Though some may try and deny it, every aspiring professional wrestler has at least one dream in common—winning the WWE Championship. Until that feat is finally accomplished, a wrestler’s career may never go down in the record books as truly historic (barring a few notable exceptions, of course). Even wrestlers who’ve been in the game for decades still give it their all for a mere shot at one day getting to wear the gold, and the people who’ve held it know this desire doesn’t go away after one, two, or as many as 16 runs with the title.
For all the many legitimate reasons WWE superstars vie for the company’s top prize, there are also a few forgotten or overlooked details that make the honor a bit more dubious. Quite frankly, the WWE Championship has been dragged through the mud enough times that winning it hardly means a wrestler is successful anymore. In fact, the way things have been going, being WWE Champion is an increasingly meaningless distinction, as it’s no longer completely about a wrestler being the best in the world at what they do, but rather, it’s sometimes just an issue of who Vince McMahon thinks has the best-looking physique on a given month.
Obviously, no sports entertainment title can go from being the most important in the business to borderline laughing-stock material overnight. The various damages dealt to the WWE Championship have been occurring for decades now. As a matter of fact, the means by which the championship was created nearly invalidated it from the very beginning, and that’s just one of many facts the company sweeps under the rug when discussing it today. Keep reading for 15 facts about the WWE Championship that Vince McMahon wants you to forget.
15. Hulk Hogan Once Called It A Toy
Having existed for 53 years now, the WWE Championship has been worn by a total of 50 different men, and this isn’t the time nor the place to point to one specific wrestler as the person who represented it best. All we’re saying right now is that Hulk Hogan is certainly one of the men who most connected the title to mainstream culture, and that’s regardless of the racial comments he made, which have him on the outs with the company as of late. Another thing that hasn’t affected Hogan’s legacy, but maybe should’ve, were comments made in 1993, during his penultimate reign as WWE Champion. Promptly heading to Japan after winning the gold, Hogan challenged IWGP Champion The Great Muta for his title, as well. In the build to that match, Hogan repeatedly appeared on Japanese television and called the WWE Championship worthless, a “toy, a trinket,” and not something he actually took pride in winning. It should go without saying why Vince McMahon wasn’t a fan of that one.
14. It’s Been Vacated 10 Times
In the interest of fairness, this particular problem wasn’t exactly Vince McMahon’s fault. Actually, that’s not entirely true, as a handful of the abeyances and championship vacancies throughout WWE history have been fabricated for no reason other than to assist his booking. Ignoring the aforementioned Antonio Inoki example, the first such title vacancy was of this dubious kind, with André The Giant giving the title away in seconds and getting the honor retroactively taken away from him for showing it such disrespect. Next came when Hulk Hogan was stripped of the title after a questionable ending to a match with The Undertaker. Six years later, Shawn Michaels lost his smile. After that, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin lost to Kane and The Undertaker at the same time—yet another vacancy caused solely by choice. Finally, Vince McMahon once gave up the championship himself days after winning it, knowing he couldn’t defend it. Though the other vacancies were all due to injuries and thus far more acceptable, these earlier examples only cheapened the always tenuous importance of wrestlers winning and losing the title.
13. It Caused The Montreal Screwjob
Forget all the talk about how Vince screwed Bret or Shawn screwed Bret or Bret screwed Bret or anything of the sort. What the Montreal Screwjob ultimately came down to was three men who all took a simple prop and treated it like the most important honor in the world. On the one hand, Vince could point to this whole incident as proof positive that the WWE Championship is actually direly important to the wrestlers, or at least some of them, who hold it. That said, the lengths he had to go in order to get it back from one of those competitors brought out his worst tendencies as a promoter. In essence, by doing what he did at Survivor Series 1997, McMahon was making the statement the WWE Championship is more important to him than the people who made it famous, and he’ll sacrifice them if his control of the belt itself is ever threatened.
12. Notoriously Few People Of Color Have Held It
Truth be told, not a whole lot of the information on this list is going to make Vince McMahon pull his hair out. Although the WWE CEO probably doesn’t like the fact people are discussing things he prefers swept under the rug, it’s not like he’ll lose money through these revelations. However, this issue is big enough it actually could affect his public image. Despite how long the WWE Championship has existed, a mere 8 out of 50 men to win the title represent minority groups. There have been four Latino, one Middle Eastern, one Indian, one Samoan, and most tellingly, one sole African American champion in The Rock. Considering WWE is based in America, a lack of foreign champions isn’t too shocking, but The Rock being the only black champion is a jarring fact to this day. The Great One is far from the only popular black superstar the company has seen, and his success alone has far from stopped critics from calling the lack of racial diversity in the WWE Championship lineage just a little bit racist.
