PWP Nation’s Zak Fellows takes on the daunting task of giving his thoughts on the new WWE Universal Championship.
Another wrestling weekend of fun and fault has passed us and, once again, fans have united against a complaint… almost like something to be arbitrarily angry at for the week, but let’s not be cynical.
The first WWE Universal Champion was crowned on Sunday as Finn Balor, whom unfortunately due to injury was forced to vacate the title the next night, defeated Seth Rollins to begin the lineage of the new top title for Raw. Now, I know that I myself have little interest in this new title simply due to my own personal belief that having two world titles will ultimately cause problems in perception of wrestlers holding it and how WWE’s first instinct to getting a wrestler over with the audience is to throw one of a dozen belts on them and hope for the best see also Sheamus’ initial insurgence. I don’t believe the Brand Split is necessary to begin with though, so any attempt to return to the structure and look of the first one will naturally cause either indifference or rolled eyes.
However, the big controversy, which in wrestling terms means us fans complaining about something before moving on to talking about Roman Reigns for five hours, after SummerSlam closed was the design of the Universal title belt. Fans have, generally, reacted in belief that the belt shows laziness on the part of WWE in giving the belt its own distinct identity and it just, aesthetically, not looking appealing in the same manner as the infamous WWE Divas Championship Butterfly and the John Cena Spinner Belt.
The criticism of the belt was so strong that it ultimately overshadowed the decent effort put in by Rollins and Balor to usher in the title. So with that said
“Does the Design of a championship matter?”
Before truly asking this question we need to look at the design of a championship and its place in wrestling history and its fandom. Being a fan of professional wrestling allows us to become exposed to certain elements and aspects that go into making a wrestling product and, as such, we gravitate towards appealing aspects that we come to hold in high regard. This can take the shape of deeper qualities like storylines, matches and characters, which often require a longer look at to truly grasp and enjoy it to the fullest, to the more aesthetical points such as Set Design, Logos and, of course, Championship Belts.
Over the course of history, we come to associate certain belts and its design with specific points in time: The WWE Winged Eagle championship we associate as one of the more enduring title designs from Hulk Hogan to Bret Hart to Shawn Michaels to ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and, through that continuing design, we group each of those holders together by the same belt. To use another example: The Big Gold Belt which served as the basis for WWE’s second World Title introduced during the initial Brand Split. Despite technically being under a different lineage and title history, the design of the belt still connects to the lineage of which it originated: Ric Flair, Sting and Goldberg held the same belt that Batista, Edge and Rey Mysterio would end up holding.
These designs, even the Intercontinental Championship design brought back in 2011, are held in such high regard that merely showing them to an audience elicits a reaction owing to its long standing place in wrestling history as an accolade. In that regard, yes the Universal Title could potentially be viewed as lacking its own identity by fans and critics even if it is considered a design choice as a part of a broader plan for belt design in the future. Especially when you compare to the very distinct and memorable designs of titles that fans know from the get go which is which.
Those other belts I mentioned have the ever present subjectivity of the cool factor, something which majority of fans believe the Universal Title lacks: After all, replica belt sales are big business for WWE and other promotions. Although having the WWE World, Universal and Women’s Title belts being similar means that WWE can sell more Side Plates, which admittedly are always neat looking.
So, while I can see where the complaints about the Universal Title designs have merit, I believe that it ultimately will be concluded as a frivolous complaint. Like Set Design, production and all that stuff, it is, conclusively, the product in the ring that matters and the matches are what make or break a title. To put it bluntly, the Universal Championship is a title that has no connection or basis in history, like the World Heavyweight Championship, and right there its importance starts at nothing. How do you build up a strong title that make people gravitate towards it and want to see their favorite hold it? Strong Contenders, Strong Champions, Strong Storylines and Strong Matches.
Even before we knew what the Title was or looked like, people were interested in the match because it featured two great wrestlers in Rollins and Balor and, despite the negative reaction towards the title design before, during and after the match, when Finn Balor did win the title, people were cheering for him and chanting in his favor. THAT shows proof that fans will buy into a belt, regardless of how it looks, when they are being given a good product.
To accentuate this point with another example, The WWE Spinner Belt. I am, for the most part, ok with the title design but I know that a lot of people don’t like it. But, despite the spinner belt design, fans still recognised it as the top championship that represented the top guy, the upper echelon of WWE Superstar. If they didn’t, fans wouldn’t want to see their guy hold it as the WWE Championship was still delivering the quality you would come to expect, even if the centre does spin.
The Lineage and the Importance remained…50 years of WWE Title history doesn’t go away with a certain belt design.
So does the design of the title matters? The answers Yes and No. It does matter in the sense that fans will come to recognise certain designs with points in history and the product at the time and for the overall cool factor. But…it is not the deal breaker. When we are watching matches for a title, the aesthetic surrounding a design will not ultimately become the deal breaker in getting us invested in the match, the story and the characters.
Honestly…if the matches are good who cares what the belt looks like? When I look back at Jeff Hardy’s purple TNA Title it doesn’t suck because it looks silly by comparison to other belts…it sucks because the matches were garbage.
[Zak Fellows can’t help ripping on TNA.]
What a damn shame about Finn Balor seriously.
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