The History of the WWE Title (part 5)
August 11, 2005 by Colm Kearns
This is a continuation of:
History of the WWE Title Part 1
History of the WWE Title Part 2
History of the WWE Title Part 3
History of the WWE Title Part 4.
Over the next few months HHH cemented himself as one the great champions of the era. He engaged himself in a bloody and exciting feud with Cactus Jack (Mankind/Dude Love) which featured classic matches at the 2000 Royal Rumble and February's No Way Out PPV. He also became not only the first Heel to triumph in a WrestleMania main event but also one of only five men ever to retain the WWF/E title at the showcase of the immortals. He finally lost the title to at Backlash in late April to The Rock. Rock's fourth title-run lasted only a month before he dropped it back to Triple H in a great Iron Man match that featured the return of The Undertaker. Triple H lost his fourth WWF title to The Rock in a six man tag team match in which he wasn't even pinned at the King Of The Ring. Rock remained on top of the wrestling mountain for the next four months, fending of challenges from old foes like Triple H and Undertaker as well as WWF newcomers like Chris Benoit. When he finally did lose the belt it was to pro-wrestling rookie and former Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle.
Rookie though he was, no one could argue that Angle wasn't ready to be champion; blessed with superb in ring skills and fantastic mic ability, you could easily mistake him for a five year veteran rather than someone who had made their TV debut in November. Angle proved himself a more than competent champion, defending the belt in quality matches against WWF's top stars including an emotionally charged battle with Triple H at the Royal Rumble and a brutal six-man Hell in the Cell match at Armageddon in December. After a solid four-month reign, Angle dropped the title to the Rock at No Way Out in February. Rock's title win set up his title match with Royal Rumble winner Steve Austin at WrestleMania X7.
With both men (as well as the WWF itself) at the peak of their popularity, Rock's battle with Austin was the most anticipated WWF title match in years.
It didn't disappoint, as Austin and Rock duked it out in a no-DQ classic. It ended when Austin pinned Rock with the help of the villainous Vince McMahon in one of the most shocking Heel turns ever.
Austin's first major challenge as a Heel champion came in the form of an old enemy; Austin defeated the Undertaker at Backlash (in a tag team match) and at May's Judgment Day PPV. Next up was Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho who defeated Austin and partner Triple H on the May 21st edition of RAW for the tag team titles and were hungry for more gold. But Austin still managed to hang on to his belt in a very good three way at the King of the Ring. After a short stint as a face at the beginning of the Invasion angle, Austin returned to being a Heel as the leader of the WCW-ECW Alliance. Austin's main challenger during this period was Kurt Angle. The two met in a bloody and entertaining match at SummerSlam in which Angle gained a DQ victory. A month later Unforgiven an emotional Angle won the title in his home town of Pittsburgh with his family in attendance.
Angle didn't even hold the belt for a month before he lost it back to Austin on RAW a few weeks later. After the Invasion Angle ended at Survivor Series, Austin was once again a Face and still champion but with the WCW title still in existence within WWF he was not the company's only World Champion. To resolve this problem, a four man tournament was set up in which the WWF title (Austin vs Angle) and the WCW title (the Rock vs Chris Jericho) would be contested for with the two winners meeting in the night's main event. This was huge news for wrestling fans everywhere as the tournament would unite the WCW championship and the WWF's, making the new Undisputed World Title, unquestionably the most prestigious in the World. Not only that, but one of the four men would have the honour of being the first undisputed champion in forty years.
The honour went to Chris Jericho, who surprised everyone by becoming the first and only man to win both the WWF and WCW titles (defeating the Rock and Austin in one night) and so became the Undisputed World Champion. Furthermore, he wouldn't let the fans forget about it and for the next three and a half months, Jericho played the part of the boastful Heel champion perfectly; in every title defense whether it be against a huge star like the Rock or a newcomer like Maven he always seemed on the verge of losing the belt but managed to steal a victory by the skin of his teeth and would be back on the next week's show to boast about it. His look finally ran out against Triple H (now fully healed from the torn quad injury suffered in May) at WrestleMania X8 in the gargantuan Toronto Skydome.
