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Ruminations on midcard and/or gimmick championships


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so the AEW All Out Thread started to go off on a tangent about midcard championships, especially as they pertain to World Championship contendership/rankings etc, and it reminded me of my old bone to pick with WWF/E's 24/7 Championship, and it's predecessor the Hardcore Championship with the 24/7 provision.  That prompted me to start having thoughts about the philosophy behind midcard belts in general, especially ones with gimmicky rules.

And now I want to talk about that sort of thing but of course I don't want to derail an AEW PPV specific thread with a General Wrestling Discussion topic, so I guess I'll actually start a thread for the first time ever.

[here's the link to page 2 of the All Out thread as a primer on the discussion so far]
 


In theory, the WCW/NWA US Champion was automatically #1 contender to the World Champion.  In practice, the champion-vs-champion match rarely happened.  And it makes sense, because the champ-vs-champ match would keep interfering with whatever storyline the US champion was involved in as a defender, and in the long run that works against the purpose of having a secondary champion in the first place.  But of course, from a kayfabe standpoint, the US Champion would have the opposite priority:  they should be constantly attempting to leverage their US Championship into a World Championship bout for as long as they have it, with every obliged defense both distracting from this and imperiling it.  And this is the general problem with midcard/mid-tier championships, especially the more of them you have at one time: this threat of becoming a poison prize where holding it is more hassle than it's worth.

As best exemplified by my pet target, the WWF/E's 24/7 Championship.

[The Intercontinental Championship has often been a poison prize in practice, if not in theory, since whoever wins it invariably goes on a humiliating losing streak in non-title bouts that's supposed to build tension and uncertainty for the eventual championship defense but instead foments ambivalence because we keep seeing the champ be a loser throughout his championship run, but that's a complaint for another time.]

Okay, the 24/7 Championship.  Question:  why the hell would anyone want to win it?  The special stipulations of its defense establish it as more hassle than it's worth.  All it takes is a referee and 3 seconds of normal mortal human frailty on your part.  There's no down time and you're never safely "off the clock" from your job: you can get jumped any time, anywhere.  At the grocery store, on the toilet, during your own wedding, it doesn't matter.  MacBeth has murdered sleep by winning the 24/7 title and MacBeth shall sleep no more until he loses it.  After a while, the chance to sleep in peace has to be more than worth losing the belt on purpose.  Fuck this, take it, just leave me alone.

So there should be some established reward to justify why someone would struggle to retain the 24/7 championship through all that paranoia, or at least immediately jump back into the fray and regain it from the guy who just Small Packaged you at the gas station or whatever.  I keep suggesting the idea that whoever holds the 24/7 belt for the most total combined time over a given period should get some sort of booty prize (hence the motivation to beat the guy who just beat you ASAP), the obvious answer being some sort of guaranteed title bout akin to the MITB ladder match.  After all, MITB is a similar idea:  multi-man matches (battle royales) are traditionally promoted as extra dangerous because of how easily you can get blindsided. Ladder matches are also traditionally promoted as extra dangerous because falling off ladders is dangerous.  So a multi-man ladder match is extra extra dangerous, "Career-Threatening" or "Career Shortening".  Why would you put yourself at risk like that?  Because there's a guaranteed championship bout at stake, and furthermore a chance to make that title bout on your terms and/or in a scenario that favors you.  For a wrestler who for whatever kayfabe reason would not, under normal circumstances, ever have a realistic shot at earning a world championship bout (and thus, world champion money) a dark horse or long shot, it's plausible that the risk would be worth the reward.

There's no on-camera reason given how a championship subject to a 24/7 defense provision rewards the risk of pursuing it, though there should be.  And secondary/mid-card belts or other awards for winning special matches/tournaments often do.  It can be as simple as more-than-usual prize money.  Often was.  Because that works.  It's immediately relatable to the audience.  [God help ya if it's a trophy, though; that almost inevitably gets broken or stolen to set up your next feud]

Special rules and gimmicky defense provisions are also a great way to distinguish mid card belts from the main championship in a way that makes sense and explains why wrestlers involved in those title scenes are "written out" of the World Championship chase (which prevents the problem posed above by the US Champion being an automatic #1 contender).  If the rules and restrictions of defense are significantly different, it's thus understandable why a championship/ranking committee would not automatically assume that a given wrestler who is successful in one context is necessarily qualified to contend in another one.  I mean, think about it:  Tag Team Champions and Light Heavyweight/Cruiserweight Champions never pose this problem: the difference in rules/qualifications between their wrestling and the wrestling under which the world championship is contested is obvious.  They are "out of the line of succession" so to speak. But why shouldn't a good US or Intercontinental or TV champion also potentially make a good world champion, particularly since out-of-kayfabe often times the booker/booking staff very much does eventually want that good TV etc champion to be accepted as World Champion, just not quite yet?

