What happens when wrestling champions cannot defend their titles? These are the rare occasions titleholders had their belts put on the line and defended by other people!
When Were Championship Belts First Introduced in Wrestling?
A championship in wrestling is the ultimate prize.
With wrestling being almost as old as humanity, a physical representation of wrestling acumen has existed for millennia.
Crowns of wreaths were given to winners of wrestling events in the first known Greece Olympics in 776BC.
Since the first officially-recognized world heavyweight champion in wrestling – George Hackenschmidt, in 1905 – the industry has long used the concept for mainstream entertainment.
The Times Wrestlers Defended Another Competitor’s Championship
When a champion cannot defend their title, on rare occasions over the years, belts have been put on the line and were defended by other competitors. Here are ten such examples!
1. Big Van Vader Defends Rick Rude’s WCW United States Championship
At the pay-per-view, “Ravishing” Rick was granted a shot at the NWA World Heavyweight title.
He had just fallen short at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax, having reached the finals of a tournament for the vacant belt but lost to Masahiro Chono.
Although he was granted a shot at the NWA belt, Executive Vice-President “Cowboy” Bill Watts also forced Rude to defend his US title.
WCW came up with the bizarre storyline that Rude was so disgruntled and apoplectic with having to wrestle two matches that he filed an injunction in court to block the decision.
However, no legal battles were ever mentioned before the pay-per-view.
Unbooked on the card, Vader was then chosen as the substitute for Rude, although he would not be recognized as a titleholder.
Never the official champion, his match with Koloff saw Rude arrive with Vader to the ring to gift him the belt to defend.
Before and post-match, “The Mastodon” still celebrated and held up the title belt as if it was his.
Vader would win the bout, continuing Rude’s reign, which would last for over a year.
The match would have severe implications for Nikita’s career. Not only would he sustain a hernia attempting to lift Vader early in the match, but he also got a herniated disk after a stiff Vader clothesline that would end his career.
Vader had broken Sting’s ribs earlier and would continue to injure talents like journeyman Joe Thurman.
In 1993, in a series of matches with Cactus Jack, Jack would require 27 stitches in his face, get a concussion, lose feeling in his limbs, and even lose an ear (although the latter cannot be attributed to Vader). None of the injuries caused by Vader hampered his career.
Rick Rude’s match was also significant, ranking as one of the worst matches ever by Dave Meltzer. He called it “the match that destroyed the NWA title in the United States” and likely the worst match of the year despite the duo having a match of the year candidate shortly before; it was rated –3 stars.
Ironically, the match after the Vader substitute for Rude saw only one of the initially scheduled participants. So instead, a Miracle Violence Connection (Steve Williams and Terry Gordy) versus The Steiner Brothers match became Steve Williams and Steve Austin against Dustin Rhodes and Barry Windham.
2. British Bulldog Defends Owen Hart’s WWF World Tag Team Championship
In Your House 3: Triple Header had a noticeably inconsequential undercard, with the special attraction of the card being a match to determine the holders of all three title belts in the WWF.
During the show’s opening bout, Dok Hendrix (Michael P.S. Hayes) was shown on a split-screen announcing Owen Hart was not in the building.
The reason for his no-show was not revealed. This could have thrown the whole main event into jeopardy.
After approaching various people, Cornette finally settled on The British Bulldog, who would be the sanctioned champion for the night.
Davey Boy Smith had wrestled earlier that night, but as he was not a recognized tag champion and could gain the IC or WWF title, he had little to lose.
In the culmination of the match, “The Rocket” sprinted down to ringside to interfere despite his previous absence. He ate a Jackknife Powerbomb and pin from Diesel, losing the tag titles.
However, this controversial finish was overturned the following night, causing a “Dusty Finish.”
Did you know? The “Dusty Finish” was named after Dusty Rhodes, who booked many such finishes in the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and later in World Championship Wrestling (WCW). The “Dusty Finish” refers to a finish in which the face (good guy) appears to win a big match, but the decision is later reversed due to some sort of technicality, such as interference by other heels to save the heel champion, as, in most federations, the title could not change hands on such a disqualification.
