The significance of being champion

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September 11, 2012

Pecking order

Two weeks ago on Raw, CM Punk referenced a "pecking order" in WWE. While declaring his title to be the ne plus ultra of sports-entertainment, The Second City Saint told Sheamus that holding the World Heavyweight Championship makes The Celtic Warrior No. 2, at best. Regardless of Punk’s bold assertion, there is no denying that the two World Titles stand out above the other championships.

Apart from those titles, however, there are still four other championship scenes, each with a full line of contenders — both real and wannabe — champing at the bit to get their taste of championship gold.

Winning a title indicates superiority over a class of competitors, and it is also a sign of advancement. Without secondary and tertiary singles titles, such as the Intercontinental and United States Championships, it would be that much more difficult to establish a hierarchy within the WWE locker room. Too often, the import of a secondary titleholder is overlooked. Superstars use those championships as measuring sticks to chart their growth as competitors.

"If you become World Champion or United States Champion or Intercontinental Champion — whatever that title may be — it is a progression of your inner self, your inner strength [and] the ability to overcome obstacles," Finlay said.

Besides being considered one of the hardest-working champions in the mat game (Superstars such as Shawn Michaels have referred to the Intercontinental Title as the locker room workhorses’ title), the Intercontinental Champion has long been considered the presumptive top contender to the WWE Champion. It was as the reigning Intercontinental Champion that Ultimate Warrior won the WWE Title in 1990. In total, 17 Superstars who have held the Intercontinental Championship have gone on to win a WWE Championship later in their career.

Holding the Intercontinental Title positions a Superstar to be next in line for a WWE Title or World Heavyweight Title opportunity, according to WWE Producer Road Dogg, a former Intercontinental Champion and five-time World Tag Team Champion.

"It definitely puts you on the next rung right under the World Champion," he said. Though he considers his run with the now-defunct Hardcore Championship to be his favorite title reign and he modestly suggests his ring work was not up to par with his Intercontinental Champion predecessors, Road Dogg points out that his 14-day Intercontinental Championship was especially meaningful because it was a singular accomplishment.

That is not to discount the significance of winning a championship as one-half of a tag team. The requirements to be a successful tag team wrestler are unique. To excel in tag team competition, Superstars must be able to work with their partner and rely on somebody else’s performance, “rather than relying on yourself,” Finlay added.

The Belfast Bruiser’s insight begs the question: Can Kane & Daniel Bryan, the No.1 contenders to WWE Tag Team Champions R-Truth & Kofi Kingston, get on the same page long enough to become champions?

Tandem accomplishment or not, winning the World Tag Team Title for the first time was the cause for much celebration for Road Dogg in 1997. Much to the chagrin of New Age Outlaw partner Billy Gunn, Road Dogg was so proud of the win that he wore his Tag Team Title while walking through the airport in Atlanta. He never passed up an opportunity to boast about his championship gold because, as he put it, “It was symbolic of, ‘Hey, you’re the best tag team going right now,’ and it hit me in my heart."

"I propped [the title] up in the back of the car as we traveled so all the other wrestlers would see it," Road Dogg confessed. “I had a bit of fun at everybody else’s expense.”

Holding a championship comes with no shortage of perils, but it also has its perks. The pay is better and the flight seating is cushier, Road Dogg explained.

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