Normally, a championship changes hands and that’s as simple as can be. Sometimes, though, a new belt is created from nothing, undergoes a name change, has to be vacated due to injury or is even merged or retired outright.
These more oddball circumstances have happened quite a bit in 2023 throughout World Wrestling Entertainment, All Elite Wrestling and Ring of Honor. Enough so that it’s worth dissecting all the different instances to see just how much of a change the rosters have undergone this year.
Let’s break down all the times this year that the championships in WWE, AEW and ROH did anything outside of a standard title change.
New Championship Titles Created in 2023
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
To compensate for Roman Reigns barely showing up, rarely defending his two world titles and clearly not dropping them until at least WrestleMania 40 (if not longer), WWE created the World Heavyweight Championship for the Raw roster. To date, Seth Rollins is the only person to hold that title, and it is still considered (for some reason) to be a different belt lineage than the World Heavyweight Championship from before.
Still to Come: AEW Continental Championship / Triple Crown Champion
If I’m being honest, I still don’t even fully 100% understand how this concept is going to work. However, the information that has been put out there states that Eddie Kingston’s ROH World Championship and NJPW Strong Openweight Championship are both on the line in the AEW Continental Classic tournament. The eventual winner of the tournament will capture both of those, as well as the AEW Continental Championship.
They keep referring to this as the Triple Crown Champion, and that it will be cross-branded from AEW, ROH and New Japan, but I’m still confused about the logistics. Is there actually going to be a Continental Championship belt created? Will this champion carry that and the other two belts? Is it just going to be one belt? Will all titles be defended in perpetuity? Surely, they can’t TRULY plan on keeping those three titles combined for well over a year, can they? Why sacrifice the ROH world title if that’s the case, rather than the television title? Or will we see one of these belts fracture off?
It sounds crazy, but until we get more clarification, we just have to speculate.
Championship Titles Given New Names in 2023
NXT UK Heritage Cup → NXT Heritage Cup
Last year, the NXT UK brand saw its titles merged with NXT at Worlds Collide. Strangely absent from that event, though, was the NXT UK Heritage Cup. It seemed like that would combine with the NXT North American Championship, but WWE was completely silent on the issue.
Then, randomly, Noam Dar popped up months later, cup in possession, with zero explanation. WWE just acted like it was perfectly normal for nobody to have addressed this for such a long time.
In the process, the United Kingdom association was dropped, leading to this becoming simply the NXT Heritage Cup.
Personal opinion? I don’t see the point in this, and I wish they would have just merged the cup with the North American title and moved on. WWE seems to like these matches and the concept, though, so it seems like it’s sticking around for the foreseeable future, even if it just revolves around Noam Dar as if it’s his personal title.
AEW All-Atlantic Championship → AEW International Championship
In a major step in the right direction, in my opinion, AEW realized how clunky the name “All-Atlantic Championship” was and decided to rebrand it the International Championship.
Granted, every time titles are associated with a location and it doesn’t actually have any rules that enforce that region (ie, the United States title isn’t just defended in America, and what is the difference between World Championship and Intercontinental Championship?) it is a bit odd to me. But at least with this name, it wasn’t continuing the error of having a non-atlantic region associated with it anymore.
Raw Women’s Championship and SmackDown Women’s Championship → WWE Women’s Championship and WWE Women’s World Championship
Stick with me on this, because it’s a bit confusing when you lay it out in text. By the end of the draft, Rhea Ripley was holding the SmackDown Women’s Championship as part of the Monday Night Raw roster. Iyo Sky was then holding the Raw Women’s Championship as part of the SmackDown roster.
In the past, WWE just had people swap titles and be done with it. This time, they opted to rename the titles, instead.
Since the Raw Women’s Championship has the lineage that technically goes back to the WWE Women’s Championship from 2016 when it was merged with the Divas Championship, WWE opted to call that title the “WWE Women’s Championship” belt. Even though, if you look at it, it actually says “Women’s Undisputed Championship”.
