The legendary Bret Hart unveiled the new AEW Championship belt this past weekend at Double Or Nothing.
Reactions from belt fans have been mixed. Fans either love the new championship or they hate it. There’s nothing in the middle.
Championship belts are symbols of wrestling companies themselves. Some championship designs have withstood the test of time, and others are better left forgotten.
Buckle in as we take a look at the best and worst championship belt designs of all time.
3. The Spinner Belt – WWE Championship (2005-2014)
To this day, it’s a mystery how this thing hung around for nine years. Thankfully, the AEW Championship didn’t take any cues from this stinker.
It was only meant to be a custom title for John Cena. You see kids, for a time there, John Cena’s gimmick was that he was a white rapper. And, around 2005, spinning rims were a big thing in the hip-hop community and in culture in general.
So naturally, John Cena’s customized championship belt would reflect his gimmick. But, as we said, it hung around for nine years!
The tacky diamond-encrusted logo, the replacement of the word “champion” with “champ,” and — dare we mention this a few more times? — the spinning logo!
Smart fans have complained for years that Cena has a talent for burying other wrestlers. We wish he’d picked up a diamond-encrusted shovel to bury this monstrosity.
2. The Tomato Belt – WWE Universal Championship (2016-Present)
Poor Mick Foley. It seems like every time WWE drags him onto television, it’s to debut an ugly-ass championship belt.
WWE took more than its share of shots over the past week for the aesthetically-displeasing WWE 24/7 Championship, and rightfully so. But at least that championship belt is meant to basically be a joke title. It’s not meant to stand as a symbol of excellence for an entire brand.
When then-Raw commissioner Foley unveiled this title in advance of the SummerSlam 2016 match between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor to determine the first Unviersal Championship, fans were excited. It was going to be a new world-level championship for the top guy on the Raw brand. People wanted to know how cool it would look.
And we found out. Ugh, we found out.
Honestly, what bugs me about this isn’t so much the red strap. Although, that’s a problem. What’s troublesome about this championship belt is that it began an era of laziness for WWE titles.
The WWE Championship, the Universal Championship, the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships, and both the men’s and women’s UK Championships all have this same, weird shape.
Part of me wonders if Finn Balor injured himself on purpose in his match with Rollins just so he wouldn’t have to carry the thing around.
1. The Butterfly Belt – WWE Divas Championship (2008-2016)
Someone at WWE marketing (or maybe Vince McMahon himself) had to have said this at some point: “Girls like butterflies, right?”
Let’s just say that when the women’s division gets an AEW Championship of their own, I hope it looks nothing like this … this thing.
I accept that this was a title for a different era of women’s wrestling for WWE. It wasn’t taken seriously, as the company was more about taking pretty girls and teaching them to wrestle (often badly) than it was in having a core roster of talented women wrestlers.
But good lord, that championship belt is ugly. It’s as though the marketing team wanted to appeal to every demographic young girl there was.
The women can’t just be “women.” They have to be Divas! The belt can’t just be a butterfly. It has to be a cool butterfly! There has to be pink in it, because girls, but not too much pink!
Bad marketing and mixed messages got together and produced this abomination that hung around far past its time.
3. The Big Eagle – WWE Championship (1998-2002)
This one didn’t hang around very long, and that’s a shame.
Alongside the wrestlers who held it, like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H, this belt symbolized the Attitude Era.
It was big and loud, but it was simple. Comparable in size but not in decoration to the AEW Championship, the Big Eagle belt wasn’t much more than a redress of the classic Winged Eagle belt (we’ll get there). But when Austin defeated Shawn Michaels to become WWE Champion at WrestleMania XIV, it was clear that a new era would require a new championship.
This championship itself was retired when Chris Jericho unified the WWE and WCW Championships in December of 2001, but a new belt design wasn’t unveiled until Triple H beat Jericho at WrestleMania X8. Because Triple H.
It’s a cool belt with a great legacy that marks a very specific moment in time.
2. The Big Gold – NWA/WCW/WWE World Heavyweight Championship (1986-1991, 1994-2001, 2001-2015)
This is at the top of just about everyone’s list. Just about.
I love the Big Gold Belt. It’s ridiculously big, incredibly gaudy, and it’s over-the-top in its splendor. Which makes it absolutely perfect for pro wrestling.
It gained its highest popularity and made most of its history around the waist of Ric Flair. The Big Gold Belt was a perfect match for Flair’s character, and it was a stark departure from any championship belts that came before it. Its influence is all over the AEW Championship.
But for all its ornate decorations, it’s incredibly simple.
One giant plate in the center with a crown, rubies, and diamonds placed on the edges. A golden side plate on either side of the main plate, and a plain, undecorated strap.
You can’t exactly call it no-frills because … I mean, look at it. But it tells a simple story in a big way: The guy wearing this championship is the man.
And to beat the man … eh, you know the rest.
1. The Winged Eagle – WWE Championship (1987-1998)
I’m gonna take a shot in the dark that if you’re reading this, the Winged Eagle championship belt permeated your childhood.
And there were others whose careers were defined by this championship belt. Even when the Ultimate Warrior decided to put a rainbow’s worth of colored straps on it, this was the absolute symbol of pro wrestling excellence for more than a decade.
Concerning the Big Gold Belt, most people associated it with Flair. Those who didn’t considered it the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, and a select few thought of it as the WCW world title.
The Winged Eagle Belt left no question. This was the WWE Championship, and if you held this belt, you were at the top of professional wrestling.
The significance or beauty of a championship belt is about nostalgia every bit as it is about prestige. And it’s entirely subjective.
If you started watching wrestling around the time of John Cena’s rise, then the Spinner Belt is probably your championship belt.
Whether or not the AEW Championship belt is good-looking or not, doesn’t matter, because we don’t yet have classic matches or memorable champions with which to associate with it.
But we will. And that, more than anything else, is what will decide where on this list that championship belt belongs.
Feature image courtesy of “Hangman” Adam Page’s Twitter account.
All other images courtesy of WWE.