Thus, in the old days of the weekly one hour television show being mostly squash matches and an extended commercial for the upcoming stadium show super card at The Omni, Madison Square Garden, The Mid-South Coliseum, etc. usually you'd only see the "World" Champion defend once a month at those big stadium shows [if you paid for a ticket to see them] hence the old selectively-remembered provision about the 30-Day Defense Clause.  The TV Champion, however, faced completely different obligations.  The TV champion would often have to defend on every episode of television, i.e. weekly.  Now, the offset to that was because TV was usually only an hour (maybe 90 minutes) and the TV show was subject to its own obligations and limitations due to the time slot, commercial breaks, and in-show promotional spots for that upcoming stadium show [hey look, it's why wrestlers talking shit about each other is called a promo! don't you just love etymology?], the TV Champion would benefit from the "TV Time Limit".  Usually 10 minutes, sometimes 15.  So the TV champion is obliged to defend his belt much more often than the world champion, but under less strenuous conditions that prevent him ever having to worry about being caught in a 60 minute broadway.  The TV championship is thus contested under literally different (albeit similar) wrestling match rules.  Which helps justify it's separate existence in the first place.  And why the TV champ, like the Tag champs, isn't necessarily entitled to challenge the World Champion.

[That last bit has the potential to be a really big problem as a promotion introduces more belts and potentially devalues each one.  And it's no coincidence, I think, that as the televised wrestling show and the Pay-Per-View took primacy over the semi-regular super house show at the big arena that "World" Championships became defended more often in TV Wrestling contexts and TV Championships largely became redundant and/or Jobber Belts before ultimately being phased out.  If you can see the World Champ on television, who needs a Television champion?]

When you adopt a conceit that there is an official Top 10 Ranking (whether you have a Vice-Champion like the US Champ locked into the #1 spot or not) there's extra value in getting more gimmicky with mid-tier championships (or other regular prizes) because this allows you a plausible way to periodically have someone "jump the line" and write yourself out of that corner you wrote yourself into with the public ranking chart in the first place.  "Wait, this guy's not the #1 contender.  He's not even in the top ten!  Either the champ is wasting our time by squashing a guy who's no threat or the ranking chart is totally fake & meaningless!  Either way I'm being bullshitted!"  This is the [largely untapped] promise of the Royal Rumble ever since it had the guaranteed Wrestlemania Title bout tied to it.  It becomes a lottery, and 30 guys have their more-or-less equal chance to hit the jackpot.  It's potentially very powerful narratively:  the one time all year anyone, no matter how much of an also-ran they usually are, can hop in Cinderella's carriage.  Guys who normally have no shot finally get their one and only chance:  what will they do?  How desperate will the measures they take be?  And if they ever actually had a Santino or a Heath Slater capitalize, just once every ten years or so, it'd be phenomenal instead of the academic coronation of one of the 3 or 4 guys who is prestigious enough to be in line for a title bout anyway.  Why not just have them ascend to challenger in a normal storyline?

But the Royal Rumble, the MITB, the King Of The Ring, the Bunkhouse Stampede, the Casino Battle Royale, and even gimmicky midcard championships allow you to "cheat" your set of rules when you need to break them without weakening them the rest of the time when you want them to matter.  I'm so glad other people cited Smoky Mountain's "Beat The Champ Challenge" where the Vice-Champion and presumptive #1 Contender to the big belt was designed to be a short-reign belt with lots of vacancies.  The obligatory defenses were finite and, once fulfilled, gave the holder access to the privileges of the distinction (getting to act on that #1 contender status)  What under normal circumstances is a bug of locking in your Vice Champ as top challenger to your main champion becomes a feature: the belt isn't cheapened by the lack of long, powerful reigns because it's supposed  to be fleeting and have high turnover.  If it's going to be presented as a gate way, have it act like one.


Okay I think I'm pretty punched out now so, yeah, share your thoughts on midcard/mid-tier championships here.  Which ones you like (or hate) and why, what you think they should be, how do you think is the best way to go about making them different from each other to cut down on the feeling that there's too many of them, how many is too many, so on and so on.

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I think the 24/7 belts in WWE and DDT were created because they were funny.  And they were.  Now it just seems like a reason to remember the existence of R-Truth.  

