"The Secondary Championships: A Legacy of Mediocrity?"
This two-part series will give brief examinations of various periods in the histories of the US and I-C Championships, a brief rundown of notable names that have held the Championship and some notes about the period. Then, I will give a rating of 1-10, signifying the level of prestige that the belt seemed to hold at the time.
The WWE United States Championship
On January 1st, 1975, Harley Race was awarded the United States Championship after supposedly beating Johnny Weaver in a tournament final. To this day, this tournament has never been seen. Since then there have been 70 United States Champions and the US Title has changed hands 121 times across 3 Promotions.
The US Title began life as the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship and was hotly contested in Jim Crockett's Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling promotion. At the time there were dozens of other regional promotions that recognized their own version of the US Championship, but this changed in 1981 when the only remaining other NWA promotion that recognized it's own US title went out of business. During that time the US Title was held by such luminaries as: Harley Race, Bobo Brazil, Ricky Steamboat, Jimmy Snuka, Ric Flair, and Roddy Piper. A Championship couldn't ask for a better pedigree than these early champions.
The US title became the primary Championship in the territory until 1986, when Crockett gained control of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Since then, the US title has been the secondary title that we know it as today. It would only be short two years before Ted Turner would buy the promotion and rename it World Championship Wrestling. During this period, the US title would be held by such names as: Wahoo McDaniel, Greg Valentine, Nikita Koloff, Lex Luger, and Dusty Rhodes. Obviously, these names can't help but be a slight step down from the previous list, but they still hold great prestige. That, plus the demotion from primary Championship to secondary damaged the importance of the US title.
Over the course of the next few years, WCW sought to separate itself from the NWA, but its titles still carried the name of the National Wrestling Alliance. This changed in 1991, when the title became the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship. WCW officially withdrew from the NWA in September of 1993. During this time, the likes of: Sting, Barry Windham, Rick Rude, Dustin Rhodes, and Steve Austin would carry the championship. Can you imagine a Jim Duggan being booked to beat Steve Austin in 35 seconds? It Happened. This period only continues the decline of the quality of its champions.
WCW would continue on with the US Title until WWF Chairman Vince McMahon shockingly bought WCW in 2001 and then after the infamous "Invasion Angle", the WCW United States Championship was unified with the WWF Intercontinental Championship by Edge. The US title was then retired. Wrestlers such as: Jim Duggan, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Jeff Jarrett, Curt Henning, Goldberg, Bret Hart, Scott Steiner, Chris Benoit, Sid Vicious, Lance Storm, and Booker T would hold the US Title during the height of WCW and into its fall from grace. By this point not only was WCW in the proverbial toilet, but so were its Championships. Though, it's arguable that the WCW World Heavyweight Championship was treated with less respect during the waning days of WCW, but the US Title was still by definition the secondary Championship, so, anything that tarnished the World Title also similarly tarnished the US Title. This, thus far has been the lowest point for the US Championship.
In 2003, the WWE United States Championship was activated for the Smackdown Brand and won by Eddie Guerrero. This effectively made the US Championship the opposite and equal of the WWE Intercontinental Championship. It has moved from Brand to Brand with various draftings and matches, spending time on RAW and even contested on ECW. This period represented the US Title's revival. Modern Superstars like: The Big Show, John Cena, Carlito, JBL, MVP, Matt Hardy, the Miz, and R-Truth have held the US Championship. The fact that former World Champions would challenge for the US Title really helped out its "return to grace". Though, I feel Cena's changing the physical belt to a "Spinner" belt hurt the Title, but he's now the 'Face of the WWE' so, he retroactively brings much prestige to the Title, comparable to that of a Harley Race.
The United States Championship is worth the most when men of some prestige in the business defend it and lose it to younger, more hungry talent who haven't made as much of a name for themselves. A Championship is just that and should be vied for. It also hurts a Title when someone holds it for extreme lengths of time and doesn't defend it: MVP held the US title for nearly a year from 2007-2008, and I don't recall him defending it too often during that period. It's always been my impression that the WWE wanted everyone to forget who he won it from. This was the wrong way to handle it. MVP should have held the title for a few months and then dropped it to someone else. But, as of right now, the US Title is being held by The Miz with Daniel Bryan acting as the apparent #1 contender, so, the future looks hopeful.
Still, it couldn't hurt the US Title to have a former World Champion contend for it, someone who maybe can still actually wrestle, not Bret Hart, maybe a Chris Jericho, Edge, CM Punk, or maybe even Cena. Seeing the US Champion vs. the World Champion at a main event could do nothing but good for the Championship and perhaps elevate the Champion. The US Title should almost be treated more like the holder of the title is a #1 contender for the World Title. I think when the US Champion Goldberg challenged Hollywood Hogan for the World Title live on Monday Night Nitro was an example of WCW doing almost everything right. The only way they could have done better is if they had done it on PPV instead of TV, they could have made tons of money on the build-up to that match.
So, overall, I give the United States Championship a 6 for prestige.
In part 2 I'll be similarly examining the Intercontinental Championship and giving a few conclusions and opinions on the direction of the secondary Titles.
What does the IWC think? This is my first article, any feedback would be appreciated.