The WWE Championship is a title steeped in history. It has been at the centre of some of wrestling’s greatest moments. It was considered to be the top honour but over the years the prestige of being champion seems to have diminished from the multiple changes. Some of that prestige was recently rescued when WWE put the championship on one of it’s most popular and controversial superstars, CM Punk. However, since Punk dropped the title, I believe the prestige of the championship has been bought into question again, and there is a risk it may have already lost that prestige that WWE worked hard to build back up.
Back in the early days of WWF, the champion always seemed to have a lengthy reign and would travel and defend his title against whoever came. Reigns as champion could last anywhere from a year, right up to in the case of Bruno Sammartino, a staggering 11 years as WWWF Champion and 7 years, 8 months and 4 days as WWE Champion. Being champion was an honour and the fans were never always wondering when the next title change would come, not expecting it to perhaps happen, and making the title change more significant when it happened.
There were not many short title reigns back in the WWF, but there are 2 that immediately spring to my mind. One of them was Undertaker’s first WWE Championship win in 1991 by defeating Hulk Hogan at Survivor Series thanks to help from Ric Flair, only for Hogan to win the belt back 6 days later at Tuesday in Texas, only for him to be stripped of the title the next day. However I don’t feel this hurt the championship given the way both matches ended. The starting point for me came with Hogan’s win at Wrestlemania 9 over Yokozuna, following Yokozuna just defeating Bret Hart for the WWE Championship. Whilst it has a great feel good factor, this hurt the championship’s credibility as it felt this was more about Hogan getting back on top.
Other instances such as Bob Backlund’s 3 day reign occurred, but then came the Attitude Era, which saw multiple changes of champion in short periods. Bret Hart lost the championship after a 1 day reign in 1997, Kane held the championship for 1 day in 1998, and The Rock held it for 2 days in 1999. This devalued the championship to a point where the change meant nothing, it was just a belt around someone’s waist. But between 1996 and 2002 when the Attitude Era is said to have spanned, there were over 40 championship changes. That is more than from 1963 when the first WWE Champion was recognised as Buddy Rogers, up to the start of 1997. Things didn’t get much better after 2002, as from 2003 up to the start of CM Punks 434 reign in November 2011, there were over 40 changes, including at No Mercy in October 2007 when Vince McMahon made Randy Orton champion, for him to lose it to Triple H, only for Orton to win it back the same night. The multiple changes of the championship over such a short period of time really hurt it’s prestige and meaning further, making it almost seem like nothing more than just a big piece of gold someone carried around.
This can easily be summed up with when CM Punk defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank in July 2011. Punk had ‘left’ the company in storyline so the next night, Vince McMahon made a tournament for a new champion, which saw Rey Mysterio win the WWE Championship, only for him to lose the belt minute later to John Cena. Once again, this was WWE’s way of making sure Cena was on top for them, while in the fans eyes Punk was the true champion. Punk returned to face Cena to crown an undisputed champion, a match that CM Punk won at Summerslam 2011, only for Alberto Del Rio to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and walk out WWE Champion. Once again, multiple title switches in such a short time made the championships value drop and drop further.
Fortunately in November 2011, CM Punk won back the WWE Championship, and went on a now historic 434 day reign as WWE Champion, making him the longest reigning WWE Champion in the modern era of WWE. This was the first time someone had held the championship for a period of over a year since John Cena held the championship for 380 days back in September 2006 to October 2007. The reign of CM Punk was significant not only for this reason, but for the fact that having a champion have such a long run with the belt meant fans didn’t just expect the title to change 3 months down the line. Punk even fought off John Cena and his Money in the Bank briefcase, something that normally guaranteed the holder a run as champion. Prestige and meaning returned to the championship at this point, purely because it wasn’t being passed around from one guy to another. It was a significant step forward for WWE, and was hopefully a sign of changing times.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and CM Punk dropped the championship to The Rock at the 2013 Royal Rumble. Now, I have no problem with the fact Punk lost the championship, he was never going to hold it forever. However, dropping it to a talent we knew was not going to defend that championship more than once before Wrestlemania, where everyone knew he would be facing and dropping the title to John Cena, really was a slap in the face to Punk’s hard work and to the fans who saw what was clearly coming. It would not undo the hard work that had been put in to making the title relevant again, but it certainly made people question whether WWE were serious about making sure the championship remained relevant.
Then came WWE’s latest storyline involving the WWE championship with Daniel Bryan. John Cena had been WWE Champion going into Summerslam 2013 following his victory at Wrestlemania over The Rock, while Daniel Bryan had become the most popular superstar in WWE and was having the best matches of anyone on the roster. Going into the match there was a feeling Bryan was going to win, and the reaction to his victory was mind blowing, however no one expected Triple H, who acted as special referee between Cena and Bryan, to turn on Bryan by hitting him with a Pedigree and allowing Randy Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Bryan and Orton recently faced of at Night of Champions, where Bryan defeated Orton, albeit with a fast count from the referee, which lead to Bryan being stripped of the championship the following night on WWE Raw. The two men will now face off in a match for the championship at WWE Battleground in October, but if Bryan comes out the victor again does this mean we will see him again robbed of the championship?
I feel WWE are playing with fire here and making the championship irrelevant. Following CM Punk’s historic 434 day reign it seems WWE has forgotten the significance of this to both the performer and the championship itself. The fact is there have been 4 changes involving that championship in the last month, which is clearly going to damage the prestige it regained further if either Bryan or Orton do not hold the championship for a significant period of time following WWE Battleground. A change within the first 2 months will certainly further devalue the championship, and for me would see a return to WWE’s mentality of putting the belt on whoever they feel at the time.
As always, I look forward to reading your opinions on this matter and whether or not you feel the WWE Championship has been devalued recently or over the years? Do you have a different thought to me on this? Do you feel WWE have already destroyed the legacy and prestige CM Punk bought back to the WWE Championship? I look forward, as ever, to seeing your thoughts on this subject.