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THWD: Do You Remember The First Time?
by Tink Holloway on 7 July 2008

Much has been written about CM Punk winning the world title on Raw this week. I personally like to view it with optimism, WWE television has been so stale lately that anything that breaks up the monotonous daily grind in the promotion has got to be a plus. Still I do understand the concerns of those people who wonder if a man that was being beaten by the likes of The Miz and Matt Hardy just a couple of months ago can been taken seriously as the Raw brand’s top guy.

Whilst waiting with fingers crossed to see if Punk manages to overcome the hurdles in attaining creditability as the World champion I have been reminiscing about times in the past when a new wrestler joins the ‘WWE World Title’ club and their mixed fortunes in averting the perils of the blown title reign.

Starting with the TOP 5 first world title wins:

1. Steve Austin (vs Shawn Michaels, Wrestlemania XIV, March 29th 1998)

In my estimation, this is the greatest example of how to perfectly book someone to win the title; Biggest card of the year, against the best wrestler in the promotion, with the mainstream media looking on due to the presence of Mike Tyson- Steve Austin simply could not fail as WWE champion after such a monstrous push. To claim that Austin’s success merely came from that one night would be scandalous however as Austin’s star had been pointing towards the top of the industry for nearly two years previous to it. From his King Of The Ring victory and acceptance speech through his superb programme with Bret Hart to his broken neck and subsequent return, the build up to Austin’s victory was simply magnificent. Not only did it revolutionise professional wrestling but led the industry to it’s money-spinning peak and was largely responsible for the massive shift in the Monday night war. Absolutely flawless, this is the excellence of execution.

2. Hulk Hogan (vs. Iron Sheik, Madison Square Garden, January 23rd, 1984)

When Vince McMahon needed his super hero star to lead the WWE into a bold new era he turned to the charismatic and larger than life Hulk Hogan to fill the role. Never before has a piece of casting made so much money, Hogan was simply perfect for it. ‘The Hulkster’ was a household name before he returned to the WWE in 1983 (he had an initial run in the company back in 1980) having starred in Rocky 3 as the wonderful ‘Thunderlips’ and having headlined New Japan and AWA, Hogan didn’t need the masterful timing that Austin enjoyed. Indeed, Hogan only became a baby face 3 weeks before his victory over The Iron Sheik that made him wrestling’s biggest star. The rushed nature of Hogan’s elevation didn’t matter one bit- in beating the anti-American Sheik, Hogan had come across the formula that would send the WWE into supernova over the next 6 years and began on a journey that still hasn’t ceased to this day.

3. Ric Flair (The Royal Rumble Match, Royal Rumble, January 19th 1992)

What is the best way to crown a new World Champion in your promotion? Why having him beat every other wrestler in the company in one match, that’s how! Having him draw number 3 in that year’s Royal Rumble Match (with the added stipulation that the vacant title was up for grabs to the winner) Flair’s chances of adding the WWE title to his numerous NWA title reigns looked remote. But in true Flair fashion, ‘The Nature Boy’ styled and profiled for over an hour, taking on every major WWE star- Hogan, Randy Savage, Sid Vicious, British Bulldog, Ted Dibiase, Big Bossman, Roddy Piper, Jake Roberts, Jimmy Snuka, Undertaker and Sgt. Slaughter- all fell to the ‘Real Worlds Champion’. Flair was the first major NWA star to ‘defect’ to WWE and not only retain his gimmick but also thrive in the promotion, Flair went onto dominate the WWE for the next year, adding to his already legendary legacy in what was arguably his last remarkable year as a performer.

4. The Rock (vs. Mankind, Survivor Series, November 15th 1998)

At the Break Down pay-per-view 2 months previous to this, The Rock had been suddenly, and astonishingly, thrust into the role of superstar baby face when the fans chose to cheer for ‘The Great One’ almost from nowhere.. Equally astonishing was his killer heel turn at the conclusion of an epic night of WWE story telling at the Survivor Series. With the world title vacant again, a one night tournament had been sanctioned to choose the new champion. After screwing top star Austin out of the tournament earlier in the night, Vince then hand picked The Rock, the people’s choice, as HIS corporate champion, and in a blink of an eye made The Rock, the most reviled heel in the company. A masterstroke of epic proportions, this instantly set up the BIG money match of 1999: Austin Vs The Rock at Wrestlemania 15 and sowed the seeds for the rise of arguably wrestling’s biggest ever star.

5. Brock Lesnar (vs. The Rock, SummerSlam, August 25th 2002)

The hype surrounding Lesnar ever since his arrival in the WWE was incredibly intense. Making his debut in March 2002, the company were quick to give him the monster push. He was one of the initial draft picks when the WWE first split the Raw and Smackdown rosters less than a month later (only the biggest stars were involved in the on-air draft), he then smashed through the Hardy Boys and then into the King Of The Ring where, just 3 months after debuting he earned his World Title Shot by winning the annual tournament. Then at SummerSlam he was facing The Rock in the main event of the company’s 2nd biggest show of the year. What could have very easily failed as an experiment due to Lesnar’s relative inexperience and lack of charisma became an unmitigated success as Lesnar became the hottest commodity in wrestling until his sudden departure in 2004.

