Being a champion in wrestling is the pinnacle of the industry. It has often been said that if you are not in the game to win the top prize, you are in the wrong game. As of the time of writing, 54 men have held the WWE Championship, 29 have held the IWGP Heavyweight Title in New Japan and 53 have held the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Title. This shows just how difficult it is to ascend the mountain in wrestling. To counteract this companies will often introduce secondary and tertiary belts to accompany the most prestigious honour and the tag team titles. These belts are used to elevate wrestlers who may be getting primed for bigger things. Less so these days in WWE but in New Japan the Intercontinental Title is still used to test the waters of a potential charge to the headline spot.
Surely then, it stands to reason that when someone can attain ownership of multiple belts at once this increases their stature in the business exponentially? In my humble opinion, this is not always the case. In fact holding simultaneous titles causes more problems than it creates solutions. If you have not been keeping up with New Japan since they restarted their shows, you will want to stop reading this here. Spoilers ahead.
Currently in the main promotions in professional wrestling four people are holding at least two title belts. Bayley is the reigning SmackDown Women’s Champion and one half of the Women’s Tag Team Champions with Sasha Banks, who herself will attempt to become a double champion at the upcoming Horror Show at Extreme Rules. Keith Lee has monopolized the NXT World Title and the NXT North American Title and EVIL stands atop NJPW with the IWGP World Title, IWGP Intercontinental Title and he is one-third of the NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Team Champions alongside former LIJ stable mates Bushi and Shingo Takagi, who is also the NEVER Openweight Champion.
This is an unusual number of wrestlers to hold multiple titles however, it makes sense in the landscape of the industry. No longer is WWE the only game in town. AEW, Impact, AAA, CMLL, NJPW, and ROH all offer very lucrative employment opportunities for performers, therefore more championships are on offer. But this is my main issue. More titles should mean more opportunities for people to climb the ladder and grab the figurative brass ring. Having double, triple, quadruple etc. champions hinders this entirely.
For me to more fully explain I will treat the world title picture as an exclusive club. Only certain people will ever attain entry to this club, and it is ordinarily by invite only. Once invited the onus falls to the prospective member to prove they belong in such a prestigious company. We’ve seen many fail at this hurdle and be pushed back down the pecking order. In wrestling, this would mean chasing whichever championship is down the rung. As an example, the booking of Kofi Kingston in early 2010 was designed to get him to the next level, he hit an obstacle he couldn’t overcome in the shape of a Legend Killer and was summarily removed from his higher role. By May of that year, Kingston was the Intercontinental Champion and would hold it three times after 2010 and he would also reign twice with the United States Championship. These reigns were attainable as those belts weren’t considered main event level straps.
If you all of a sudden take that belt, which is there for people not yet welcome in the exclusive club, and put it on your top member you have created a problem. It is a double-edged sword of sorts. Eventually one of the titles will have to be re-homed and this is where the predicaments start. You can take that secondary title and put it back where it belongs, at the lower rung when potential candidates to enter the illustrious club can be vetted, but at what cost? You either have one of your top guys lose clean to a guy who is, firstly, considered lower in the pecking order and secondly is a guy you have no intentions of imminently allowing a higher spot. This causes damage to the top guy and possibly adds another layer of seemingly impenetrable glass to the ceiling for the up-and-comer.
Another option would be to have the top guy lose dirty. A better idea, but another one with a drawback. This does nothing for the challenger but everything for the losing party. It is a cold title win used as a story beat to further a feud for the world title. It also creates question marks over the new champions legitimacy going forward. Sure, he won the title, but he didn’t do it alone. Help was needed and that casts ability into doubt and damages their viability as a defending champion going forward. It was simply done to get one of two titles off a wrestler who did not actively need two title belts. You could always vacate the secondary belt, but this runs the risk of making the vacated title look pointless and damaging the prestige.
Aesthetics of a Double Champion
Having double champions looks really cool when promoted on TV and for PPV matches. The visuals of Ultimo Dragon when he held ten titles was awe-inspiring. Kurt Angle holding every male championship TNA had to offer was a great promotional tool. Conversely, however, it closes doors to guys who could be gunning for these titles. Yes, the loop will eventually be broken when the title returns to circulation in the lower echelons, but first it has to slowly work its way back down. A top guy cannot lose to a lower card guy without damage being done one way or the other. The cost of a good visual to sell tickets is often the damage of someone already over or, worse still, someone trying to get over. It also means one less spot on the bigger paydays for wrestlers. It goes without saying that weekly TV will pay less than a monthly super show. This is why, usually, bigger matches will happen on these shows. Higher stakes, larger opportunities, better pay. But with a double champion, that is one less spot on the card. It means someone is pulling double duty. A good example is when Seth Rollins walked into the Toyota Centre to defend both his United States and WWE Championships against John Cena and Sting. All of these men are made men and would look at home challenging for the top titles in any promotion. Instead, Cena and Rollins wrestled for the secondary belt. This was an opportunity that could’ve gone to many other guys on the roster. At this point Dolph Ziggler and Rusev were embroiled in THAT storyline. The feud would’ve instantly meant more, and been more well-received, had it had a title such as the United States Title involved.
I am not against double champions when done correctly. Kurt Angle entering WrestleMania 2000 with both the European and Intercontinental Title belts is a prime example of it being done right. In a triple threat, two-fall match against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, Angle would defend the European Title in the first fall and the Intercontinental Title in the second. He lost both belts but was never pinned or submitted. The titles changed hands, the champion wasn’t damaged and the challengers were elevated. I appreciate this can’t be done all the time as the idea will lose any and all originality but it hasn’t been revisited in 20 years.
A balance must be struck when booking someone to hold multiple titles and often this balance is thrown off kilter before the reign has had an opportunity to resonate with fans. Double champions are a nice way of hammering home the dominance of one individual but often come at the price of your other roster members. It is a risk/reward situation that rarely plays out well. Time will tell how the double champions of today fare, but I sadly do not anticipate fireworks beyond the initial wins.