Wrestling House Show Title Changes Not Seen on TV

Witnessing a title change at a house show when the cameras aren’t rolling is a special treat. Here is a selection of memorable times this has happened!

AJ Styles holding the United States Championship title belt after a surprise win over Kevin Owens at a Madison Square Garden house show on July 8th, 2017

Wrestling House Show Title Changes

As a wrestling fan, there is nothing quite like witnessing a title change when the cameras aren’t rolling at a house show. It’s a unique, special treat that few people experience.

A house show title change is different from what you’d see on television in that it can be more unpredictable and exciting.

Reasons for title changes at house shows can vary from a nagging injury, a champion needing to drop the belt, testing the waters of a crowd reaction, or switching things up and giving the crowd something memorable.

Mickie James defeats Melina (c) and Victoria for the Women’s Championship at a House Show in Paris, France, on April 24th, 2007

Having titles change hands on a house show is a bizarre occurrence. What’s even more bizarre is when they change hands on a house show by a complete accident.

Melina in a leopard print wrestling gear with her arms behind her locking up Mickie James with Victoria looking on during the WWE Raw WrestleMania Revenge Tour 2007
Mickie James and Melina lock up with Victoria looking on during the WWE Raw WrestleMania Revenge Tour 2007 [photo courtesy of schneller_blitz on Flickr]
In Paris, fans got a bit more than they bargained for when Mickie James pinned Victoria to become the new Women’s champion.

Mickie won the match by pinning fellow challenger Victoria with a hurricanrana — a move you wouldn’t expect her to win a match with. Seemingly, either Victoria forgot to kick out, or Melina missed her timing and didn’t break up the pin in time.

WWE acted quickly to the accidental victory by sending Jonathan Coachman out, who was in charge that night in heel-ish fashion, announcing that Melina would be granted a rematch immediately because she wasn’t pinned, and the title was stolen from her. Melina won the rematch via dirty tactics, using the rope to help secure a pin.

The Women’s championship switched hands twice inadvertently, and both are recognized as respective title reigns to both Mickie James and Melina.

Primo and Epico defeat Air Boom (c) for the Tag Team Championship at a House Show in Oakland, California, on January 15th, 2012

Air Boom was a high-flying dynamic duo consisting of Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne.

With both of these talented athletes having exciting moves in their arsenal, it was easy for the crowd to get behind them, and they had the potential to be a very solid tag team for a long time, especially considering how weak the rest of the tag team division was at the time.

Primo and Epico in black and white wrestling tights holding their hands up with the title belt and a ring girl to celebrate winning the Tag Team Championship from Air Boom in Oakbank, California, January 15. 2012
Primo and Epico celebrate winning the Tag Team Championship from Air Boom in Oakbank, California, on January 15th. 2012

Unfortunately, Air Boom was never able to reach their full potential as Evan Bourne had major wellness policy issues.

Evan Bourne’s first suspension with the company was a 30-day suspension on November 1st, 2011, for smoking spice, a synthetic form of marijuana.

The nature of this first suspension was controversial. Evan Bourne wasn’t smoking spice alone, there was another ‘top superstar’ smoking it with him, yet Evan was the only one that got suspended straight away.

The other superstar in question was R-Truth, who was in a main event feud alongside tag team partner The Miz up against The Rock and John Cena for Survivor Series 2012.

WWE waited another three weeks so R-Truth could compete in the main event, and then suspended him shortly after, proving that the wellness policy can be flawed.

Another controversial factor regarding this suspension is that having synthetic marijuana caught in your system resulted in a suspension, while smoking actual marijuana only resulted in a $2500 fine without suspension.

When his first suspension took place, Evan Bourne was a tag team champion with Kofi Kingston but was never made to drop the title, and Air Boom was able to go a full month without defending them.

Evan then got suspended a second time, only two months after the initial breach of policy, and the second time around, Evan and Kofi weren’t so lucky.

Air Boom dropped the Tag Team Championships to Primo and Epico at a house show in Oakbank, California. Two days later, Evan was suspended.

Evan never returned to television after his suspension, not only because of the suspension but because his downward spiral continued.

He was in a horrible motorcycle accident in March of 2012, around the time where he was going to make his comeback to the ring from suspension, but was sidelined indefinitely after breaking his foot in four spots and dislocating it in five. This lead to his demise in WWE.

