The History of the WWE Title (part 3)
June 20, 2005 by Colm Kearns
This is a continuation of:
History of the WWE Title Part 1
History of the WWE Title Part 2.
Savage made an effective champion, he was an extremely talented in-ring competitor and his title defenses against the top heels of the era (Ted DiBiase, Andre the Giant etc) were fresh matches that intrigued fans unused to seeing anyone but Hogan in main event matches. Inevitably however plans were to put the title back on Hogan, to facilitate this Savage turned heel in an angle in which his paranoia over Hogan's relationship with his manager/girlfriend Miss Elizabeth drove him over the edge and he brutally attacked Hogan. It culminated with Hogan regaining the title after a very good match at WrestleMania V.
Hogan was as successful as he had been before, he continued to draw money and spent the rest of 1989 continuing his feud with Savage. At the start of the new decade Hogan became engaged in a short feud with the talented Curt Henning. All of this was profitable business but the WWF knew nothing lasts forever so they began to prepare a successor for Hogan. The man they chose was a muscle bound Queens native known as The Ultimate Warrior. Warrior was a terrible wrestler but he was built like a Greek god and the WWF had pushed him very well disguising his weaknesses in the ring by having him annihilate his opponents in minutes and as a consequence he had built up a huge fan following.
The WWF built up an intriguing face versus face feud between Warrior and Hogan which would culminate in a match at WrestleMania VI in the cavernous Toronto Skydome, which would put the Warrior's Intercontinental belt up against Hogan's World Title.
The match itself was surprisingly good and finished with Warrior getting the win after a big splash. After the match Hogan hugged Warrior and presented him with the belt as a sort of passing of the torch gesture. The Ultimate Warrior's future as the WWF world champion was looking rosy.
Unfortunately that wasn't the case. The WWF had not prepared a top heel for Warrior to feud with and a champion is always only as good as his challengers. So Warrior was left to battle with 'Ravishing' Rick Rude. Rude was a superb wrestler and had inflicted Warrior's first defeat at WrestleMania V but the victory was portrayed as a fluke and despite his talent fans didn't see him as a threat to Warrior's title. Another problem was that as champion Warrior could no longer squash his opponents and was forced to wrestle in matches at least ten minutes long and these matches (with the notable exception of his win over Hogan and a few others) usually ranged from below average to just plain abysmal.
So the WWF had Warrior drop the belt to Sgt. Slaughter at the 1991 Royal Rumble in Miami. The comparisons between Slaughter and The Iron Sheik are numerous; like Sheik Slaughter was only considered an average wrestler but also like Sheik he took advantage of the prejudices of the era by portraying an Iraqi sympathizer during the first gulf war. Obviously like Sheik he was only a transitional champion and the man to beat him would of course be Hulk Hogan.
Just like they had in the seventies putting the belt back on Sammartino after Morales failed, the WWF went back to Hogan as a worthy champion bound to bring prestige back to the title. He took the first steps to doing just that by beating Slaughter for the title at WrestleMania VII.
Hogan held the belt for the next eight months, defending it against all comers until he rather unexpectedly lost to the Undertaker, a veritable newcomer to the Federation. The Undertaker had entered the WWF a year earlier at the 1990 Survivor Series and had been on a rampage since then, and although he eventually lost to Hogan in the autumn of 1991 it was clear that the war was far from over, so a championship rematch was signed for Survivor Series 1991 in Detroit Michigan. Taker got the win amid controversy that included interference from Ric Flair and Taker's manager Paul Bearer. They met again eight days later at 'Tuesday in Texas' with the WWF on-air president Jack Tunney at ringside to ensure fair play. Hogan got a cheated win while Tunney was incapacitated. Due to the controversy, Tunney stripped Hogan of the title and put it up for grabs in the 30 man Royal Rumble in Albany, New York.
The 1992 Royal Rumble was a classic that featured Ric Flair entering in at number three and lasting over an hour to win the Rumble and the championship. Now, not only did the WWF have an undisputed champion, not only had it been won in a classic match, not only was it held by the man who some considered to the very best ever, but it also set up a dream match that fans had almost drooled over the thought of for years: Ric Flair versus Hulk Hogan.
The obvious stage for the match would be WrestleMania VIII in Indianapolis but despite several build-up house-show bouts the match at 'Mania never occurred. Hogan was planning to retire and wanted to go out on top by beating Flair for the belt and retiring as an undefeated champion. Vince McMahon didn't like the thought of anyone retiring without losing the belt and 'passing the torch' so he cancelled the match. Instead, Flair lost the championship to 'Macho Man' Randy Savage in a fantastic, emotionally charged match at WrestleMania.
