When you attend a house show, you’re most likely to be with friends or family, happy to see your favorite wrestlers drop by your area, not expecting anything crazy in terms of match quality but eagerly awaiting a fun, entertaining night regardless.
Very rarely do fans walk out from a non-televised event in awe of witnessing a title change. In recent history, fans of the WWE have been spoiled for content, with weekly shows such as RAW, Smackdown, 205 Live, NXT and PPV’s in between, there is no shortage of wrestling to watch. With all of the weekly programming going on, the majority of the big moments are shown for the world to see, but not ALL big moments are shown to the world. Some very lucky fans have been able to witness title changes when the cameras weren’t rolling.
In the last twenty years, there have been twelve title changes at a house show; an incredibly rare occurrence and takes everyone by surprise when it happens!
Here are five stories of house show title changes.
We found these stories to be quite memorable. Reasons for title changes at house shows can be anything varying from a nagging injury to a champion needing to drop the belt, to testing the waters of a crowd reaction, or just to switch things up and give the crowd a special treat.
Edge def. Jeff Jarrett (c) (Intercontinental championship, at a House Show in Toronto, Ontario, July 24, 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.
Title changes at a house show are not only unexpected to the fans but can be to the wrestlers, also. Edge had no idea he was going to walk out as Intercontinental Champion after performing at the SkyDome (now called Rogers Centre) in his hometown of Toronto, but 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 take place, 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, having this to say prior to 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 my 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.”
Edge offers unique insight as the house show match unfolds.
“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 belong and I deserve 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 back in 1999. Edge also went on to explain 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 it being so whirl-winded, being so unexpected, literally unexpected, made it easier this night because 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 and 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.”
An unbelievable beginning to a decorated career.
Mickie James def. Melina (c) and Victoria (Women’s Championship house show, Paris, France, April 24, 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.
Fans in Paris 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 simply 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 d***y 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 def. Air Boom (c) (Tag Team Championship house show, Oakland, California, January 15, 2012)
Air Boom were 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 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.
Unfortunately, Air Boom was never able to reach their full potential as Evan Bourne had major issues with the wellness policy.
Evan Bourne’s first suspension with the company was a 30-day suspension on the 1st of November, 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, thus proving that the wellness policy can be flawed.
Another controversial factor regarding this suspension is the fact 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 whole, I think it is a great policy. Saved my life.”
In a Kayfabe Commentaries YouShoot, Evan Bourne was asked if he regrets the breaching of WWE’s wellness policy.
“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 even 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 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 def. Finn Balor (c) (NXT Championship house show, Lowell, Massachusetts, April 21, 2016)
Finn Balor was NXT champion for a long time, 292 days to be exact. Having a championship reign almost eclipsing a full a 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.
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 the wrestlers of NXT. 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 s**t!” chants as Finn walked back onto the bus. This made fans speculate even further that Finn was indeed going to 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 19, 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 go on to make his first appearance for the brand on the RAW episode following the draft on July 25, 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 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. He was off television for eight months, and since being back in action for over a year now, hasn’t been able to gain back that Universal Championship. In time, we’re sure this will happen. Meanwhile, you can never take away Finn Balor’s claim of being the first ever Universal Champion.
AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens (c) (US championship house show, Madison Square Garden, July 7, 2017)
In 2017, the United States Championship changed hands often. In 2017 alone, there were five U.S. Championship reigns that lasted less than a month long.
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, the iconic Madison Square Garden, the fans were in for a double surprise. The reason being, 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 U.S. championship. Not only did these lucky fans in attendance at the iconic arena get to see SmackDown wrestlers on a RAW event, they got to see AJ Styles dethrone Kevin Owens of his championship to become United States Champion for the first time in his career.
Similar to 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 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 U.S. 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 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 U.S. 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.
If there’s anything we have learned from the stories above, anything can happen at a house show. Remember that when you buy your ticket!