Like Vader’s defense of Rude’s belt, Cornette had also caused a legal battle with Jim hiring lawyer Clarence Mason – an allusion to OJ Simpson’s lawyer Johnnie Cochran – to fight the case.
In reality, Hart had been with his wife, Martha, who was in labor giving birth to Athena Hart.
After the birth of Owen’s youngest child, he had rushed to take the pin in a match he was not even involved in, temporarily losing the belts – even after he had given them up for the night to Bulldog.
On Something To Wrestle With, Bruce Prichard recalled the corner they had been painted into, with Vince not wanting Diesel and Shawn to break up as tag champions while unable to switch the world and IC title.
He commented, “They beat Owen [when he wasn’t in the match]. Then Cornette’s got a technicality. [It was] not one of our finer moments.”
3. Shane Douglas Defends Johnny Gunn’s ECW World Tag Team Championship
At the inaugural November To Remember in 1993, Tommy Dreamer and Johnny Gunn unseated tag champions Johnny Hotbody and “Hitman” Tony Stetson (collectively known as The Suicide Blondes), beating the incumbent champions in nine seconds.
On November 14th, at a co-hosted event by the NWA’s ECW and the Mid Eastern Wrestling Federation (MEWF), Gunn would wrestle his last match for ECW, beating Greg Valentine.
However, having only just come off the road for WCW, Gunn – better known by WWF fans as Tom Brandi or Salvatore Sincere – would get injured and not return to ECW. So instead, Gunn departed for NJPW.
For a televised title defense on December 14th, Gunn’s spot would be filled in by Shane Douglas.
“The Franchise” volunteered himself for the match, which was odd considering the ex-ECW champion was a heel at the time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Shane turned on the pre- “Innovator Of Violence” Tommy Dreamer, hitting him with a chain and allowing opponents Kevin Sullivan and The Tazmaniac to win the titles.
This was used to fill in for an absent champion and start a short singles feud between Douglas and Dreamer.
4. Stevie Ray Defends Booker T’s WCW Television Championship
The break-up of Harlem Heat in the late ’90s was a cold disbanding, with the two having a peaceful co-existence with Stevie Ray even defending Booker T’s TV title.
The future King Of The Ring winner would defend the belt on TV against Finlay and Dean Malenko before a successful defense on pay-per-view at Bash At The Beach, beating Bret Hart via DQ.
Unfortunately, Hart applied a Figure-Four Leglock around the post, injuring Booker T’s legs until Stevie Ray came out for the save.
During his time away, the master of the Spinaroonie’s belt was defended by Ray as he was given ‘power by attorney’ to be the brief holder while T recovered.
Ray was initially scheduled to face Chavo Guerrero, but “The Ayatollah Of Rock’n’Rollah” assaulted the young Guerrero backstage.
5. Samu Defends Sika’s WWF World Tag Team Championship
Few wrestling families have been so influential or close-knit in wrestling as the Anoa’i family.
In March 1983, The Wild Samoans, Afa and Sika, won their third WWF World Tag Team Championship after defeating Chief Jay Strongbow and Jules Strongbow on an episode of Championship Wrestling.
However, Sika was injured at a live event just four days later, which could have thrown the whole title reign into chaos.
Luckily, Afa’s son Samu joined The Wild Samoans for a period to fill in for Sika, going under the name Samula.
This meant that the son and father team were the tag champions for a while, making the substitution seem relatively seamless.
They only had a singular defense of the straps, in which Samu was a brief titleholder. Then, on the same show as “Iron,” Mike Sharpe challenged for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, and the duo successfully retained over The Strongbows yet again.
Sika eventually returned, continuing the title reign while Samu stuck around in the faction. The team would hold the belts until November, losing to the Soul Patrol (Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson).
Samu would find later success on a larger scale in both The Headshrinkers and The Samoan SWAT Team.
6. Lord Steven Regal Defends Brian Pillman’s NWA/WCW World Tag Team Championship
The short but sweet history of The Hollywood Blonds (Steve Austin and Brian Pillman) is bizarre.
The legitimately reluctant partners picked up their one and only WCW tag titles from Ricky Steamboat and Shane Douglas on a 1993 episode of Worldwide.