Savage reigned for five months before Flair took the title back in September. For all his talent, however, Flair was to be only a transitional champion, he spent the next month facing Bret Hart in a series of good house-show confrontations before dropping it in a terrible match (Flair was injured going into the match) on October 12 1992.
With guys like Hogan and the Warrior leaving, and Savage's best days behind him, McMahon decided to build the company around younger guys like Hart, Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon and Yokozuna.
Going into 1993, Hart was proving himself a good champion, but not yet a big ratings draw. This was mainly due to the fact that business for WWF was poor generally back then and because his match with Flair wasn't televised - the majority of fans had yet to see him beat a big star.
However, McMahon had a plan - Hart would successfully defend his title against the surprisingly talented and seemingly unstoppable Yokozuna and WrestleMania IX. Yokozuna was a 500-pound mammoth who had debuted in late 1992 and dominated his opponents since then, he eliminated seven men on his way to winning the 1993 Royal Rumble, thus earning himself a shot at the WWF title at WrestleMania IX. The plan was that the fans would think that if Hart could stop this monster, he would undoubtedly be a worthy champion.
Unfortunately, Hulk Hogan had other ideas. The WWF had brought Hogan back after a severe drop in ratings and attendances in 1992. One of the conditions on his return was that he had creative control over his character. Hogan decided that he was too much of a big star to compete at tag match at WrestleMania (with Brutus Beefcake against Money Inc.) and booked a storyline in which he would lose the tag match by DQ but return later on the card and defeat Yokozuna (who in this scenario would defeat Hart) in a matter of seconds for the title. McMahon grudgingly agreed and all went according to (Hogan's) plan
While the double title change was exciting and entertaining, it made both Yoko and Hart look bad and two title changes in one night couldn't have helped the title's prestige. But McMahon had another plan - he'd let Hogan have his way at WrestleMania if Hogan would return the favor by dropping the belt to Hart before retiring, thus giving Hart the big title victory he both needed and deserved. It is unknown whether or not Hogan ever agreed but some time after WrestleMania, he either changed his mind or refused, saying that Hart was too small to be a star and that he didn't want to drop the title cleanly. Angered by this, McMahon had Yokozuna squash Hogan at the inaugural King of the Ring PPV with the plan that Yoko would hold the belt until the next year's WrestleMania when Bret or someone else was ready to step up to the plate and defeat him.
That 'somebody else' looked to be Lex Luger. Luger underwent a persona change in the summer of 1993 transforming from the Narcissist to a patriotic American hero. He became the first man to slam Yokozuna in July 4 at a special Independence Day event. Luger then challenged Yoko to a title match at SummerSlam, but Yoko's managers Mr Fuji and Jim Cornette stipulated that it would be Luger's only shot at the title (only in storyline, of course). Unfortunately for Luger, he won via count-out and so didn't capture the title meaning his only chance to get another shot would be by winning the Royal Rumble in January.
Luger spent the next five months bouncing around the WWF's upper card while Yoko began a decent feud with the Undertaker. And what of Bret" During that time he seemed to fade out of the World title picture, feuding with Jerry Lawler and teaming with his brother Owen.
Then came Royal Rumble '94: Luger's last chance to get a shot at the belt, Bret's opportunity to show that he was not done as a main eventer. Yoko, meanwhile, was defending the title against the Undertaker. In the end, Yoko retained the title and, against all odds, the Rumble came down to Bret (who had had his leg injured and was betrayed by Owen earlier in the night) and Luger, who had been attacked by Fuji's henchmen, Tenryu and the Great Kabuki prior to his entry in the Rumble match. In an unprecedented finish, Luger and Bret eliminated each other simultaneously to become co-winners of the Royal Rumble.
So after much debating and deliberating (on and off air), WrestleMania X was to pan out like this: Bret would wrestle Owen in the night's opening contest. Later on the card, Luger would battle Yoko for the title and the winner of that match would face Hart in the main event. Rumour had it that Luger was originally scheduled to win the title but plans were changed when Luger revealed this to a journalist while drunk. Whether or not this is true is irrelevant. What actually did happen is the following: Owen upset Bret in a stellar match, special referee Mr Perfect controversially disqualified Luger in his title match and Bret defeated Yoko for the title in the main-event.
by Colm Kearns ..
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