The 10 most beautiful titles in sports-entertainment history
Most talk about sports-entertainment championships centers on the Superstars and Divas who held them and the epic encounters they went through to win them. But what about the titles themselves? Superstars spend their careers trying to get their hands on these elusive prizes, but do they ever take a step back and look at the works of art they’re holding? From the intricate detailing on each individual plate to the perfect leather straps, every title is the end product of months of painstaking labor in the workshops of master craftsmen.
But which championship from sports-entertainment’s decorated history is the most worthy of adoration? WWE.com looked at some of the most sought-after championships to determine the sharpest-looking titles to ever grace a Superstar’s waist, presented by Mountain Dew.
WCWA World Heavyweight Championship
World Class wasn’t just about Von Erich vs. Freebirds. WCCW also featured competitors duking it out for Texas’ top prize. After WCCW left the National Wrestling Alliance in 1986, that title was the WCWA World Championship. The title’s ornate design set out to make WCCW’s No. 1 grappler look like a true star in the wrestling world.
“It was a big, impressive title with a lot of hidden details in the side plates,” Dave Millican, a master championship craftsman known as the “Ace of Belts,” told WWE.com in a 2013 interview. “For instance, the side plates have continent maps on them. At a glance, it looks like they’re just a bunch of gold nuggets, but there are tons of details in these maps.”
The title was held by the likes of WWE Hall of Famers Kerry Von Erich and Jerry “The King” Lawler before WCCW shut its doors in 1990. Still, the WCWA Championship stands out from the pack as one of the most beautiful titles to ever be awarded.
“For its time, it was a very big belt and made a striking appearance,” Millican said. “It was a great representation of what a champion should wear.”
Though most championships were created with pomp and circumstance in mind, this version of the ECW Championship personified the pain and suffering a grappler would go through to earn it. There are no eagles, crowns or wrestling rings on ECW’s top prize. Instead, the title is decorated with steel cages and baseball bats, while the name of the title is written out in dark red lettering above a pool of crimson. Those with a keen eye for detail will notice the barbed wire embossed into the leather, as well.
Hardcore warriors like Tazz, Tommy Dreamer and Justin Credible battled for this extreme prize in the original company, while Superstars like Rob Van Dam, John Morrison and even Mr. McMahon laid claim to ECW’s biggest title after the company was relaunched as WWE’s third brand in 2006.
NWA World Championship
The NWA World Championship was the premier title in wrestling for nearly 60 years, with Superstars like Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and Terry Funk traveling the United States and beyond to defend the championship in all NWA territories. Their suitcase would also be a little heavier, as they had to carry “10 pounds of gold” with them.
The title represented that worldwide reach with a 3D globe protruding from the center plate. Flags of all the countries the champion could expect to travel to in order to defend his title also adorned the championship. Although this version of the NWA World Title was phased out in favor of the “Big Gold Belt” in 1986, it was brought back in the early 1990s after WCW left the National Wrestling Alliance. Infamously, Shane Douglas tossed the title aside after winning a one night tournament in 1994, signaling the emergence of ECW.
WWE World Tag Team Championship
There was no bigger prize for tag teams during the 1980s and ’90s than the WWE World Tag Team Titles. Introduced in summer 1985, the titles featured an oversized center plate with a majestic eagle spreading its wings above Earth. A crown on each side of the plate signified that the Superstars holding these titles were truly kings of tag team competition.
WWE fans fondly remember duos like Demolition, The Hart Foundation, The Legion of Doom, The New Age Outlaws and The Hardy Boyz brawling over these titles. And when WWE.com photographed modern-day teams like The Usos and The Shield with the championships, the WWE Universe began clamoring for their return.
NWA World Television Championship
Sometimes, a simpler design can result in a more beautiful championship. That was certainly the case with the NWA World Television Championship.
