Earlier this month was the 50th anniversary of Bruno Sammartino becoming the first man to defeat a WWE champion and take his title. Buddy Rogers was named the initial champion of the then-Worldwide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). The company was parting ways with the National Wrestling Alliance and creating their own world championship. As the legend goes, Rogers won a tournament in Rio De Janeiro on April 25, 1963, though there is no proof of the tournament ever existing. Sammartino defeated Rogers for the title after 22 days.
Since that first title change, there have been 110 others, meaning the championship has only averaged a bit more than two exchanges a year for a half-century. Among the holders of the championship in its history is a short list of just 44 different men. Rogers would never win the championship back, making those 110 title changes to follow come at the delight of just 43 other men, including Sammartino. Sammartino's initial reign would last a record 2,803 days, but the new Hall of Famer would win the title back ten years later and hold it for an additional 1,237 days.
Not every reign has been as long as the great Sammartino's were. In fact, some haven't even been WWE champion for more than 24 hours. They still brought forth some of the greatest matches and moments WWE has ever seen. Among those are these dates, which mark the 50 greatest title changes in the past 50 years. Be it the match itself, the moment that followed, or what the title change meant to the company historically, these are 50 moments in time that have helped to mold WWE and the prestigious title it holds.
There's no question that WrestleMania IX was a pretty odd WrestleMania historically. From seeing Jim Ross in a toga to that awful Undertaker match against Giant Gonzalez, this was a WrestleMania to forget. It still came with an unusual moment in WWE Championship history. Yokozuna, fresh off a Royal Rumble victory, took on Bret Hart for the world title and won his first WWE Championship in the process. In Hart's corner was Hogan, who tried to help his banged up friend.
Mr. Fuji, the manager of Yokozuna, challenged Hogan to a title match on the spot, which Hogan accepted with some coaxing. Hogan avoided salt to the eyes, took advantage of a stunned Yokozuna and walked out of WrestleMania IX as WWE champion.
No Mercy 2007 was one of the most unusual pay-per-views in WWE history, all because of the fate of the WWE Championship. On October 1, just six days before No Mercy, John Cena was injured live on an episode of RAW. Cena tore a pectoral muscle and had to be stripped of the title the following night on an episode of ECW. No Mercy began that night with Orton being awarded the WWE Championship without any real reason. Orton was then challenged by Triple H to the title, which he would win in a matter of minutes.
Triple H's night was far from over. He would be forced into defending the title against Umaga later in the night, defending the title. Orton would wrestle Triple H once again in the main event of the night. The main event match was made into a Last Man Standing match, which Orton was able to win, giving him two title wins in less than three hours. In any event, Randy Orton was now a WWE champion and the Age of Orton would begin.
It was a long and difficult road back for Triple H, who tore a quad in his leg and effectively missed seven months of his career. It could have been the end for The Game, but Triple H worked back from the brink and found himself in the thick of things in January 2002. Despite missing the entire storyline involving the WCW/ECW invasion, Triple H won the 2002 Royal Rumble and took on Chris Jericho, who had become the Undisputed Champion.
With a rivalry that saw Triple H's wife, Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, align with Jericho, The Game defied the odds and was victorious at WrestleMania X8. It would be the biggest spot for Jericho in his career and the last time that he would hold the WWE Championship. As for HHH, it was just one of the many times that Helmsley was on top of the mountain in WWE. The ultimate comeback story had its great storybook ending.
The man known commonly as John "Bradshaw" Layfield today was simply known as Bradshaw for many years. He was notable during the Attitude Era as forming The Acolytes, later calling themselves the APA, with Faarooq. Bradshaw was a tough fighter who liked drinking beer, playing cards, smoking cigars and, you guessed it, fighting. That image all changed when Layfield left his partner behind and became a persona more based on his real life as a rich businessman and stock market advisor.
JBL was born and the Texan was more patriotic than ever. Feuding with Eddie Guerrero, JBL named his WWE title match at The Great American Bash to be a Texas Bullrope match. The rare match type saw JBL successful, becoming WWE Champion for the first time in his career. The reign would last for 280 days before losing to an up-and-coming superstar named John Cena.
The main event of Survivor Series 1999 is known by some as the greatest main event that never took place. Originally, the plan was for Triple H to defend his WWE Championship against Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock in a Triple Threat match. Instead, Austin was infamously struck by a car in the parking lot that night, leading to a replacement being needed. Fresh off winning a Traditional Survivor Series match all by himself, Big Show entered the main event match in Austin's place.
With a last minute change like that, along with Big Show having such a heavy work load that night, there wasn't much hope that Big Show would factor much into the decision. Without Austin, who was in need of neck surgery, it could be Triple H and The Rock feuding with one another, while Big Show was just a warm body to keep it a Triple Threat match as advertised.
In a 60-minute Iron Man match, The Rock and Triple H gave each other everything that they had. To try and keep the peace was Shawn Michaels, the commissioner of WWE at the time. Michaels had history with The McMahon Family and D-Generation X, but vowed to play things down the line. Following a pinfall from The Rock, the score was tied at 5 in the waning moments of the match. With Michaels on the ground at ringside, the music played for the return of The Undertaker.
