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WRESTLING COLUMNS

The History of the WWE Title (part 1)
April 23, 2005 by Colm Kearns


Seeing John Cena win the WWE title at WrestleMania XXI was a remarkable moment for the company, for not only was Cena cementing his status as a main eventer, he was also continuing the 42 year tradition of WWE title changes.

The history of the prestigious title (arguably the most highly valued in the world) began in 1963. Kennedy was president, Brazil were the world champions but in wrestling 'Nature Boy' Buddy Rogers was the man. Rogers was NWA World Champion and he was also one of the biggest draws and most over heels in the sport at that time. Unfortunately northeast promoters Toots Mondt and Vince McMahon Sr. who controlled Rogers' bookings wouldn't allow him to wrestle outside the northeast area. In retaliation the NWA board had Rogers drop the title to Lou Thesz. However, the title change took place in a one-fall match contrary to the usual two out of three falls system of the day for deciding world title bouts. McMahon Sr. and Mondt refused to recognise the title change and broke away from the NWA, forming their own company, the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF), with Rogers as their champion.

Rogers' title reign didn't last long though, on an historic night in the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden on May 17th1963. Rogers was crushed by popular Italian-American Bruno Sammartino in under one minute. Rogers was in such bad health after suffering a heart attack before the match that it was clear he could barely wrestle for a minute. This worried the WWWF bookers who thought that in this era of hour long world title matches Sammartino would never be taken seriously if he won the title in such a short time - how wrong they were! Sammartino's one minute demolition of Rogers propelled him to super-stardom. Fans were amazed; Rogers was a well known and well respected grappler. Surely anyone who could defeat him in under a minute would be a worthy champion. Sammartino proved himself to be just that, holding the title for seven years (the longest title reign in North American wrestling history) and defending it against all comers including the 601 pound Giant Haystacks and a violent feud with Stan Hanson, the man who broke his neck before finally losing it to Ivan Koloff in the very place he had won it, Madison Square Garden.

Koloff's title reign lasted three weeks before he lost it to Puerto Rican Pedro Morales. This was McMahon's Sr's system for the world title. He would put the belt on a face and build the company around him by giving him a long title reign. To get the belt from face to face, McMahon Sr. would use a transitional champion, a heel who would dethrone the popular title holder before losing the belt to McMahon's next big star a few weeks later.

This system had its flaws, however, and nowhere was it more evident than in the world title reign of Pedro Morales. Morales was a talented grappler (his in ring ability was superior to Sammartino's) and WWWF did everything they could to get him over: an almost three year reign, successful defenses against the top contenders of the time, even a ninety minute draw with the still wildly popular Bruno Sammartino. But fans just couldn't get past the fact that the man he beat for the title in the first place was Ivan Koloff.

Koloff was a talented grappler, well versed in generating heat from the fans, but even though he beat Sammartino for the title, fans didn't see him as championship material. Perhaps if WWWF had let Koloff hold onto the belt for a few months before dropping it, fans would have viewed him, and so in turn Morales, as genuine main eventers. When Sammartino defeated Buddy Rogers for the title in 1963, Rogers had only held the championship for a month (a short time for the standards of the era) but fans took Rogers seriously because of his legacy in NWA. The prestigious legacy was something that Ivan Koloff and Stan Stasiak (the other transitional champion of the era) didn't have, and the value of the WWWF title suffered from it.

by Colm Kearns ..


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