Pedro Morales – WWE’s Forgotten Champion

Pedro Morales has the distinction of holding the WWWF (WWE) World Championship, the World Tag Team Championship, and the Intercontinental title, making him the first-ever triple crown champion in WWE history.

But this groundbreaking star is rarely acknowledged by WWE, despite his place in company history.

Pedro Morales - The forgotten WWE champion
Pedro Morales [Photo courtesy of Pro Wrestling Illustrated]

Pedro Morales debuted in the New York territory in 1963, and on February 8, 1971, he unseated Ivan Koloff for the WWWF world title. For the next 1,027 days, Morales held onto the title against all challengers, including the legendary Bruno Sammartino in a widely panned babyface vs. babyface match at the Showdown at Shea in 1972 that ended in a curfew draw after going for more than 75 minutes. Pedro Morales finally lost the title to Stan Stasiak on December 1, 1973.

Related: The Night Bruno Sammartino Saved Freddie Blassie’s Life

An oddity: Morales claims that he had his WWWF title belt stolen from his car at some point–similar to how Bruno Sammartino had the original title belt stolen from his car while he was eating dinner–but Morales’ title belt showed up sometime later in a New York area pawnshop. The widely speculated rumor (and it is only a rumor) is that Morales actually pawned the title in order to pay off gambling debts.

A widely speculated rumor is that Pedro Morales pawned off his WWWF title belt in order to pay off gambling debts.

Regardless: After dropping the championship, Pedro Morales spent some time working territories in the NWA, notably in San Francisco and Florida, as well as working for Verne Gagne’s AWA promotion. But he returned to New York in 1980, partnering with then-champion Bob Backlund and winning the WWWF tag team titles from the Wild Samoans, Afa and Sika.

But the victory was short-lived as Backlund and Morales relinquished the titles the next day, due to Backlund’s commitments as a singles champion.

That’s two titles down, and the tag team with Backlund was a way to keep Morales near the main event without interrupting Backlund’s championship reign. (It should be noted: Pedro Morales was still wildly popular with the Hispanic and Latino population in the Northeast, and using him on cards with Backlund at the top was a way to bolster ticket sales.)

In 1980, Morales defeated Olympic weightlifter Ken Patera to claim the Intercontinental title, completing the company’s triple crown. Morales dropped the title six months later to the Magnificent Muraco and then began a chase to set a different kind of record. For the next few months, Morales battled Muraco all over the territory before finally winning the IC title back on November 23, 1981.

Pedro Morales was the first champion to lose and then regain the Intercontinental title.

While Morales gained the most fame from his stints in the WWWF/WWF/WWE, he also held a secondary version of the “world” title for the WWA in Mike LeBell’s Los Angeles-based territory before coming to New York. As a young champion, Morales had great fire and had a real connection with the crowds who came to the cards in Los Angeles. At only 5’10”, though, he was a little smaller than many of the wrestlers the McMahon family used in main events. But once Jess McMahon saw the crowd’s response to Morales, he didn’t hesitate to put the title on him.

Morales turns 75 years old today (on the date of this writing). Unfortunately, he is reportedly battling an advanced case of Parkinson’s Disease. But as the WWE’s first-ever triple crown champion, Morales is a part of the company’s storied history, whether that’s acknowledged or not.

Bobby Mathews
Bobby Mathews is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories as well as a veteran journalist whose byline has appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Birmingham News, The Denver Post, as well as other newspapers around the country. He's won multiple awards for reporting and opinion writing, and his sports journalism has garnered several Associated Press Managing Editors Awards. He has covered Division I college athletics and professional sports including MLB and NFL games. He has won awards from press associations in several states, including a General Excellence award from the Georgia Press Association while sports editor at The Statesboro Herald. He currently lives in suburban Birmingham, Alabama and can be reached on Twitter @bamawriter.