Craig Wilson, Russ Morgan and Brian Damage
The last few weeks of ‘Top Five‘ pieces have been themed around titles. We’ve covered the both the best and the worst championships in wrestling. Today we look at the Top Five title changes, title switches that made a difference for the promotion or the business at the time.
5. Shane Douglas wins the ECW title
By 1993, the NWA didn’t have the same sway as it once had. Having been a pivotal part of WCW, it was now largely featured in smaller promotions like Smoky Mountain Wrestling and Eastern Championship Wrestler. In the summer of 1993, the latter decided to have a tournament to crown a new champion. The then NWA president, Dennis Coralluzzo, was under the belief that that Crockett and Gordon were going to try to monopolize the title and publicly stated that Crockett did not have the approval from the NWA board to run this tournament and placed himself in the position of overseeing the forthcoming tournament. Unsurprisingly Gordon did not take kindly to this and began contemplating removing the ECW from NWA. The plan was to have Shane Douglas, who was scheduled to face 2 Cold Scorpio in the tournament finals, win the title then throw down the NWA World Heavyweight Championship upon as an act of defiance. In garnered controversy, ECW would go down that well many times in the future, and the ‘Eastern’ in ECW became ‘Extreme’ and a promotion was born.
4. The Montreal Screwjob
One of the most controversial moments in the history of both the WWE and the wrestling industry in general and still prompting a ‘was it a work or a shoot?’ debate to this day. What cannot be denied is the huge mark that this moment left on wrestling. Heading into Survivor Series, and an impending move to WCW, Bret Hart was refusing to drop the title to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series in Montreal, offering instead to drop the title the next night or during a tournament. Really, anything other than losing on his home soil. However, back in 1997 Vince McMahon was a paranoid owner still not in the Mr. McMahon mould we would see subsequently and the decision was made for Earl Hebner to call for the bell when Michaels had Hart in a Sharpshooter.
3. Flair with the (first) gold
35 years ago last month, on 17 September 1981, a 32-year-old Ric Flair would defeat Dusty Rhodes at a house-show in Kansas City to win his first, of sixteen, world championships. It would launch Flair as the franchise player of the, at first, NWA then Jim Crockett Promotions and World Championship Wrestling. Flair embodied ‘world champion’. Wit, charisma while sporting designer robes and suits, Flair looked the part and over time would be the part. And to think it all began back in 1981 with a house show win over Dusty Rhodes.
2. Stone Cold wins at WrestleMania XIV
A title win that put a jolt in the arm of WWE, helped launch the Attitude Era and took the war right to the WCW. An injured Michaels, having hurt his back against The Undertaker at the Royal Rumble, struggled through but did enough to pass the torch onto the white hot Stone Cold Steve Austin. The champion had been barely seen before the event and would take a while to resurface afterwards, but this title win launched a new face of the WWE. Really, the rest is history…
1. Hulk Hogan wins his first WWF title
For me, there was no superstar more responsible in getting me into becoming a wrestling fan than Hulk Hogan. During the late 80s, the WWF became a global force that finally caught the attention of the general public here in the UK. At the forefront of that global push was Hogan. The man had charisma, charm and the looks of a superhero. It’s difficult to imagine anyone more suited to leading the WWF’s charge than Hogan. One of the biggest babyfaces in the history of the business, he would draw the type of audience the company needed to make the leap. However, the problem was a babyface that had been good for Vince’s dad’s WWWF – Bob Backlund – was the reigning champion. He would drop the gold to The Iron Sheik, a transitional champion, and the all-American, future all conquering, Hulk Hogan would best him to claim what is still the top prize in wrestling.
5. Edge cashes in “Money In The Bank” at New Year’s Revolution 2006
Different in so many ways. Edge actually won the briefcase at Wrestlemania 21 waiting 280 days before cashing in, shocking really as most people had forgotten about it. Cena had just won a brutal Elimination Chamber match to retain his title, when Edge who had failed to win the IC title from Ric Flair earlier that night cashed in with two spears and won the World Title. The stipulation has grown and grown over the years and interest is immense for a match that is held once a year. The title change cemented Edge as main event and he had a great career thereafter.
