Pruett's Blog: Championship Fallacies - What many fans get wrong or don't understand concerning major championships in professional wrestling
By Will Pruett
Monday, July 23 - 3:12 P.M. (CT)
At a certain point as a wrestling fan, you begin to make assumptions about the product. It's natural. All of us do it. We watch the same basic stories, the same basic characters, and the same basic world for a long, long time. We are bound to assume what is next. Most of the time, we can see steps two through five right after step one.
This blog is about assumptions that fans make that actually aren't true, especially those concerning championships. One of the "smart fan" battle cries is always concerning the value, or lack thereof, of championships. I am not trying to defend devaluing anything in wrestling. I am trying to enhance the argument you may make by pointing out holes.
Fallacy #1: A wrestler is "too big" for the a world championship: This is one we tend to hear quite a bit, especially concerning wrestlers with well-established legacies like John Cena, Triple H, and The Undertaker. The basis of this argument is that these wrestlers do not need championships to get over, which is absolutely true. They are who they are with or without a title. That doesn't make this entire fallacy true though.
What is a championship worth if the major stars in a promotion do not want it? When we discuss the value of championships, but in the next breath say that the wrestler the promotion is built around is too important for that picture, what are we saying? We are instantly devaluing the championship we are arguing for the value of.
This argument also seems to crop up a lot with people that most internet fans tend to dislike. John Cena is too big for the championship because they don't like John Cena. Triple H is too big for the championship because he monopolized it for too long. These arguments do not exist in any other sport (which wrestling tasks itself with being a theatrical version of).
Would we say that Kobe Bryant is too big for the NBA Championship? Should Peyton Manning move on from the Super Bowl and let the young guys have a chance in the spotlight? Does any athlete ever stop chasing a championship? Why should a wrestler stop chasing a championship?
There is always a story to be told with a grizzled veteran on a quest to win the big one just one more time. This applies to both sports and sports entertainment. Remember Brett Favre in his first year with the Vikings? Should he have been considered "beyond" the Super Bowl? How is that any different than Triple H trying to win one more World Championship?
Remember, if you want a championship to have value, every wrestler should value it. As tired as you may be of John Cena as champion, look at what happens when he isn't, but is still the biggest star. If he is beyond championships, why is he still wrestling?
Fallacy #2: Championships are not props: This comes from the anti-Vince Russo school of thinking. He once described championships as nothing but props assigned to wrestlers. For whatever reason, this angered fans and it has become a sort of rallying cry when discussing how important a championship should be.
The only problem with this is that it is completely false. Championships are props. All of them are nothing more than props assigned to wrestlers in predetermined fights.
The twist in perception comes when we don't see props as a lower class of object. A props can be immensely important. In a play, the gun that fires an important shot is a prop. The urn containing a loved one's ashes is a prop. The trophy a character raises in victory is a prop. Props have meaning. Props are important.
The great 20th century acting teacher Uta Hagen often discussed endowing props with meaning in her books "Respect for Acting" and "A Challenge for the Actor." She didn't see them as merely object. The meaning inherent in them comes from what the character thinks and feels about them.
I will agree that wrestling often does not endow their championships with the meaning that should be ascribed to them. As props, they probably should be treated better. The presentations of the Stanley Cup and the Lombardi Trophy (two props!) offer a roadmap to how to present props. The meaning is not in the object itself, but what it represents.
Fallacy #3: Long title reigns are inherently superior to short title reigns: This is definitely a commonly held belief amongst most fans. They lament that fact that today a long reign is only six months. It seems that many fans wish for the monotony of a two year championship reign, just because wrestling used to be that way. The argument here states; without a long reign, a champion is hardly a champion.
This argument can be seen when C.M. Punk's WWE Championship reign is discussed. The length of this reign is one of the key arguments for why it has been great. Longevity is seen as such a major positive. While I see benefits in a long, established title reign, I can think of shorter reigns that have had a larger impact on wrestling as a whole.
Remember Mick Foley's three championship reigns in 1999? The first two had a much larger impact, even though not one of them went over a month. His back and forth rivalry with The Rock cemented him as a true champion. They were short, but they meant a lot to Foley's career.
Now, let's look at the other side of the coin. John Cena held the WWE Championship for over a year after winning it at Unforgiven 2006. This is a reign that many fans seem to forget when calling for a long title reign. Cena was a great champion at this time, pulling career-best matches out of Great Khali and Umaga, while also having his own career best against Shawn Michaels. Even though this reign was long as Cena was down-right Flair-esque in carrying wrestlers, fans wanted it to end.
Why is that? They grew bored of a long title reign. This is not the era of a single hour of TV a week where the champion never has to appear. This is a time when champions are seen at least once a week and occasionally twice. Add in a pay-per-view and that is three appearances! No wonder we get tired of long reigns, while still clamoring for them!
I'm not saying that short reigns are the way to go. As with all of these, there are amazing stories to be told with long title reigns. There are just equally as amazing stories to be told with shorter ones. Next time your friend laments that championship reigns today are too short, remind him to look at the quality of story being told. Length of reign is a number that tells us nothing.
There are so many rules that wrestling fans have established for themselves. They are the basis for many of the "smart fan" arguments and views (not that wrestling fans on the internet are a unified community or a stereotype). Some of them come from a logical place, but over time they have become extreme. Part of the fun of wrestling is in variety. Wrestling needs short and long reigns, veteran and rookie champions, and championships as important props to survive.
Instead of arguing a point blindly, ask yourself if the story is as compelling as it can be and if it makes logical sense. If the answer to one or both questions is yes, then what are you arguing about?
Where do you stand on one or all of these issues? I want to hear from you! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to hit me up on Twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime. Am I way off, or do I actually make sense? Let me know!
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