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 411mania » Wrestling » Columns

The Magnificent Seven 5.25.14: The Top 7 World Title Changes That Shouldn’t Have Happened
Posted by Mike Chin on 05.25.2014

World championships are supposed to be a mark of excellence in professional wrestling—handing the ball to a performer the company trusts defend the title in such a way that will draw fans, tell compelling stories, and hopefully deliver good in-ring action. There are times when promoters have used title changes for different purposes, though. For shock value. As experiments. Using the strap as a prop for a story arc. This is an expansive enough topic that I'm quite confident I'm missing several clear cut examples. Just the same, here's my best stab at seven world title changes that hurt the legacy of championships, hurt the overall promotion, or just plain didn't make sense, and thus never should have happened.

Note: hindsight is 20-20. It would be easy, for example, to rank Diesel taking the WWF Championship from Bob Backlund because the title reign to follow was pretty underwhelming. That said, Diesel was hot going into the match and it was fair to think he might succeed as champion, so I'm focusing on decisions with far less potential, not to mention poor results.

#7. Stan Hansen defeats Rick Martel for the AWA World Championship

I don't mean any disrespect to Stan Hansen who, at the age of 64, I'm quite confident could still hog tie me and make me squeal like a pig, or break my neck with a lariat. This is a case of wrong guy at the wrong time booking. The AWA was past its peak already, but Rick Martel was a reasonably successful face champion for a year and a half. Hansen only came to AWA for a cup of coffee, but it was enough time for him to beat Martel clean by submission to take the strap, and then disappear. I'm truncating the timeline a little bit, but within half a year, Hansen had entered a bitter booking and legal dispute with Verne Gagne when Hansen accepted booking in Japan under the understanding that he'd come over as champion, a plan with which Gagne was not on board. The AWA stripped him of the championship, but he held onto the physical belt and brought it to the Far East under the guise that he was still champion.

Nick Bockwinkel would end up regaining the strap AWA anyway—letting Martel carry it a little longer and dropping the strap to an AWA mainstay would have benefited the company a great deal more. Instead, the AWA ended up with Martel as a broken top face and a tangled mess of a main event scene, all of which could have been avoided had they not handed the strap to a Hansen—as talented as he was, a guy who was in no way committed to AWA for the long haul.

#6. Hulk Hogan defeats Yokozuna for the WWF World Championship

I actually do understand the logic behind this decision, because as a nine year old fan I remember cheering for Hulk Hogan in my living room when he challenged Yokozuna at the end of Wrestlemania 9, and being satisfied with the happy ending of the card. But history and a more mature lens have not been kind to this booking decision.

In early 1993, Bret Hart had a ton of momentum as a face champion, and Yokozuna was steadily gaining steam as a main event heel. Of the roster that was already in place, these two were the present and a big part of the future of the WWF main event landscape. Then you had Hulk Hogan, who had "retired" in 1992, only to wind up back in the mix one year later.

While Hogan was a fun enough nostalgia act upon his return, he quickly wore out his welcome and by the summer of 1993 felt like a real anachronism at the top of the card. Accordingly, he only defended his world championship once—dropping it back to Yokozuna, before he disappeared from the Fed for the better part of nine years.

Yes, Hogan winning maintained the tradition of happy endings of Wrestlemania, and you can sort of argue that beating him at King of the Ring helped legitimize Yokozuna as the champ to dominate the year that followed. Just the same, there's always going to be a funky asterisk beside this impromptu world championship win, and the booking decision will always reek of the WWF trying to capitalize on an era that was already long over.

#5. Mick Foley defeats Sting for the TNA World Championship

I have a ton of respect for Mick Foley, but by 2008 he didn't have much business as an active wrestler in a national promotion, much less in the main event scene. All the more so actually winning a world championship. TNA has seen its share of wacky booking, and I won't deny that there are more dubious names on their roster of world champions than Foley. Just the same, taking the full context of the situation into consideration, Foley having a title run was just absurd, and seemed like nothing more than a lame attempt to draw Attitude Era WWE fans to give the TNA product a look.

Foley was not equipped to have good matches, and mercifully dropped the strap in a King of the Mountain Match the next month in a multi-man set up that could hide Foley's limitations. You'd think that would have been the end of Foley's main event run, but TNA chose to cast a spotlight on him one more time in a rematch with Kurt Angle at the following month's Victory Road PPV.

Foley would linger around TNA in lower profile and out of ring roles before returning to WWE in 2011 in his proper role (for this stage of his career) as a comedic part-timer.