Soon after WrestleMania, the Brand Draft split the WWF's roster in two with one half competing solely on Smackdown! and the other on RAW. The World Champion would be one of only two competitors (along with the Women's Champion) to wrestle on both shows, which theoretically should have increased the title's value, but instead it lost some prestige over the next few months. Despite recovering from a devastating injury to defeat his nemesis Chris Jericho at the biggest show of the year, Triple H held the belt a mere month before losing it to the returned Hulk Hogan at Backlash. Although he had been a great champion in the past, Hogan holding the title in 2002 was just a nostalgia kick. Hogan in turn lost it to the Undertaker only a month later at Judgment Day. Taker made a decent champion, holding the belt until July's Vengeance PPV, when he lost it to the Rock in a three way with Kurt Angle, though he wasn't pinned. Rock was to be only a transitional champion as he dropped it a month later against rookie sensation Brock Lesnar in a great match at SummerSlam.
Soon after winning the belt, Lesnar opted only to compete on Smackdown! Prompting RAW General Manager Eric Bischoff to create his own world title for his show. Although the WWE (the name was changed in May 2002 due to a lawsuit) belt was now reduced from its 'undisputed status' it retained prestige and Lesnar made a good champion. Soon after SummerSlam he began a feud with the Undertaker that culminated in an awesome Hell in the Cell in Little Rock at No Mercy in October. A month later, he suffered his first pin-fall loss in a terribly short match with the Big Show at Survivor Series in New York. At Armageddon in December it was Big Show's turn to do the job; he lost the belt to Kurt Angle. Less than a weak after winning the title, Angle turned Heel and began feuding with Chris Benoit and Brock Lesnar. His war with Benoit included one the greatest WWE title matches ever at the 2003 Royal Rumble; on the same night, Lesnar won the Rumble match, giving him a world title shot at WrestleMania. Two months later, the much anticipated Lesnar-Angle bout lived up to the hype as both men put on a fantastic match (Lesnar's botched shooting star press being the only flaw) with the challenger coming out victorious.
Unfortunately, Angle had neck problems going into the match and came out of it with a serious injury, so a rematch in the near future was not an option. With Angle injured, Lesnar feuded with John Cena and the Big Show. Angle (now once again a face) returned in the summer and retook the title in a great three way with Lesnar and Big Show at Smackdown!'s Vengeance PPV in July. Soon after this, Lesnar made a shocking Heel turn, allying himself with the diabolical Vince McMahon in a bid to wrest the belt from around Angle's waist. Angle and Lesnar wrestled another classic at SummerSlam with Angle gaining a surprising submission victory. The chants of 'you tapped out' that plagued Lesnar in the weeks following SummerSlam did not prevent him from defeating Angle by 5 falls to 4 in an outstanding Iron Man match on Smackdown! In September. Over the next five months, Lesnar fought off a variety of contenders to his crown, including Chris Benoit, the Undertaker (at No Mercy), John Cena and most surprisingly, mid-card stalwart Hardcore Holly at the Royal Rumble. Lesnar was a seemingly indestructible champion set on a collision course with the only man fans thought could beat him - RAW's Bill Goldberg. The two were scheduled to meet at WrestleMania XX in March and most were sure Lesnar's challenger at No Way Out in February, Eddie Guerrero, posed no real threat to the title. The match, they thought, was merely a way to help elevate Guerrero for a future title push. Sure, Guerrero would put on a brave showing but he would lose eventually. Perhaps Goldberg would even make an appearance to fuel his feud with Lesnar. Well, Goldberg did make an appearance and Guerrero did put up a brave showing, but he didn't lose. On February 15th, 2004, Eddie Guerrero pulled off one of the biggest world title upsets in recent years when he defeated Brock Lesnar in the San Francisco Cow Palace.