4. Goldberg wins the WCW Title
Undefeated Goldberg beats Hogan for the World Championship.. On Monday Nitro? Surely this should have taken place on a PPV, but WCW decided in their infinite wisdom to not cash in and do it on TV. This change was monumental in a way, the nWo was the hottest thing in wrestling and they basically ran the show. For Goldberg to rip the World Championship from them, but also beat Hogan clean generally didn’t happen. Goldberg being champ was great for ratings as WCW consistently beat the WWF week after week.
Wow, wow, wow. Face against face, title for title. Getting the rub from the biggest name in wrestling, this should have been the transition to Warrior being the main guy and Hogan taking time out. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and Warrior never had the career he should of. It wouldn’t take long for Hogan to bounce back and lead the company for a couple more years, whilst Warrior very much his own man would faded in and out of the business. At the time though, it was the biggest title change in history.
2. Austin wins the WWF Title
This match truly cemented “Stone Cold” as one of the greatest wrestlers in history. Steve Austin’s popularity had been growing for well over a year prior to this. The anti-hero heel who was cheered wherever he went. Even a broken neck at the hands of Owen Hart hadn’t derailed his epic rise. Michaels had been hurt at the Royal Rumble, owing to a botch over the top rope move from The Undertaker onto a casket, so much so, Michaels wouldn’t be seen wrestling for four years. This title changes established the Attitude Era, but even more so the Austin Era.
1. The Montreal Screwjob
Now this has been done to death over the last 19 years. YES, IT WAS 19 YEARS AGO! The story is simple, Bret Hart was leaving for WCW, but using his creative control, he didn’t want to drop to Shawn Micheals in Canada. Bret was hoping to vacate the title on Raw the next night. Vince wanting to protect his company, called for Earl Hebner to end the match with Hart in a sharpshooter. This set the path for Vince McMahon to become Mr McMahon, the heel who would feud with Steve Austin for the next few years and officially begin the Attitude Era. WCW dropped the ball with Hart pretty much from the off, relegating him to the mid card. Bret would eventually claim the WCW World Title, but had his career ended by a botched kick from Goldberg.
5. Andre the Giant wins the WWF title
This was huge at the time because nobody thought Hulk Hogan would ever lose the title. It took a crooked referee to cause the title switch and just mere seconds later…Andre would surrender the title to ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted Dibiase in a shocking twist.
4. Shane Douglas wins the NWA title
While it happened on a much smaller scale…Douglas winning the NWA title and then throwing to the ground and crowing himself the first ever ECW champion was monumental for the little promotion that could in Extreme Championship Wrestling.
3. The Montreal Screwjob
Ordinarily, Shawn Michaels winning the WWF title from Bret Hart would barely make headlines. Considering all the strife and backstage drama that these two created for one another and the company during that time. It almost became a Godsend that this occurred for the WWF. It gave them so much unsolicited publicity…keeping the WWF relevant in a time when they were getting destroyed by WCW.
2. Mick Foley wins his 1st WWF title
Taking into consideration this was pre taped and WCW’s Tony Schiavone giving away the results on the rival Monday Nitro…you would think this was doomed from the start. Quite the opposite actually. It let fans know that something big was going to happen to the much beloved Mankind aka Mick Foley and millions changed the channel from Nitro to Raw and never changed the channel back. A real turning point in the Monday Night Wars.
1. Hulk Hogan wins his 1st WWF title
This has to be number 1 simply because of what it meant to the World Wrestling Federation as they moved to expand nationally. Hulk Hogan was the right man at the right time to be champion. The WWF would explode in popularity right after his title win and the company has rarely looked back since.
You can read all previous Top Five pieces here.