Wrestling fans tend to get passionate about belt designs. Unlike the more generic belts that tend to populate boxing and mixed martial arts, wrestling title belts have intricate, memorable designs that are burned into our minds. This has led to an explosion in the market of collectible replica belts and even fans buying ring-ready, professional quality belts.
Being the highest profile belt in the business, the WWE Championship is the subject of the most scrutiny, so let's take a look at how all of the different designs stack up.
Some notes before we get started. For the sake of simplifying everything, minor changes are considered the same design. Examples would be:
- Changes to strap color (like the Ultimate Warrior era belts).
- Adjustments to the size of the belt (like the Undisputed belt).
- Revising the spinner belt so it didn't spin anymore.
- And so on.
Years ago, as part of WWE's toy lines, a unique kid-sized belt appeared in stores: A custom "Brahma Bull" belt design for The Rock. For a long time, fans wondered if it was something created specifically to be a toy or if there had been plans for a real version of the belt to be used.
Last year, a WWE.com photo gallery of belts finally confirmed that they made an actual deluxe, ring-ready "Brahma Bull" belt. There was no explanation as to what happened to it or why it got as far as licensees making toy versions of it, but they finally confirmed a long-standing rumor.
While John Cena doesn't really have an explicit gimmick now, when he first won the WWE Championship in 2005, he was a rapper. To fit his gimmick and sell new toy belts to young fans, he got a new WWE Championship design (he had a similar a United States Championship belt design that was used until he lost it not long before winning the big belt) based on the spinning rims on cars that were popular in hip hop culture at the time.
To say that adult hardcore fans didn't like it would be an understatement. At first it wasn't so bad: Those fans could tolerate Cena's belt looking like that since it fit his gimmick. When he lost it and WWE didn't go back to the old design is when it got real, so to speak.
Eventually the belt was altered to remove the spinning part of the main plate, but the same design was kept on and used by every WWE champion until The Rock unveiled the current design earlier this year.
Yeah, it's a bit gaudy and it's pretty clearly the least popular of the belts on this list, but to people who say it looked like a toy: Well, that was the point!
WWE had a new belt made in 1998 that was given to Steve Austin the night after he first won it at WrestleMania 14. He wasn't a fan, though. Similar to the old belt, he felt it "looked too much like Bret Hart's belt" and wanted a fresh start.
Enter the "Smoking Skull" belt, a belt fit for Steve Austin and no one else. Just look at that thing.
For what it was, it was a pretty nice design, but it looked incredibly awkward when worn by the other wrestlers who held it very briefly. It also got to be part of a fun storyline where Vince McMahon took it home after Austin lost the title, it disappeared for months, and when Austin won the title back from The Rock, McMahon gifted the "Smoking Skull" belt to Rock to set up a rematch with Austin.
The replacement for the longest running of the belts only lasted four years, during which there was a long stretch that it wasn't used since Steve Austin dubbed in the "Smoking Skull" belt. This one went through a few changes: First the strap was blue, then it was black, and finally the WWF logo was changed from the old block logo to the "Attitude Era" scratch logo.
It's a nice design, but it feels off in the context of the belt it replaced: "How can we make it better? Let's make it bigger!" It's a little gaudy as a result, since the original "Eagle" belt benefited from looking so nice without being so huge.
This one's most associated with the non-Austin "Attitude Era" players: The Rock, Mankind and Triple H. If you're partial to that era, you may like this belt more than me.
Unveiled as a replacement for the "Big Eagle" WWF Championship belt and "Big Gold" WCW World Heavyweight Championship belts that comprised the WWE Undisputed Championship, this belt was first held by Triple H in 2002. I'm not sure when, but it was shrunken down after a while, and it looks like that's the version available to buy as a replica, which is probably a reason why it's so hard to find good photos of the original.
And as you can see by how it fits Brock Lesnar, that thing was huge, closer in size to something like "Big Gold" belt (but not something like my beloved Mid-South Wrestling North American Title belt) and in that form, it looked really nice. When it was redesigned as a smaller belt, a lot of the detail was squashed out and it just looked like any other generic belt.
I just love that even on Brock Lesnar or "2002 Triple H," that thing still looks huge. Probably sucked to take it through airports, though.
Like a lot of people, I was not crazy about the new belt when it was unveiled by The Rock in February. However, it's really grown on me.
I think part of the problem was that as soon as it was revealed, WWE.com posted a ton of close-up photos of the new belt. Like the "Undisputed" belt, it looks a lot worse out of context. When a wrestler is wearing it or carrying it over his shoulder—it looks pretty damn good.
The design choices are really interesting, like the cut-out logo with visible leather underneath and customizable wrestler logo side plates that hopefully mean we won't see "custom" brand new belts for a long time. It's big, it looks like it cost a lot of money and it looks like a prize worth winning.
Plus, hey: It replaced the spinner!
Designed by renowned belt maker Reggie Parks, this belt was unveiled when Hulk Hogan wore it to the ring for his February 5, 1988 match with Andre the Giant in front of the largest TV audience ever for a wrestling match. In one of those weird trivia notes, he wore his old belt in the pre-recorded promo that aired right before the match.
The belt was a perfect fit for just about everyone who held it, becoming an iconic part of photos of Hogan, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and others. Ric Flair even looked good with it, even if it looked out of place since everyone was used to seeing him with the NWA/WCW belts. The design is simultaneously detailed and simple, not attacking the senses in any way.
I still don't get why everyone calls it the "winged eagle," though. Don't all eagles have wings?