Simply because it's represented by a shiny gold belt, a wrestling championship should mean something. It should say that you are at the top of your profession and you hold the most important trophy to prove it. This isn’t always the case.
There is the most important championship in any wrestling company, the world heavyweight title and any other title is No. 2. Unless, of course, the company has a third title. Or a fourth. Or it has titles that can only be fought by certain people or under certain conditions. When you’re the WCW Women’s Cruiserweight Champion, are you saying little more than, “I weigh the least of the four women who work for WCW?” A championship has to mean the person holding it is special, not simply that they fit the casting description.
A championship also has to have a reason to exist. As this list will show, far too often a promoter’s motivation for creating a new title is that a new wrestler is going to debut and giving them a new belt is easier than spending months building them up in the fans eyes. When a wrestler creates their own title (Taz, Ted Dibiase) it’s a quirk of their character, when a company does, it’s more transparent than the push Roman Reigns got leading into WrestleMania 31.
There are things that cannot be considered recognizable championships, such as the self-created belts of some wrestlers mentioned above, winning The King of the Ring, just about any independent organization’s titles and Ric Flair’s pixilated belt during his first WWF stint.
Most of the most useless championships in the history of wrestling are just memories, as they should be. Sadly though, there are still championships out there that shouldn’t have been retired a long time ago. They mean nothing other than another piece of luggage for the champion-of-the-moment to carry around. When a championship is little more than a prop, it is useless. Here are 15 such props:
15 WWE Hardcore Championship
It was a favorite among fans for most of its 1998-2002 existence, but one must wonder if it was Vince McMahon’s way of letting fans know that the hardcore style of wrestling was just a fad. The belt was first given to Mick Foley (then playing the Mankind character) by Mr. McMahon as a way to shut him up. In 1998, when ECW was making waves with their hardcore matches, this title was a way to feed off fans’ desire for the use of tables, chairs, trash cans, etc. It devolved into little more than a prop for comedy when the 24/7 rule was added, stipulating the champion could be pinned at anywhere, anytime and lose the title. This led to title changes in airports, parking lots and even one of those pits with the little colored balls kids jump in. ECW folded in 2001, hardcore ran its course and the title was retired in 2002.
14 WCW Six-Man Tag Team Championship
This is not to be confused with the NWA Six-Man Tag Team Championship, which was designed as a belt that three-man teams like The Fabulous Freebirds or The Russians held. This title lasted all of 10 months in 2001 and while a watered-down version of The Freebirds held it (Michael Hayes, Jimmy Garvin and Badstreet) the six-man tag team championship was never a priority for WCW programming and was held by teams of wrestlers who just couldn’t get their single careers to click. Nowhere was this more obvious than with the grouping of Big Josh, Tom Zenk and Dustin Rhodes, who held the titles 64 days. It was quietly abandoned in December of 2001.
13 World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship
When Vince McMahon Sr. was able to procure the services of Japanese wrestling legend Antonio Inoki, he knew some of the fans had seen his fight against Muhammad Ali, but McMahon wanted to ensure everyone knew what a big deal Inoki actually was in Japan. So, he invented the WWWF World Martial Arts Heavyweight Championship and gave it to Inoki in 1978. The Japanese legend held the belt with pride in his home country and defended it on his infrequent trips to the United States. With the exception of one month in 1989, Inoki held this title its entire lifespan until it was retired in 1990.
12 WWE Canadian Heavyweight Championship
Eastern Canada, particularly Toronto and Montreal, were popular stops on the Northeast loop when the WWE was taken over by Vince McMahon from his father. He figured signing existing Lutte International Canadian champion Dino Bravo would be a good business move, and to lend Bravo credibility, McMahon let the Canadian strongman continue to carry the belt from the other organization, provided at WWE shows it would be called the WWE Canadian Heavyweight Championship. Bravo was loved at home, but played the bad guy most of the time in the U.S., so the title was never defended, and rarely mentioned, to the American audience. The title was dropped without a word when Bravo was moved to the tag team division.
11 AWA America’s Championship
Maybe this was the American Wrestling Association’s answer to the WWE’s Intercontinental Title or NWA’s United States Title, but this championship served as little more than another red, white and blue bauble in Sgt. Slaughter’s collection. After winning the title from Larry Zbyszko, it simply gave more proof that Slaughter was patriotic, somewhat like the way John Cena has presented the WWE U.S. Title in recent times. In this AWA stint, Slaughter only lasted a year and when he left, the belt left with him. Upon his return in 1988, no mention was made of the championship.
10 WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship
Princess Victoria and Velvet McIntyre, the reigning NWA Women’s Tag Team Champions, left that company still on top, popping up in the WWE in May 1983 with the belts in hand. Promoters decided since they had title belts, they might as well be called the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions and began defending that title upon arrival. Ironically, the first belts being presented as WWE ones, were still the old NWA ones and read “NWA Worlds Lady Wrestlers Tag Team Champions.” The only real attention these titles ever received were from a brief feud between The Jumping Bomb Angels and The Glamour Girls in 1988.