The Undertaker cleared the ring of DX and The McMahons, but Michaels was getting back into the ring during the final seconds as The American Badass gave a chokeslam and a Tombstone Piledriver to Triple H. Michaels attempted to reason with The Undertaker, but the moves still occurred. As much as it pained Michaels to do so, he called a disqualification at the hands of The Undertaker and awarded the winning fall to Triple H due to the attack. Triple H was the new champion due to a Tombstone that seemed to happen after time had run out.
John Cena had just defeated five opponents, including reigning champion Sheamus, to become WWE champion once again. Without much time to reflect on his victory, Mr. McMahon came out to announce that Cena would only make it to WrestleMania as champion if he could defeat Batista. Cena had become a thorn in McMahon's side in previous weeks and Batista used the opportunity to take the title away from Cena, who had difficulty even standing.
In what felt like the equivalent of a Money in the Bank cash-in, Batista won his second career WWE Championship and his first since winning in a steel cage match at Extreme Rules 2009. Batista would be forced to vacate the title just days into that first reign due to injury.
Fresh off a title win over Jeff Hardy at Royal Rumble, Edge was poised to retain his championship and enter WrestleMania 25 with the WWE Championship. It didn't happen that way. Edge began the match with Hardy and was quickly pinned, leaving all five challengers with a guarantee at a new champion. It was an embarrassing showing for Edge, but just the start of his busy night. Edge would later crash the World Heavyweight Championship's Elimination Chamber and ultimately win the bout and the title.
Among the five challengers were four former champions, including Jeff Hardy, who began 2009 as WWE Champion. Vladimir Kozlov was eliminated in what ended up being one of his last chances at a world title in WWE. The remaining three fan favorites all worked together to take down Big Show. Hardy would then be pinned by The Undertaker, leaving The Deadman alone with The Game. After multiple counters and near falls, Triple H got the best of The Undertaker and became WWE champion.
It was a busy 24 hours for WWE champion Randy Orton. Orton took part in a title defense again Wade Barrett of Nexus in a match nicknamed Free or Fired. John Cena, who was forced into joining Nexus, would be free of the faction if he let Barrett win. Instead, Cena called the match fairly and was fired from WWE when Orton retained. One night later, Barrett wanted a rematch for the title and got one. Barrett brought Orton to the brink, but Orton retained despite repeated shots to his knee.
A hobbling Orton rose to his feet to see The Miz run to the ring with his Money in the Bank briefcase. It was just the third time a briefcase had been used on the WWE Championship and the first one not to occur in the year 2006. After a few minutes of fighting, The Miz finally got the most out of a weakened Orton and won the match, becoming the 40th different man to become WWE champion. It is still the only world title reign of The Miz's career to this point and it is a scrutinized decision to have The Miz as WWE Champion. Even still, the moment shocked the masses and made for an unpredictable ending to RAW.
The state of WWE was a bit in limbo during the summer of 2011. John Cena lost the WWE Championship to CM Punk at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, but there was no WWE champion on RAW the following night. Punk had seemingly left WWE with the championship, so the company was forced to hold a short tournament to crown a new WWE champion. The finals of the tournament were postponed for one week, but came down to Rey Mysterio against The Miz.
The two were both former world champions, but only The Miz had won the WWE Championship previously. Mysterio was a former World Heavyweight Champion, but was yet to join the elite club of WWE Champions. A fantastic match between The Miz and Mysterio saw The Master of the 619 emerge as the newest WWE Champion. Mysterio would defend his title later on that night in a losing effort against John Cena. For one night, however, Mysterio was WWE champion.
Iron Man matches are so rare in WWE because it is difficult to find two superstars that can stand to wrestle for such a long amount of time. When the match does occur, it becomes such a big deal that the match is often put on a pay-per-view. Never would fans believe that they would see a 60-minute Iron Man match on a free televised program like Smackdown. That's exactly what fans were treated to on a night in 2003.
Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle were the two best overall athletes in WWE at the time and rank among the greatest of all-time. Their matches were always very physical and would include flashes of their amateur wrestling backgrounds. When the idea of an Iron Man Match between these two was thrown around, fans of this rivalry began to salivate. It's still shocking to think that this match took place on Smackdown. A pay-per-view quality match that saw a title change hands was on free television? It's still incredible.
WWE was within their peak of mainstream popularity in 1999 and their main feud at the time was The Rock and Mankind partaking in pretty brutal matches. After a controversial end to their "I Quit" match at Royal Rumble, Mankind was in line for a rematch for the WWE title. Instead of picking a venue with a pro-Mankind crowd, the hardcore legend decided to take on The Rock in an empty arena.
The match was recorded on January 26, but aired on Sunday Night Heat five days later and nicknamed Halftime Heat. The episode aired at halftime of Super Bowl XXXIII. The show got a rating of 6.6 from fans who decided to watch instead of seeing a performance by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Stevie Wonder and Gloria Estefan. The Rock and Mankind went all over an empty arena, while Mr. McMahon provided commentary. There was even a countdown clock that would pop up so that fans could watch the entire match and be able to get back to the big football game. It isn't often that someone wins a world title from getting pinned via forklift.
Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart were hated rivals for quite some time, so when Hart was challenging The Undertaker for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam 1997, having Michaels as the special referee made the match even more compelling. At this time, Hart had become anti-American and increased his pro-Canadian attitude. This brought stipulations into the championship match in the New Jersey Meadowlands.