X-Pac was very unhappy with the treatment of Evan Bourne regarding the wellness policy and came to his defense on Twitter.

"Evan Bourne was suspended again. WTF? Get off these guys’ backs on the marijuana. It’s not even on the IOCs banned substance list.

"This guy (Bourne) is one of the healthiest, respectful, dedicated professionals they have. Leave him alone. … He doesn’t go out there stoned. Come on. I get it. How about they ban alcohol as well? The synthetic weed is legal at the moment.

"I understand the marijuana policy. It’s illegal. The other stuff you buy in the gas station is still legal. That’s my point.

“I love Bourne. I don’t know the story, but after the first one, I wouldn’t have given them any rope to hang me with. My problem is with parts of their wellness policy. On the whole, I think it is a great policy; it saved my life."

In a Kayfabe Commentaries YouShoot, Evan Bourne was asked if he regrets WWE’s wellness policy’s breaching.

"Do I regret it? Duh. Basically, I failed for that synthetic marijuana, which I was smoking instead of normal marijuana for some ridiculous reason. I thought I could get away with it, and I did for a while.

"Then I got caught, and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t do that anymore.’ Then lo and behold, I ended up doing it again the night before a test, the second time, and that was that. That was that. Very very much regret it, duh. What kind of question is that?"

Bourne went on to say that he will never smoke "spice" again and hasn’t in a long time. He felt bad about screwing tag team partner Kofi Kingston over and apologized to him before the drug test results came back.

He said Kofi was supportive the whole time and does not smoke marijuana.

Evan’s time didn’t get any easier post-WWE. In October 2016, he ran into legal problems in Japan after being caught with liquid marijuana at a Japanese airport.

After a couple of months of serving time in Japanese detention centers had passed, Evan was able to return home to the United States. He has not wrestled in Japan since.

Samoa Joe defeats Finn Balor (c) for the NXT Championship at a House Show in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 21st, 2016

Finn Balor was NXT champion for a long time, 292 days, to be exact. Having a championship reign almost eclipsing a full calendar year is a fantastic feat, and losing such a long title reign on a house show was the last thing on people’s minds.

Samoa Joe poses backstage with the NXT championship belt on his shoulder and a white towel around his neck after defeating Finn Balor in Lowell, Massachusettes at a house show, April 21, 2016.
Samoa Joe poses with the NXT championship belt after defeating Finn Balor in Lowell, Massachusettes, at a house show, April 21st, 2016. [photo courtesy of WWE.com]
When Samoa Joe pinned Finn Balor in the middle of the ring in Lowell, Massachusetts, to become the new NXT Champion, it sent the crowd and social media into a frenzy.

Immediate speculation was that Finn Balor would be joining the main roster as soon as a few days following the NXT championship loss. After the event in Lowell had concluded, some fans flocked to the back of the building where the tour bus was located, wanting to get a more personal look at NXT’s wrestlers.

Finn Balor walked onto the tour bus and then walked back out to the delight of the fans. Balor gestured to the fans to ‘shhh’ so he could tell them all something… Balor said, "See ya’s all on Monday!" to which the excited fans responded with "Holy shit!" chants as Finn walked back onto the bus.

This made fans speculate even further that Finn would join the main roster in the coming days.

The man in charge of NXT, Triple H, congratulated Joe’s shock victory with this tweet, "Anything can happen in NXT… Anywhere… Anytime. Congratulations, Samoa Joe."

Also working with NXT is William Regal and Matt Bloom, who both issued their own congratulations. Regal said, "Congratulations to new NXT Champion Samoa Joe. Finn Balor is a true warrior of the canvas wars and was an excellent champion."

Matt Bloom, "Amazing night for NXT, fans at Lowell were incredible, and our talent tore the house down. Congrats, Samoa Joe and Finn Balor."

As it turned out, Finn was just having fun with the fans regarding being called up to RAW so soon. He remained with NXT for another three months before getting the call up to Monday Night RAW officially on July 19th, 2016, at the WWE Draft as a first-round pick.

Ironically, the draft took place in the same state he lost the NXT championship, in Massachusetts. Balor would make his first appearance for the brand on the RAW episode following the draft on July 25th, 2016, the same day as his birthday… Not a bad present.

