Jamie Lithgow, John Carbery and Brian Damage
In a top five a few weeks back we looked at some of the worst titles in wrestling history. This time around we flip it and focus our attention on the Top Five best championships in wrestling history, spanning the 70s through to the modern day covering America and Japan.
5. IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Pure ignorance has forced me to include NJPW’s premier championship. The title may be younger than me but I’ve always perceived it as an almost mythical championship that I would only ever read about in magazines. The fact that I’ve never seriously followed Japanese wrestling adds to my ignorance of just assuming the IWGP title is a massive deal and comparable to – or even greater than – the top titles in America. Not a bad reputation to have then?
4. WCW Cruiserweight Championship
How many world class matches were contested for this belt? Rey Mysterio, Dean Malenko, Juventud Guerrera, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Ultimo Dragon, the list goes on of legit world class performers who held this title in the late 90s. Of course the title lost its lustre after WWE got hold of it, but what a golden age of cruiserweight wrestling there was between 1996 and 1999. In many ways the NXT Championship feels like a modern day version of this title, only without a weight limit. Almost every title match was a corker.
3. ROH Pure Championship
I used to be a big Ring of Honor fan back in the CM Punk, Samoa Joe, Brian Danielson days. Being a fan of rules and actual sport I loved the concept of ROH’s Pure Title. The matches felt like genuine sporting contests akin to those seen on World of Sport. The best thing about the title was that until it was unified with the ROH World Title, it was not treated as a secondary title. It was fought under different rules to other ROH belts, so was regarded as just that; different, but no less important. In a sense, the Cruiser Weight Classic tournament had a similar vibe to ROH’s Pure wrestling matches. Fingers crossed the new WWE Cruiserweight Division continues this.
2. WWE World Championship
Or whatever they are calling it these days; the one AJ Styles currently holds. There’s little debate to be had here, the WWE Title is regarded by most people as the top title in wrestling/sports entertainment. Some of the champions have been questionable and quite a few of the title matches have been terrible, but you just can’t replicate the prestige of the WWE Title. That won’t stop WWE trying though; the universe>the world logic doesn’t really apply to wrestling championships, Vince. Also, as it’s relevant, bring back the eagle belt!
1. NWA World Heavyweight Championship
The history of this title is a bit of a jumbled mess, especially in the early 90s. However it’s the oldest title in the world and the sight of Ric Flair wearing the ‘big gold belt’ and being introduced as NWA World Heavyweight Champion is just wrestling to me. Hulk Hogan was the popular champion from the WWF that everybody knew, but Ric Flair was the real World Heavyweight Champion.
5. Chikara Campeonatos de Parejas 2006-2013
I started watching Chikara right around the time they crowned their first Campeonatos de Parejas, Chris Hero and Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro) in 2006. They’d just launched their Podcast A Go Go and I fell in love straight away. I was full on into independent wrestling at the time and I was at that point bored with the interchangeable ROH/PWG scene. Chikara was a breath of fresh air in more ways than one. I just thought it was so cool that the top title in the company was the Tag Team title and that they didn’t even have a singles title. Looking back it was a really smart way to utilize a limited roster of homegrown rookies. The titles had real prestige to me too and some classic matches were contested over them.
4. All Japan Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship
I’ll never forget the first time I saw this title, it was a picture of a sweaty and battered Kenta Kobashi was sat on the mat tightly gripping all three titles in some random wrestling magazine. I thought the idea of three separate titles making up one grand championship was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. In this case the titles were the PWF Heavyweight Championship, the NWA United National Championship and the NWA International Heavyweight Championship. Whenever I was lucky enough to see a tape of a Triple Crown title match it was usually outstanding stuff. Hansen, Kobashi, Dr Death, Misawa, Vader, Terry Gordy, Kawada, Muta and many others had countless great matches as champion. Saldy its fallen from grace recently but during the 90’s and early 2000’s the Triple Crown was as big a deal as the IWGP, WCW and WWE titles to those in the know.