If Hart was to lose, he wouldn't be allowed to wrestle again in the United States. To help Michaels not purposely screw Hart over, Michaels made the same vow if he did not call the match down the line. At the end of the match, Hart used a chair on The Undertaker and Michaels got into Hart's face about it. Michaels was determined to not have the match end in disqualification, but when Hart provoked him, Michaels swung the chair to hit Hart, only to miss and his The Undertaker instead.
The Undertaker wasn't getting up and Hart was covering the champion. Disgusted, Michaels reluctantly counted the pinfall and Hart won his final WWE Championship. He would remain champion until Survivor Series 1997, but what happened on that night is pretty well-documented.
After a controversial ending to a title match between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, there was no WWE champion at WrestleMania IV. Instead, a night-long tournament took place to crown a new champion. The finals of the tournament led to Ted DiBiase and Randy Savage. Neither man had been crowned WWE champion yet in their careers, despite DiBiase nearly being given the title just weeks earlier. Hogan and Andre, the two men partially responsible for the tournament in the first place, stood in opposite corners for their respective allies.
As DiBiase seemed close to stealing the title from under Savage's nose, Hogan came in off a distraction of the referee. Attacking The Million Dollar Man gave Savage the opening he needed and one atomic elbow later, Savage had defeated DiBiase to become the new WWE champion.
Edge had always been a man to take advantage of opportunity. Jeff Hardy was a man finally getting his opportunity. Edge was a superstar who was on the receiving end of a lot of help over the years from allies. Hardy mostly had to do things on his own, but the one man always in the corner of Jeff was his brother, Matt Hardy. Royal Rumble 2009 changed that. Hardy lost his only WWE Championship by the hand of his own brother.
Finally getting the upper hand on Edge, the two Hardy brothers were going to bash chairs on Edge's skull to finish him off. Instead, Matt swung his chair to hit Jeff, watching as Edge pinned him to become the new WWE champion. Edge and Matt Hardy have had their personal history with one another, both in the ring and outside of it. The sight of one brother turning on another and a man helping someone who he despises was unique and shocking.
The TLC match is still one of the most brutal matches in wrestling history. It was a match Edge had helped to innovate and was undefeated when taking part in them. John Cena had never been in a TLC match until Unforgiven 2006, when Cena had his last chance to defeat Edge for the WWE Championship. Not only was the match Edge's strong suit, but the pay-per-view was in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the hometown of Edge. With the deck stacked against him, Cena overcame it all to raise a championship belt once again.
It would be the last time the Rated R Superstar version of the WWE Championship would be used as Cena would put back his spinning WWE logo. Cena was set to move to the Smackdown brand with a loss, but withstood brutal chair shots and other damage from weapons. Edge was poised to win as Cena came to his feet, but was knocked off the ladder when Lita attempted to knock out Cena with a chair. Cena fell into the ladder and knocked Edge into a table. When both men were back up, Cena delivered an Attitude Adjustment (known as an FU at the time) off the top of the ladder and through two tables.
Brock Lesnar was called The Next Big Thing for a reason. When he debuted in WWE, there wasn't a man in his path that could stop him. Lesnar's stock rose incredibly in a short amount of time. By the time SummerSlam 2002 came around, Lesnar was the top contender for The Rock and his Undisputed WWE Championship. The Brock vs Rock tagline was a big seller for SummerSlam and the main event delivered.
The Rock gave one of the his best matches of this part of his career, but Lesnar was that much better. Lesnar took down The Great One and became the youngest WWE champion of all-time. Lesnar would go on to hold the championship twice more in his career.
The intensity of Randy Orton and John Cena had all been developing for months and even years. When Bragging Rights 2009 finally rolled around, the rivalry was going to end with a dangerous 60-minute Iron Man Match with the WWE Championship on the line. The stipulation for Cena was similar to something he had seen before: lose and leave RAW forever.
Orton had Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase at his side for assistance. He also had the voices in his head, which told him that trying to set off pyrotechnics with Cena in the line of fire, among many other things. It helped to give Orton a 5-4 lead in falls with just under 25 minutes to go. Cena would take back control and hit an Attitude Adjustment from the ring steps, which were set up next to the announce table. Cena would then cover Orton to tie the score at five with just under 10 minutes to go. Cena would lock in the STF on Orton with just under a minute remaining. Orton tried to last until time ran out, but tapped out with less than 10 seconds to go for the loss.
Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle are two of the best pure athletes WWE has ever seen. When they collided for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XIX, we were all in for a treat. Unusually enough, the match began more so as an actual amateur wrestling match. There were takedowns and a lot of technical skill on display. Eventually, the throws were worked in and the submission holds soon followed. That match ultimately broke down to Lesnar and Angle both trying to hit their finishing moves.
The match is mostly remembered because of Lesnar's attempt at a Shooting Star Press, which failed. It has become a running joke about Lesnar's ring IQ, especially because it caused a concussion for Lesnar, who won the title that night. After a few weeks, Lesnar was retaining his championship once again. It still is hard to not remember the gigantic Lesnar attempt to flip in the air onto Angle, who was pretty far away as it is.
It was pretty obvious that WrestleMania VII had a theme of patriotism. The color scheme in the logo had an American feel to it. Even the ropes were red, white and blue. In Los Angeles, WrestleMania was a tribute in itself to show support for the fight the country was getting into with the Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm. Also coinciding with it was Sgt. Slaughter's alteration in his persona and his pro-Iranian attitude.