Unfortunately, during the team’s tag feud, the future “Franchise” left WCW for ECW.
So instead, a scheduled pay-per-view match between the duos had Tom Zenk cosplaying as Shane Douglas under a mask, constantly being referred to as Shane Douglas!
More accurately, Steve Austin and impromptu tag partner Lord Steven Regal lost the belts. The Englishman had subbed for Pillman, who had suffered an ankle injury before the pay-per-view while working a match on Main Event.
The match could not be canceled. It had to go ahead as WCW had taped future matches weeks in advance at MGM Studios, in which The Horsemen were the champions.
This caused a few card alterations as Regal was initially supposed to face 2 Cold Scorpio after feuding with Marcus Alexander Bagwell – Scorpio’s tag partner (Bobby Eaton replaced Regal).
Why was Regal chosen if such involvement would make changes to multiple matches? Regal and Austin were good backstage allies, which may serve as the reason. Regal was also a heel similar to Austin and a reliable worker for the match.
The injury was perhaps a blessing in disguise as it led nicely into the next storyline.
While Brian was out, Austin chased the US belt and acquired the managerial services of Colonel Robert Parker.
Annoyed, Pillman confronted Austin before the team dissolved. Shortly after, Pillman set his eyes on the Television Title held by Regal – the man who had ‘cost’ him the WCW World Tag Team Titles.
7. Stevie Richards Defends Raven’s ECW World Heavyweight Championship
Stevie Richards defended his “master”‘s title numerous times during a stint injured.
Commonly described on commentary by Joey Styles as a “clueless putz,” ever since his debut in ECW, Richards portrayed an out-of-place, devoted lackey to Raven.
He tried to earn the respect of Raven while also wearing glam metal clothing in contrast to Raven’s more grunge-heavy attire.
In January 1995, Raven captured the ECW World Heavyweight title from The Sandman.
Over the next few months, Raven successfully defended his titles over talents as diverse as Shane Douglas, Damién 666, and 2 Cold Scorpio. Yet, Raven was often paired in tag or multi-man matches on pay-per-view due to suffering from gout.
However, at Heat Wave in July, there was a bizarre stipulation in a six-man tag pitting The Sandman, Terry Gordy, and Tommy Dreamer against Raven, Richards, and Brian Lee.
Raven’s world title would only be lost if Richards was pinned. So instead, the Sandman pinned titleholder Raven, thus not winning his belt.
At The Doctor Is In the next month, Raven was injured and could not compete.
ECW Commissioner Tod Gordon informed Raven that Stevie would replace him in a title defense against Sandman, angering Raven, who hit Richards with the Evenflow DDT.
Richards won in the end, although Raven was the one who ended up pinning The Sandman, even if not in the match. This was because it was under Raven’s Rules.
Raven’s reign ended at Ultimate Jeopardy when The Sandman and Tommy Dreamer beat Richards and “Prime Time” Lee. After that, whoever was pinned or submitted would be penalized.
For Richards, his loss would mean he would drop Raven’s title; The Sandman pinned him after a DDT.
The now ex-champion blamed Stevie for his title loss, sowing the seeds for descension between the duo, eventually leading to the formation of the Blue World Order (bWo).
8. Consequences Creed Defends Adam “Pacman” Jones’ TNA World Tag Team Championship
In 2007, Tennessee Titan’s quarterback Adam “Pacman” Jones was suspended from the NFL for violating the sport’s policy on off-the-field conduct.
This was allegedly after involvement in a shooting in a strip club, which saw Jones be the first player in 44 years to be suspended without substance abuse present.
Jones would later have to pay $11.6 million in damages to those shot in the Las Vegas establishment.
Jones was initially brought in at 2007’s Hard Justice, starting a feud with Ron “The Truth” Killings (R-Truth). Yet by the American footballer’s first TNA match, he was aligned with Killings.
The reason was that despite the ties between the Tennessee Titans and the Tennessee-based TNA, the team did not allow Jones to get physically involved in wrestling as a part of his year-long suspension.
After pinning Sting, Jones still became one-half of the TNA World Tag Team Champions.
