I have been thing a lot about championship belts in wrestling because of my own going conversation with K. Sawyer Paul on the International Object podcast.  I might be writing some things here that are obvious, but I was always taught to start with basic questions.  Sometimes when we assume that everyone has the same understand we uncover basic issues that most people miss. 

Why does wrestling have Belts?

The first question I have to ask is why are their wrestling belts?  Of the three types of sports championships, Season, Event, and Challenge, belts are the main trophy for winning challenge sports.  Right now combat sports, boxing and MMA are the sports that use belts.  I cannot even think of other sports that use a challenge championships.  At one time the Stanley Cup was a challenge championship, but leagues and seasons has taken over the sports landscape. 

In America all spectator sports are about finding how who is the best.  There are no Friendlies in US sports.  No one in the US would care about how their favorite HNL team played a team from Czech 1.liga, Kontinental Hockey League, or Swedish Elite League because it would not mean anything on trying to get the Stanley Cup. 

Championships mean everything in American sports.  Even in team sports, if you don't win a title, you can be the greatest of all time. 

Here we have three reasons here why belts are using in pro wrestling.  They want to use the metaphor of a combat sports, belts tell us who the best wrestler is (in storyline at least), and bets frame the story.  It gives the audience something to root for every month.

What is the problem with Belts?

There is nothing wrong with belts as a concept, but belt can be a crutch for poor story telling.  Often a belt itself is the only reason two wrestlers are fighting.  The problem comes when the motivation for holding the belt is not well defined.  Right now in the WWE, it is hard to say why anyone wants a belt.  It is not clear if holding the belt gives the wrestler any benefit. 

The second problem becomes if belts becomes the only motivation for feuds.   If the only reason everyone competes is to win a belt or be in a position to win a belt, that makes the stories less interesting.  It limits the scope of the storytelling.  The counter intuitive thing is that when the belts are the only motivation it makes the belts and the stories around them less interesting.

The Benefits of Belts

In the world of boxing belts work because boxers can hold bets from different sanctioning bodies at the same time.  If a boxer is holding multiple titles, it does not mean every title is on the line at the same time.  Belt can do a good job for sports with lots of different bodies.

In the territory era and in the current indie wrestling scene belts are a good cross promotional tool.  Coming into a promotion with a belt from another promotion can help establish a wrestler and help the fans accept them.  Both the wrestler and the other promotion can be elevated in the eyes of the fans. 

Why Can't Wrestling Get Rid of Belts?

Because other combat sports use belts and wrestling has used belts for so long, belts are really easy to understand.  A viewer coming back to TNA or WWE after time away don't need belts explained to them.  Even a first time viewer understand the idea of a belt very easily.  Everyone has heard of championship belts so you don't have to do much education. 

From time to time promotions have tried other types of championship systems.  Event championships like King of the Ring, Royal Rumble, The Jim Crockett, Sr. Memorial Cup, and the King of Trios are easy to understand.  I like these kinds of events that any viewer can just jump into.  None of these types of tournaments could replace a championship.  Other kinds of tournaments like the TNA X Cup are convoluted and hard to understand.  The problem is that the announcers have to keep repeating how the point systems work.

The truth is I cannot see a promotion without a champion of some sort.  There must be some sort of reward for wrestling.  If there is no reward the audience will not believe the motivation.   It also would break the metaphor of sports. 

If Not Belts, What? 

I could see a promotion that had 3 or 4 PPVs or big events a year only having event titles.  It would look like the PGA Golf Tour or Tennis APT Tour.  The problem with this system is that every big event would become a tournament.  I think that might be even more limiting in story telling in the long run.  I would love to see how this works over a few years. 

You could have a year long pursuit for a championship like a sports league.  Think of it as Wrestlemania as really the Superbowl.  The problem with a system like that is what do you do with the eliminated wrestlers at the big show?  Do they just have runner up matches? 

Making a new system can help make wins and loses important.  It also might reduce how flexible the writers can be.  The WWE does not like to constrain what their writers can do in the future.  They want to be able to get rid of the rules whenever it suits them.  I think this idea alienates the fans, but hey they are the WWE. 

Let me know if you think there are any ideas you think I am missing. 


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