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Television titles were awesome during the territory days because they killed a lot of TV time and got your heel over as an asshole.  I remember the goldfish bowl of a thousand silver dollars that predates the television title idea but it was the same idea- the heel wrestles a lower card guy every week and it builds up to a upper card guy finagling his way to challenge for the 1000 dollars.  And BEFORE THAT, I remember Johnny Valentine in Mid-Atlantic pulling names out of goldfish bowl every week until one week when Ken Patera filled it with pieces of paper with "Ken Patera" written on them.  I will never forget Valentine's horror and exasperation.  That was good stuff.

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5 minutes ago, SirSmellingtonofCascadia said:

Doesn't having a title = more money in kayfabe? That's why you'd want to win one, even one as perilous as the 24/7 Hardcore Championship.

 that's what Matt D pointed out to me as the other way to publicly establish official stakes for it.  Every day you survive as champ you get X amount of money.  Of course one of the WWF/E's weird traditional Vinceisms has been to conspicuously avoid references to actual prize money as a motivation for winning vs losing and it's really too bad because the 24/7 title would really benefit from it.

Especially since it's fought over by R-Truth and other people at the perpetual comedy act/enhancement talent level.  Guys who obviously aren't going to ever make Champion Money any other way, so of course they'd subject themselves to the perpetual hunt of 24/7 if it was way beyond their usual pay level.

Maybe in the HHH era they'll get to mention the bonus money, that'd be nice.
 

10 minutes ago, DEAN said:

I think the 24/7 belts in WWE and DDT were created because they were funny.  And they were.  Now it just seems like a reason to remember the existence of R-Truth.  


well of course that's the real reason but lord help me I love a good Kayfabe Logic Exercise so here I am

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oh god imagine Heath Slater coming back to seize the 24/7 championship because the only way all his kids will be able to afford college is if he can hold on to the 24/7 belt for three months and then some complete shitbag bushwacks him during Heath Jr.'s little league game on Day 86 how great would that have been

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TV titles were also a way to get a semi competitive match on your show. Every few weeks, you can have Tully wrestle someone like Ronnie Garvin or Manny Fernandez and not just Denny Brown or Rocky King repeatedly. 

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29 minutes ago, odessasteps said:

TV titles were also a way to get a semi competitive match on your show. Every few weeks, you can have Tully wrestle someone like Ronnie Garvin or Manny Fernandez and not just Denny Brown or Rocky King repeatedly. 

Well, you build up to it by irritating the fans by having your heel just accept challenges from ham and eggers he knows he can beat.  THEN your babyface makes the irritation of the fans MANIFEST in a challenge for the belt.  Then you book an angle where the heel reluctantly accepts the match.  THEN you get Tully vs Dusty!

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1 hour ago, SirSmellingtonofCascadia said:

Doesn't having a title = more money in kayfabe? That's why you'd want to win one, even one as perilous as the 24/7 Hardcore Championship.

WWE actually did a pretty decent job of establishing that King of the Ring means more money with Baron Corbin. He talked about how he was able to live larger than his usual standard of living when he won it, overextended himself because he thought the gravy train wouldn't end and then became destitute once he lost the crown to Nakamura. Funny that they used that angle for the largely lame King of the Ring gimmick and not the IC or US title but I'll take good explanations and nuances like that in wrestling where I can get them.

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12 minutes ago, DEAN said:

Well, you build up to it by irritating the fans by having your heel just accept challenges from ham and eggers he knows he can beat.  THEN your babyface makes the irritation of the fans MANIFEST in a challenge for the belt.  Then you book an angle where the heel reluctantly accepts the match.  THEN you get Tully vs Dusty!

Tully and others would also do a thing at house shows where the TV title would be on the line for the first 10 minutes of the match but if he got pinned afterwards, the title didn't change hands. The reasoning was that the time limit in TV title matches was 10 minutes. A neat way for a heel champ to build heat by stalling or barely hanging on for 10 minutes, yet send the fans home somewhat happy as the face can win the match after the 10 minutes was up. Also a good way to establish a future challenger.

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gotta love it when said dirtbag TV champion chooses to bully the protege and/or blood relative of the color analyst or some other "retired" bigwig, and starts heckling the old timer as he repeatedly refuses to finish the pinfall and keeps pulling the poor humanoid up for another DDT/Piledriver/etc. until the legend has HAD ENOUGH

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Quote

In theory, the WCW/NWA US Champion was automatically #1 contender to the World Champion.  In practice, the champion-vs-champion match rarely happened.  And it makes sense, because the champ-vs-champ match would keep interfering with whatever storyline the US champion was involved in as a defender, and in the long run that works against the purpose of having a secondary champion in the first place.  But of course, from a kayfabe standpoint, the US Champion would have the opposite priority:  they should be constantly attempting to leverage their US Championship into a World Championship bout for as long as they have it, with every obliged defense both distracting from this and imperiling it.  And this is the general problem with midcard/mid-tier championships, especially the more of them you have at one time: this threat of becoming a poison prize where holding it is more hassle than it's worth.

