In the profession of sports-entertainment, any and every wrestler strives to be the best at what they do, and that is obviously to become heavyweight champion of the world. Of course, this being wrestling and outcomes being pre-determined, one might instantly presume there's no meaning and prestige in being a champion of wrestling.
But to be world champion of wrestling, means that you're generally regarded as the best at what you do. To go out there and to give the audience the best match of the night, to be the centrepiece of all the major storylines and angles, to be the biggest star imaginable of your organisation and leave a legacy that fans can revere forever.
So many world titles in different wrestling organisations have become illustrious prizes, building the aura of both title and titlist. But perhaps the WWE's heavyweight championship is truly the greatest prize in all of wrestling. Because as Mick Foley once said, "The WWF has always been able to make it's world title mean something."
Looking at the history of WWE Championship reigns, there's certainly very little evidence to dispute that theory. The WWE HAS always been able to make its world title mean something, whether it be the countless classic matches that the belt has been contested for, or from a storyline standpoint, or the calibre of an athlete chosen to hold it, or when the title has been vacated or when its been the focal point of WrestleMania.
Kevin Sullivan (the co-author of bestseller WWE Encyclopedia) tries to sum up everything that makes the WWE title so important with this delightful hardback chronicling everything from its creation to the most recent title change (which at the time of writing was Sheamus' second WWE title win at Fatal 4-Way 2010).
Having loved WWE Encyclopedia and all the sterling work Sullivan did for that book, I immediately took the chance to purchase a copy of this book. And once again, Sullivan's brilliant research and engaging writing style really comes into play, making Rich History of the WWE Championship great material, both for historians and new fans.
Like WWE Encyclopedia, Sullivan carefully divides his attention and focus to the most relevant parts of the title's history, and does an excellent job summing it all up over three hundred pages. Focusing on the calibre of the athletes, the classic battles, the title changes and audience reactions, the importance of the different reigns, all the storyline feuds that spun-off from it and all the controversies that emerged; the writer once again shows how much he cares about the subject matter.
You can expect to read things like the significance of the first champion Buddy Rogers, the incredible reign of the virtually unbeatable Bruno Sammartino, the awe-inspiring era of Hulk Hogan, the revolutionary changes Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin brought with their reigns, the shocking meteoric rises the Undertaker, Diesel, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar and Sheamus, and the behind-the-scenes frustrations with Shawn Michaels GODLIKE first title run. Plus the eras of Triple H and the Rock, the AMAZING year-long reign of John Cena, the emotional and beautiful wins of Pedro Morales, Eddie Guerrero, Jeff Hardy and Mick `Mankind' Foley, the shocking triumphs of Ivan Koloff, Sgt. Slaughter, Edge, JBL, Mr. McMahon and the Ultimate Warrior, and the controversies surrounding the wins and brief reigns of Kane, Andre the Giant, Yokozuna and Randy Orton.
Reading again about such classic bouts like Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels, Stone Cold vs. The Rock, Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar, John Cena vs. Rob Van Dam, as well as the infamous Montreal Screwjob, Edge's live-sex celebration, to multiple title switches at WrestleMania 9 and No Mercy 2007, the Money in the Bank cash-ins, and the whole Iraqi sympathiser angle surrounding Sgt. Slaughter brought back so many memories. And Sullivan again does all those moments justice. A timeline at the back of the book, detailing every WWE title change up until Sheamus' second reign, along with the introduction at the beginning make it a cracking book overall.
It's interesting as well reading some of the interviews from people over what their title victories and runs with the belt meant, such as Bret Hart, Big Show, Diesel, Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and Sycho Sid (who incredibly saw winning the WWE Championship as more of a hindrance than an honour!). But even though it all makes for superb reading, I can't help but feel it lacklustre somewhat. Compared to how in-depth WWE Encyclopedia was, Rich History of the WWE Championship is somewhat quick and over before you know it, kind of like WWE Showdowns. Perhaps it could've done with another hundred pages, smaller font and more content to justify the price. That Sullivan also kind of blurs the line between kayfabe and shoot when chronicling the title's history may also confuse or off-put some readers.
Nevertheless, this is a cracking book, one that's definitely worth a read. Alas, WWE Encyclopedia remains the best piece of literature that WWE has ever released, but because it's Kevin Sullivan that's written this, you can't go far wrong.