Examining the Rise and Fall of the World Heavyweight Championship
The World Heavyweight Championship was once the most coveted title in the wrestling industry, but its value has never been lower than it is right now.
For months the feud for the big gold belt has been the third or even fourth most prominent one on the show. Any program that involves the WWE Championship, John Cena, CM Punk or any part-time megastar invariably takes precedence over the World Heavyweight Championship.
Being World Heavyweight Champion used to guarantee a main event spot – now it doesn’t guarantee any more than 18 seconds.
The value of the title has taken a nosedive in recent years, but this article will take a look at the different stages of value the championship has gone through in its eleven year history.
2002-2005: The King's Grail
Brock Lesnar defeated The Rock at SummerSlam 2002 to become the WWE Champion, but he would go on to perform exclusively on SmackDown, meaning Raw was without a world title.
Eric Bischoff would resolve this problem when he presented the World Heavyweight Championship to Triple H, Raw’s top talent.
From 2002-2005, the big gold belt was basically the property of "The Game."
Sure, Shawn Michaels, Goldberg, Randy Orton and Chris Benoit all had runs with the belt—Michaels and Orton held it for about a month before dropping it to Triple H, and while Goldberg had an 84-day reign as champ, but he never had a pay-per-view title defense that didn’t involve Triple H.
Chris Benoit spent a solid five months as world champion, but his reign was overshadowed by the "HBK" vs. HHH program.
The exception to the rule is Batista, who defeated his former mentor three PPVs in a row and then took the gold to SmackDown.
Raw was the premiere WWE show and Triple H was its top star. By definition, that would make the World Heavyweight Championship the company’s top title, but the WWE did a great job at making both world titles feel similarly (if not equally) important.
2005-2008: The Blue Brand’s Title
John Cena dominated the WWE championship scene on Raw similar to how Triple H did the World Heavyweight Title.
The company was obviously behind Cena in a huge, huge way. This meant that the big gold belt often played second fiddle to the WWE’s crowned jewel.
Batista and Kurt Angle maintained the prestige of the title as they were presented as strong champions, but Rey Mysterio didn’t fare quite as well. He suffered many non-title losses throughout his reign and looked like a paper champion as a result.
After Mysterio came "King Booker", who was booked well but reign was overshadowed by the WWE title program between Edge and John Cena.
The title would then be traded between Batista, Edge, Undertaker and (ugh) The Great Khali. Undertaker definitely brought the best out of the title during this period, as his rivalries with Edge and Batista were both highly acclaimed.
In fact, the last time a World Heavyweight Championship match main evented a WrestleMania was at ‘Mania XXIV when Undertaker defeated Edge to win the gold.
During this three-year period the title was often outshined by the WWE Championship, but not considerably so, and brand-specific PPVs meant that each title got to main event its share of events.
2008–2010: The Rise Before the Fall
CM Punk cashed in his first Money in the Bank contract on June 30, 2008 to become World Heavyweight Champion. The title went back to Raw in the process, though it would end up back on the blue brand less than a year later.
This two-year period was a good time for the title, as it was held by great champions and was contested for in many terrific feuds. Most noteworthy were Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels and CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy rivalries, which were both outstanding and made the big gold belt the hottest title in the company.
The Undertaker also had a lengthy run with the strap, and Edge and Jericho put on an excellent match over the gold at WrestleMania XXVI.
Unfortunately, things went downhill from there.
2010-Present: Super Intercontinental Championship
WrestleMania XXVI was a landmark event for the WWE. Not in the sense that it was a particularly good show (it was average), but rather because it marked a huge shift in the company’s roster.
It was the final WrestleMania that Batista or Shawn Michaels would compete and the last one that The Undertaker and Triple H would enter as full-time performers.
Following this, almost every established top star would gun for the WWE Championship, leaving the World Heavyweight Championship to be contested over by newer stars (Jack Swagger, Alberto Del Rio) or older stars that were never long-term main event performers (Kane, Rey Mysterio).
The one exception was Edge, who held the title from December 2010 to WrestleMania XXVII when he defeated Alberto Del Rio in what would be his final televised match.
Following Edge’s retirement and with the exception of Randy Orton, the title has been held exclusively by upper-midcard stars.
Christian, Mark Henry, Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus, Big Show—talented performers, but none whose star power matches that of stars like Undertaker, Triple H or Shawn Michaels. This was also around the time the Nexus tried to take over the WWE and had zero interest in SmackDown or its world title.
Don’t be mistaken, there have been some outstanding feuds over the title. Christian and Randy Orton had a meaningful rivalry that produced consistently fantastic matches, for instance.
The problem is, none of these feuds were presented as the premiere attraction in the company; that distinction was always given to the WWE Championship feud—or whatever rivalry John Cena is involved in.
It's fine for one title to tack a backseat to another for a short period of time, but the impact has been devastating to the big gold belt.
If I said the blue brand’s title would be defended in the main event of WrestleMania XXX, you’d say I was crazy.
In fact, recent history suggests that it’s more likely that the match for the World Heavyweight Championship would go on first and last less than 30 seconds.