Slaughter became WWE champion and took it into WrestleMania VII, which changed venues from apparent threats against Slaughter and his character. Hogan, complete with American flag, took it to Slaughter and became WWE champion once again. It would be Hogan's fifth victory in the final match within the first seven WrestleManias. Hogan would win the final match in each of the next two WrestleManias before leaving WWE.
There was only one Breaking Point pay-per-view, but it did have some pretty vicious matches. Among them was a vindictive Randy Orton defending his WWE Championship against John Cena, who was looking for some redemption. Cena had a long journey back to the WWE Championship, which he was forced to vacate after a torn pectoral muscle. Cena returned from injury and herniated a disc in his neck months later. Despite winning the World Heavyweight Championship a months later, regaining the WWE Championship had eluded Cena until Breaking Point.
Orton was very hardcore throughout the match, throwing steps at Cena's head and giving countless shots with kendo sticks. Orton even used handcuffs to torture Cena, but the challenger would end up unlocking himself and cuffing Orton's wrist. Now, challenger and champion were handcuffed to one another. Cena was able to use Orton's own arm as leverage and force the champion to say "I Quit".
Following their epic encounter at WrestleMania III, Hulk Hogan was hoping to finally get rid of Andre the Giant during The Main Event, just weeks before WrestleMania IV. Not only did Ted DiBiase have the loyalty of Andre the Giant and the services of Virgil, but The Million Dollar Man had a trick up his sleeve as well.
A hard-fought match between the two men less than a year after their unforgettable WrestleMania match felt tainted after DiBiase brought in a look-alike of the referee, who was incapacitated during the match. It was long-time WWE referee Earl Hebner who was the impostor of his twin brother, Dave Hebner. Hebner counted the winning fall for Andre, despite Hogan clearly getting his shoulder up after just a count of two. The twin referees were quickly exposed, while Andre attempted to hand the championship over to DiBiase.
The championship would be vacated and a tournament at WrestleMania IV would crown the champion going forward. Despite having it for not even one day, Andre the Giant became WWE champion that night in one of the most unforgettable and controversial moments in WWE history.
Sheamus was still a relative unknown when he came to the RAW brand, won the Breakthrough Battle Royal, and became the number one contender for John Cena's WWE Championship. The match would be made into a Tables match for the title and it was uncertain if WWE would give the inexperienced foreign heel the victory over the established babyface champion.
The ending only did more to confuse and baffle the audience. Cena and Sheamus were both on the top rope with tables in the ring and at ringside. Cena attempted to perform a superplex on Sheamus, but The Celtic Warrior held on, sending Cena off the top rope and through the table by himself. Sheamus had shoved Cena off the rope and through the table, giving Sheamus the unexpected WWE Championship win. Moments after the push, Sheamus fell off the turnbuckle and fell onto a table that didn't break. It only led to speculation that perhaps both men were supposed to go through tables to create a confusing ending to the match.
CM Punk was WWE Champion for 434 days straight until earlier this year. Fans were excited to see CM Punk have a true reign as WWE Champion, but never believed that Punk's reign would challenge the longest of all-time. Punk's reign surpassed all in the modern era and began to get towards the status of men like Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund and Bruno Sammartino.
At the 1,000th episode of RAW, it was announced that The Rock would face the WWE Champion at Royal Rumble 2013. That continued to be Punk and the two began a war of words that came to a head in the main event. A stipulation was added that if Punk got disqualified, he would lose the championship. In a back and forth match, the lights suddenly went out and came back on with The Rock through an announce table. With the belief that it was The Shield that was responsible, Mr. McMahon came out prepared to strip Punk of the title.
Before that could occur, The Rock told McMahon to restart the match. It was and it only took a few more minutes for The Rock to deliver a People's Elbow and win the championship. The Rock would remain champion until WrestleMania 29, but unveiled the current design of the WWE Championship belt in the process.
Do you ever wonder why so many people love going to house shows? It is because of moments like this one that prove the fact that anything can still happen at a house show. In the old pro wrestling days, few matches were ever televised, so title changes at house shows were as unpredictable as anything. In the world of weekly TV programming and monthly pay-per-view production, it's usually a status quo when it comes to wrestling that isn't televised.
Then, there are times like a late November 1994 house show in Madison Square Garden. Bob Backlund was the unexpected WWE champion and, as expected at house shows, there was a WWE Championship match. However, it was against Diesel and it was over in just seconds with a brand new champion. Title changes that aren't televised don't happen very often, but house shows will always be accompanied with that possibility of seeing history.
By the way, it probably took you longer to read this than to actually watch the match.
This was a match about the road back to the top. Both men seemed miles away from this match just months earlier. Hogan was with the nWo, only to branch off on his own following his match with The Rock at WrestleMania X8. At that same event, Triple H completed his comeback from a devastating injury to become Undisputed Champion following a Royal Rumble win in January. Triple H had taken both championship belts and created the new Undisputed WWF Championship belt. His first title defense came at Backlash 2002, just five weeks into his latest title reign.
Hogan, who was just months shy of his 49th birthday, got involved in a brawl with The Game, but came out with the victory thanks to his patented "Hulking up", big boot and atomic leg drop. Hogan would be the last man as champion before WWF became WWE. Hogan's sixth reign as WWE champion would be his last, ending just 28 days later and marking the second-shortest world title reign for Hogan in WWE.
