Examining How to Build a WWE Superstar into a Credible Champion

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Examining How to Build a WWE Superstar into a Credible Champion
Credit: WWE.com

WWE crafts champions from Superstars, working to convince the audience that a wrestler isn't just holding a propthat he's a warrior worthy of the gold.

There is no singular method, no secret formula to achieving that, but the heart of that process is playing to a wrestler's strengths. Whether it is cunning, power or athleticism, WWE has to highlight what makes performers special, what makes them believable as champions.

Building Bret Hart up to a world-title level was a slow process, a process that included minor championships and a resume filled with gutsy performances.

WCW took a faster track with Goldberg, who quickly went from unknown to unstoppable.

For Eddie Guerrero, some of the biggest boosts to his image came after his WWE title win. His story is a good example of how to maintain momentum during a championship reign.

These three differing narratives offer insight into how a successful champion is made.

 

The Hitman

Hart's journey to the WWE Championship was a series of small steps.

He didn't carry the company's top prize until eight years after his debut. That's a far cry from the speedy treks Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus have taken to the top in recent years.

By the time he defeated Ric Flair on October 12, 1992, Hart had a history of wins and courageous performances. 

He had been one half of The Hart Foundation, one of WWE's top teams for much of the late '80s. He had also twice won the Intercontinental Championship.

Beyond those accomplishments, fans had seen Hart thrive in battle several times over.

At the 1990 Survivor Series, his team lost to Ted DiBiase's squad, but he was the last man to be beaten. He held off defeat for a good while despite being outnumbered three to one at one point. The next year's Royal Rumble showed off his heart as well.

He was the first entrant in the 30-man match but lasted over 20 minutes before The Undertaker finally tossed him out.

1991 Rumble highlights

WWE later boosted his resume by having him end Skinner's undefeated streak and pin Roddy Piper at WrestleMania VIII.

Although all these feats were scripted, the continued sight of Hart besting larger enemies, lasting for long stretches in Battle Royals and using his mat skills to overcome other wrestlers' power or underhandedness made him a gladiator in fans' minds. This is one of WWE's jobs: to take control of how the audience views the wrestler. 

Today, were someone who has been so easy to topple as Damien Sandow to win a championship, it would be jarring. WWE has convinced us that he's a bumbler, not a titleholder.

The audience watched Hart trudge up the WWE ladder, victory by victory. When he finally became WWE champ, the role suited him, the accomplishment matching his aura.

 

173-0 

There was no questioning Goldberg's championship credentials by the time he hoisted a title above his head.

WCW had constructed the former Georgia Bulldog into a believable champ the way filmmakers turn an image composed on a computer into a beast that an audience watches destroy a city. He streamrolled the roster, charging up the mountaintop.

The company did a masterful job in its overall presentation of the powerhouse.

Goldberg's symphonic music throbbed as he headed toward the ring. A team of security guards surrounded him. He stood in a spray of pyrotechnics at the entrance ramp.

When he stepped between the ropes, he demolished whoever waited for him there. He extended an undefeated streak that was greatly exaggerated. This was theater and not sports, which meant officials could stretch the truth about the numbers, giving him a hyperbolic win-loss record that added to his credibility.

He went from handling the roster's bottom-feeders to facing a tough challenge from Steven (William) Regal to knocking off Raven for the United States Championship in 1998.

Top-flight guys like Diamond Dallas Page or Scott Hall couldn't stop him either. During this undefeated run, WCW showed off Goldberg's strength, making it look like a mutant power. He trampled over large men.

Fans' perception of him strengthened with each win, making him seem unstoppable much like The Undertaker would look during his 21 consecutive wins at WrestleMania.

On July 6, 1998, Goldberg faced Hulk Hogan for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. WCW had built the challenger up so well that he felt like the favorite despite Hogan being a legend and Goldberg being a relative newbie.

WWE would later try a similar tact with Ryback. Ryback's path headed to the top too soon. Fans struggled to believe that he would actually dethrone CM Punk at Hell in a Cell 2012.

He had not left the same wake pf dominance that Goldberg did. 

 

Post-Gold

The biggest lessons from how WWE portrayed Guerrero came after his only WWE title win. Defeating the immense Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004 was huge, but the company managed to have "Latino Heat" be much more than a plucky underdog afterward.

Guerrero's toughness and smarts made him a difficult foe to topple.

Much of his 133-day reign was spent showing off those traits. At WrestleMania XX, Kurt Angle challenged him. Both the quality of his opponent and how he grabbed the victory elevated Guerrero.

He withstood the Olympic gold medalist's biggest moves. In the end, he escaped Angle's ankle lock by loosening his own boot, a move that allowed him to slip out of Angle's grip and steal a win. A subsequent rivalry with John "Bradshaw" Layfield showcased an edgier side of him. 

Anyone who saw Guerrero and JBL collide at Judgment Day 2004 won't ever forget it.

The champ overcame being hurled onto the announce table, JBL smashing him with the ring steps and bleeding like the proverbial stuck pig. Guerrero cut himself too deeply after taking a chair shot from JBL and spent the rest of the match looking like he was recreating the prom scene from Carrie.

The amount of bloodshed wasn't expected, but putting Guerrero in a brawl with a proven bruiser and having him retain the title in the process made him look like he was meant to carry the strap.

WWE didn't do Rey Mysterio the same service, asking him to lose too often after becoming world champ.

Despite being smaller than JBL, Guerrero looked his equal in their battles. He made the task of yanking the belt from his waist an arduous one.

That should be WWE's goal each time someone wins a title, but we too often see champions overdependent on outside help (Randy Orton for most of 2013) or not challenged often enough, a la Dean Ambrose for the majority of his United States title reign.

The routes folks took with Guerrero, Goldberg and Hart vary greatly, but there is one commonality to take from it and apply to other champions: victories. Wrestlers look most like warriors deserving of titles when they meet with great challenges and conquer them until the audience is convinced of their powers. 

Battles reveal the champion within.

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