With Keith Lee’s NXT Championship win over Adam Cole on Night 2 of NXT’s Great American Bash, Lee has become the third high-profile double champion in wrestling this year. Lee is following in the footsteps of Tetsuya Naito (winner of both the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships at Wrestle Kingdom) and Bayley (current SmackDown Women’s and Women’s Tag Team Champion), as well as Shingo Takagi, the current holder of both the NEVER Openweight and 6-Man Championships.
2020 has been quite the year for people eyeing two championships at once, but if you ask me, double champions are annoying both as a fan and, I would imagine, for the wrestler.
Now, as a viewer, it has always bothered me when someone shoots for two championships, whether it’s a smarmy villain like then-AEW Champion Chris Jericho challenging SCU or a hero like then-United States Champion Roman Reigns getting cocky and going after Kevin Owens’ Universal Championship.
It’s not just because I’ve always been a huge fan of Rusev, whose wedding and title reign were both stifled at once by our resident Big Dog. Instead, I just like it when I can have multiple favorites as champion at once. Though Reigns isn’t my favorite, I’d rather him have the championship than, say, The Miz; but, if Reigns is already holding the US title, I’d rather him at least pretend to care about what he already has and make way for someone else (e.g. Sami Zayn).
And, as much as I love Keith Lee, a little bit of this “greedy” energy rubbed me the wrong way during his North American Championship run as well.
But, moving away from my perspective as a viewer, my analyst’s perspective finds this fascination with being double champion a little perplexing. While it is a niche stat and you look cool as ice with two championships, I feel like becoming a double champion is just looking for trouble.
In NXT, the main title contender often has multiple people vying for the championship at one time. Just last month, Adam Cole was being propositioned by Karrion Kross, Johnny Gargano, Finn Balor, and of course Keith Lee — and that’s just a day in the life of an NXT Champion. When Aleister Black was champion, he was being challenged all at once by Gargano, Velveteen Dream, Lars Sullivan, and Tommaso Ciampa, among many others.
And, for Lee’s part, his North American Championship was also a hotbed for multiple challengers, as seen by his title defenses against Dominik Dijakovic, Roderick Strong, and Damian Priest, plus a random fight with Cameron Grimes — all of this before he had to defend the championship against Balor and Gargano a few weeks back. NXT is stacked with talent — all of whom want belts — and now Keith Lee has both.
To me, holding two championships is just an opportunity to get your face smashed in twice at once.
Not only does it seem like too much of a hassle, but take a look at how past double reigns ended and see how poorly it can go for someone in Lee’s position.
Last year’s WrestleMania headliner Becky Lynch had the privilege of walking out of the Grandest Stage of Them All with two shiny red, white, and blue belts, but it only lasted a month before her feuds began “crossing streams” and Lacey Evans (scorned challenger for Lynch’s Raw Women’s Championship) cost Lynch the SmackDown Women’s Championship in a match against Charlotte Flair.
Though Lynch managed to break the record for the longest Raw Women’s Championship reign and even went out on her own terms via pregnancy, the beginning of that reign was definitely a rough one because she had her hand in too many pots.
Lynch’s baby daddy has a much worse history with dual-title reigns, as he has never managed to figure out how to manage it. He has been a double champion twice, holding both the WWE and United States Championships in 2015 and the Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships in 2018. Neither reign lasted very long, though only the former was for the same reasons as Lynch.
During his 2015 reign, Rollins was simultaneously dealing with unbeatable championship-scene mainstay John Cena and the returning, enigmatic presence of Sting. These problems weren’t going to be solved in a triple threat match, where he could let them take each other on, but rather in two separate matches at Night of Champions 2015, a show where Rollins actually lost the US Championship in his first match of the evening against Cena.
He was lucky in his defense against Sting that night, but it would come back around to bite him, as you’d have to think that adding a one-month US title reign to his already grueling 7-month WWE title reign could have played a factor in his body (particularly his knee) giving out at a house show in November.
Bayley isn’t in the worst position right now, because one of her championships is being half-carried by another capable wrestler in Sasha Banks. By having Banks as an ally, Bayley has been able to rely on interference from Banks in singles title defenses and rely on Banks’ own wrestling in tag team championship matches.
