Examining the Evolution of the WWE Championship Belt and Company Logo

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Examining the Evolution of the WWE Championship Belt and Company Logo
Credit: WWE.com

WWE found a new crown for its latest king, giving Brock Lesnar the latest version of its championship belt, one that bears the current WWE logo.

It's hard to imagine anyone snatching away the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from Lesnar, just as it must have been when Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan held previous versions of the title for years on end. The design of that prize has shifted over time, mirroring changes in WWE itself.

That is true for its logo as well, although the championship has gone through a succession of changes while the logo's evolution has led to far less mutations.

The first versions of the WWE world title are miles away from what Lesnar will now carry to and from the ring for the foreseeable future.

 

Early Versions

WWE's first versions of its world championship paralleled the era in simplicity. 

When Sammartino went on his hard-to-fathom world title run from 1963 to 1971, WWE wasn't as flashy as it is today. It had a closer resemblance to sports featuring two men grappling in the ring in a slower, straight-ahead product.

It makes sense, then, that the world title was less ornate than what today's Superstars carry around. During Sammartino's first WWE title reign, the belt went through a number of changes. The most famous of those versions featured the shape of the United States on a leather strap and little else.

Credit: WWE.com
Bruno Sammartino wears an early version of the WWE title.

It fit right in with the simple ring attire that Sammartino and his challengers wore. 

By the time he won the championship for the second time, it had undergone a change. Gold now covered more of the strap. The main plate featured a large eagle barely visible from the stretch of gold behind it.

Credit: WWE.com
Bruno Sammartino with a newer version of the championship

Busier and more grandiose, it began the long tradition of including an eagle on the title.

This would be the same championship that "Superstar" Billy Graham would wear in the late '70s. It was replaced, though, in 1983, per WWE.com. A larger belt took its place. 

On it, a man stood in front of a globe hoisting a championship belt above his head. 

It looked more copper than gold, similar to the current tag team titles. The side plates listed previous title reigns, a feature that was more feasible in a time when the championship rarely changed hands. That list would grow fat in a hurry in today's era of constant championship turnover.

Bob Backlund and The Iron Sheik wore this version.

Credit: WWE.com
The Iron Sheik, WWE champ, with Freddie Blassie

Hogan, WWE's first truly transcendent star, would later be champion with a new version of the title draped across his shoulders. Per WWE.com, "In 1984, WWE presented him with a new championship."

Red letters covered a silver plate. The new design looked like several other promotions' titles.

Credit: WWE.com
Hulk Hogan with his 1984 version of the WWE title.

No other wrestler ever held this version. His four-year reign saw the beginning and end of this belt's history as well as a new title introduced to the timeline.

WWE opted for a bolder design in 1986. International flags now dotted the sides of the belt. A colored globe sat in the center and the WWF logo popped out from the top. 

The lettering was bigger, more striking.

Preparing for a possible Andre the Giant reign, storyline WWE president Jack Tunney presented a bigger version on March 21, 1987. While Roddy Piper marveled at the size of the championship back then, that kind of hefty prize became the norm later on. 

This wasn't much different than Hogan's previous version, but the title was set to make a long leap in its evolution.

 

Winged Eagle, Attitude Era

The WWE title peaked in beauty in 1988.

Credit: WWE.com
The "Winged Eagle" WWE title

The "Winged Eagle" design brought back the familiar globe and eagle elements of previous versions in a sleeker, more memorable package. It's a title that looks as good on today's Superstars as it did on Bret Hart, Randy Savage and company.

The glimmering title was at the center of controversy early on. On its debut night, Andre defeated Hogan for it by way of a crooked-referee scheme. The big man then sold the belt to Ted DiBiase.

That championship would stick around for years. It carried over from the era of Hulkamania into the New Generation Era.

When WWE veered in a new, edgier direction in the late '90s, the title had to change with the company.

WWE's world title during the Attitude Era was more subtle. The contrast of black and gold, the globe and the designs engraved on the belt were all similar, just smoothed out.

If the company was to move away from a period of being cartoony, it made sense that WWE chose to tone down its top title.

Credit: WWE.com
Kane as WWE champ

This is what fans remember The Rock, Steve Austin and Mick Foley winning and losing during WWE's hottest stretch. Austin would later have his own signature version, though.

Doing away with history, Austin's "Smoking Skull" title had no globe, no eagle, no family resemblance to its forefathers.

Instead, snakes, smoke and skulls took their place. It was fitting that a man so resistant to authority would reject the status quo to the point of creating his own championship. This brief shift created one of the more popular versions of the the title.

When incorporating WCW forced a change in 2001, the next stage in the belt's evolution began. 

