The very mention of the word “hardcore” conjures up such Extreme icons like Tommy Dreamer, Raven and, of course, the one and only Hardcore Legend himself, Mick Foley. But Gerald Brisco? Mighty Molly? Members of The Mean Street Posse? All of these competitors had one thing in common: They all held WWE’s Hardcore Championship.
Taking a cue from ECW’s tremendous popularity of the 1990s, WWE introduced the Hardcore Championship in late 1998, but just a few short years later, the title had devolved into something of a no holds barred punchline. It was one of the elements that gave the Attitude Era all of that attitude, but what happened to the Hardcore Championship?
The Hardcore Title was bestowed upon Mick Foley under his Mankind persona in November 1998 by Mr. McMahon. At the time, the deranged Superstar had swapped his torn brown threads for a shirt and tie in an effort to impress The Chairman. In exchange, The Boss created the Hardcore Championship for Foley, who had gained fame in Japan and ECW by competing in some of the most brutal hardcore death matches in the history of sports-entertainment. The title resembled a battered and beaten former WWE Championship, fondly referred to as the “winged eagle,” only this version was in pieces and covered in duct tape. The championship’s rules catered to Mankind’s smash-mouth ring style, and stipulated that all defenses would take place with no disqualifications, no count-outs and with pinfalls counting anywhere.
The Hardcore Title turned out to be part of a larger scheme by Mr. McMahon, who turned his back on Mankind to crown The Rock his Corporate Champion. Later that month, The Corporation’s personal security force, The Big Boss Man, defeated Mankind in a Ladder Match for the Hardcore Championship and the title’s lineage had officially begun.
The Hardcore Championship wasn’t designed to be a beacon of absurdity. It was a legitimate accolade for the grapplers who specialized in a unique brawling style. One of the most popular Superstars of the Attitude Era, The Road Dogg, was quick to target the new title and defeated The Boss Man to become the title’s third champion. The title’s first pay-per-view exposure came at the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre event where Bob Holly and former ECW favorite Al Snow took their battle into the nearby Mississippi River. Holly became so enamored with the emerging ring style that he formally ditched “Bob” to become Hardcore Holly.
Road Dogg’s New Age Outlaws ally, Billy Gunn, noticed the success his partner had achieved and went after the Hardcore Championship himself, competing for the title in a marquee matchup at WrestleMania XV. Some fans might have viewed this as a demotion for the fast-rising Gunn, but to be featured in such a spotlight on The Grandest Stage of Them All is no small feat. And for a time, the Hardcore Championship was as desirable a title as any. It created heated rivalries, including an infamous incident involving Boss Man and Snow. Unfortunately, that didn’t last for long, and the title soon went from revered to notorious.