3. WWF/WWE World Championship
The title currently held but AJ Styles has always been an incredibly important piece of hardware. It has a lot of history and when the biggest names in pro wrestling history were shining their brightest a big part of their star power was the glittering gold WWWF/WWF/WWE Championship Title around their waists. It’s easy to take it for granted, but there’s no denying its a big deal and when one of my guys wins it, it feels huge.
2. ECW Television Championship 1994-2001
Forget the ECW World Title, the TV title was the one to watch back in the heyday of all things extreme. Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Too Cold Scorpio were involved in countless classic matches over it in 94/95. Then in 96/97 Shane Douglas, Taz, Chris Jericho and Pitbull 2 joined in and routinely tore the house down, most famously at Heat Wave 96. Bam Bam Bigelow picked it up in 98 only to drop it to Rob Van Dam who would have the reign that would define the title. Often Van Dam would supplant whomever was World Champion as the main event of a PPV and when he didn’t he’d probably steal the show in the mid card. Tajiri, Rhyno and Super Crazy all held the title in his wake. Right up until the end the TV title was the high water mark of quality in ECW and thankfully was never resurrected and sullied by WWE.
1. NWA World Heavyweight Title
Like the Triple Crown the NWA title has sadly fallen from grace, but 20+ years of bad form can hardly wipe out nearly 100 years of greatness. I’m only really familiar with the Champions of the 70’s and 80’s but I’m well aware of its rich history with champions like Lou Thesz, Gene Kiniski et al. When I think about the real meat of wrestling history though I always cast my mind back to Jack Briscoe, the Funks, Harley Race, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and Ricky Steamboat. Its often been stated that the NWA Champ usually had to be someone who was double tough in real life but regardless of that you also usually had to be the best wrestler on the planet to hold that title. Anyone who was champion of a rival promotion in North America who thought they were on the level of whomever the NWA World Champion was probably delusional. A true mark of greatness.
5. The World Class Six Man Tag Team Titles
During the mid 1980’s, it could easily be argued that these titles were as hotly contested as any in the territorial days. The battles between the Von Erichs and the Fabulous Freebirds certainly helped elevate these titles that were held by teams of 3. Since WCCW at the time didn’t have their own world title to fight over (The NWA presided over World Class at the time) the Six man titles were made to be bigger and more important than just a secondary championship.
4. All Japan Triple Crown
Just the absolute intense rivalry between Kenta Kobashi and the late Mitsuharu Misawa in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s made championship worthy to be on this list. If you never witnessed a Kobashi/Misawa match, I highly recommend that you do. You could feel the passion between these men and the desire that they craved to be champion. Other greats like Stan Hansen, Dr. Death Steve Williams, Jumbo Tsuruta and Terry Gordy have also held this prestigious championship making it even more valuable.
3. WWF/WWE World Title
I think the WWE title gets this slot simply by default of being the biggest game in town right now. That doesn’t make it any less prestigious with great champions like Bruno Sammartino, Superstar Billy Graham and Bob Backlund. It also was held by three of the most popular and profitable wrestlers of all time in Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and the Rock. It is THE title right now.
2. IWGP Heavyweight title
The IWGP title which is the property of New Japan Pro Wrestling has to be currently one of the most prestigious titles in the entire world right now. It has a tremendous lineage with champions like Antonio Inoki, Vader, Tatsumi Fujinami, Keiji Mutoh and even Brock Lesnar! Recently, the belt has been around the waist of greats like ‘The Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, Hiroshi Tanahashi and AJ Styles.
1. The NWA World Title
The last real world title pro wrestling has seen. Whether the champion was Harley Race, Ric Flair, Lou Thesz or Jack Brisco etc…the NWA title was defended nationwide and around the world repeatedly. It was a huge deal when the NWA champion came to a town. The gates for shows were much larger and everybody wanted to get a glimpse of THE world champion.
You can read all previous Top Five pieces here.