WWE had purchased its rival and wished to fold the WCW's world title into its own. Chris Jericho defeated both Austin and The Rock at Vengeance 2001 to become the first undisputed WWE champ. 

Credit: WWE.com
Steve Austin's "Smoking Skull" title

The title that this moment birthed brought back the eagle and the globe. It was a more comic-book style title complete with stylized stars and tattoo-like art on the center plate.

Credit: WWE.com
The Undisputed WWE Championship

This is the belt that WWE's top stars would fight over for the first half of the 2000s.

Jericho, Hogan, Triple H and Brock Lesnar all raised this belt after victories. WWE was clearly embracing its entertainment side and feeling free to depart from traditional sports-inspired titles. That was even more true when Cena tricked out the championship in 2005.

 

The Move to Over the Top

A whole generation has grown up with Cena's "spinner" title as the championship they most associate with WWE.

Cena's time atop WWE had just begun. After defeating John "Bradshaw" Layfield for the WWE title, Cena presented a new version of it. 

Cartoon letters spelled out "champ." It was glittery and huge, a gaudy spectacle that Cena and several others would battle over for years.

The title symbolized WWE's move away from the Attitude Era, entering a safer, glitzier and more family-friendly period. It made for the perfect title to sell to kids, as it looked like an oversized cereal-box prize.

Edge put his own twist on the title.

The Ultimate Opportunist introduced the "Rated-R" title after defeating Cena at SummerSlam 2006.

Credit: WWE.com
Edge with the "Rated-R" WWE title

To celebrate his win at that event, he had Lita toss Cena's version of the championship into the sea. His new version was similarly gaudy, with his logo plastered in the center of it.

Like Austin's custom belt, this was a limited-time-only item, the spinning championship soon returning. 

WWE would stop the title's center logo from rotating, but kept the Cena-inspired design until early 2013. The lifespan of that version of the championship coincided with Cena's time as the company centerpiece.

He was still in the title picture when The Rock unveiled the newest take on the WWE title on Raw. In fact, he was just months away from beating The Brahma Bull for the championship at WrestleMania 29.

The Rock showed the world a golden title with massive bejeweled plates.

The WWE logo took up of the majority of the belt with no room for the flags, globes or birds that previous titles bore. It looked like something a video-game king might wear.

It was larger than life, much like the WWE aims to be each week.

When Randy Orton defeated Cena at TLC 2013 to unify that championship and the World Heavyweight Championship, the two titles were merged in name only. The Viper still carried around both championships, referred to then as the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Then Lesnar came along.

WWE had a new logo to display. When Lesnar steamrolled Cena at SummerSlam, WWE gave him a new title to carry.

It needed only a slight modification. The sleeker logo from the WWE Network replaced the previous one on the title's face. The championship retained its size, shape and bedazzled look.

This latest change signals the beginning of a new era. The move to the WWE Network is the risky, bold move that will change the company forever.

It's no surprise, then, that it inspired a rare change in logo.

 

The Logo

Entertainment Weekly recaps the logo's history, a timeline that has seen it resist change far more than the WWE title.

In the '80s and early '90s, WWE's logo was boxy and agleam. The letters sat on top of each other. This logo will trigger nostalgia in many a fan.

It was featured in the first WrestleMania and the first Raw. WWE revisits it during its "old school" editions of the show.

This was the logo for WWE's journey from regional territory to global empire. When cable TV first shined on the company, this is what audiences saw.

Years later, WWE looked to forge a new path.

The peak of Hulkamania ended. WWE was going to need to evolve. It built around newer stars like Hart and Michaels.

To punctuate this change, the company went with a yellow, cartoony version from '94-'97.

Had the Attitude Era not arrived, who knows how long that one would have lasted. A racier product arrived in the late '90s and required a change. The yellow New Generation Era logo was a poor fit for the new product.

A rough, aggressive logo took its place. 

Red pen marks scored the bottom of it. The letters looked as if they had been carved into wood with a switchblade. It matched WWE's new energy perfectly.

You can see it sitting on the bottom of the screen at the bottom of this video:

WWE had to take the "F" off when it changed its name from World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment. The logo stayed essentially the same, though. Just shaving off a single letter was required.

For the next decade-plus, that was what WWE used to represent itself.

A change only recently arrived. On Aug. 15, six months after the WWE Network launched, WWE changed over to a more streamlined logo. Vince McMahon announced the switch on Twitter:

It looks as if the Attitude Era logo simply grew up.

The first change to the logo in years is symbolic for WWE shaking up the status quo. Departing from traditional pay-per-view, the company hopes to bank on its Neflix-like service.

Lesnar is the first champion to carry that logo on his world title, leading WWE along in its never-ending evolution.

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