Incredibly, it was only four months after losing to Samoa Joe at the NXT house show in Lowell, Massachusettes, that Finn Balor became a world champion on the big stage, defeating Seth Rollins to become the Raw brand’s inaugural Universal Champion at SummerSlam 2016.

Sadly, Balor’s reign only lasted 22 hours as he suffered a torn labrum in his triumphant victory over Rollins. Meanwhile, you can never take away Finn Balor’s claim of being the first-ever Universal Champion.

Edge defeats Jeff Jarrett (c) for the Intercontinental Championship at a House Show in Toronto, Ontario, on July 24th, 1999

Edge is one of the most decorated wrestlers to step foot inside the squared circle. That’s common knowledge to any wrestling fan, but what you might not know is that Edge’s first-ever title win was on a house show.

Edge in the ring holding up the title belt in Toronto, Ontario on July 24th, 1999 after winning at a house show
Edge wins the Intercontinental Championship for the first time at a house show in Toronto, Ontario on July 24th, 1999 [photo courtesy of shitloadsofwrestling.tumblr.com]
Title changes at a house show are not only unexpected for the fans, but they can be to the wrestlers, also. Edge had no idea he would walk out as Intercontinental Champion after performing at the SkyDome (now called Rogers Centre) in his hometown of Toronto.

WWE had to improvise due to travel issues with Ken Shamrock, which left the Intercontinental Champion Jeff Jarrett with no opponent for the night.

To say WWE needing to improvise the house show on the fly worked in Edge’s favor is a massive understatement. Edge competed in the first match of the night and thought his night was over.

To his absolute surprise, Edge was informed he would be taking the place of Ken Shamrock not long before the match was to occur and that he would become champion. The next day at the Pay-Per-View Fully Loaded, Edge dropped the title back to Jeff Jarrett.

This house show title win was huge for his career despite only having a one-day reign. The fans reacted massively, and that was only the beginning of what Edge went on to achieve.

In the extras section of the ‘Edge: Decade of Decadence’ DVD, the rare footage of Edge’s first championship win was shown. Edge provides commentary alongside Matt Striker for the match.

Before the match aired on the DVD, Edge provided an introduction. He had this to say before the match:

"My first-ever championship win here in the WWE was against Jeff Jarrett. It was at the SkyDome in Toronto, my hometown, in front of my family and friends. It really was unexpected and one of the first moments where I got goosebumps inside of the ring doing what we do, and it’s a moment I’ll never forget.

"You know, this was my hometown, in front of family and friends, 25,000 people that night at the SkyDome… So many emotions.

“Originally, I wasn’t even supposed to be in this match. Christian and I wrestled the APA, at that time The Acolytes, in the first match.

I got told third or fourth match in that I’d be wrestling Jeff in the fifth match before intermission, after intermission, whatever it was, so many emotions were going through me at this point."

Edge jokes, "There were 25,000 people there, 24,532 were friends and family."

Matt Striker asks how Edge prepares for this or if it was it all running on instinct.

"At this point, there was instinct, but I still tended to rush, I wanted to impress.

“I really just wanted to earn my stripes and show that I belonged and I deserved to be in this kind of match at this kind of level, and I felt like I had to prove that, which is a lot of my problem at the beginning, I tried too hard to prove things instead of just letting them naturally happen.

"So all of that, I guess you could just chalk it up to wanting to impress too much and thinking too much.

"At this point in my career, I was that fresh-faced young guy, and you can either really hate that or really like it, and luckily I’m in my hometown, so the crowd seemed to be on my side — but I’ve really kind of prided myself on being that guy that you love to hate."

Edge continued to joke, watching himself back, laughing at how much longer his hair was in 1999. Edge also explained more details about his emotions before the moment his surprising victory was shown.

"This being such an impromptu match, finding out literally maybe two matches before this that I would be in this match, it was just- I think with it being so whirl-winded, being so unexpected, literally unexpected, made it easier this night.

“I probably would’ve internalized and really thought about what I would do in this kind of moment, especially in the beginning of my career like this.

"It was so early in my career here, so to have this opportunity, you can say, ‘Okay, was it too soon?’ Um, I don’t know, it’s tough to tell, but it definitely helped get me to a different level than just being that tag team guy.

"I think it hopefully started to solidify me as a guy who could do it on his own.

“And as you can hear, the crowd is with me, which can be tough as a newer guy against an established guy like Jeff. It definitely helped that he was not well-liked, so that made it easier for me."