It was supposed to be a triple threat match between WWE champion Triple H, Vladimir Kozlov and Jeff Hardy. Suddenly, it was revealed that Hardy was attacked in his hotel room and that the match would go on as planned, with or without Hardy. Kozlov and Triple H wrestled the match with a lot of stalemates and holds, which led to chants of "boring". What happened after was far from boring.
SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero came to the top of the ramp and exclaimed that "he's here". Public opinion thought that Hardy was in the arena and ready to compete after all. Instead, music of the returning Edge came through the speakers and the crowd was shocked. Edge hit a spear on Triple H when Hardy suddenly ran down to the ring to attack Edge. He then grabbed a chair, hit Triple H while aiming for Edge, hit Kozlov and got speared by Edge. Edge covered Triple H and won his third WWE Championship, only to lose it three weeks later to Hardy.
The 1998 Survivor Series featured a tournament referred to as the Deadly Game. It was what took up the majority of the pay-per-view that night as 14 men vied to be the new WWE Champion. The title had been vacated after champion Stone Cold Steve Austin had been pinned by both Kane and The Undertaker simultaneously. The rematch between the two Brothers of Destruction was ruled a no-contest due to Austin as a special guest referee. Austin was among the men in the tournament trying to win the championship.
After The Rock defeated The Undertaker in the semifinals and Corporation favorite Mankind defeated Austin, the final was set between The Rock and Mankind. The Rock was the second-most hated man in WWE for Mr. McMahon behind Austin, while Mankind was the superstar that The Corporation wished to mold into their idea of a champion.
The match concluded as The Rock locked in a Sharpshooter and the bell rang, claiming The Rock as the winner and new champion. The match ending was a reference to The Montreal Screwjob from one year earlier at the same event. The People's Champion had become The Corporate Champion and the Deadly Game was survived by The Rock, winning his first WWE championship.
There was controversy surrounding the WWE Championship at the end of 1991. The title had gone from the hands of Hulk Hogan to The Undertaker's and back in the possession of Hogan in just one week. With controversial endings, the title was held up by WWE President Jack Tunney. The title would be awarded to the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble, the only time in history in which the title was awarded to the winner of that match.
The match saw 30 men enter, but the count was down to just five when Hogan, Ric Flair, Sid Justice, Roddy Piper and Randy Savage remained. Flair had entered at number 3 into the match and survived for a while in there as Piper and Savage were eliminated. Eventually, Hogan was eliminated by Justice, leaving Sid with only Flair to contend with. As Flair tried to sneak up on Justice, Hogan held onto Justice's arm, helping to eliminate him from the match and helping Flair to win the WWE Championship. Flair lasted 59:26 in the match, the longest time in the Royal Rumble to that point.
The Money in the Bank briefcase was still developing its reputation as a way for up-and-coming superstars to take that next step into the main event scene. When Rob Van Dam became Mr. Money in the Bank, he did something that nobody had done before him and few have done since. Van Dam announced to the world when he wanted his match, instead of waiting for a vulnerable champion.
Van Dam chose to have the match during ECW One Night Stand to get the home field advantage in an extreme atmosphere. Van Dam was heralded in front of a historically anti-Cena crowd. Cena seemed to have a counter for everything RVD tried to do. Ultimately, Cena had the upper hand on Van Dam, who rolled to the outside, A man wearing a biker helmet entered the ring, spearing Cena through a table. The man was revealed to be Edge and all that Van Dam needed was a Five Star Frog Splash and someone to count the pinfall. Paul Heyman did the counting honors and Van Dam was WWE champion.
Bob Backlund winning back the WWE Champion at Survivor Series was scrutinized then and still is scrutinized by pro wrestling fans. It is hard, however, to deny how interesting the premise for the match was. Backlund returned to WWE and insisted on getting a championship opportunity. His reasoning was pretty simple. He never was pinned or made to submit to lose the title. He only lost because his manager threw the towel in on his behalf.
Backlund claimed that he had never stopped being champion, but rather needed to get his championship belt back. Few gave Backlund a chance since he hadn't been champion in over 10 years and lost the belt in the first place to The Iron Sheik and his Camel Clutch. If that was going to make him lose, just wait until champion Bret Hart got a hold of him. Backlund locked in his patented Crossface Chickenwing and the towel from his corner was thrown in, the only way to win this particular bout.
Following the disposal of WCW and ECW, the WWE officially had two world champions. Mr. McMahon, along with new co-owner Ric Flair, decided to have four men compete to determine one undisputed champion in WWE. The Rock would defend the WCW Championship (known at this time simply as the World Championship), while Stone Cold Steve Austin took on Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship. The two winners would face each other to combine both titles and crown one champion of the entire WWE.
Jericho was able to sneak out a victory over The Rock, which led to Austin coming down the ring to combine both titles. Austin could have defeated Jericho, except that Booker T, who was unemployed in storyline at the time, knocked out Austin. This allowed Jericho to pin Austin and become WWE Champion for the only time in his career. It made Mr. McMahon extremely happy to see anyone not named Austin become the first Undisputed Champion.
