The History of the WWE Title (part 4)
July 21, 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.

Bret's second reign lasted eight months during which time his title defenses included a good match against IC champ Diesel at the 1994 King Of The Ring and a phenomenal cage match with his brother Owen at Summerslam. Bret's next big challenge came in the form of former titleholder Bob Backlund. Backlund had returned to WWF in 1993 as an outdated and colorless Face but he turned Heel in 1994 in an angle which saw him so obsessed with avenging his loss to the Iron Sheik eleven years earlier that he challenged Bret to a title match at Survivor Series in which victory could only be obtained by trapping your opponent in a submission until his cornerman literally threw in the towel. Backlund won amidst controversy his cornerman Owen Hart tricked his mother into throwing in the towel when Bret was trapped in the Crossface Chickenwing.

But Backlund's triumph was shortlived as he lost the title days later to Diesel in an untelevised, seven second demolition in New York. Diesel held the belt a year, and although he had quality matches with the likes of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels (at WrestleMania XI) his reign was largely a disaster. The comparisons to the Ultimate Warrior's failed title run in 1990 are numerous: Both men were limited wrestlers whose title matches were usually predictable and boring, both had a lack of top quality opponents (Diesel's challenger at the big SummerSlam 1995 event was perennial midcarder Mabel) and both men were terrible draws (Diesel is the worse drawing WWF Champion in history). After one year of bad business for WWF, Diesel dropped the title to Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1995.

Bret's title win led to his match with Royal Rumble winner Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII. The two men wrestled in a classic, hour-long Iron Man Match with Michaels eventually victorious in sudden death over time. Michaels may not have been a great money maker in his initial title run (business wise, 1996 was a bad year for WWF - they lost $6 million) but his matches were nothing short of magnificent. He had a great no DQ match with Diesel in April, and followed it with amazing bouts against new title challengers Mankind and Vader. Michaels lost the belt to Sid Justice at the 1996 Survivor Series, but won it back at the Royal Rumble in January, and here's were things get confusing.

The plan was that Steve Austin would controversially win the Royal Rumble. This would set up a four man match in February to clear up the controversy and decide the number one contender for the World Title at WrestleMania. The Undertaker would triumph in the four way and defeat Sid (who would have won the belt back by then) for the championship. Also on the card, Bret Hart would defeat Shawn Michaels. The problem was that Michaels didn't want to lose to his real life nemesis, Hart. So a few weeks after beating Sid at the Rumble, he exaggerated a knee injury as an excuse to vacate the title. WWF dealt with this by changing the stipulation of the four way - now the winner would become champ and the runner up his challenger at WrestleMania 13. Ultimately, it was Bret who won, with Undertaker as the runner up. The next night, Bret lost the title to Sid, thus setting up Undertaker's victory at WrestleMania.

A succession of title changes such as the one between November and March some was something that would not yet become commonplace in WWF and Undertaker's five month reign helped restore some prestige to the belt. After a title run that included successful defenses against Steve Austin and Mankind Taker dropped the belt to Bret Hart at Summerslam 1997 in New Jersey. Bret in turn held the title three months before losing it to Shawn Michaels at the 1997 Survivor Series in the infamous 'Montreal screwjob' which would take an article in itself to fully explain.

This time round Michaels was a cocky but cowardly Heel champion and he played the part to perfection. He had a good feud with the Undertaker before he lost the title to Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV in Boston and the Stone Cold era began.

Austin was a hugely successful champion from both financial and entertainment standpoints. His storyline war with WWF chairman Vince McMahon and title defenses against McMahon's ally Dude Love (Mankind) drew huge money and were highly entertaining. He eventually lost the title in June at the King Of The Ring to a seven foot monster by the name of Kane but the Austin won it back the next night in a very good match on Monday Night RAW. Austin would go on to hold the belt another three months. He spent his second reign warring with Undertaker, Kane and (of course) McMahon. Following a successful title defense against the Undertaker at SummerSlam '98 McMahon booked Austin in a 3-way with Undertaker and Kane (who were now united under McMahon) at the Breakdown PPV in September. Fans were stunned, how could Austin possibly defeat these two huge monsters" The answer was that he couldn't, despite putting in a valiant effort Austin was defeated following a double-chokeslam when Undertaker and Kane simultaneously pinned him.

The belt was held up and to decide an new champion a match was set up between Undertaker and Kane with Austin as the special guest referee. Unsurprisingly it ended in chaos when Austin stunned both competitors and declared himself champion. So to decide an undisputed champion McMahon set up a one night fourteen man tournament at the Survivor Series in St. Louis.

The tournament was a highly entertaining one and concluded with McMahon turning on Mankind by helping The Rock to defeat him in the final. By allying with McMahon and styling himself the 'corporate champion' Rock instantly earned the hatred of the fans, hatred he justified by playing the part of the arrogant Heel brilliantly and feuding with hugely popular Faces like Mankind and Austin. From November to February Rock and Mankind traded the title in a series of classic matches such was the frequency of the title changes that by the time WrestleMania came round in March Rock had held the belt three times and Mankind had won it twice. This series of title changes did not lower the prestige of the title however, because there were only two men involved and they had brilliant title matches and cut great promos about their hatred for each other and the importance of the belt to them.