There was a Flair/Luger match right after Flair lost the World Title to Sting where he fought Luger for the US title. The announcers kept saying that the reason Flair was targeting Luger was to win the US title and therefore be the defacto #1 contender to the World Title. One of the few times I remember that talking point being specifically called out.

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Flair would succeed with that gambit in 1996 when he beat Konnan for the US belt after losing the big gold to The Giant, but they never really brought up that #1 contender provision so it kinda came across like Flair was just slumming it while the "spend Randy Savage's money via Liz" angle was going on [and then the NWO invasion consumed everything]

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3 minutes ago, BobbyWhioux said:

Flair would succeed with that gambit in 1996 when he beat Konnan for the US belt after losing the big gold to The Giant, but they never really brought up that #1 contender provision so it kinda came across like Flair was just slumming it while the "spend Randy Savage's money via Liz" angle was going on [and then the NWO invasion consumed everything]

He did get the first shot at Hogan after Hogan beat The Giant at Road Wild. IIRC, they did bring up the fact that he got the first shot b/c he was the US champ.

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Arguably, any regional big belt in a territory was the #1 contender, be it US, American, Southern, North American, etc.  I remember not understanding why the Missouri Title of all things was "the stepping stone " to the NWA title until I learned about St Louis and Sam Muchnick. You can only learn much from the current Apter mags about history before having to get back issues (before the Internet). 

Edited by odessasteps
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17 minutes ago, BobbyWhioux said:

Flair would succeed with that gambit in 1996 when he beat Konnan for the US belt after losing the big gold to The Giant, but they never really brought up that #1 contender provision so it kinda came across like Flair was just slumming it while the "spend Randy Savage's money via Liz" angle was going on [and then the NWO invasion consumed everything]

Flair doesn't even walk out with it half the time after winning it.

He gets his title shot against Hogan at the Clash, it ends inconclusively, and then it's less than an afterthought until Flair ends up vacating it a few months later. I'm not sure that he defends it on PPV before vacating it, actually. 

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1 hour ago, BobbyWhioux said:

 that's what Matt D pointed out to me as the other way to publicly establish official stakes for it.  Every day you survive as champ you get X amount of money.  Of course one of the WWF/E's weird traditional Vinceisms has been to conspicuously avoid references to actual prize money as a motivation for winning vs losing and it's really too bad because the 24/7 title would really benefit from it.

Back in the 80s, this was mostly expressed by just Gorilla and Jesse.

 

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1 hour ago, odessasteps said:

Arguably, any regional big belt in a territory was the #1 contender, be it US, American, Southern, North American, etc.  I remember not understanding why the Missouri Title of all things was "the stepping stone " to the NWA title until I learned about St Louis and Sam Muchnick. You can only learn much from the current Apter mags about history before having to get back issues (before the Internet). 

HA!  I remember reading that exact Apter mag as a kid.  Small world.

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1 hour ago, odessasteps said:

Arguably, any regional big belt in a territory was the #1 contender, be it US, American, Southern, North American, etc.  I remember not understanding why the Missouri Title of all things was "the stepping stone " to the NWA title until I learned about St Louis and Sam Muchnick. You can only learn much from the current Apter mags about history before having to get back issues (before the Internet). 

Actually in boxing/MMA guys will fight for smaller regional belts. promotions before moving on the major leagues, also going WAY back the lightheavy weight champ was often looked as the unofficial #1 contender to the Heavyweight crown. So that could be used to day, don't make it official but have it looked as you US/IC belt is the "next in line", this guys on the way up

Personally I think WMIII is the best us of a secondary title. Educate your audience to expect something else from your other belt. yhea Hogan v Andre was more storyline centric but you knew Savage v Steamboat would deliver workrate (and even going back to Santana and Valentine you always got a little bit more workrate underneath Hogan) Or when Hogan was feuding w/ Sting in WCW you had stuff like Benoit v Booker for the TV title

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16 hours ago, BobbyWhioux said:

Of course, from a kayfabe standpoint, the US Champion should be constantly attempting to leverage their US Championship into a World Championship bout for as long as they have it, with every obliged defense both distracting from this and imperiling it. 

Steve Austin's 1994 US Title run was fantastic because he was constantly trying to get a World Title shot from Flair.  That's the best example i remember seeing where it was so well played out.