And the top 5 WORST first title wins:

1. Rey Mysterio (vs. Kurt Angle vs. Randy Orton, Wrestlemania, April 2nd 2006)

Rey Mysterio is undoubtedly one of the most consistently excellent performers in the ring of the last 15 years, but what is supposed to be a wrestlers crowning achievement, winning the world title, will have to go down as a blemish best forgotten. It is no coincidence that the circumstances with which he won the title were so bad. Firstly, it didn’t help that Rey’s push to the rafters of the WWE was widely perceived by the fans as directly attributable to the death of close friend Eddie Gurerro, furthermore Rey’s small stature was always going to work against him with a WWE fan base conditioned to believe that anyone under 250lbs was worthless. What really counted against Rey though was the stodgy way in which he won the title at Wrestlemania 22, where he defeated Randy Orton and Kurt Angle in an 8-minute non-match which should have been so much more. Given the glaring hurdles Rey would have to overcome in convincing the WWE faithful to accept him as champion, the company’s decision to put him over in this way was shambolic.

2. Chris Jericho (vs. Steve Austin, Survivor Series, December 9th 2001)

Another man who deserved a title run after years of hard work and paying dues whilst putting on some of the best displays inside the ring was ‘Y2J’. Jericho’s story contrasts that of Rey Mysterio’s in that the WWE gave Jericho all the tools with which to convince the fans that he could be the top dog. On the night that Jericho achieved his world title destiny, he became the only man in history to beat Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night. What was ‘The Lionheart’s’ downfall then? His shoddy performance. When Jericho is good he is very good, when he’s not on top form he can stink the place out. On this night- the night that would bare witness to Jericho’s crowning achievement, he not only beat both The Rock and Steve Austin in the same night, he also became the first man to have stinkers with both men in the same night. True, Jericho’s subsequent role as ’second fiddle’ to the NWO ’s return didn’t help matters much but the title reign was on death row as soon as it got off the ground.

3. Diesel (vs. Bob Backlund, Madison Square Garden, November 26th 1994)

Vince McMahon’s search for ‘the next Hogan’ led the supposed ‘genius’ to put the strap on 7 foot tall Diesel, Kevin Nash. Diesel’s credibility as the WWE’s leading man had three main problems- the first was (and unbelievably STILL is) that he was a limited in ring performer, the second was that despite this lack of talent he was lumbered with matches opposite such in-ring luminaries as Sid, Mabel (Big Daddy V) and Tatanka and, the third problem was the manner in which he won the title. On a house show, 2 days after the then 44-year old Bob Backlund had won the title, Diesel pinned him in 8 seconds and began his journey into ’superstardom’. Not the most auspicious of starts, Diesel was carried to decent matches by Bret Hart and his buddy Shawn Michaels but had no chance when he was called upon to lead. His excruciating one year reign with the title will go down as the least profitable period in WWE history.

4. Randy Orton (vs. Chris Benoit, SummerSlam, August 15th 2004)

Credit has to go to the way that Randy Orton has since rebuilt his career after this stuttering start to main event life. Whilst the execution of his title victory against Benoit was impressive- the face Benoit congratulating the about to turn face Orton and handing him credibility despite his early age, the subsequent booking and feud with Evolution was all wrong. Rushed, badly thought out and too short to get him over properly (due to ol’ Tripper’s love affair with the world title) Orton’s first title reign was a massive disappointment. Randy was not given enough time to emerge as a fan favourite and isn’t suited to the baby face role anyway. Thankfully, as previously noted, Orton has since put it behind him and is currently (with the exception of an injury) one of the WWE’s top performers and undoubtedly a long term main event player.

5. Ultimate Warrior (vs. Hulk Hogan, Wrestlemania VI, April 1st 1990)

One of the biggest matches in WWE history, this should have been the moment WWE had its new mega star. In spite of the often repeated criticisms of Hellwig, the warrior character was exciting and massively over, furthermore, Warrior regularly came up with the goods in the ring on the big occasions (admittedly against some great workers). It was however, the most infamous piece of working the crowd that stole the thunder away from the Warrior. Hogan’s sportsmanship and dignity in handing the title to the Warrior at the end of the match ensured that when all eyes should have been on the new champion, they were instead locked on the Hulkster. Robbed of his big moment by the master manipulator and then put in a feud with Rick Rude who, despite his brilliance, wasn’t believable to the WWE audience as a genuine threat to Warrior’s title, the ‘Ultimate One’ didn’t have a chance in hell of repeating Hogan’s success as the company figurehead and was eventually demoted back to the number 2 spot early the next year.

CM punk’s title reign has come with no build up (although, this is surely the nature of the Money In The Bank gimmick), reminiscent of Diesel, but Punk is a great worker and CAN have decent matches with those less gifted than himself (JBL on Raw is a great example). He’s small in stature and is living in the world of giants, much like Rey Mysterio, but his success hasn’t come as an indirect result of another man’s death , it comes at a time when the WWE fan base are crying out for new heroes. Punk’s victory wasn’t particularly auspicious, due to the opportunistic manner in which he pinned Edge, but this might be a good thing- Austin won his title with a fast count, The Rock won it by a ‘Survivor Series Double Cross’ and Hogan’s was a quick 5-minute swapping of the guard. Meanwhile, Jericho and Warrior actually suffered from their grand title victories as that became the defining moment of the pair’s title reign- Jericho’s poor performance and Warrior’s overshadowing by Hogan.

So what does the future hold in store for Punk as he embarks on his imminent journey? I don’t know, but I think we’re all going to have a lot of fun finding out…

Number of views: 6488

_______________________________

2 Responses to “THWD: Do You Remember The First Time?”

  • The Beltster says:

    Sorry bro, but that bullsh*t about Hogan vs Warrior being one of the worst scrapped any credibility this article had. anybody who believes the ‘Hogan stole Warriors thunder’ nonsense really needs to get an education on pro wrestling.

  • james vaughan says:

    Read Hulk Hogans book he took the shine from warrior by giving him the belt, admits it because it’s true. Hulk was a poor wrestler is a poor wrestler always will be a poor wrestler but as a character has a charm not repeated until THE ROCK appeared.

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