Pro Wrestling's Almost Champions: 7 Unrecognized World Title Changes
For some wrestlers, championship glory was fleeting, the feel of gold on their fingers fading away before the next sunrise.
WWE is set to honor past champions as is tradition at the Night of Champions pay-per-view, but several men who won major titles won't appear on any of those video clips or even on an official list of champions.
Men like Bobo Brazil and Antonio Inoki defeated champions, but saw those victories erased from the history books.
The stories of unrecognized champions and unofficial title reigns are filled with matches held in Caribbean nations and feature Ric Flair and Bob Backlund's names several times over.
Bobo Brazil and Buddy Rogers in another of their battles, this time for the U.S. title.
August 18, 1962
The world champion couldn't continue; Buddy Rogers writhed on the mat, claiming to have injured his groin. The referee stopped the match, but the challenger refused to accept the cheap victory.
It was a strange way to end the marquee match of the night.
On Sept. 6 of that year, Bobo Brazil became the first African-American to hold the NWA World Heavyweight Championship when doctors found nothing wrong with Rogers.
It was an anticlimatic way to make history, but that history didn't exist long. This title change was not recognized by the NWA.
The man WWE.com called the "Jackie Robinson of sports-entertainment" won several championships in his career, but his brief time as NWA world champ remains unofficial, a mirage that faded away.
Terry "The Hulk" Boulder
May 25, 1979
Hulk Hogan's collection of wrestling gold includes everything from the WWE Championship to the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, but his reign as NWA world champ lasted only seconds.
Hogan, then known as Terry Boulder, pinned Harley Race in Dothan, Alabama to win the gold. Before he could get his nameplate on the title, he found himself no longer the champion.
Hogan had thrown Race over the top rope over the match, a move that was illegal at the time.
That nullified his victory, but didn't stop folks from his promotion from bragging about it. Listen to the announcers call him the "uncrowned champion" during this match against The Outlaw.
September 7, 1982
The list of men who have defeated Ric Flair to dethrone him as world champ includes legends like Randy Savage, Harley Race, Sting, Hulk Hogan and Dusty Rhodes. Little-known outside of his home country of the Dominican Republic, Jack Veneno joined that list when he pinned Flair in front of a thunderous crowd.
Veneno was more than the Dominican Republic's top wrestler, he was a folk hero.
Had Veneno lost, had their hero failed them, who knows what that raucous crowd would have done. Stuart Carapola of PWInsider.com writes that "Flair legitimately feared a riot if he beat Veneno."
Flair lost, but the NWA doesn't recognize Veneno's title win.
Still, Veneno remained champion in the eyes of his countrymen. He is said to have explained why he was no longer champion by saying that he'd refused to travel away from the Dominican Republic and was then stripped of the gold.
November 30, 1979
Between the times when Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan ruled the WWE, Bob Backlund held the WWE Championship for four straight years.
The length of the skilled grappler's reign has an asterisk next to it thanks to a match in Tokushima, Japan. That's where Hall of Famer Antonio Inoki defeated Backlund with a back suplex for the title.
As listed by TheHistoryof WWE.com, Inoki fought as WWE champ during the rest of the company's Japanese tour. In Backlund's rematch on Dec. 6, interference from Tiger Jeet Singh led to him pinning Inoki. The match was declared a no-contest.
Inoki never officially lost the title, but it went back around Backlund's waist. He also apparently never officially won it as WWE Championship history does not include Inoki's reign.
October 19, 1981
Greg "The Hammer" Valentine nearly conned his way into becoming WWE Champion.
In Valentine's battle against the champion at Madison Square Garden, Bob Backlund, the referee got too close to the action and fell to the mat, dazed. Backlund fell on Valentine and the referee counted to three.
Trying to take advantage of the official's loopy state, Valentine raised his hands in victory. The referee bought the deception and awarded Valentine the win and the title.
Seconds later, other officials tried to sort out the mess and the title had to be held up to allow the New York State Athletic Commission to investigate.
The referee slinked away and Valentine's ploy ultimately failed. Backlund cleared up the controversy when he defeated Valentine a month later in a rematch.
October 30, 1990
Looking back at how talented and popular The Rockers, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty were, one might wonder how they never won the WWE world tag team titles.
Well, they did, sort of.
The Rockers took on The Hart Foundation in Fort Wayne, Ind. in a two-out-of-three falls match with the championships on the line. It wasn't Bret Hart or Jim Neidhart that did the challengers in, but a set of faulty ring ropes.
The match ended with The Rockers on top, complete with post-battle handshakes. The Rockers defended the titles against Paul Roma and Hercules on Nov. 3, but that was as long as they held onto the belts.
President Jack Tunney reversed the decision and many speculate that Vince McMahon didn't want to air the initial title change because of how much the bad ring rope affected the match quality.
Jannetty would go on to later win the tag belts alongside the 1-2-3 Kid and Michaels held those titles several times with partners like Diesel, Steve Austin and John Cena.
April 17, 2000
Chris Jericho held the WWE Championship in 2000 just a touch longer than Daniel Bryan held it at SummerSlam 2013.
On the first match of that night's WWE Raw, Jericho battled Triple H with the title on the line. Triple H inadvertently bowled over referee Mike Chioda, knocking him out. Earl Hebner soon took his place and counted rather quickly when Jericho landed his Lionsault.
Jericho walked out of the ring with the title, but wouldn't end the night as champ.
Triple H later bullied Hebner into reversing his decision and strapping the gold back around this waist. It's eerie to watch The Game abuse his power and influence with the company to affect who is WWE champ as it so closely parallels his recent actions involving Bryan and Randy Orton.
Though his first reign was erased from the books, Jericho later went on to become the company's first undisputed champ.