11. McMahon Himself Was The Oldest Champion
More than anything else, this next fact about the WWE Championship should be more personally embarrassing to Vince McMahon than anything else. The fact the company crowned a 54-year-old World Champion isn’t that big a deal in and of itself, as an increasing number of top tier wrestlers have been competing for as long as their bodies allow. Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of these legendary superstars who became the oldest WWE Champion but rather McMahon himself. Naturally, McMahon accomplished the feat barely a year after wrestling his first official match. With the unlikely help of his rival, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Vince defeated his future son-in-law, Triple H, on an episode of SmackDown airing in September 1999. Capping off this blatant ego stroke, McMahon then vacated the title the next week on Raw, ending his reign as champion undefeated. In addition to making McMahon look like an egomaniac, his brief reign also made the belt look like a silly prop that belonged to a crazy old man.
10. WWE Split It Into Two More Than Once
This fact is a little bit hard to forget about considering it’s still in effect today, and yet at the same time, Vince McMahon probably thinks some people don’t notice. In direct opposition to WWE’s attempts at keeping the WWE Championship’s reputation for being the most valued title in the business, they keep dividing the honor into more than one part by creating equivalent awards for pretty much no reason. It started out of necessity when the WCW and WWE Championships existed on the same brand for the same time, and it naturally took a few months to unify them properly. However, the second emergence of the World Heavyweight title only served to cheapen the honor it meant to hold the original WWE Championship. More recently, the Universal Championship is pretty much having the same effect, shiny red colors and fancy new name notwithstanding.
9. It No Longer Means Anything Close To What It Used To Represent
Ultimately, everything this list has said should be adding up to one unfortunate fact that explains why Vince McMahon would prefer it all remain forgotten. When a person truly unpacks everything there is to know about the WWE Championship, it simply isn’t the honor the company wishes it to be. Quite frankly, fans probably wish the title meant a whole lot more than it did, too, as they have little to hope for with regard to what they want their favorites to accomplish. Best case scenario: they rise to the top and win a title that’s been vacated almost a dozen times, half for no reason, not to mention none of the “legends” who touched it did so for long. And, oh yeah, it isn’t the same belt they touched anyway. It isn’t Bruno Sammartino’s title, nor Bob Backlund’s, Hulk Hogan’s, Steve Austin’s, or even CM Punk’s. In the end, does any of this really matter? Maybe not, but it’s all stuff Vince would probably fire one of his writers for reminding him about.
8. It Was First Crowned In A Nonexistent Tournament
Everything has to start somewhere, and for the WWE Championship, it all began in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil… or so they claim. WWE has long been claiming a tournament was held in 1963 to crown their first top superstar, won by the original “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. Having the tournament take place in Brazil gave WWE international prominence from the get go, and crowning the already nationally famous Rogers as champ would’ve done the same. That said, because none of this actually happened, it feels like the real tradition started by WWE was lying to their fans at every opportunity. In fairness to the company, the concept of lying is more or less essential to the wrestling business, so it could be said they simply applied the law of ‘go big or go home’ to their lying and started off with a particularly big one.
7. The NWA Championship Was Initially Far More Prestigious
Notwithstanding its inauspicious originals, the WWE Championship had a lot to contend with from the minute it was created, as WWE, in general, was nowhere near the company it would become. At best, WWE was maybe the third biggest name in American wrestling at the time, definitely behind the National Wrestling Alliance and, at best, tied with Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association. The AWA World Championship had only been around a few years when the WWE created its own counterpart, yet the NWA version already had 12 years of great athletes touring around for the company and defending the belt, easily making it a more esteemed honor to hold. It especially didn’t help WWE that the reigning NWA Champion at the time was Lou Thesz, and he had just defeated Buddy Rogers for that honor. In every way, this made the WWE Championship look second or even third rate, and it took years before it could rise in importance.
