Paul Wight didn't want to be late for his plane. The wrestler known as the Big Show carefully packed his bags, then double-checked his hotel room to make sure he didn't forget anything. Instinctively, he reached for his World Wrestling Federation heavyweight championship belt, then pulled his hand back realizing that he'd lost the title to Triple H the night before.
"I only had the belt for about two months," Wight recounts. "But I'd gotten used to having it with me. And when it hit me that I wasn't the World Wrestling Federation heavyweight champion anymore, it made me sad.
The Big SHow's downcast reaction is far from unique. Although wrestling's championship aren't won in the traditional sense, possession of the World Wrestling Federation heavyweight strap bestows a rare status to the titlist. "It means you can carry the ball for the company," sayd Wight. "You have the responsiblilty to lead your peers."
Even Kane, who held the belt for a mere 24 hours in June, 1998, understands the sensation of attaining the World Wrestling Federation's premier position. "For one day, I was on top of the world," says the real-life Glenn Jacobs. "How many World Wrestling Federation champions have there been? Not many."
After reaching this pinnacle, though, losing the belt can be an agonizing ordeal. "You hate to say it's the end of the world, but there's a little part of you that dies," concedes Triple H, who won - and - lost the Federation title twice, before capturing the belt form the Big Show this past January 3rd.
"Think about it this way: if winning the belt isn't your goal ing this business you need to pick another profession. It means you're 'the man'. And when you lose, you wonder if you really are 'the man' anymore."
Once, wrestlers held their world shampionships for years. Bruno Sammartino was the World Wrestling Federation kingpin from 1963 to 1971, and again from 1973 to 1977. Bob Backlund defended the title from 1978 to 1983. Hulk Hogan's first reign stretched from 1984 to 1988. And the phenomenon was not exclusive to the World Wrestling Federation. Lou Thesz held the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) strap from 1948 to 1956. Verne Gagne was the promoter and top star of the now - defunct American Wrestling Association (AWA) from the warly '60s to the early '80s, and its champion for the majority of that time.
"It was not unusual for a promoter to hold the belt in his territory, no matter how old he was," recalls Sgt. Slaughter, the World Wrestling Federation champion for two months in 1991. "They couldn't live with the idea that they weren't on the top anymore, so thwy gave themselves the belt to prove that they were."
The real-life Robert Remus also cites another motive: a disire to control the man who held the championship. "They didn't know the could trust themselves," he laughs. "They didn't know what would happen if the boys were running the asylum."
But, as The Rock - a three time champion - points out, "It's a diffent industry than it was 15 years ago. Rather than two guys getting in a ring and just exchanging holds, you see a lot more showmanship and theatrice. And, in this environment, there's nothing wrong with different wrestlers winning and losing the belt."
Triple H contents that fans today have a shorter attention span than their predecessors, and no longer expect their heroes to never taste defeat: "They don't believe that anyone is unbeatable. In fact, they like unpredictability. They like being shocked."
Thus, any wrestler who captures wht World Wrestling Federation championship has to expect to relinquish that belt within a dinite amount of time. "You can't be the champion forever," says The Rock. "You have to do what's best for business.
It's easier to keep the company's interests in mind when the man about to forgo the crown respects the wrestler deemed his successor. The 1997 controversy involving then-titlist Bret "Hit Man" Hart and the number-one contenser, Shawn Michaels, has been well - chronicled. Hart had signed a deal with World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and was asked to lost the championship before departing. Hart said that he was willing to drop the belt - but not to Michaels, a man he disliked. Fearing that Hart would take the belt with him to WCW - and perhaps throw it in a garbage can or digrade it in some other fashion - World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon ordered the time keeper to ring the bell as Hart and Michaels tangles at the Survivior Series in Montreal. The "hit Man" had submitted, the fans were told. Michaels was the new champion.
Fortunately for The Rock, he felt little resistance on the occasions he lost the title - Twice to Mick "Mankind" Foley and once to Stone Cold Steve Austin. "I had no problem doing it for Mick."
But winning is, obviously, better than losing. The Big Show remembers the thrill of being told that he'd been slated to win the World Wrestling Federation championship. It was just before the 1999 Survivor Series, and Austin was too injured to participate. Concerned that fans would be disappointed over the absence of their idol, the World Wrestling Federation opted to "send them home happy" by including a historic title change at the Pay-per-view event. Although still in his rookie year in the World Wrestling Federation, Wight was picked as the man to capture the strap in a "Triple Threat Match" with The Rock and Triple H.
"I was surprised," recounts the monstrous athlete. "I knew the World Wrestling Federation was slowly building me up. But I didn't think I'd win something so important so quickly. I fetl numb the whole day. I called up my girlfriend and told her what this meant to me. Even before the match, word had gotten around the dressing room, and the other guys were calling me 'Champ.' It was like I'd earned a place for myself where I'd never been before."
With the belt around his waist, Wight claims that he pushed himself harder that ever in his career. Despite his immense proportions he shocked fans by leaving his feet and launching an aerail assault in the heat of battle, testing his abilities against such gifted former titlists as The Rock, Triple H and Kane.
"I knew my reing was only supposed to be trmporary," he says. "I was supposed to be a 'quality filler,' an appetizer before the main course of WrestleMania 2000. But in the back of my mind, I was hoping that I'd be such a great champion that they'd let me keep the belt. And when I was told that the day was coming for me to lose, I felt a real sense of loss.
"It's kind of like when you're a kid and your older brother goes to camp, and you borrow his baseball glove. For the whole summer, the glove is yours. But it's not really yours. He comes back from camp, and he takes it from you. You pass him in the hall, looking at the glove on his hand, and wishing it could be yours again."