9 WCW United States Tag Team Championship
The formula for wrestling companies through the 1980s and early 1990s seemed to be that the biggest star, regardless of ability, was the champion. The best wrestler, however, would hold the secondary belt. Never was that more true than the WCW United States Tag Team Championship. The list is a who’s who of great technical teams such as The Midnight Express, The Fantastics and The Varsity Club, but they were all admittedly duos that lacked the charisma of teams like The Road Warriors, The Steiner Brothers and The Nasty Boys, who were World Tag Team champions at the time. WCW dumped these belts not long after pulling away from the NWA.
8 WCW Women’s Cruiserweight Championship
In 1997, when WWE thought so little of women’s wrestling that they didn’t even have a division, the WCW went in the opposite direction and decided that one women’s individual title wasn’t enough, so they created a cruiserweight version. It seemed like a good idea to someone running the show at the time, but the belt was ignored almost as quickly as it was created. A short tournament was held to determine the first champion, who ended up being Toshie Uematsu. The finals of the tournament weren’t even shown on Monday Nitro and despite two title changes in Japan, before deactivation, WCW never mentioned it on television before it was retired in late 1997, only six months after it was born.
7 WWE North American Heavyweight Championship
There’s a trend in looking at defunct titles from the 1970s and 80s in that many of them were created to help build-up a new wrestler and disappeared after being won by a Japanese wrestler and the WWE North American Heavyweight Championship is no better example. Created in 1979, it was won by Ted DiBiase in a one-night tournament in Allentown, Pennsylvania, shortly after he joined the company. He dropped it four months later to Pat Patterson, who lost it to a Japanese wrestler a few months later. Patterson went on to be the first Intercontinental Champion shortly thereafter, leaving this championship as little more than a footnote in wrestling history.
6 WWE Junior Heavyweight Championship
This is just one of the many titles that shows the WWE have never known how to present smaller wrestlers. It was won by Johnny DeFazio in 1967, rarely mentioned, and disappeared when DeFazio retired in 1972. It was reintroduced in 1978, but was quickly shipped off to Japan. Another attempt was made to resurrect it in 1982, but was only defended in Japan before it was officially dropped in 1985. Later, WWE had a light heavyweight title, but devoid of Japanese high-fliers or luchadores, it was just a belt for small guys that fizzled. The company’s last foray into a lightweight title came when it absorbed the WCW cruiserweight belt upon WWE purchasing WCW.
5 WCW Cruiserweight Tag Team Championship
In the dying days of WCW, just about everything was thrown against the wall by promoters to see what would stick, but this championship never really got a chance considering it existed for only eight days. The titles were won in a tournament by Elix Skipper and Kid Romeo (Who? And who?) on March 18th, 2001. They lost the titles one week later on March 26th, although it wasn’t really big news that night. The bigger news was that WWE had purchased WCW. Some of the titles went along for the ride, but as stated in No. 6, the WWE has never had a good track record with smaller wrestlers, so they kicked these cruiserweight belts to the curb. Somewhere, likely a WWE warehouse, these belts sit. With so little wear and tear, they probably look as good as new!
4 NWA Western States Heritage Championship
Because nothing says “champ” like a belt with a convoluted name like Western States Heritage Championship. Technically an NWA belt, it existed solely as another title within World Championship Wrestling. This was prior to WCW breaking away from the NWA following its purchase by Ted Turner. The Internet Wrestling Community has come up with a lot of theories as to why the title was created, but aside from a six-month run with the belt by Barry Windham, the only person to hold the championship was Larry Zbyszko. Ironically, Zbyszko won the title in New York...and not even the western part. The title was abandoned when Zbyszko left WCW for the AWA. So much for it’s heritage.
3 AWA Brass Knuckles Championship
In the 1980s, brass knuckles were the most popular foreign object for a wrestler to use to knockout his opponent and score the victory. It’s a little troubling considering many of the states they were used in actually outlawed the real-life weapon. Thankfully the use of the foreign object (or international object as WCW called them) has disappeared, but back in 1979 and 1980, two men held the AWA Brass Knuckles Championship. Designed to highlight who the toughest of the tough guys were in the territory, it’s largely become a footnote in history. An independent organization tried to revive the title in 2005, but its fate was similar to that of its forerunner. Maybe the moral of the story to promoters everywhere is that naming your championships after deadly weapons is just a bad idea.
2 WWE Intercontinental Championship
People point to the Attitude Era as a high point for wrestling, but if you’re a fan of championships and what titles are supposed to mean, the Attitude Era tarnished them forever. The WWE has done an OK job rebuilding what it means to be a world champion with lengthy reigns from CM Punk, Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins, but the Intercontinental Title never recovered. It’s merely a prop. The title used to mean, “Someday this person will be a world champion” and looking at the list of older former champions (Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels) it was true. These days the message is almost “This person will never be a world champion.” That list, including Ryback, Bad News Barrett and Luke Harper certainly drives that point home.
1 TNA World Heavyweight Championship
It would almost be correct to say, “Any world title TNA has ever had,” but that seems a little mean. Never in the history of professional wrestling has so much money been sunk into a company with so little return. From house shows that draw less fans than a local indy to the inability to keep a television network, anybody who tries to convince you that TNA has been anything but a failure is lying to you. Imagine if Paul Heyman had the money Dixie Carter has wasted. ECW would still be alive as the No. 2 national organization, not this hot mess. The World Championship has been held by guys like Sting, Mick Foley and Jeff Hardy, but it’s hard to believe that it’s going to be anywhere near the top of their accomplishments when all is said and done.