6. WWE Keeps Changing Its Name
On paper, this next issue really isn’t that big a deal, and yet, in the bizarrely controlling mind of Vince McMahon, it might be one of the most important. One would think a company as concerned with branding as WWE is would try to attach some sort of long-term name recognition to their most important prize. Instead, the company seemingly can’t decide what the hell to call the thing, having changed the official name of the title 12 times over the course of its existence. That’s not too bad for 50 years, aside from the fact 9 of them were within the past 20, and four in the past two years alone. While a few of these names were changed for legal issues, like changing WWWF to WWF to WWE, recently, McMahon’s obsessive tendencies are the main factor. Apparently, he can’t decide if it’s the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, WWE World Championship, or just WWE Championship. What’s the difference? Almost none, but you can sure bet Vince is yelling at Michael Cole about it every week.
5. WWE Can’t Settle On The Design, Either
Anyone who thinks a dozen name changes is a lot for the WWE Championship to have gone through should consider that that number hardly compares to the number of times the belt’s physical design has changed. In the modern era, WWE is changing pieces of the title with every new winner, which is arguably a sign Vince McMahon doesn’t really care about the issue. If anything, he’s momentarily rallied against the idea that consistency matters by giving everyone their own specialized version of the belt. While this idea worked in the past for Hulk Hogan and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, those two were actually big enough stars to deserve special pieces of gold, but today’s era with constantly changing championships has made it hard for casual fans to identify what the title even is. Depending on when a person started watching wrestling, he might already have trouble enough recognizing the belt in old pictures from eras when the belt had nothing in common with how it looks today.
4. WWE Lost The Original Belt For Decades
Of all the many designs the WWE Championship has seen over the years, it was actually the very original that was around for the shortest period of time. Only two men wore the original belt, naturally, the first two men to win the title overall: Buddy Rogers and Bruno Sammartino. Appearing like a map of the continental United States, the belt didn’t quite really look like a World Championship, and that’s because it originally wasn’t—Rogers was also the United States Champion in a different promotion, so they just borrowed his title for a few months while Vince McMahon, Sr. commissioned a new one to be built. By the time they had the new one, Sammartino was champion, so he gave the old belt to Rogers, as it was no longer needed. From there, it kind of disappeared without a trace. Not until more than 50 years later was the belt discovered in the attic of Johnny Barend, a former tag team partner of Rogers.
3. 5 Of The First 10 Champions Barely Touched It
All this early talk about “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers is probably making him sound like a pretty important wrestler, and he was. At the same time, however, Rogers wasn’t a particularly great WWE Champion—he lost the belt a mere 22 days after getting recognized as champion. Dubious though that is, Rogers is hardly in rare company. In fact, half of the first 10 men to win the WWE Championship experienced pretty much the same thing, with Ivan Koloff, Stan Stasiak, The Iron Sheik, and André The Giant all lucky to hold it for a few days at most. That’s better than Antonio Inoki, and this list will cover why that is later. For now, all that needs to be said is that none of these men could be considered great champions due to their spectacularly short reigns, and yet they’re also the legends who allegedly defined what it meant to wear the gold.
2. The Longevity Records Are Impossible To Beat
The flip side to the half of the first 10 WWE Champions hardly looking like superstars is that the other half genuinely did come to represent everything the word ‘success’ means in professional wrestling. Bruno Sammartino did this with a cumulative 11 years on top, 7 coming in a single title reign. His followers, Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan, came close with 5- and 4-year reigns, respectively, and Pedro Morales had nearly two years with the gold, as well. The closest anyone has come in the modern era was CM Punk, who reigned for all of one year and two months before ending his “historic” run. To say these records will never be beaten is an understatement because the truth is they can’t possibly be matched in any way, shape, or form. WWE likes making history and setting new records above all else, even if they’re meaningless, so Vince McMahon probably isn’t all that happy that not even he can do anything about this one.
1. Antonio Inoki’s Phantom Reign
As already mentioned, New Japan Pro Wrestling legend Antonio Inoki’s place in the WWE Championship lineage has been contested for many years. Actually, that might need to be rephrased because there’s really no question about the fact Inoki defeated Bob Backlund for the gold on November 30, 1979, in Tokushima, Japan. The two had a rematch the next week, after which Inoki vacated the belt due to interference from Tiger Jeet Singh. A week and a half after that, Backlund defeated Bobby Duncum to regain the vacant title. All of this is in the record books as stuff that absolutely, definitely happened, and yet for some reason, WWE.com doesn’t include any of it in their WWE Championship history. Instead, the company claims Backlund’s original reign was uninterrupted from 1978 to 1983. Why? No one has any idea except Vince McMahon.
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