Edge hit his patented spear for the victory, becoming a champion for the first time in his decorated career. "The Fink introducing me as the Intercontinental Champion," Edge recalls.

"I mean, the goosebumps on top of goosebumps, the size of Mount Everest. It really is such an insane, crazy feeling and to also hear that eruption from the crowd.

“Not to try and talk it up or anything, but they really did react amazingly that night. It was such a cool reaction that night, and I will never forget it."

It was an unbelievable beginning to a decorated career.

AJ Styles defeats Kevin Owens (c) for the US Championship at Madison Square Garden, on July 7th, 2017

In 2017, the United States Championship changed hands often. In 2017 alone, five US Championship reigns lasted less than a month long.

An ecstatic AJ Styles with his title belt in hand walking away from the ring as United States Champion house show after defeating Kevin Owens at a Madison Square Garden house show, July 7, 2017
An ecstatic AJ Styles walks away from the ring as United States Champion after defeating Kevin Owens at a Madison Square Garden house show, July 7th, 2017 [photo courtesy of WWE.com]
With all the United States title changes that year, WWE decided to have fun with one of them.

At one of the most famous arenas in the world, Madison Square Garden, fans were in for a double surprise. It was because it was a RAW live event, but the fans still got to see two of the top SmackDown Live superstars at the time, AJ Styles and Kevin Owens, compete for the US championship.

Not only did these lucky fans in attendance at the iconic arena get to see SmackDown wrestlers on a RAW event, but they also got to see AJ Styles dethrone Kevin Owens of his championship to become United States Champion for the first time in his career.

Like the Samoa Joe NXT title win in Lowell, Massachusetts, Styles’ win sent social media into a huge frenzy.

AJ Styles was a guest on the E&C Pod of Awesomeness and gave listeners a front-row seat into what it was like to win a championship in such a surprising fashion.

"To me, it’s smart. It’s something that hasn’t been done in a long time, and to do it at Madison Square Garden, and everybody with WWE knows that’s a big deal. I think it was awesome. I think it was very clever, and I loved it."

Styles recalled, "There was a pop, ‘He won! Yes!’ but, ‘Well, who’s going to walk out there?’ and then, there was another pop because nobody walked out there. It was really cool.

“It’s smart not to do that every year, but every couple of years to do something like that. I think it just came down to doing something different, and it was Vince’s call and no one else’s. It was great."

Styles went on to say that he would not be surprised if the WWE Championship changed hands at a SmackDown Live house show at some point down the line.

"You never know. Who knows?"

And if winning the US Championship at Madison Square Garden wasn’t memorable enough, exactly four months later to the day, Styles defeated Jinder Mahal on a November 7th, 2017, episode of SmackDown Live.

This took place in front of an ecstatic Manchester, England crowd, marking the first time the WWE Championship changed hands outside of North America while at the same time becoming a two-time champion.

An absolutely huge 2017 for AJ Styles, winning the US Championship on a Madison Square Garden house show and winning a World Championship outside North America, two huge milestones. 2018 has also been kind to AJ Styles, as he is still WWE Champion as we make our way over the halfway mark of the year.

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“Diesel” Kevin Nash defeats Bob Backlund (c) for the WWF Championship at Madison Square Garden on November 29, 1994

One of the most one-sided WWE Championship match performances occurred at a House Show in New York’s Madison Square Garden on November 26th, 1994, when then WWF Heavyweight Champion Bob Backlund faced “Diesel” Kevin Nash.

Backlund had just won the title off Bret Hart at Survivor Series three days before. His first defense was set against Big Daddy Cool at the mecca of wrestling, MSG.

After moving on from a split from his longtime friend and tag team partner, Shawn Michaels, Diesel was ready to move on to the WWE Heavyweight Championship.

After the bell rang, Nash threw a quick boot at Backlund’s stomach, which led to his finisher, the Jackknife Powerbomb. In just eight seconds, fans were shocked to see the crowning of a new champion.

Diesel went on to hold the title during his record-breaking reign for nearly a year before Bret Hart defeated him for the title at Survivor Series 1995.

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If we have learned from the stories above, anything can happen at a house show!

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Braeden Farrell is a senior writer for Pro Wrestling Stories. He is a long-time fan of wrestling based out of Adelaide, Australia. He can be reached on Twitter @braedenfazza.