Brock Lesnar’s decisive win on Sunday may not have brought on the end of the John Cena era that we all hoped and dreamed for, but it did mark an important ending.
With Lesnar’s win came a brand new belt symbolizing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, effectively retiring the “big gold belt”. While everyone is busy lamenting over what’s next for Cena, we’re going to take a look at the history of the World Heavyweight Championship and its impact on the WWE in the 11+ years it existed.
The Reign of Terror
As everyone may or may not know by now, the World Heavyweight Championship is NOT the same thing as the WCW World Title. That was retired when Chris Jericho won both it and the WWF Championship at Armageddon 2001, merging the titles into the WWE Undisputed Championship. When Lesnar won the championship from The Rock at Summerslam 2002, he refused to defend the title anywhere other than Smackdown! and the WWE’s flagship show, Raw, was out of a world title.
That didn’t last very long, though, as Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff awarded the World Heavyweight Championship – which looked exactly like the WCW World Title – to Triple H, making him the inaugural champion.
For the next three years, it would be the Triple H show in regards to the title picture. He would hold the title five times over that span and is the record-holder for most days with the title at 616 days. During his run, he took the debuting former WCW goliath Goldberg and reduced him to fodder, getting the best of “da man” more often than not. When he was done with Goldberg, he moved on to Randy Orton. Orton won the title at Summerslam 2004 from The Man Who Shall Not Be Named and turned face when Triple H turned on him. Instead of giving Randy a long run as a top face, Triple H immediately beat him the next month to begin his fourth reign. Pretty much standard for this time.
Finally, mercifully, the reign ended when he lost the title for the fifth time, this time to the emerging Batista at Wrestlemania. In a weird twist of fate, he wound up putting over Batista on three straight shows before moving on to the WWE Championship for good.
The Greatest Timeline
From the time Batista took over the title, things escalated. He held the belt for nearly a year before having to give it up due to injury. Over the next five years, the scene would be dominated by Batista, The Undertaker, Edge as a breakout heel, Chris Jericho in his best role since “Conspiracy Theory” Chris Jericho and CM Punk becoming one of the best heels in the business.
Seriously, we were blessed to get Edge in his scummiest, “ultimate opportunist” persona where he would literally do anything and everything to win the title. Money in the Bank cash-ins, triple-threat matches, you name it.
EVEN BETTER THAN THAT, we got suit-and-tie wearing, thesaurus thumping Jericho in his “the best in the world at what I do” phase. It was a case of Jericho reinventing himself and becoming something entirely new and different. He also had an epic feud with the one and only Shawn Michaels that may have been the feud of 2008.
Oh yeah, and we just happened to get the jerky, pompous, straight edge CM Punk that would make him one of the best heels in years. He had an incredible feud with Jeff Hardy centering around Hardy’s drug and alcohol issues and the persona would eventually spawn the incredibly awesome Straight Edge Society.
Truly, this was the best time in the history of the World Heavyweight Championship. Wonderful performers in wonderful matches and storylines all sharing the title between one another.
The Worst Timeline
And then the WWE just stopped caring.
Part of the issue with 2010 was that the title took a weird direction from going to established guys like Jericho, Undertaker and Batista and instead became the belt that went to young guys who WWE was unsure if they were ready.
By the time 2013 rolled around, the World Heavyweight Championship was clearly the “B” title. It typically opened shows or got lesser spots on the card and was definitely regarded with much less importance than the WWE championship. In a way, it mirrored Smackdown! in the sense that it clearly faded into the background under the more important Raw. It was made important again only when John Cena won it back in October 2013 and only to build the importance of the title unification match.
For a brief while, the World Heavyweight Championship was the most important title in the WWE. Triple H and the rise of Batista made it the title until it was gradually treated with less and less prestige and importance on Smackdown. Even still, it provided some of the most exciting action in years with a title scene dominated by some of the biggest or best in the WWE.
Farewell, giant gold belt. You were always the better looking of the two.
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