Friday, December 03, 2010

Wrestling: The European Championship

Triple H, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Jeff Jarrett, Diamond Dallas Page, Jeff Hardy, Rob Van Dam. The unwritten tier system might've seen the WWF European Championship fall third to the Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles, but the names that held the strap over it's brief five-year history are surprisingly impressive.

It was part of Shawn Michaels' dual title reign as the first WWF Grand Slam champion; the underscore in British Bulldogs' bitter and fruitless struggle for the Heavyweight title; part of Kurt Angle's rise as one of the most quickly decorated stars in wrestling; and a feather in the cap of many stars who went on to hold top title gold.

In 2002, the European belt was unified with the Intercontinental title on Rob Van Dam, and subsequently absorbed into that year's version of the World Heavyweight title as part of the WWF brand split extension. The desire for symmetry in the brands eventually saw the United States title -- absorbed during the acquisition of WCW -- fill the void created by the eventual return of the IC belt. It has been a fair and equatable system in theory, but in practise, exposed as many problems in modern WWE as it has solved.

The beauty of the WWF's title arrangement as of 1997 was simple. It offered opportunities to the entire roster, relative to their status, or style.

For those not yet ready for a rise to the top, the Intercontinental and European titles offered legitimate stepping stones at the upper and mid-card levels. The Light Heavyweight and Hardcore titles played specialist alternatives to the slightly more prestigious Euro belt, completing the picture in a way not seen since the brand extension. If this titles' absence in 2010 is a criticism, then it's also a criticism of the modern product, which I often choose to describe as polished to the point of erosion. Even so, I think very little would need to change to make the European title a successful commodity in the current era. In fact, in ideal circumstances, it would help encourage that depth of investment that existed in the Attitude Era, with favourite wrestlers from the top to the bottom of the card.

Due to it's lower grade, the European title would offer the possibility to legitimately contend a championship during international tours, which go otherwise untelevised, and are inappropriate for top belt changes. Also, with WWE farming the Florida Championship Wrestling developmental territory quite heavily since the introduction of NXT, there's an obvious potential for the establishment of a strong mid-card tradition. The European title would be right at home on a show like WWE: Superstars, which typically features this middle-section of the roster, and would allow seasoned stars to initiate some of these new inclusions with a more longterm record than some of the forgettable avenues used now.

For me, a great sticking point of the past decade has been attempts to fasttrack main event stars into extended championship runs. While it would not guarantee a more considered approach, the presence of a championship heirarchy would at least offer more stop-gaps for giving the rub to up and coming names. I might've preferred The Miz put more years into working his way up the ranks before winning the WWE title, for example. Other stars with potential might include:

Montel Vontavious Porter (#11)
What better way for an MVP to show off his status than by jetsetting to the most glamorous cities of the world? With a few cheesy promos infront of blue screen backdrops, MVP could up his stock as a European champion who claims to represent and reside in various cities across Europe. It was a concept used during D-Lo Brown's reign, and I think, could make the ballin' MVP a superstar worth noticing, giving him a place on the card that he can make his own.

Tyson Kidd (#27)
The high-flying alternate in the crumbling Hart Dynasty tag team would be right at home with the European championship, I think. He has the wrestling skills to bring credibility to the title, and with DH Smith involved in any capacity, it would be a great way to add extra motivation to an already personal feud. A chance to begin Kidd's career as a singles wrestler without the stigma of a [still defunct] Cruiserweight title reign, or a premature push.

David Hart Smith (#24)
DH Smith stands in a pretty mighty shadow, but as a European champion, I think he would be making the best of a family legacy. At the present, it's difficult to see how far Smith's future goes with WWE. If there's a long run in him, then this could be a pretty charming beginning to a quest to do what his father wasn't able to -- become the holder of all the major championships.

Vladimir Kozlov (#42)
In 2008, Kozlov came in strong, marching his way to a short but noteworthy undefeated streak that included a victory over The Undertaker on Smackdown. After a disappointing showing in a WWE Championship match at Survivor Series, he was quickly downgraded, tumbling down the roster to ECW henchman, landing on RAW as comedy relief opposite Santino Marella. I enjoyed the indomitable Russian gimmick, but would agree he was far from ready for top gold. The Euro title would have been an opportune way to follow through on his monster heel status, without embarassing the concept or gold.

William Regal (#93)
The four-time European champion probably deserves better, but it seems increasingly unlikely that William Regal will ever match tenure for success. In the event that he never receives a JBL-style push to the top, the former King of the Ring might as well exhibit his dominance over a division he's represented so well in the past. A small, but fitting reward for his years of service.

Drew McIntyre (#5)
His Intercontinental Championship reign came with a lonesome DDT and an unconvincing elevation. It doesn't take a genius to slap the European title on wrestlers from outside the US, but I think that's more a testament to the credibility of the concept, than a criticism. Drew McIntyre could've established himself much more appropriately at this level.

Cody Rhodes (#7)
Despite the pedigree of some of it's holders, the European title came to be associated with the underside of it's mid-card trappings. A certain style emerged as a result of that, and I feel Cody Rhodes might be at home there. The belt would certainly help break up his bizarre skinny-ankled grey boots that look like socks with underpants, and add some gold to his dashing demeanour, without compromising other belts.

Ted Dibiase Jr (#50)
Once the more promising of the Orton-following Priceless tandem; Dibiase has struggled to find character or success in the RAW ranks. Recent battles with Bryan Danielson for the US title exposed how underdone his persona has become. Had the European title been active, Dibiase's post-Orton career might've been salvaged sooner by a more appropriate championship goal.

Mark Henry (#58)
No matter how hard they sell his big-man status, I can't ever see myself accepting Mark Henry as a contender for the WWE or World Heavyweight championships. Somehow not quite in line with the image of an IC champion, I would be more than willing to accept a Mark Henry who dominates his opponents as a two-time European champion.

Santino Marella (#46)
Soiled beyond repair by his extensive feature as a comedic foil, the Italian Marella could at least find a starting point to earn back some credibility by way of his European heritage.

Tyler Reks (#94)
Emerging as one of the FCW recruits, Reks might not be ready for a championship reign just yet, but the presence of a European title would at least provide an avenue for him to get the rub from some of the other names mentioned on this list, with the potential to earn an eventual reign and benefit from that accordingly. He wouldn't be my first choice, but he'd certainly be welcome in the division. Appearances on Superstars highlight this.

Percy Watson (#125)
It should be plain to everyone that Percy Watson is ready. Percy Watson is already happening. Percy Watson is bringing the party to your house, be it via FCW, or NXT. Percy Watson is already a legitimate fact, and the European championship would just be a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Ibiza pales in comparison. Percy Watson is the official party capital of the world. Oh yeah!!

Finlay (#137)
If he ever absolutely has to occupy a championship contender slot again, then it might as well be the Euro belt.

Charlie Haas (#167)
Haas recently reunited with his Worlds Greatest Tag Team partner, Shelton Benjamin, in Ring of Honor, but if it wasn't too late for Haas, the European title would've given him a chance to flex his in-ring skills, putting a catch as catch can face on a belt, without the burden of his lack of personality getting in the way.

Rankings provided come from the Weekly Kayfabe Countdown.

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