However, Jones did not hit any moves due to Jones’s inability to compete. As a result, they only won after an attack by “The Vigilante’s” partner Kurt Angle; Killing’s effectively wrestled a handicap match.
With the problematic clause of no physical involvement, the group needed a way to properly defend the titles.
After defenses over Team 3D (The Dudley Boyz) and Triple X (Elix Skipper & Senshi) – in which Jones had minimal physical involvement – a new member had to be added to the group.
At Bound For Glory, Rasheed Lucius Creed joined the group to defend the other half of the tag belts alongside Killings, with the name Truth Or Consequences. Better known now as Xavier Woods, Creed would be notable for his bombastic all-American attire.
Jones could only watch as his team was unsuccessful, with this new alliance losing his tag belts as the future 24/7 champion would be pinned by Christian’s Coalition (AJ Styles and Tomko).
Creed would become Consequences Creed, a mid-card fixture, while Killings would shortly after leave TNA for the WWE.
Creed was not recognized as one-half of the tag champions, with his only World Tag Team title reign being alongside Jay Lethal.
“Pacman” Jones would not return to wrestling again on such a significant scale.
9. Goldust Defends Triple H’s European Championship
Following the Montreal Screwjob in November 1997, Bret’s brother Owen sought revenge over D-Generation-X for their role in the championship-stealing conspiracy.
What followed was one of the most infamously one-sided feuds in WWE history as DX quashed Hart’s rebellion at every attempt.
And while Owen won Triple H’s European title, he did not beat “The Game.”
Post-Survivor Series, those close to “The Hitman” had left the company, including Jim Neidhart and The British Bulldog and DX insurance policy member and close friend of Bret, Rick Rude.
Owen had to stay in the then WWF, however, due to contractual obligations, crafting a more unforgiving, lone ranger-like “Black Heart” persona.
After Triple H won the European Championship from partner Shawn Michaels in a bizarre parody of a match, HHH promised Hart a title shot on Raw in January 1998 even though the former “Connecticut Blueblood” was injured in a week.
The match is Hart taking on “Hunterdust” amidst Dustin Rhodes’s period of wrestler impersonations.
Hart forced the faux Hunter Hearst-Helmsley to submit with a Sharpshooter after countering a Pedigree attempt. Then, DX came on the Titantron to mock Owen for not getting his due match.
But DX was enraged when Commissioner Slaughter announced that this sanctioned substitution officially counted as a title match.
He thus announced Owen as the newest champion. This was only revealed after the bout.
10. The Fabulous Freebirds Defend The Steiner Brothers’ WCW World Tag Team Championships
This one is not an acknowledged on-screen defense but is a fascinating tale.
At WrestleWar 1991, Michael P.S. Hayes and Jimmy Garvin of The Fabulous Freebirds captured the WCW World Tag Team titles after defeating Doom (Ron Simmons and “Hacksaw” Butch Reed).
Yet, by this point, The Freebirds had already lost their tag belts.
Due to WCW pre-taping events, The Steiner Brothers had already beaten The Freebirds for the tag titles six days earlier at a Power Hour taping before The Freebirds’ live pay-per-view win.
Due to this bizarre switch, Wikipedia lists the reign as lasting –6 days, meaning Hayes and Garvin must earn the record for shortest title reign in mainstream wrestling – losing them before even winning the championships!
As the Steiners’ win had not yet aired on television, The Freebirds still defended their titles with a televised retention over the team of Brad Armstrong and “White Lightning” Tim Horner.
The Steiners taped win was on February 18th and televised on March 9th, 1991. Yet, on March 2nd and 3rd, The Steiners beat The Freebirds decisively in matches for the US tag belts even when their win had not been broadcast yet.
An absurd switch all around, this title change indicates how pre-taped television can sometimes be problematic to programming.
Confusion and even chaos ensue when champions cannot defend their belts. These have been ten such memorable occurrences.
These stories may also interest you:
- The Super-Finisher – 11 Dangerous Wrestling Finishing Moves!
- 6 Times Professional Wrestlers Were Blinded
- 7 WWE Hall of Fame Stories WWE Doesn’t Want You To Know!
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