Rock's third reign came to an end at WrestleMania XV when he lost to Steve Austin is what was easily the best match of the night. Thus began Austin's third title run; he warded off another challenge from Rock in a great match at April's Backlash PPV before losing the belt to Undertaker at Over the Edge in late May. Undertaker reigned only a month before Austin triumphed again on the June 28th edition of RAW. Austin had the title two months before he rather inexplicably lost it to Mankind in a 3 way with Triple H at SummerSlam. It was inexplicable because Mankind merely lost the belt to Triple H the following night which begs the question why WWF didn't just have Triple H win it at SummerSlam. Triple H made a brilliant Heel champion. He was good in the ring and on the mike and was universally loathed by fans. But he held it less than a month before he dropped it to the now Face Vince McMahon. Though some were quick to criticise McMahon booking himself as champion, it can be justified: McMahon was hugely popular with the fans, and his win made sense from a storyline perspective. Mcmahon vacated the title soon after winning it and put it up for grabs in a six man match. Triple H restored whatever prestige the belt had lost with McMahon's reign by grabbing a clean win over five of WWF's top stars at Unforgiven in September. Triple H's second reign came to an end at Survivor Series in November when he lost to surprise contender the Big Show in a 3 way with the Rock. Show's reign done little to help the value of the title, as he spent most of his reign defending the belt against midcard wrestlers. He eventually lost the title to Triple H in the first edition of RAW of the new millennium.

by Colm Kearns ..

George Pickering wrote:
Before I start on the feedback, I got a question-are you doing some kind of huge essay on this prestigious title" Will there ever be a part 28 coming up" I really like what you're doing here. An absolutely huge anthology of the history of the WWE Title-something people can read and enjoy. I'm 12 and from Manchester in England, and I've been watching wrestling since '97, and haven't stopped since. I've seen the WWE Title change hands a million times, but somehow you just wrote it all down! Do you have some kind of notepad where every time the Title gets awarded to a new person you note it down" Anyway, keep it up. It's really good.
metalgamer12 wrote:
I am glad you are doing this. I started watching wrestling in April 2002, right when the Attitude Era ended, so I completely missed out on it. This is very educational to me, because I have always wanted to see the Attitude Era and get that Retro feeling when ever I play Smackdown and Smackdown 2.
Colm Kearns (original author) wrote:
Thank you so much for the feeback. The next part of the article, part 5, will probably be the final installment. As far as the notepad thing goes, I just accumluated a lot of info off the net and various other sources.
Freddy Sturguess wrote:
I really am enjoying this series of articles, especially the detail to each title reign. I'd like to add something and say that it was a relief to see the WWF not keeping the Championship on Austin for too long, like they did with Hulk Hogan's four-year title reign in the 80s. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Stone Cold fan. But in the 80s, Hogan was the company's biggest draw and his four-year stint as World champ makes it clear that the company was afraid that if they were to make anyone else champion--no matter how deserving or interesting it would have been--they might have lost fans. I'll admit that Austin kept the title for a good chunk of 1998, but this time around the WWF had enough bravery to open doors to other guys such as The Rock and Mankind, and we didn't have to wait four years to see it (Mankind was must have at first looked like the most unlikely WWF champ on paper, but it made great entertainment nonetheless, and like Mr. Kearns said, his exchanges with The Rock did not lower the prestige of the Title at all due to the hard work of both men).

As for Triple H's first title reign, I agree that he made a great "heel" champion, if I can get past the fact that he would eventually hold it ten times over the years...while being married to the boss's daughter. But nonetheless, his reign generated a lot of heat from the fans, and if you're a heel and you manage to get that much hate brewing in the fans, you've done a great job and have lived up to the term "heel." I also think that Vince McMahon's brief reign as champ did not lower the prestige of the Title either; it was very entertaining in my opinion, and a highly creative move--the boss as champion (this also would happen with Vince Russo in the WCW, either as a sarcastic backlash or because they had run out of ideas). I'll never forget Vince coming to ringside and saying "For those of you who still don't believe anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation..." then opening his sports jacket to show the belt around his waist.

The Big Show's reign could have been handled better. He's often underrated in my view, mainly because the writers want to focus on his size rather than anything else. Perhaps he'll have a better reign in the future. But his loss to Triple H restored the interesting perspective of having one of the most hated heels of all time as the Champion of the World. In short, 1998-2000 were (mostly) good moves for the WWF when it came to the Title. Can't wait for Mr. Kearns' study of the next batch of Title reigns.
Congrats first of all you have done a very good job Great Great column I know takes a great amount of time .I have a request , that you right something about WCW World Heavyweight title .i would appreciate that if you have the time please right a column .

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