Guerrero proved himself a more than capable champion. He defeated Kurt Angle (Heel once more) in a fantastic match at WrestleMania XX. His next challenger came in a most unlikely form; tag team specialist Bradshaw traded in his six pack of beer for a ten gallon hat and became the obnoxious JBL, a brash, racist, loudmouth Wall Street tycoon. JBL's rapid ascent to being a world title contender shocked fans and his DQ victory over Guerrero in a bloody and entertaining match at Judgment Day failed to convince many people of his main event credentials. So it was understandable that his title win in a controversial but decent bull rope match at the Great American Bash lowered the prestige of the belt somewhat.
JBL proved his doubters wrong, however. No one will consider him one of the greatest champions ever, but he was the longest reigning champion since Diesel nine years earlier and he became the most over Heel in the company, defeating every top star on Smackdown! along the way (including Angle, Guerrero, Big Show, Undertaker and Booker T). Just like Jericho three years previously, it seemed JBL would always escape with his title intact. But at WrestleMania XXI, his number came up. He faced a man he had never before defeated - the immensely popular John Cena. Cena versus JBL was a classic kind of rivalry; the man of the people versus the arrogant and overbearing tyrant whom the fans are itching to see get beat. The feud was built perfectly and by the time WrestleMania rolled round on April 4th the fans couldn't wait to see Cena knock this swaggering SOB off his high horse. The match itself was a disappointment but the fans got what the wanted when Cena pinned JBL after an FU.
Cena's popularity continued to soar after his title win. He defeated JBL in an I Quit match at Judgment Day and soon after was drafted to RAW in the brand lottery. Sadly, in the weeks following this the WWE title, played second fiddle to RAW's World Heavyweight Championship (during this time, Cena retained his belt in an entertaining three way against Chris Jericho and Christian at Vengeance in June) but then Heavyweight Champ Batista was drafted to Smackdown!, restoring balance to the company, and giving the WWE title the attention it deserved on RAW. At the time of writing, Cena is continuing to feud with Jericho and the two will meet at SummerSlam 2005.
In a way, it will not matter who triumphs at SummerSlam, because both Cena and Jericho (unless they are horribly booked) can do nothing but add to the value of the belt: both men are charismatic athletes gifted on the mic and in the ring (especially Jericho). They're in the mold of past greats and the legacy they leave behind as champion will add to that of the title. A legacy that spans over forty years and includes some of wrestling's all time greats and some of the best title matches ever, a legacy that has survived all the ups and downs of the WWF/WWE and hopefully will continue to do so. A legacy that has made it the most prestigious title and valued title in the world of profession wrestling.
Well, that's it. I hope reading about the history of the WWF/WWE title was as rewarding for you as it was to me writing about it. I would like to thank Kirsty Quested, anyone who sent me feedback and my brother/typist Liam, to whom I dictated. All feedback welcome!
by Colm Kearns ..
Daniel Broda wrote:
WOW, what a great set of columns, they were a pleasure to read. You pointed out things such as transitional champions that i had never understood properly, such a great set of columns. The only niggle i feel that i need to point out is that you said that Eddie Guerrero wasn't expected to win the title, i really thought that he was going to win it as Lesnar couldn't wrestle Goldberg with the WWE championship as Goldberg was on RAW. Other than that, great column and keep up the good work!
You have written a wonderful article. I hav e studied the wwe and their title history before and you present the story,(not just the facts) in a great manner. One thing I wish you would have discussed was how the wwe pushed triple h down our throats through the wcw years and because of his marriage to Stephanie McMahon we are force fed hhh still. At best this man is a mid card draw and the wwe has squashed a hell of alot of talent to accomodate this man over the past five years. I hope they quickley come to the proper conclusions and remedy this as they are destroying their fan base. Can you imagine what might happen if the Rock shows up on TNA" The wwe might have a real problem under this or similiar circumstances
nice article man. really enjoy them alot, keep up the good work!
Colby Anderson wrote:
This was an amazing set of aticals written. It makes me yearn for me. PLEASE PLEASE write the history of another belt. It would be more than a pleasure to read.
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