It isn’t undisputed. Not even in the sense that Roman Reigns has the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. That belt, by the way, is still two separate titles, and then, a third world title on the opposite brand, which means WWE clearly does not functionally understand what the term undisputed means.
The SmackDown women’s title was then rebranded the Women’s World Championship to coincide with how Raw has the World Heavyweight Championship that looks like the same design.
That means we now have 3 world titles for the men with 1 of them being “undisputed” while consisting of 2 titles, and one of them is called the “WWE World Heavyweight Championship”, but the Raw brand has the “WWE World Heavyweight Championship” in a different way, AND it is different than the “WWE World Heavyweight Championship” from 2002-2013, and an “Undisputed WWE Women’s Championship” that has never once been called that by anyone, but it is labeled as such whenever you look at the actual belt.
Insane. Especially when you think about how at some point, these belts are going to merge if they ever decide to end the brand split, and we’ll end up with a TRUE Undisputed WWE Women’s Championship, and they’ll just call it the WWE Women’s Championship that they currently call it!
Championship Titles Unified or Merged in 2023
NXT Women’s Tag Team Championship
The NXT Women’s Tag Team Championship didn’t make sense from the start. Yes, in theory, having titles for that brand is logical. However, when the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship was created, it was specifically stated over and over again how those titles were cross-branded not just between Raw and SmackDown, but that they could leave the main roster and go to NXT, too.
Then, WWE just opted to have NXT tag titles anyway, and started a terrible run of champions.
The entire history of the belt goes as follows:
- The first champions lose them immediately.
- Less than 2 months later, new champions are crowned.
- Just over 2 months later, new champions are crowned.
- Io Shirai and Zoey Stark, a makeshift team, set the benchmark with 111 days.
- Toxic Attraction lasts 157 days.
- Dakota Kai and Raquel Gonzalez win them back again, and drop them back to Toxic Attraction, bringing their grand total of time as champions to 3 days.
- Toxic Attraction drops the titles 3 months later to Cora Jade and Roxanne Perez.
- Cora breaks up her team after 2 weeks and throws her belt in the trash. The belts are then just considered Roxanne’s for 7 days, before she vacates them.
- Katana Chance and Kayden Carter become the longest-reigning champs at 186 days.
- Makeshift “can they coexist” team Kiana James and Fallon Henley hold the belts for less than 2 months.
- Alba Fyre and Isla Dawn hold them for 83 days and get drafted to the main roster in the meantime.
- The belts are merged and unified with the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship, only for Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler to drop the titles a week later and split.
Adios, NXT women’s tag titles. Your potential was never once realized. Good riddance.
Championship Titles Fully Retired in 2023
AEW “Real” World Championship
CM Punk had a roller coaster ride with the AEW World Championship. Not too long after winning it, he had to relinquish it due to an injury.
This led to Jon Moxley becoming interim champion, before eventually beating Punk for the right to become the undisputed champion, only to drop the title to Punk a few days later, just for Punk to get injured in THAT match at All Out, cause the Brawl Out incident, get suspended, and see the title once again vacated.
Skip that part of 2022 and eventually, Punk came back to action in 2023 claiming that he never lost the title, and he was in possession of the REAL World Championship.
This AEW Real World Championship was never established as a true title, yet it was defended as if it was, strangely. We can assume it was meant to culminate in some sort of title unification match against MJF, but that never got to play out. Instead, Punk last defended this pseudo-title at All In, got into yet another fight backstage, was fired, and the Real World Championship was never mentioned again.
Every Time a Championship was Vacated in 2023
I’m actually surprised this list isn’t bigger, as I had a perception that there were a lot more titles being relinquished this year. Here’s the list of instances when someone vacated a belt this year:
WWE Titles Vacated in 2023
- Indi Hartwell vacated the NXT Women’s Championship
- Liv Morgan and Raquel Rodriguez vacated the Women’s Tag Team Championships
AEW Titles Vacated in 2023
- Nobody actually vacated an AEW title this year. Every time they needed to, they actually dropped the title in a match.
ROH Titles Vacated in 2023
- Samoa Joe vacated the ROH World Television Championship
What do you think will happen with the titles in 2024? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!