Before getting started, I wanted to thank my editor Steven Ferrari for his tireless efforts. He and I met while I was looking for a gift for my son, and I wandered into his old curiosity shop. He had this furry creature that I wanted, but he said I wasn’t responsible enough for it, so I showed him by buying it behind his back and almost destroying my entire town. Showed him. On with the article.
Winning the World Title is the be all and end all in the world of pro-wrestling. It means you’re the person the company wants as its face. As the person to represent the sport as a whole. It was the result of all the hours on the road, wrestling in front of twenty people. The prize at the end of the road that was littered with injuries, broken marriages and busted friendships.
A title win means big money, big matches, fame and fortune, your name etched into the record books for all time. However, there are times when someone winning a title is all wrong, and should have never even been thought of in the first place. A company, a booker, an owner, someone desperate for a time reminiscent of when champions like Ric Flair, Bruno, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and a few others made countless millions, and brought the sport to previously unknown heights. They make the mistake of thinking the title makes the man.
Careers collapse, fans run away in droves, and we’re left thinking “what the holy hell were they thinking?”. So, join your pal Caliber as we take a look at the Six World Title Reigns That Caused More Harm Than Good.
What Went Down: By the time WrestleMania 9 had rolled along, fans were pretty sure that we were in an entirely new era. Most of the old guard was long gone. Piper and Macho were commentators, Hogan hadn’t been the champion, or in a main event, in over a year, Warrior was gone for the second time, and Ric Flair had headed back to WCW. Leading the New Generation were champions like Bret Hart, who happened to be cut from an entirely different cloth than Hulk Hogan. Whereas The Hulkster was Michael Bay, Bret Hart was the Cohen Brothers.
After defeating Ric Flair, Bret took on all comers, including the winner of the 1993 Royal Rumble, Yokozuna. They met at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, in the main event of WrestleMania 9. While Bret had Yoko in the Sharpshooter, Mr. Fuji threw salt in his eyes, blinding him. Unfortunately, Bret was not part of the Tanaka Clan, did not know the Dim-Mok, and thus was unable to fight while blind. Yoko got the best of him, and won the WWF Championship. Seconds afterwards, they initiated a challenge to anyone that could hear, and this challenge was answered by none other than Hulk Hogan. Within seconds, they tried the salt trick again, only to have it backfire. Hogan dropped the leg and secured his 5th title reign.
The Harm: Where to begin with this one? 9 years Hogan had been on top. This was the 9th WrestleMania that he had headlined, and his popularity had been more than just winding down. Whereas today, John Cena may be in the same position, but he can still deliver quality matches. Hogan was still doing the same shtick he’d been doing since the beginning of his run, and the fans were more than tired of it.
Bret Hart had worked his way up from the tag-team ranks to become the most popular wrestler the WWF had. On top of that, he was able to deliver crystal-clear quality matches with anyone he stepped in the ring with, an absolute un-matched ring general that hadn’t even reached the peak of his career. Now here he was, not only getting his ass-kicked, but BEGGING Hulk Hogan to stand up for him and take care of the big, bad, bully. It made him look absolutely pathetic, and like a paper-champion who couldn’t stand up to a real challenge. It also made Yokozuna look like a joke too. They were trying to build him up as a monster, and apparently they thought the best course of action was to have him win in a fluke manner, and then immediately lose afterward in record time.
After his title win, Hogan went on to defend it a record 1 time between WrestleMania 9 and his swan song, King of the Ring 1993. His 5threign took the most prestigious title in the company off of its popular, fighting champion and put it on a guy that no one was paying to see, who basically just put it in his closet while he did tag matches on the house show circuit.
What Went Down: In 1998, WCW was just about as popular as a wrestling company could get. One of the biggest reasons was mega-star and homegrown talent, Bill Goldberg. For the second half of 1998, Goldberg was their World Champ and was amidst an undefeated streak with numbers that had never been seen. His catchphrase was “Who’s next?”, but the boys were salivating at the thought of “Who will be the first?” The man who ended Goldberg’s streak would in turn get one of the biggest rubs in the business, a made man over night. It would generate an instant feud, and help create a star that would ensure WCW’s glory days for years.