The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin faced one another three times at WrestleMania. At WrestleMania XV, it was an exciting match, but it wasn't as clear that we were talking about two of the all-time greats. By the time WrestleMania XIX came around, both were towards the twilights of the regular part of their careers. Austin had his health issues, while The Rock had Hollywood calling out to him. Right inbetween both matches was the second of three bouts at WrestleMania X-Seven, the best of the trio.
It didn't hurt that WrestleMania X-Seven is looked upon by many as one of the best WrestleManias ever, including some who rank it the best of all-time. This was that night's main event and what made it more shocking from a historical standpoint is that Mr. McMahon, a perennial rival of Austin's, was the man who helped The Texas Rattlesnake win this match.
McMahon came to ringside and pulled The Rock off a pinfall in this no-disqualification matchup. The Rock would chase McMahon around the ring, which led to Austin hitting a Rock Bottom on The People's Champion. Austin raised the chair up, but The Rock popped to his feet for a Rock Bottom of his own. The Rock then turned his attention to McMahon, but came back to Austin and walked right into a Stone Cold Stunner for the victory.
John Cena rose up the ranks in WWE and won his first championship at WrestleMania XX. It only seemed like a matter of time before that championship around Cena's waist was a world championship. Cena finally broke through for a world championship opportunity at WrestleMania 21 against reigning champion John Bradshaw Layfield.
The match was built as a classic "rich guy vs everyman", which most of Cena's WrestleMania bouts have mirrored. This one made the most sense of all. Cena was still up-and-coming at the time, while JBL was established and comfortable in his spot as WWE Champion. JBL came out to the ring with a police escort for his trademark limo with the longhorns on them. There were even $100 bills with JBL's face on them that rained down on fans. Cena's entrance was about as basic as main event WrestleMania matches get.
The action was pretty much a brawl between two physical men. Cena looked like more of a grappler than JBL did, since Layfield's style is to just take it to his opponent. An evenly-contested matchup ultimately saw Cena get the upperhand and go for the FU, only to have JBL wiggle out and try his devastating clothesline. Cena dodged it, hit the FU and won his first-ever WWE Championship.
It was one of the most brutal WWE Championship matches of all-time when The Rock took on Mankind at Royal Rumble 1999 in an "I Quit" match. The match was immortalized in the classic wrestling documentary Beyond the Mat, including the sights and sounds of Mick Foley's immediate family sitting in the first few rows of the stands.
It isn't often that an "I Quit" match gets that physical, especially in today's standards. There were an incredible amount of vicious shots to the head of Foley that night and it had everybody cringing. The match ended in such a unique way too. The Rock took audio of Mankind uttering those two sinister words earlier in the night and played them over the P.A. system to lay claim to a victory. Instead, Mankind was incapacitated and a rematch was scheduled days later because of it. From the action to the odd ending, this match embodied what it was like in the Attitude Era.
Brock Lesnar was always a destructive being when in WWE. Just weeks before he was set to leave WWE for a chance at the NFL, he was still WWE champion. A battle royal was held on Smackdown to crown a number one contender, which was down to Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero. Guerrero was fortunate enough to get the Olympic gold medalist out of the ring to gain a title shot at No Way Out.
The storyline built around this match was Guerrero's road to redemption. Mention was made of Guerrero's past as an addict, which only seems ironic now after years have passed since his shocking passing. It made for Guerrero to be the underdog that the fans hoped to see emerge as champion. With just weeks before WrestleMania XX, the winner would be the WWE champion at the great venue.
What somewhat took away from the match was the constant storyline of Goldberg being at ringside the entire night. It would be Goldberg who jumped into the ring during the match to attack Lesnar. Guerrero used the damage given to the champ to hit a frog splash and coax the referee into position for the title victory. It is the crowning achievement in the career of Eddie Guerrero.
Hulk Hogan had helped to put WWE on the map and launch sports entertainment into the point where it is in pop culture. However, Hulkamania in WWE was coming to an end and the main event of the first-ever King of the Ring in June 1993 would see that ending come to a front.
Hogan had become the champion in the final moments of WrestleMania IX. Yokozuna had defeated Bret Hart for the championship and challenged Hogan immediately after. Hogan accepted and defeated Yokozuna in moments to start his final WWE Championship reign until 2002. History suggests that Hogan did not wish to feud with Bret Hart over the title, but preferred to go against Yokozuna. At King of the Ring, it may have been Hogan's preference coming into play with the ending.
There was much to do about photographers at ringside for the match, suggesting that Japanese media was there to put a possible Yokozuna victory in their newspapers. Sure, Japan is 13 hours ahead in time zones from Dayton, Ohio, where the event took place, but that's besides the point. Following Hogan's atomic leg drop, Yokozuna kicked out. Hogan saw a cameraman stand on the ring apron, but when Hogan approached the man, a fireball came out of the camera. This led to Yokozuna pinning Hogan for the title win and giving a post-match Banzai Drop. Hogan wouldn't be back in a WWE ring until 2002.
Bret Hart was the guy picked to be the top babyface in WWE around the mid-1990s. WWE was making a transition away from the demigods like Hogan and Savage and brought up believable common man babyfaces. Bret Hart was that wholesome guy to latch on to, climbing the ladder from the tag team division and becoming a world title contender. Hart became WWE Champion against Ric Flair in October 1992 during a match that didn't get televised and was only seen on a Home Video release. Hart would remain champion until WrestleMania IX in the Yokozuna/Hulk Hogan ending that had little to do with Hart.
