The making of the new WWE Title: How the WWE Championship was reinvented in 540 days
How do you reinvent something as iconic as the WWE Championship?
That’s the question WWE’s Senior Vice President of Creative Services Stan Stanski and his team faced some 18 months ago when they were tasked with creating a completely new title. Days before the championship made its anticipated television debut, WWEClassics.com sat down with Stanski, production director Liz Montgomery and creative director John Jones to learn how the WWE Title went from a page in a sketchbook to the waist of The Rock.
Read on to find out how futuristic technology, reality TV and 228 stones of cubic zirconium factored into the revitalization of sports-entertainment’s richest prize.
It was the guys from “American Chopper” who really made it happen. Without Paul Teutul Sr. and his team over at Orange County Choppers, there’s a chance the WWE creative department’s concept for the new WWE Title would never have worked.
But maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s start at the beginning. Some 18 months ago on the second floor of WWE’s corporate offices in Stamford, Conn., WWE’s Senior Vice President of Creative Services Stan Stanski received a request. WWE was ditching the “spinner” version of the WWE Title that had polarized WWE fans since John Cena introduced it back in April 2005. In its place? Well, something new. What that meant was up to Stanski and company to figure out, but where do you start when you’re about to remake sports-entertainment’s most vital piece of hardware?
“The first thing we do is exhale,” Stanski told WWE.com. “Then we think: What are we really up against and what are we looking to do?”
During our conversation, a prototype version of the new WWE Championship was splayed out on the desk in front of Stanski like a cherished newborn. But a year and a half ago, the Senior Vice President and his creative team only had opinions. There was talk of a red leather strap and even a title affixed with door hinges on both sides, but one thing was certain — they were going to turn wrestling tradition on its cauliflower ear.
“Our idea was never to take a step back or do something predictable or expected,” Stanski said. “We wanted to evolve the brand and create something that’s never been done before.”
The group wasn’t necessarily looking to reinvent the wheel — the championship would look like a championship — but the globes, eagles and whatever else WWE fans had grown accustomed to seeing in bronze on a title would be replaced by new ideas.
“You don’t always know what a traditional title might represent,” Stanski pointed out. “We wanted you to know immediately that this was the WWE Championship.”
Stanski’s plan to make the title instantly recognizable led the team to take the iconic WWE “W” — which was barely legible on older variations of the championship, but front and center on the “spinner” version — and make it so big and jewel-encrusted that it wouldn’t look out of place on the end of an MC’s gold chain.
But there was also an urge to use the traditional aspects of the title — namely the metal plates and the leather strap — in a unique way. Most championships have their logos and symbols etched into the face of the plates themselves. It was creative director John Jones who thought of cutting the WWE logo out of metal so that the black strap underneath would show through. How to go about doing that was another question entirely.
“As an artist or a designer who creates things, you get into the engineering of what’s really doable?” Stanski said. “What we found really quickly was most of the title manufacturers were afraid to touch it. They said it couldn’t be done.”
Where others saw an obstacle, Dave Millican saw an opportunity. An unsung hero of the sports-entertainment set, the self-proclaimed “Ace of Belts” was a master at taking a strip of animal hide and a few precious metals and molding them into something men were willing to fight for. Millican was up for the challenge, but his early prototypes had issues — mainly with impractical weight stemming from the zinc that was used.
That’s when Jones thought of Orange County Choppers. Back in 2008, the creative director had collaborated on a custom WrestleMania XXIV bike with the motorcycle manufacturers from the hit reality show “American Chopper.” Years later, Jones recalled seeing a state-of-the-art 3D printer in their facilities. The type of baffling technology that makes it apparent that we are indeed living in the future, the printer allowed the guys at OCC to create custom motorcycle parts by cutting their three-dimensional designs out of a hunk of aluminum.
“Orange County Choppers’ involvement brought this whole process into the 21st century,” Jones explained. “We gave them our designs and they were able to feed it into their machines and produce these plates for us that are much stronger than the brass plates that we would have gotten from a title builder.”
The bike shop created a metal “W” that was both lightweight and durable, but it still needed to be turned into a championship. So OCC sent their finished product to Dave Millican, who set about intricately etching WWE logos into the title’s leather strap and carefully affixing 228 gems to its plates. When he was finished with this painstaking process, The Rock had a new WWE Championship — which makes this all sound a lot easier than it was.
More than $50,000 went into the preparation and production of this title as the creative team struggled with Internet leaks, impractical ideas and a proposed WrestleMania XXVIII unveiling that didn’t come true. The renders of far-out ideas and rejected concepts that Stanski revealed to us spoke to both the staggering creativity and unthinkable man hours that went into all this.
At one point, the championship was meant to feature a massive, three-dimensional eagle grasping onto the central WWE logo with its talons. And those two symmetrical gold bars on the sides of the finished title? Those are inspired by an earlier mockup that was offset by miniature rings — a perfect example of how designs evolve in the most unexpected ways.
Still, the most telling part of this WWE Championship can be found in the only word inscribed upon it. While older versions of the title were curiously labeled with inexact terminology like “World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion” or — in the case of the “spinner” — the verboten “Champ,” the new WWE Title spells things out clearly with the word “Champion” in all caps across the bottom like a declarative, final statement.
And that’s exactly how WWE’s creative department views their finished work. As they see it, this is the definitive version of sports-entertainment’s most revered prize and the last one they will need to produce.
“From an iconic standpoint, we want this to stick around for a while,” production director Liz Montgomery told us. “The people will know this is the WWE Championship.”