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Matt Spaulding



Booking a Better Champion

LINE OF THE WEEK: Mike Tenay: "What could possibly top a Viagra On A Pole match?" (Thunder, August 2) Oh, I don't know... how about... ummm... SOMETHING THAT DOESN'T SUCK?

That is all.

VERY close second: Test: "Thank God I didn't marry THAT woman." (SmackDown!, August 3) Test SO rules.

Booker T.'s current World title reign in WCW got me thinking about something. In the past 12 months, we've seen a lot of changes at the top of the Big Three promotions, as each one has crowned at least two first-time world champions. Some of them even got to be champ a second time.

The fact that there have been so many new champions is really the only common thread all of them have. Each man (Triple H, Mike Awesome, The Big Show, Masato Tanaka, Bret Hart, Jeff Jarrett, Justin Credible, and Booker T.) has had a run that has been different in some way from all of the others. Some were successful, some were mediocre, and some just bombed.

There are different reasons for the different levels of success, and while thinking about them, I came up with four things that I think make a champion believable and accepted by the fans. These could apply to all championships at all levels, but I single out the World champions here because that's where the majority of the attention is focused.

1. Proper build-up.

Very few wrestlers walk into a promotion and go right to the main event. Most start out at the bottom, or, if they're very lucky, the middle of the card and work their way up. The notable exception is if a wrestler has just jumped from another fed; then he's more likely to start in the upper mid-card on name recognition alone (I'm thinking specifically of Jarrett here, and Hart and Show to a lesser degree), and get to the top faster than a new guy would.

Regardless, the principle is still the same: A new main eventer has to show the fans that he can compete with and beat the established top guys. Triple H beat Rock to earn his title shot, then beat Mankind; Mike Awesome beat Taz; Big Show beat HHH and Rock; Bret beat a bunch of good wrestlers in the title tournament; and Credible beat Tommy Dreamer (who'd just beaten Tazz). Wins over an established main-eventer or two are a sure ticket into that club.

I don't think it's a coincidence that some of the least regarded World title reigns in recent memory are reigns by three guys who seemed to drop out of the sky and become champion. (Awesome, Big Show, and Credible) Time will tell if Booker can overcome this, although as a face who was already over, he has an advantage.

Speaking of being over...

2. A good storyline.

A World champion who's not over is about as useful as Erik Watts. So there's a responsibility to make fans care about the guy.=20 Ideally, he'd be over to start with, because you want to avoid trying to get a wrestler over while he's holding the #1 belt.

The most glaring recent example of this not working that I'll refer to was the Big Show-Big Bossman feud. Here we had an angle that crossed the boundaries of good taste on more than one occasion, and it involved a wrestler who nobody liked to begin with, and then it became about the WWF Title, and people began wondering who the Bossman was servicing to get a World title program.=20 At least the right man went over.

The angle that led to Justin Credible's ascension to world champion should have been more successful than it has been so far. The old "tag team splits up" angle had been done before, but never like the way ECW did it, and not with those results. What hurt this situation was that Lance Storm, the tag team partner Credible dumped, left the company after the blowoff match.

(Aside: I'm willing to eat crow here and admit that I was wrong about Storm's chances in ECW. He has three championships and is one of seven wrestlers in all of WCW who's actually over. He is one of the lucky ones.)

Justin's opponents since then? A PPV match with Tommy Dreamer, and televised defenses against whoever didn't complain about not getting paid the week prior. This leads to...

3. Credible (I apologize.) opposition.

This goes back to something I alluded to in point #1. Once a new champion has been crowned, he has to defend the belt, and that means defending it against other wrestlers who could conceivably hold that belt.

This is where the WWF blew it with Big Show, as they fed him a steady diet of mid-carders like Davey Boy Smith and Hardcore Holly for him to squash. And let us not speak of the Viscera title match. By the time he finally got a decent opponent in a title match that didn't turn into a total cluster, it was Triple H, who beat him to regain the title the second time.

Triple H had the same problem during his first title reign, as a combination of #1 and #2 (the lack of focus, combined with him not actually being over) led to a HHH-Billy Gunn title match main event on Raw, which was probably the most heatless TV main event of 1999.

Perhaps no promotion has been hurt more by this recently than ECW, where world champion Credible is trotted out to the ring to face whoever's name got pulled out of Heyman's pants that morning. Kid Kash? Danny Doring? The Quebecer guy? Did anyone think any of these guys had a shot?

Also important is the placement of the match. A World title match should, ideally, be the main event on a TV show or pay-per-view. Big Show's title matches were often in strange segments, like the turn of the hour on Raw or the second-to-last quarter hour, and his one PPV title defense (against the aforementioned Bossman) was the third match from the top, after HHH-Vince and the tag title match. I can't even remember the last time a Credible match was the main event on an ECW TV show. The title - and by extension, the man holding it - doesn't seem as important as it should be when it's not the headliner.

This is also part of the fourth rule:

4. Make him look good.

WCW's really dropped the ball in this department, especially recently.

I can use any of Jeff Jarrett's world title reigns as an example.=20 Vince Russo, knowing that Jarrett's historically been a difficult guy to get over with the crowd, decided in his finite wisdom to book him as a whiny heel who complains every time he has to defend the title.=20 Guess what? It didn't get Jarrett over, and nobody bought him as champion because he seemed like he was always afraid he'd lose the belt.

And I won't even talk about what happened after Spring Stampede.

WCW hasn't done much better with Booker, either, although beating Sting on Monday helped a little bit. But the week before that, they had him job to Jarrett in a non-title bunkhouse brawl two days after getting punked out by Jarrett and losing to Goldberg in the same night.=20 Considering the poor shape WCW is in, they really can't afford to be doing this to their world champ.

So who's been the most successful? Triple H, no doubt, even after his near-disaster of a first title reign. Bret Hart would be an easy choice for second even with everything that went wrong after Starrcade. Mike Awesome was okay as ECW champ.

Jeff Jarrett's championship runs have been so badly mismanaged that I can't call them successful, and that's a shame... the guy deserves better. Big Show wasn't really allowed to show off his "A" game as champ, either.

Obviously, the jury's still out on Booker T., and I think the same applies to Justin Credible as well, even though many aren't buying him as champ, he hasn't gotten a lot of help.

I thought about closing this column with the phrase "Book a better champion, and the fans will beat a path to your door", but I decided against it because, frankly, it sucked.

Small Packages:

  • How do you think Jericho and the Undertaker explained to their new brides how they'd be written off TV to go on their honeymoons?=20 "Well, the owner's son is going to smash a cinder block on my knee."=20 "Then he's going to drop a metal garage door on my chest, pinning my arms to my sides, then Chris Benoit will hit me in the face with a steel chair. Oh, and I'll be bleeding internally afterwards. Gotta go! Love ya! Bye!"

  • Jericho looks kind of goofy in a tux. His new wife's a hottie, though.

  • Bring back Heenan. NOW. And if WCW decides to screw this up, too, I've got a free idea for the WWF: Cole and Heenan on SmackDown!

  • The FROGSPLASH~! is back! And the really cool thing was you could see Eddie hesitating before he did it, as if he was thinking about what happened last time. Nice job by Cole to put that over, too.

  • Any idea what directions they're going in for SummerSlam? No? Me neither.

  • Hey, I LOVED the Rock mocking Big Show's chokeslam. So SUE me.

    NEXT WEEK: I try to predict New Blood Rising, and I wonder if maybe Russo's the one who's out of ideas.

    Matt Spaulding
    One half of the ECW World Tag Team Champions
    Two-time OWF Cruiserweight Champion

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