One year later, Hart had worked himself back into the picture, when he was one of two men to simultaneously win the 1994 Royal Rumble match. It led to both men having matches at WrestleMania X against champion Yokozuna. Aside from this road to redemption, Bret Hart was going through issues with brother Owen Hart.
At WrestleMania X, Bret Hart opened the night by facing his own brother and would be in the last match of the night, defeating Yokozuna to win back the WWE Championship. It was one of the greatest nights for any superstar in one specific WrestleMania.
The Monday Night Wars helped escalate the product of professional wrestling in the 1990s. It brought fans D-Generation X in WWE and the New World Order in WCW. WWE brought in their Attitude Era, while WCW showcased high-flying cruiserweight action and big-name superstars. WCW was winning the ratings fight over WWE, mostly in part to WWE occasionally taping episodes of Monday Night RAW. In the world prior to dirt sheets and widely-known spoilers, episodes of WCW Nitro would often spoil results of taped RAW episodes. This was done in hopes of giving results to fans of both brands and hoping they would stick with live WCW action instead.
In the final episode of Nitro in 1998, WCW revealed that Mick Foley, portraying Mankind, would become WWE Champion in the main event. Foley was a former WCW superstar and not viewed as world title material in the eyes of the company. WCW mocked the decision of Foley becoming their world champion, but Mankind was a beloved character for many wrestling fans.
Thousands of fans switched their televisions to watch the conclusion of RAW and see Mankind win the WWE Championship. It helped RAW win the ratings that night and RAW would never lose to Nitro in the ratings until WWE folded up in 2001.
WrestleMania V saw a lot of the same players in the main event from the year before, but with a whole new attitude. At the end of WrestleMania IV, Hulk Hogan helped Randy Savage become WWE Champion and celebrated with him afterwards. A year later, the famed Mega Powers were on opposite sides of the ring in the same arena with the same title on the line.
Hogan and Savage knew each other so well, but it was a classic Hogan comeback, complete with a big boot and atomic leg drop. Savage's reign that had lasted from one WrestleMania to the next, would end in the same place that it began: at WrestleMania in Atlantic City. The Mega Powers had collided and it was among the biggest encounters in the early days of WrestleMania.
Bruno Sammartino was known at the time as a "Living Legend" in wrestling. Sammartino had spent over 2,000 consecutive days as champion and had taken care of business, regardless of his opponent. It felt as if Sammartino would never lose his championship, but that all changed in January of 1971 at the hands of Ivan Koloff.
Nicknamed "The Russian Bear", Koloff. After a back and forth bout, Koloff was whipped into the corner and caught the referee. A great counter from Koloff had the champion in trouble. Koloff lifted Sammartino up for a scoop slam and a Russian leg drop from the top rope. The crowd was silent as Sammartino did not leave the canvas and the referee counted to three, awarding Koloff as the new champion and ending the greatest reign in wrestling history.
The Money in the Bank stipulation is beloved by WWE fans today. Back in 2005, when the idea was hatched, nobody was really certain what the briefcase was all about. All that was known was that it gave Edge a world title opportunity at any time. At this point in the case's history, there was one Mr. Money in the Bank and the ability to cash in against either world champion.
Edge held the briefcase for nearly an entire year, to the point that the briefcase became more of an accessory for him than a prize. Finally, at the end of New Year's Revolution in January 2006, Edge's moment had arrived. The Rated-R Superstar did not fail to rise up into the main event scene that night.
Edge had been forgotten after a match with Ric Flair. John Cena had endured a grueling Elimination Chamber match, only to see Mr. McMahon introduce Edge at the top of the ramp. Cena stumbled to his feet just to get speared. Cena kicked out initially, but wouldn't do so following a second spear from Edge. Edge covered Cena to win his first WWE Championship and officially identify what "cashing in" means in the WWE thought process.
It hadn't been done before and it hasn't been done since. For one point in WWE history, the Intercontinental Champion and the WWE Champion faced one another, only to see the world champion fall. It was WrestleMania Vi and it was billed as The Ultimate Challenge. The WWE Championship around Hogan's waist was on the line, but so was The Ultimate Warrior's Intercontinental Championship. Both titles were on the line at one point, essentially unifying both titles.
The Ultimate Warrior posed the ultimate threat to Hulkamania and their hero. In order to try and become world champion, he had to put forth his Intercontinental Champion on the line as well. Which men would essentially walk away with two titles?
Following some strikes and one well-placed splash. The Ultimate Warrior. Even though he would be forced to relinquish the Intercontinental Championship with the victory, it changed the look of that title forever. Now, people actually believed that the Intercontinental champion is one of the top world title contenders. Someone should tell that to today's WWE.
Twelve years after Ivan Koloff upset Bruno Sammartino in Madison Square Garden, The Iron Sheik did the exact same thing to champion Bob Backlund. It was a similar set-up. Both matches saw long title reigns end and both matches saw foreign heels win the world championship. What made this one different is that Backlund never technically lost the match.
Backlund had been champion for 2,135 straight days, the second-longest reign in history behind only Sammartino's. Backlund was the champion as pro wrestling was becoming more exposed on television and more well-known in pop culture. Backlund was the champion when the WWWF became the WWF in 1979. He was the face of this emerging brand of entertainment. It all ended by the throwing of a towel.
