Daniel Bryan‘s recent neck surgery has seen him stripped of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship title that he worked so hard to win; a shame considering fans have long awaited for Bryan to be at the top of the WWE. He won his title at WrestleMania culminating an eight-month wait from fans. Now it has been taken away, an action that will result in a new champion. It wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened. Here are the past WWE or World Heavyweight champions who have forfeited their title.
8. Andre the Giant — Vacated Due To Illegal Sale
Andre defeated Hulk Hogan at the Main Event in 1988, ending Hogan’s four-year title run thanks to a crooked referee. Andre turned and handed the title to DiBiase, but the Million Dollar Man is not recognized as a WWE champion. President Jack Tunney ruled that the WWE title could not be purchased and thus declared the title vacant.
This set up a 16-man tournament a month later at WrestleMania IV. A legend like Andre the Giant has arguably the most forgetful title reign in history.
7. Hulk Hogan — Vacated Due To Match Interference
Hulk Hogan is a former six-time WWE champion, with his reigns ranging from extremely long, to just 24 hours.
His shortest title reign goes back to 1991. Having just lost the title to the Undertaker at Survivor Series, Hogan won his title back a week later at Tuesday in Texas. Or so it seemed.
Once again, president Jack Tunney put his foot down and vacated the title.
This was done due to the constant interference in both of the Hogan vs. Undertaker matches which resulted in the two title changes.
First in the Survivor Series match, Paul Bearer got in the way at ringside and Ric Flair delivered the fatal blow. Flair brought a steel chair to the ring and slid it under Hogan’s head, just as the Undertaker was planting him with a Tombstone piledriver.
In the rematch, Flair again attempted to interfere, but was foiled by Hogan. Bearer then tried to hit Hogan with the famous urn, but Hogan ducked causing Bearer to strike his Undertaker. Hogan then gathered some ashes from the urn, threw it in Undertaker’s eyes and rolled him up for the win.
All this was a little too messy for Tunney’s liking and he declared the title vacant on Superstars the next night.
The title would remain vacant, until the 1992 Royal Rumble, where in a unique Rumble concept, the winner would receive the vacated title. That one was won by Flair, ironically with a little help from Hogan.
6. Shawn Michaels — Vacated Due To Injury
Perhaps the most controversial forfeiture of the championship in WWE history. HBK had just regained his title from Sycho Sid and rumour has it the original plan was for Michaels to face Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 in a rematch of the prior year’s WrestleMania.
Shawn Michaels would suffer an untimely knee injury, seemingly jeopardizing his career.
On an edition of RAW, Michaels delivered a tear-filled speech explaining why he had to vacate the title. On top of his knee injury, he uttered the infamous words, that he had lost his smile and was going home to find it.
Michaels would be out with injury until later that spring, however the rumour was he didn’t want to drop the title to Hart.
We don’t know if that’s true or not, but given Michaels’ prima donna attitude back in the day, the rumour may have some merit.
In any event, the title was vacant and would be put on the line at In Your House: Final Four, with Undertaker, Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Vader competing for it. Hart would win that one. The controversy of 1997 had only just begun.
5. Undertaker? Or Kane? — Vacated Due To Draw
Which superstar do we count here? You be the judge. Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mr. McMahon were at the peak of their feud, and McMahon was determined to do everything possible to get the title off his arch-nemesis. He stacked the deck against Austin like never before at Breakdown 1998.
He placed Austin in a triple threat match against the Undertaker and Kane. However, he added a twist to this one. Unlike a standard triple threat title match, where the superstar who scores the first pinfall or submission wins the title, McMahon ruled the Undertaker or Kane could only win the title if they pinned Austin. This essentially made it a handicap match, with the Brothers of Destruction looking to beat Austin.
They did, but they did so together, with both men pinning Austin simultaneously. Neither was declared champion, but McMahon ruled that Austin had lost his title, rendering the title vacant. McMahon won this round.
A subsequent match between Undertaker and Kane for the title with Austin as special referee was ruled no-contest when Austin refused to declare a winner. The title would stay vacant until Survivor Series, where a tournament took place to crown the new champion. That would be, The Rock.
4. Vince McMahon — Vacated At His Own Will
Yes, Vince McMahon was once WWE champion. Heck, he owns the company, why not make himself champion at least once, right?
McMahon was looking to defend his wife Linda’s honour after champion Triple H had disrespected her. Triple H offered to put his title on the line if McMahon would face him. McMahon agreed, and it would backfire on Triple H.
By this point, the McMahon/Austin feud was in a state of peace and Austin’s enemy at the time was Triple H. Austin would deliver the stunner on Triple H, allowing McMahon to score the pin and win the richest prize in his business.
McMahon wouldn’t stay champion long, and forfeited the title the next week on RAW. He determined a new champion would be decided in a six-pack challenge at the 1999 Unforgiven PPV. That match would be won by… Triple H, giving the Game his second title reign.
3. John Cena — Vacated Due To Injury
John Cena was on top of the world, with one of the longest title reigns in recent history and the longest of his career. It lasted 380 days, from Unforgiven 2006 to October of 2007.
On an episode of RAW, Cena suffered a torn pectoral tendon, which put him out of action for nearly four months. As a result, he was forced to surrender the WWE championship.
It was a shame that it ended the way it did, but it set up a dramatic return at the 2008 Royal Rumble for Cena.
Meanwhile, the vacated championship would be awarded to Randy Orton, who was the no.1 contender for Cena’s title at the time of his injury.
2. Batista — Vacated Due To Injury
Injury problems have plagued Batista for much of his WWE career, and this particular injury cost him the WWE title.
He had just returned from an injury two months earlier, and had earned the right to be no.1 contender to Randy Orton‘s title at Extreme Rules 2009. Batista would defeat Orton in a steel cage match, but his reign was short lived.
Two days later, it was announced on WWE.com that Batista was surrendering his title due to suffering a torn left bicep. That would put Batista out of action another few months and Orton won the title back a week later.
This wasn’t the only time a title reign ended for Batista due to injury. His first World Heavyweight Championship run was cut short in January 2006 after injuring his triceps. That was a title run of over nine months.
1. Daniel Bryan — Vacated Due To Injury
Yes, Daniel Bryan has now had two title reigns end with a vacant title. It was just last September when the WWE title was vacant for about a month.
It all began at SummerSlam when Bryan defeated John Cena for the WWE championship, but would be screwed over by Triple H. The WWE C.O.O. pedigreed Bryan, allowing Orton to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and take the title from Bryan.
This set up a rematch at the next pay-per-view, Night of Champions. On this occasion, Bryan defeated Orton, but referee Scott Armstrong inexplicably executed a fast count.
Triple H would determine the next night on RAW that the match was unfairly officiated and stripped Daniel Bryan of the title, rendering it vacant. He also “fired” Scott Armstrong. It would later be revealed the Armstrong was in cahoots with Triple H and had counted fast to give Triple H an out in stripping Bryan of the title.
Orton and Bryan would engage in another rematch, which ended in a no-contest at BattleGround. At Hell in a Cell, with Shawn Michaels as the special referee, Orton would regain the title thanks to interference from Triple H and an unintentional assist from HBK.
We know how the feud played out through WrestleMania.
Bryan now finds himself yet again having to vacate the title, this time due to his neck injury, which is really unfortunate. Fans have rallied around him for months and months and now he’ll have to muster a big comeback. At least it may set up an interesting scenario to crown the next champion, as Randy Orton and Alberto Del Rio have already earned their places in the next Money in the Bank Ladder Match. When a title is vacant, the WWE has usually found a way to turn it into a positive, and we should expect this time to be no different.