That’s not to say that Bayley hasn’t been able to pull her own weight — she held the NXT Championship for ages and never cheated once — but Bayley is in a prime position to keep things going, as is Shingo, who can (or at least could) rely on both EVIL and BUSHI in 6-Man Championship defenses.
Going back a bit, WWE’s two “Eurocontinental” Champions D’Lo Brown and Kurt Angle (sorry Jeff Jarrett) tell two different stories. Brown’s reign only lasted a month, and Angle’s wasn’t much longer, but the reason why Brown did it better than Angle is seen in the way they both lost. Angle lost both of his championships in a two-fall triple threat match, where Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho made off with his Intercontinental and European Championships, respectively, without Angle being pinned or submitted once. Brown, however, lost both championships in one match to Jarrett, a smart way to defend them which preceded a smart way to drop them, as Jarrett quickly tossed the European Championship to Mark Henry the next day, ridding himself of the double-wide target on his back.
Tetsuya Naito did his double champion reign right as the pair of championships were treated almost like they were one title. His first defense against KENTA was for both belts, and when he lost at Dominion last Sunday, both belts transitioned to EVIL, who is also defending the belts two-at-a-time against Hiromu Takahashi at NJPW Sengoku Lord. Right now, it appears that the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships are functioning a lot like the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from late-2013 to mid-2014.
WWE Champion Randy Orton defeated World Heavyweight Champion John Cena at TLC 2013 to unify the two world championships. Unlike all of these other jokers who just want to claim two belts, these two fighting for the right to forever unify the two top titles in the company — two symbols of the original brand split, a time where both of these men broke into the business — isn’t just going after a cool stat. The winner of that match made history, and it’s a unification that was never taken back.
The next two champions (Daniel Bryan and Cena himself) carried both belts to the ring and looked awesome with them, but not only was it fashionable: it was convenient, as it only needed to be defended once.
Just look at those sweet pictures of Ultimo Dragon and Great Sasuke with the J-Crown. Eight championship belts all made up that one title, so while the titleholder got to look impressive as the Junior/Cruiserweight Champion of eight-ish companies, it didn’t come with the hassle of a billion challengers that could become #1 contenders for each individual belt. One person would be the top of the heap, and he’d only have to fight that one person.
Then there are people who are genuinely top champion in multiple companies, with the greatest recent examples being Austin Aries, Zack Sabre Jr., and WALTER. ZSJ’s was impressive as he was, at once, the top champion in EVOLVE, RevPro, and PWG, three of the top independent promotions in the world. WALTER picked up where Sabre left off, at once holding the PWG, PROGRESS, and OTT Championships.
By only holding one belt in multiple promotions, you only have to worry about your opponent right then and there. You fly to PWG and fight Chuck Taylor, then fly to RevPro and face Tomohiro Ishii, then show up in PROGRESS and face Tyler Bate. All of these challengers are just as their title implies — challenges — but when they’re spread out, it has to be easier to manage your playbook.
I hope the North American Championship doesn’t get absorbed into the NXT Championship, but that very same hope means that I’m wishing for Keith Lee to endure a whole lot of pain. Which is whatever for me, because at this point, Keith deserves it.
I enjoyed watching him beat Adam Cole, and I enjoyed seeing him get the signature Triple H point moment, but due to my own personal bias against the very idea of double champions, I also can’t wait for Karrion Kross, Cameron Grimes, Roderick Strong, Dexter Lumis, Damian Priest, and everyone else in the locker room to start beating on him. Maybe dropping the NA belt to previous opponent Strong at his earliest convenience (a la Becky Lynch and Charlotte) could mean he gets the longest NXT Championship reign of all time, and who knows how long it’ll last since I’m 98% sure that Lee can’t get pregnant.
I do still wish Keith Lee the best of luck in this reign, though. At the end of the day, he’s up there with Drew McIntyre and Asuka as one of my favorite wrestlers in WWE, and I will say that I think his title win is much bigger than the other championship crowning that took place last Wednesday.
Tune in next week when I break down Brian Cage’s FTW Championship win and give a bit of a history lesson on custom title belts and the prestige that comes with them.
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