Height: 10 inches
Hometown: Mick Foley’s house, probably
Glory Days: November 1998 – August 2002
Fun Fact: In total there were 240 separate Hardcore Championship reigns over the near four-year life of the title. That equates to an average of a title change every 6 days.
Today is a special day because today the WWE Hardcore Championship becomes the first championship title to become an Icon of Wrestling, although it is merely the second inanimate object to have such an ‘honour’ bestowed upon in. You can read about Moppy here.
The Hardcore Title was born on November 2nd 1998 when Mr McMahon rewarded Mankind’s loyalty to him with a broken, taped-together version of the old ‘winged eagle’ WWE Title belt, only with ‘Hardcore Champion’ written on the tape which was holding it together. Mankind being Mankind, loved it and thanked McMahon by calling him “Dad”. The following week, Mankind defended his new belt for the first time against Ken Shamrock. This was not the Mankind we were used to seeing though. The deranged superstar was encouraged to dress and act like a champion by McMahon, thus he competed against The World’s Most Dangerous Man wearing a tuxedo – because all champions wear cummerbunds. Having been aided by The Big Boss Man in his wild, no disqualification victory over Shamrock, Mankind would lose the title to the Boss Man a few weeks later. Fought under ladder match rules, the now babyface Mankind – well, he was before but by this point he was no longer associated with Mr McMahon – was attacked by The Rock, setting the wheels firmly in motion for their excellent WWE Championship feud. The Boss Man would hold the Hardcore Title for just a couple of weeks before dropping it to Road Dogg.
Rather than actual hardcore wrestling, the Hardcore Title provided an excuse for silly comedy matches. I say silly, but in 1999 these bouts were often a welcome break from the mainly dull as dishwater WWE mid-card matches. In fact, the title breathed new life into performers like Al Snow and Bob Holly, who even changed his name to Hardcore Holly as a result. The title would continue to be traded between the same group of guys until Bob’s cousin, Crash, burst onto the scene. In February 2000, Crash Holly captured the belt from Test and ushered in the 24/7 era by decreeing that he would defend the title anytime, anywhere so long as a referee – and camera crew, I guess – were present. Crash managed to hold the belt for three weeks under this rule, until Pete Gas pinned him in an airport. This was the first title change under the 24/7 rule but the second came almost immediately afterwards when Crash regained the belt from the Mean Street Posse Member. While the 24/7 rule stayed with the Hardcore Title for almost the rest of its lifespan, it is probably best remembered as Crash Holly’s gimmick. Highlights of the shenanigans the rule allowed for include The Headbangers chasing Crash through Fun Time USA and Gerald Brisco capturing the title from ‘The Superheavyweight’ as he slept in his hotel room.
Steve Blackman would enjoy a run with the belt next, across multiple reigns of course. The highlight from this era is probably his hard-hitting match with Shane McMahon at Summerslam 2000. This was the match where Shane debuted his insane, bump-taking abilities by falling from the Titantron. Blackman would drop the belt to Raven in December, which would be the first of Raven’s record 27 reigns. During the infamous ‘Invasion’ angle the 24/7 rule was downplayed in favour of the likes of Rob Van Dam and Jeff Hardy restoring some credibility – a tiny bit, at least – to the title. After RVD held the belt for 90 days, he dropped it to The Undertaker who carried it for 2 months before a shock defeat to the rookie Maven.
In the dying days of The Hardcore Championship, it became exclusive to Raw as a result of the original brand extension and the 24/7 rule once again became a major factor. Amongst all the other title holders, Tommy Dreamer held the belt 14 times within a few months while Bradshaw, aka JBL, notched up 18 reigns. Ultimately RVD was the last person to hold the Hardcore Championship after he defeated Dreamer in a unification ladder match. RVD was the Intercontinental Champion at the time and a few weeks previously had unified the European Title with his IC belt. Being hoovered up in a spring cleaning exercise was a sad demise for a title that provided so much entertainment, but one can hardly argue that by 2002 the novelty had long since worn off.
The belt returned a year later when Mick Foley was awarded ownership of it by Stone Cold Steve Austin – who was the Sheriff of Raw at the time – as recognition of his services to hardcore wrestling. Kind of like an OBE for gimmick matches, I guess. The title was also referenced a few years later when Foley and Edge proclaimed themselves to be ‘Hardcore Champions’ during their short-lived alliance after Wrestlemania 22.
More Fun Facts
- 52 performers held the Hardcore Title over its nearly four-year existence. This includes four women; Trish Stratus, Mighty Molly aka Molly Holly, Terri Runnells and one of Godfather’s Hos.
- The Big Boss Man had the longest reign as champion with a run lasting 97 days.
- Raven boasts the most number of title reigns with 27.
- Steve Blackman held the title for the longest combined time. He held it for 172 days across his 6 reigns.
- The title changed hands 10 times in 15 minutes at Wrestlemania 16.
- Despite the urban legend, the Hardcore Championship belt is not the WWE Title belt that Mr Perfect smashed with a hammer on Saturday Night’s Main Event in November 1989. Mick Foley has admitted that this would have been a cool piece of continuity to play upon – even though it’s not actually true – but with Curt ‘Mr Perfect’ Hennig working for WCW in ’98 you can understand why WWE just didn’t bother to make the connection.
- The belt presented to Mick Foley by Mr McMahon was not the only Hardcore Title belt. Both Bradshaw and Tommy Dreamer wore custom designs while they were champions in 2002. Dreamer’s was the European Title with a licence plate covering it while Bradshaw’s at least looked like an original design. He even dubbed it the ‘Texas Hardcore Title’.
- One of the reasons for using custom belt designs was because the original belt was literally falling apart by this point. It is also worth noting that the WWF changed to WWE around this time, so all their belts would have needed to be redesigned.
- Pat Paterson holds the distinction of being the oldest Hardcore Champion at 59 years old. He pinned 53-year-old Gerald Brisco for the belt.
- The Hardcore Title changed hands in five separate countries; The United States, Canada, Germany, England and Scotland. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another WWE championship that can say that.
All previous ‘Icons of Wrestling’ can be read here.