A title primarily defended in Jim Crockett Promotions before its purchase by Ted Turner, the Television Title wasn’t covered in globes and ancient grapplers like many other championships. Instead, it featured video cameras on each side of the center plate, while the side plates were adorned with satellite dishes and the logos of networks like ABC, CBS and NBC. Matches for this title usually had 10- or 15-minute time limits, ensuring the action was fast-paced. Legendary competitors like Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Dusty Rhodes and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin all laid claim to this beautiful championship.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Awarded to Brock Lesnar by The Authority after his destruction of John Cena at SummerSlam 2014, this championship consolidated the two titles that made up the WWE World Heavyweight Championship into one flashy award.
The title itself is an updated version of the WWE Championship first introduced by The Rock in February 2013. The etchings in the center plate that declare its holder the “World Heavyweight Champion” have been scaled down to place the focus on the bejeweled WWE logo above it.
The title still features customizable side plates, which the champion can use to make the championship their own. The squared circle also isn't the only place you'll see WWE’s top prize. Professional athletes like the 2015 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, 2015 Home Run Derby Champion Todd Frazier, Golden State Warrior Draymond Green and Megan Rapinoe of the Women's World Cup Champion United States National Soccer Team have all been spotted sporting the WWE World Heavyweight Championship following their big wins.
Million Dollar Championship
Why compete for a championship when you can afford your own? That was The Million Dollar Man’s mantra. After his purchase of the WWE Championship was voided by WWE President Jack Tunney, the wealthy Superstar soon headed to one of the finest jewelers in the world, Greenwich, Connecticut’s Betteridge Jewelers, to commission his own title.
The end result was the Million Dollar Championship, a title that eschewed a leather belt for a waistband made completely out of gold-plated dollar signs. The center of the title featured three more king-sized dollar signs, covered in hundreds of jewels. When The Million Dollar Man unveiled it on “The Brother Love Show,” the red-faced preacher was stunned by its majesty, nearly blinded as the light reflected off the adorned title.
The Million Dollar Man’s title was bling before bling was cool. That’s what made it a target for anyone looking to get a piece of the millionaire.
While the WWE Champion has always been seen as the face of the company, icons like Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Shawn Michaels fought for this title in some of WWE’s defining matches. The Superstar who held the Intercontinental Championship was often regarded as the workhorse, the person who put on the best match of the show every night.
Fans loved the “classic” design of the Intercontinental Title so much that they begged for its return from the moment its replacement was introduced in 1998. They had to wait 13 years before Cody Rhodes trashed the Attitude Era title and revealed the beloved championship, giving a new generation of Superstars the chance to battle for a legendary prize.
"Winged Eagle" WWE Championship
This is the standard by which most diehard WWE fans judge all championships. Known as the “Winged Eagle” version for the majestic bird spreading its wings on the center plate, this iteration of the WWE Championship was introduced at the infamous WrestleMania III rematch between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant in February 1988 on The Main Event.
Throughout its 10-year run, the “Winged Eagle” was held by a litany of Legends and WWE Hall of Famers, including The Hulkster, Ultimate Warrior, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Bret “Hit Man” Hart, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, to name a few. This is the title that many of us grew up on, making it a symbol of squared circle excellence for an entire generation.
"Big Gold Belt" (WCW Championship/World Heavyweight Championship)
The title lovingly referred to as the “Big Gold Belt” has one of the more interesting stories in sports-entertainment. The championship was introduced in 1986, during one of Ric Flair’s reigns as NWA World Champion. The title earned its nickname for the humongous golden center plate, covered in ornate etchings. It was as if the championship was custom-made for the limo-riding, jet-flying WWE Hall of Famer.
The title became embroiled in controversy when Flair and Bobby Heenan brought it on WWE television upon The Nature Boy’s arrival to the company in 1992. It eventually ended up back in WCW’s hands, where it represented the International Championship and the WCW World Championship until it was unified with the WWE Championship in December 2001. “Big Gold” has represented the World Heavyweight Championship since its reintroduction in 2002 and is was one of the two titles that make up the WWE World Heavyweight Championship until the new title was introduced in August 2014.