15 hours ago, BobbyWhioux said:

 Maybe in the HHH era they'll get to mention the bonus money, that'd be nice.

plus, with Cody on the roster, we might actually get to hear "pay window"

14 hours ago, SirSmellingtonofCascadia said:

Flair gets his title shot against Hogan at the Clash, it ends inconclusively, and then it's less than an afterthought until Flair ends up vacating it a few months later. I'm not sure that he defends it on PPV before vacating it, actually. 

just once! at Hog Wild, he defends against Eddie Guerrero. 

 

 

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The WWF Intercontinental Championship is my favourite secondary championship ever as a lifelong fan of wrestling since 5. I think about Bret Hart first and foremost vs. Mr Perfect at SummerSlam 1991, vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper at WrestleMania X and the British Bulldog at SummerSlam 1992. To a much lesser degree, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. Sucked seeing the decline in the late 1990s, 2000s and 2010s with the exceptions of Randy Orton in 2003-2004, Chris Jericho vs. Rey Mysterio in 2009 and The Miz in 2016. Am I drawing a blank on someone?

I do like how Triple H since taking over creative has treat the WWE Intercontinental Championship and WWE United States Championship with video packages and matches getting prominent positioning.:

 

The WWE Intercontinental Championship will be defended at Clash at the Castle as GUNTHER defends vs. Sheamus, first time it's made a PPV/PLE since WrestleMania XXXVII. Thanks, Trips!

NJPW stupidly got rid of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. A rare secondary championship that meant something and legitimately headlined shows. The NEVER Openweight Championship and IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship are pale comparisons though I have more time for the former than the latter.

The AEW TNT Championship meant a lot through Cody, the late great Mr Brodie Lee, Darby Allin and Miro which makes this year so frustrating with the Cody/Sammy Guevara/Scorpio Sky shite. Hopefully the prestige can be brought back through Wardlow. Tony Khan has shit the bed with his handling of the TNT Championship.

The TNA X Division Championship from say 2002-2007 was the highlight of programming thanks to AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe and Jerry Lynn.

We didn't get as much WCW compared to WWF. My first experience with WCW came from the few videotapes on sale then we got Monday Night Nitro/Thunder. I couldn't warm to the WCW United States Championship, I preferred the WCW World Television Championship.

I liked the ECW World Television Championship thanks to Taz, Bam Bam Bigelow and Rob Van Dam's really long reign that ended by injury requring a vacation.

Glad ROH brought back the ROH Pure Championship. Stupid decision to get rid.

Long post I know. Thanks to those who made it to the end!

Edited by The Natural
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4 hours ago, twiztor said:

 

just once! at Hog Wild, he defends against Eddie Guerrero. 

 

 

I just saw this match a couple of weeks ago and forgot it happened. They had a much better match on Nitro a few weeks before this one. 

But yeah, the secondary titles really flounder once the nWo gets started. The Tag Titles will be hot for awhile when the Outsiders capture them at Halloween Havoc, but those are eventually ignored as well. Only the TV and Cruiserweight Championships are booked generally well until 1999, when everything goes haywire and nothing is booked well at all, IIRC. 

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5 hours ago, The Natural said:

The WWF Intercontinental Championship is my favourite secondary championship ever as a lifelong fan of wrestling since 5. I think about Bret Hart first and foremost vs. Mr Perfect at SummerSlam 1991, vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper at WrestleMania X and the British Bulldog at SummerSlam 1992. To a much lesser degree, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. Sucked seeing the decline in the late 1990s, 2000s and 2010s with the exceptions of Randy Orton in 2003-2004, Chris Jericho vs. Rey Mysterio in 2009 and The Miz in 2016. Am I drawing a blank on someone?

I would say Kurt as The Euro-Contiental champ in 2001. Leads to a big three way where he loses both belts but isn't in the decision for either fall so he can claim he's still undefeated

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Lots of good points mentioned in this thread, perhaps all of them. I’ll add one more time when the US Champion just threw his hands up and reminded everybody he was first in line to get a shot at the World Champion. It all started in Luger’s GOAT interview ever that has been posted before if you remember.

He was more just reminding everybody who was first in line at the time, then formally challenged Flair months later. We all know why that happened but I wonder what the actual plans were with Luger attempting to muck that all up even though he had the US belt. They probably didn’t know that all 3 of the other guys Sting, Funk, and Steamboat were fixing to be gone. So that would have been a bigger than usual World Title picture. 

Also RVD challenging Mike Awesome on TNN was the GOAT ECW moment ftw. It’s a shame it was all over days later. Yeah that happened and it was epic. But it was over so fast nobody remembers. 

 

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