#4. Black Bart (kind of) defeats Chris Adams for the WCWA World Heavyweight Championship

And so we enter the "(kind of)" portion of the countdown, which is probably among the telltale sign that a title change is a mistake. I've used this signifier to point out title changes in multi-man scenarios or special gimmicks through which the champion didn't really lose, per se. In this instance, champ Chris Adams departed from WCCW, and the title changed hands in a phantom match in Los Angeles.

Calling the WCWA strap a world championship may be a little generous, but it's the language WCCW used at the time, and the general consensus seems to be a shrug and a meh as to whether the title "counts." That said, a part of its dubious status can be attributed to unworthy champions, perhaps none lesser than Black Bart, a perennial mid-card act who had the strap hotshotted to him when Adams had to go. Within a month, Kevin Von Erich would win the belt off him and guys like Kerry von Erich and Jerry Lawler would trade the belt to uphold a modicum of legitimacy in the years to follow, but having Bart win the title just seven months after the company started calling it a world (rather than American) championship may have been one of the key bad booking moves to keep the wrestling establishment from ever fully embracing it as a true world title.

#3. Kevin Nash defeats Goldberg for the WCW Championship

Goldberg's first world title reign and undefeated streak had to end sometime, and I understand the choices for it to occur at Starrcade—WCW's biggest show—and at the hands of Kevin Nash as a top tier talent heading up the NWO Wolfpack, one of wrestling's most successful face factions, while it lasted. But there were two key problems to this booking decision. First of all, Goldberg was molten at this point—one of the most over men in the history of professional wrestling, and certainly hotter than he would ever be again. And that success was rooted in his status as an unbeatable force. The streak couldn't last forever, and I can respect the choice to end it before fans were ready in the interest of staying ahead of the curve. But then we enter part two of the problem.

See, Goldberg wasn't losing to a new rising star, a new dominant champion, or even someone he'd go on to have a heated feud with. No, he was losing to Nash, in the interest of setting up The Fingerpoke of Doom in which Nash handed the strap to Hulk Hogan to revisit a tired NWO angle that had already run its course. This choice set WCW backwards, neutering its biggest drawing card in favor of an over-exposed main event concept. The WCW Championship became a joke based on any number of bad decisions, but there's little doubt this was one of the worst.

#2. David Arquette (kind of) defeats Diamond Dallas Page for the WCW World Championship

I don't mind celebrities in wrestling. Done correctly, the use of celebrities can give a star the rub before his new movie comes out and give pro wrestling some mainstream attention—both perfectly fine things. The problems start when celebrity booking starts having a major impact on major wrestling storylines, a trap WCW fell into all too many times between appearances by Jay Leno, Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone, Kevin Green, and others. But only once did WCW put its top title on a celebrity—and that celebrity wasn't a professional athlete, it was scrawny comedic actor, David Arquette.

While I won't go so far as to say one absurd champ ruins the entire legacy of a championship, I will argue that this title change was completely emblematic of WCW Championship scene at that point—all about shocking surprises and short-term thinking. Never should there be a world champion who would be the stark underdog against literally anyone on the active roster. I guess WCW got what it wanted in the form of a bunch of mainstream press, but in wrestling terms, the choice was just absurd.

#1. Vince Russo (kind of) defeats Booker T for the WCW World Championship

Some folks might argue Vince Russo was a less offensive champ than David Arquette, since at least he was a part of the wrestling world when he won the strap. Or that this title change was no worse than Vince McMahon winning the WWF Championship off of Triple H. The primary difference between Russo's win and either of these others is sheer star power. While Internet fans may have known Russo, he never so much as approached McMahon's clout, and was nowhere near famous enough to get the mainstream attention Arquette did, to be fair, earn for WCW.

Unlike McMahon's win that offered a sweet moment of comeuppance for dick heel Triple H, Russo's win was an irritating moment, slowing the moment of a legitimately entertaining, fresh champion in Booker T, who would win the title back a week later anyway. The title change therefore benefited no one except Russo himself, and added a second non-wrestler the ranks of men who could count themselves as part of the lineage of what was supposed to be one of the richest prizes in wrestling.

It's not good for the blood pressure or sanity of any long-term wrestling fan to take pro wrestling booking too seriously. That said, as a fan of over 25 years, it's hard not to feel insulted by this, the very essence of wrestlecrap.

Which world title changes did you think were the biggest mistakes? Let us know in the comments section. See you in seven.

Read stories and miscellaneous criticism from Mike Chin at his website and his thoughts on a cappella music at The A Cappella Blog. Follow him on Twitter @miketchin.


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