When Backlund couldn't get out of the Camel Clutch at the hands of The Iron Sheik, Backlund's manager, the legendary Arnold Skaaland decided to throw the towel in for Backlund, who refused to submit and would risk further injury. The Iron Sheik was the new WWF Champion and, just like that, Backlund's reign was over. This fact was used in a storyline involving Backlund years later.
It was half a century today, but the match itself lasted only 55 seconds. Bruno Sammartino took on WWWF Champion Buddy Rogers and disposed of the heavyweight champion in under a minute. Sammartino used his gigantic arms and his strong grip to grab hold of the original Nature Boy, refusing to let go. Rogers was forced to submit and Sammartino was the second champion in history. The first-ever title change led to the longest reign in the title's 50-year history.
At 2,803 days, it is pretty safe to assume that no single reign will ever come close to passing Bruno's stranglehold over the wrestling world in the 1960s.
There was change in the air in WWE and The Attitude Era was on the horizon. The date where most point out as the official change into the era most heralded by the older WWE fans is WrestleMania XIV, specifically in the main event. In that bout, Shawn Michaels was defending the WWE Championship against Stone Cold Steve Austin. To help and promote the event, Mike Tyson was brought in as a special enforcer. Ratings skyrocketed when Tyson appeared on RAW in the weeks leading up to the event, getting into a scuffle in the ring with Austin and nearly having a match with Michaels.
By the time that WrestleMania rolled around, it was already revealed that Tyson had aligned himself with D-Generation X, the emerging rebel group in WWE that put the changes in programming in motion. Austin was the other major change with his beer drinking, middle finger pointing and attacking the boss, Mr. McMahon. Austin was the rebel to cheer for, while Michaels was the perfect arrogant heel to boo.
As the match came to a close, each man tried their finishing move before Austin got one Stone Cold Stunner on Michaels. Without a referee, Tyson came into the ring and counted quickly to give Austin the championship. Jim Ross famously referred to it as The Austin Era beginning that night. Michaels got into the face of Tyson for the decision, only to be laid out with one knockout punch. The Attitude Era may have began before that night, but it was officially happening after WrestleMania XIV.
It is one of the most famous incidents in wrestling history. Whether you believe that Shawn Michaels was in on the con, it still was a black eye on his storied career. Some may even question whether or not Bret Hart knew about the Screwjob. Be that as it may, this was still one of those moments in history that can still be talked about with fans. People remember where they were for Survivor Series 1997 in Montreal.
Bret Hart was WWE Champion and rumors swirled that Hart was leaving the company for more money in WCW. The belief in documentaries made at that time was that Hart was hoping to defend in Montreal at Survivor Series, only to lose it the following night on RAW to Michaels. Hart would work the extra day off of his contract just to make it happen. It seemed like there was an agreement until the ending of the match.
The ending Hart stated he thought would happen was that Michaels would do the Sharpshooter, Hart's signature submission move. Hart would then reverse the move and make Michaels tap out for the win. As Hart looked to reverse it, Earl Hebner called for the bell and Michaels had won the match. Hart never submitted and Michaels ran to the back in anger. Hart spat at McMahon at ringside, motioned the letters WCW in the air and broke things at ringside.
Nobody was quite sure what would be of CM Punk when he announced he was leaving WWE. He had told off the company with some harsh words on RAW just weeks prior and was in the main event on his last night with the company in his hometown of Chicago. The crowd was very pro-Punk and the match was very incredible. It was deemed a 5-Star Match by experts and fans of today, young and old, refer to it as one of the greatest matches that they have ever seen.
Punk and Cena put on a wrestling clinic, but the water got a tad murky when Mr. McMahon and John Laurinaitis came to ringside. They attempted to try a Montreal Screwjob-type finish with this match, but Cena wouldn't allow it. It distracted Cena enough that he walked into a Go To Sleep for the victory. Punk won his first WWE Championship and escaped through the crowd, fighting off a Money in the Bank cash-in by Alberto Del Rio in the process.
Nobody said that a wrestling match could go an entire hour. Bret Hart and Michaels did just that. They also went a little longer. At WrestleMania XII, the two wrestled for sixty minutes without a single fall in an Iron Man Match. It all came down to overtime to decide the champion. Hart, as the champion going in, thought a draw would favor the champion. Instead, he had to go even longer to actually defeat Michaels that night.
Michaels would pull off a Superkick out of nowhere and hit it one more time to fall into a cover for the victory. The famous call of "the boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels" commenced and perhaps the greatest WrestleMania moment of all was complete.
Pro wrestling was a growing sensation in pop culture, but it hadn't quite had the marketable superstar that would bring it to that next level. Hulk Hogan was that man and his reign of Hulkamania began in early 1984. The Iron Sheik, who had just become WWF Champion a month earlier, defended the title against an emerging fan favorite in Hogan.
It would take just a few minutes for Hogan to get the best of The Iron Sheik and the match wasn't that incredible, but that moment of Hogan becoming champion stands among the greatest in wrestling history. Hogan as champion helped to launch The Rock N' Wrestling Connection, WrestleMania and the sports entertainment branding as a whole. Just know this: Diesel's defeat of Bob Backlund in 1994 aside, Hogan's first title win in 1984 was the last time that the WWE champion changed hands at a house show. It was all about the bigger venues and the national TV exposure from that point on.