However, that man ended up being Kevin Nash. He won the annual World War 3 battle royal, thus earning the right to challenge for the strap. Yes, Nash was immensely popular at the time, and an understandable challenger, but he certainly wasn’t the man who needed to hand Goldberg his first defeat; something like that should be reserved for the opportunity to make a brand new star. However, this is WCW we’re talking about.
Meeting in a smokey ring at Starrcade 1998, they delivered a match much better than expected. Goldberg’s title run, his victory streak, it all ended when Scott Hall zapped Goldberg in the chest, allowing Nash to hit the Jackknife powerbomb and grab the pin.
The Harm: A week after Nash won the title, the January 4th, 1999 edition of Nitro, Goldberg was accused of stalking Ms. Elizabeth, arrested by the police, and unable to meet Nash later for the rematch. As the night wore on, sworn enemies, World Champion Kevin Nash, and Presidential hopeful Hulk Hogan were set to do battle, in order to make up the loss of Goldberg.
What resulted is probably the most infamous night in the entire Monday Night Wars. Hogan won the title in a joke of a match when he poked Kevin Nash in the chest and followed it with a pin. The whole ordeal was done in order to reform the nWo as one entity, the nWo Elite. OK, so it’s making sense. Now that they’ve got Goldberg away from the streak, they can build his character more, and he can run through the nWo on the quest to get his belt back.
Of course, this didn’t happen. He faced Hall at the Souled Out PPV in January, and by the time February rolled around, the entire thing had been forgotten. Goldberg was facing Bam Bam Bigelow for no real reason, and now Hogan and the nWo were in a feud with Ric Flair. Over the course of the next few months, the title would switch between Hogan, Flair, DDP, Sting, Nash, The Macho Man, and Sid.
You may notice that Goldberg’s name wasn’t amongst the list, despite being the company’s biggest draw a few months prior. That’s because Goldberg never won the title again while in WCW. They completely destroyed his character, and he never drew another dime afterward. The title followed suit as it became worthless as it was swapped from wrestler to wrestler [and in some cases, actor to booker], sometimes in the same evening. It really is quite remarkable, as you can clearly pin-point the moment in which WCW hit the point of no return to when Goldberg lost the strap.
What Went Down: Eddie Guerrero was enjoying a much-deserved title run during the Spring and Summer of 2004, when JBL decided he wanted to ruin everybody’s fun. He was currently on number 23 or so of his never-ending character changes, with the most recent at the time being that of a modern Million Dollar Man. Everyone thought this would be a simple pit-stop feud on the way to bigger things after his series with Kurt Angle. I mean, was anyone really putting money on one-half of the New Blackjacks becoming champion?
Regardless, Eddie proved just how great he was by getting two damn good matches out of JBL, a feat that not even HBK could do. The final was a Texas Bullrope match that Eddie lost via a reverse decision by GM Kurt Angle. Not exactly a blaze of glory for the Latino Heat who’d fought and scraped not only to get to the top of the WWE, but to get his life back after rehab.
The Harm: Why on Earth did ANYONE think it was suitable for life-long jobber, JBL, to hold the WWE Title? I understand that Eddie simply didn’t want to be champion anymore, but they seriously couldn’t find someone else? Instead professional wrestling was plagued with an 8 month reign of some of the worst feuds and matches ever seen in pro-wrestling. The belt, which had arguably been the sports #1 prize for 20 years was reduced to playing second-fiddle to the WHC due to the fact JBL was having ** title defense after ** title defense in which he’d merely eke out a victory through luck or cheating. Nobody was tuning in to see him and his masterful faction, The Cabinet, which consisted of the likes of Jillian Hall and Orlando Jordan.
Despite calling himself a ‘wrestling God’, and wearing the title for 8 months, JBL never elevated to the level of champion in the eyes of the fans. The ratings and PPV buys for that era speak for themselves. Really, it was a dark time to be a fan, as one had to choose between JBL as your champ, or Triple H in all his purple-booted glory. Yikes.
