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A Mark's Eye View

A Mark’s Eye View: Champions people cared about

Championships should be something all wrestlers strive for, and it’s a shame that is no longer the case.

A Mark’s Eye View is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.

This past week, the WWE draft was held. Reading the results of the show sent me into a rage. It had nothing to do with the company publishing the draft results on their own website days before. After all, you cannot say you truly love something if you are incapable of laughing at their mistakes. The WCW 2000-level bungling of the draft was hilarious. Kofi Kingston on the other hand was just sad.

I understand that wrestling has changed. It is no longer about strong individuals, but the entire brand. I get the WWF used to get wrestlers and turn them into Superstars and now they get stars from NXT and make them geeks on Raw. I can even respect someone crying after they have won their tenth world title in a little over four years. What I cannot accept is someone losing their World Title one week then showing up next week on television happily throwing pancakes to the crowd.

(And I get the whole Power of Positivity gimmick, but there’s looking on the bright side and then there’s dangerously deluding yourself.)

Here’s the thing about wrestlers not seeming to care about losing title: If it doesn’t bother them, why should it bother the fan? And why should I care the next time the story is about someone who has wanted their shot for over a decade? Wins and losses might not matter, but shouldn’t championships? If they don’t, then what is the point?

Championships should be the end all and be all in professional wrestling. The sneaky heel who would always get intentionally disqualified or counted out to keep his title was such easy heat. What could be worse than a person who wanted to keep their title so badly they didn’t mind being called a coward? Plus, listening to them justify their chicken-hearted decisions were usually good for a laugh. (This reached a whole new level of cowardice when Ric Flair would not deny he was hiding behind the DQ rule to keep the NWA World Title.)

Of course, a heel champion purposely losing in order to keep their precious title was to be expected. The bad guys never fought fairly and always looked for ways to get one past their opponents. It was always surreal to see an evil champion beat a valiant challenger without any shenanigans. It was more like the face did something wrong than the heel doing something right.

The Road Warriors were constantly chasing the NWA World Tag Team Titles. After years of the Warriors trying and failing, fans were starting to get tired of the excuses. They were still one of the hottest acts in the NWA; nothing could change the fact. They were the mighty Road Warriors. But people began to question their killer instinct.

The Warriors proved in 1988 how important the NWA Tag belts were to them. In a six man tag match, Hawk and Animal turned on their partner Sting, injuring his neck in the process. Shortly after, the Legion of Doom attempted to take out Dusty Rhodes’s eyeball with a metal spike. They had won the titles by then, but the “American Dream” was a threat. Breaking a man’s neck and poking out another’s eye seemed like what had to be done in order to keep the NWA Tag belts.

The Road Warriors’ title reign was surprisingly short. They lost their tag belts in controversial fashion to the Varsity Club. After the loss, Hawk shook a few years life out of referee Teddy Long (yes, that Teddy Long.) Paul Ellering screamed at anyone that came near. They made it abundantly clear how important the NWA Tag Titles were. For good reason. They would never hold them again.

Titles used to be the focal point of every promotion. Sure, there were feuds and issues to be dealt with. Still, every wrestler had a goal: to win the World Title. Randy Savage is arguably the greatest WWF Intercontinental Champion of all time. During his promos, he would constantly put himself over while talking down future opponents. Before the “Macho Man” was through, he would make sure to call out WWF Champion Hulk Hogan. Even though he held the second most prestigious title in the promotion, Savage would still talk about how he was coming after the WWF Title. It added to the importance of Hogan’s belt.

Watching people compromise their principles in order to win or keep a title also showed the value of championships. Wrestling history is filled with heel turns motivated by the promise of a title. Lex Luger would adjust his attitude based on whomever the World Champion was. He did not care what the fans thought of him; it was all about winning the Big Gold Belt. After winning the AWA World Title, Jerry Lawler began to look at life differently. He did not care how he kept the strap as long as it remained his. (The story of how he changed the bathroom towels from “His” and “Hers” to “King” and “Hers” is classic.)

More spectacularly were turns like Curt Hennig. Hennig was a career face who had been chasing Nick Bockwinkle for the AWA title for months. Despite some close calls — their one hour draw may be the best match in AWA history — the future “Mr. Perfect” never seemed to be able to get over the hump. On May 2, 1987, Hennig would use interference from Larry Zbyszko to win his only World title. He soon became “Cool” and was accompanied to the ring by Madusa Miceli.

Managers were especially prone to the lure of championships. In 1988, Mr. Fuji managed Demolition during their historic first title reign. Initially derided as Road Warrior wannabes, Ax and Smash proved to be just as dominant as the originals. This did not prevent Fuji from leaving the Demos after the Powers of Pain entered the WWF. (They had been run out of the NWA by the Road Warriors, ironically.)

Warlord and Barbarian seemed a lock to win the WWF tag belts. It was such a sure thing that at the Survivor Series Fuji turned on his championship team and joined up with the challengers. In hindsight it turned out to be a mistake as the POP would never come close to winning the belts. Still, it showed what lengths a person would go to in order to simply manage the WWF Tag Champs.

Being a fan means having the ability to adapt. Wrestling is a constantly evolving sport that has people saying, “I remember when…” faster than other sports. However, there are some things that should always be the same. Championships should be something all wrestlers strive for, and it’s a shame that is no longer the case. It does explain why Seth Rollins cries so much though.

Next Week: There was more than a black scorpion

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