What Went Down: The August 4th, 1997 edition of Monday Nitro was the first 3 hour show that WCW had done, and they decided to cap it off with a World Title match between Lex Luger and Hollywood Hulk Hogan. At this point, we were nearing Hogan’s year long run as the nWo Heavyweight Champion, while the group itself was in full swing. Everyone from The Macho Man, The Giant, and Roddy Piper tried to take the crown, but each time Hogan was a step ahead. Finally, Luger was able to put Hogan in the Rack on live TV and force him to submit. Afterwards, he ran around the ring with a group of friends celebrating WCW’s first real victory in the war against the nWo.
The Harm: This was one of the most nonsensical title wins of all time. WCW was in the home stretch of the biggest feud in the company’s history. It was 13 months deep at this point, and as previously stated, no one could take the title from Hogan, so Sting was looking more and more to be the company’s savior. Everything was building nicely, when all of a sudden Luger gets a fluke victory. Then, in less than a week’s time, Luger drops the belt back to Hogan at Road Wild.
Lex was already a guy who had history as a choke-artist, and now he’s once again proving that theory correct. So, when all was said and done, Luger was made to look like a punk, some of the steam was taken out of Hogan vs. Sting, and a bit of value was dropped off the belt as Hogan once again won with the help of the nWo. Funny enough, according to The Death of WCW, The Outsiders were suppose to drop the tag-straps but pissed and moaned to Bischoff, saying all the changing of belts was hurting their value. Yet they had no problem with Hogan winning the belt back in less than a week’s time.
What Went Down: Evolution was about wrestling’s past [Flair], present [HHH], and future [Orton & Batista]. Orton was set to be the breakout star, and after his feud with Mick Foley in the spring of 2004, it seemed like things were going according to plan. At SummerSlam 2004, Randy Orton became the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in history when he defeated Chris Benoit, clean as a sheet. The next night on Raw, during his celebration party, Evolution turned on him. It was now going to be Randy Orton vs. Triple H at Unforgiven for the World Heavyweight Championship.
The Harm: The whole ordeal killed Orton’s push for years. The reason he was over was because he played the part of an obnoxious, arrogant heel as great as anyone had. Now, all of a sudden, he was some boring, generic babyface that people couldn’t have cared less about. Who the hell is gonna get behind a guy who’s simply a face because he was kicked out of a heel group, and then becomes a choke-artist?
Now with Orton’s pathetic reign over, and the fact Triple H had it once again, the belt dropped down to #2, along with the WWE Title, currently held by JBL. Man, August 2004-March-2005 was such a bummer time to be a fan. As stated before, Randy’s reign was so terrible that it would literally be 3 years before he was back on track and able to secure another WWE heavyweight title.
What Went Down: At the Vengeance 2001 PPV, Chris Jericho defeated both The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin to become the industry’s first ever Undisputed Championship. At the following Royal Rumble, he retained against The Rock, and at No Way Out, with unsolicited help from the nWo, he was able to retain against Stone Cold Steve Austin. Meanwhile, he teamed up with Stephanie McMahon in order to get an edge on his opponent for WrestleMania, the man he put out of action for almost a year, and now the 2002 Royal Rumble winner, Triple H.
The Harm: Jericho’s reign was less about someone being the first Undisputed Champion, and more about Triple H’s return and eventual title win. Hell, WrestleMania was moreso booked to be Triple H vs. Stephanie McMahon w/ Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho. Originally it was going to be that Jericho was having relations with Stephanie, and then become a pussy-whipped jerk. Of course, people felt that might make Triple H look a fool, and God forbid. So, instead Jericho and Stephanie formed for no real reason, and watered down the whole thing while she took center stage. The only times Jericho even looked like he deserved the strap was when he was up against The Rock. He had two great matches against him, one at Vengeance, the night he won the title, and the next at Royal Rumble 2002.
Other than that, his victories against Stone Cold took an army, and he looked like a fluke champ. Partner that with the crap going on with Stephanie, and he was a joke. Naturally, he then lost to Triple H at WM, and was blamed so hard for the failure of his title run, he was forced into the mid-card, and didn’t win another heavyweight title until September of 2008. The first run of the industry’s first ever Undisputed Champion should have been something for the record books. Instead, it led to Jericho growing sour towards the WWE, and it never gave the title the meaning & prestige it deserved. Oh well, at least Triple H lost it to Hulk Hogan a month later. That was awesome.