Winning a title is supposed to be one of the greatest achievements any wrestler can attain. Obviously, the better the title, the grander the impact on their careers, but virtually any piece of gold looks good around a wrestler’s waist, so earning one is cause for celebration. Unfortunately, for some wrestlers, the victory parade doesn’t last all that long, with their reigns as champion lasting only a manner of minutes. Sometimes it feels like these short-term champions never even existed, and in the worst cases of all, that’s because the promotion they happened in pretends they didn’t.
Especially in the day prior to the Internet, the NWA, WWE, and various other wrestling companies had a tendency to treat things that didn’t happen on TV as considerably less important than things that did. Therefore, if a wrestler won a title big or small on a house show, but it never aired on TV, it’s almost like it never happened. Of course, there were fans in attendance who remember what went down, and some even took pictures, so these efforts at concealing the truth are often in vain.
That’s not even mentioning the times a title change occurs on television or Pay-Per-View, only for a strange Dusty Finish style technicality means the title didn’t officially change hands, although it clearly did. Keep reading to learn all about 15 championship reigns that were bizarrely written out of pro wrestling history.
24 Chris Jericho – WWE World Champion
Unlike most other champions on this list, the plus side of Chris Jericho’s phantom WWE Championship reign in the year 2000 is that Y2J nonetheless went on to win a whole lot more gold as the years went on. This includes a number of officially recognized WWE Championship reigns, yet even today, the loudest crowd response of his career might have come the first time he won it. Of course, that was the time that didn’t count, due to shady officiating from referee Earl Hebner and the ire of the man Jericho defeated, Triple H. The title change came relatively early into Triple H’s reign as an authority figure in WWE, and his power was so complete he could immediately have the record books changed and then erased when he fixed Hebner’s error and forcibly took his title back. Not that the move did anything to change how memorable Jericho’s victory was, but Triple H’s magic eraser has stuck for almost two decades now, and at this point it’s like Jericho’s few hours as champion never happened.
23 The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers – WWE Tag Team Champions
While they’re certainly the most memorable, phantom title reigns are hardly confined to a given promotion’s World Champions. When this sort of thing happens in the tag team division, there’s double the outrage and confusion about why two champions are erased from history. It’s a shame for fans as well that this happened to the severely underrated Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, an incredibly sound technical duo who became gigantic stars in their native Canada before heading to the States and signing with WWE. During one Canadian tour, WWE decided to capitalize on this fame by having the Rougeaus defeat fellow Canadians The Hart Foundation for the Tag Team Championships, but the joy of their victory never made it passed the Canadian border. Because the Rougeaus only won by stealing Jimmy Hart’s megaphone and using it as a weapon, WWE magazines later decreed the change never existed. An unfortunate side effect is that it almost feels the same is true about the Rougeaus from a historical perspective.
22 Hulk Hogan – AWA World Champion
In one way or another, every entry on this list could have “changed wrestling history,” albeit in manners that may not have been all that relevant in the long run. Had this one gone a little differently, though, the entire wrestling landscape may be a significantly different place even decades later. In April of 1982, two years before Hulkamania became the driving force helping WWE expand nationally, the man behind the madness, Hulk Hogan himself, was actually the top star of a different wrestling promotion in the AWA. Once upon a time, the AWA were one of WWE’s greatest rivals, and could have become the dominant promotion in North America if they knew how to capitalize on Hogan’s immense fame and mainstream appeal. Instead, when Hogan defeated Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA World Championship, causing audiences to nearly riot in joy, the company kinda just changed their minds about the idea and gave the gold back to Bockwinkel. Hogan had a few more title shots, but never won the big one, eventually giving up and heading to McMahon land. And the rest, as they say, is history, brother.
21 The Rockers – WWE Tag Team Champions
In stark contrast to the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, the Midnight Rockers didn’t necessarily need any gold to make their way to the history books. Well, one of them didn’t anyway, as Shawn Michaels would go on to become a much bigger solo star than he ever was when teaming with Marty Jannetty. However, both HBK and his partner’s road to success could have started a lot earlier than it did if WWE acknowledged it when the Rockers defeated the Hart Foundation for the Tag Team Championships. They did so on October 30, 1990, and in definitive fashion for that matter, winning a two out of three falls match with no significant cheating to speak of. However, there was a slight hitch in that the top rope broke off the ring during the match, and Bret Hart became terrified the results were unfit for television. Vince McMahon agreed, choosing to never air it, and then pretending the Rockers never won the gold.
19 Jack Veneno – NWA World Champion
Thankfully, security measures in wrestling arenas are nothing like they used to be. Old school heels have stories about fans trying to stab them or throw fishhooks at their faces, and riots were an all too common response if the crowd didn’t like what they saw. One time, this spirit of lawlessness even forced the NWA World Championship to change hands, due to extremely questionable practices. The situation was made significantly worse due to the fact the match in question took place in the Dominican Republic, a developing country with far less concern for public health than where “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair typically defended his title. He entered the country on August 29, 1982 to face the challenge of local hero Jack Veneno, and the crowd was so rabidly in support of the hometown legend that Flair was worried they would riot should he come out on top. Because it wasn’t the original plan, plus the fact Veneno refused to wrestle outside of his country, the title was eventually returned to Flair and the NWA pretended none of it ever happened.
17 The Midnight Rider – NWA World Champion
Technically speaking, The Midnight Rider actually held the NWA World Championship three times, plus a fourth incident where everyone thought he won it even though he actually hadn’t. However, all of these victories took place when the Rider took off his mask and revealed his true identity as Dusty Rhodes. In fact, the mask is very central to why this reign in particular isn’t considered official, and in more ways than one. The Rider won the gold on February 9, 1982, at which point Rhodes was “suspended” from the territory in which he defeated Ric Flair for the title. Also, there’s apparently a rule that masked wrestlers couldn’t be NWA World Champion, at least at the time. Because of these two issues, the Rider either had to take off his mask and face further punishment for breaking his suspension, or return the title to the NWA and pretend his victory never happened. To ensure he wouldn’t be forced into retirement as champion, Rhodes chose the latter option.
16 Ted DiBiase – WWE World Championship
Given how intensely political the wrestling business can be, what’s so bad about a wrestler buying their way to the World Championship, anyway? Worst case scenario, they don’t deserve the gold, so someone else wins it from them a week later, ending in embarrassment for the wrestler and extra money for the company. In any event, that’s not how WWE President Jack Tunney saw things when Ted DiBiase purchased the WWE Championship from André the Giant seconds after his hired monster defeated Hulk Hogan for the gold in 1988. Immediately, WWE officials jumped all over the decision and stripped DiBiase of the gold, setting up the infamous WrestleMania IV tournament. However, this was back before WWE floated the idea of a true “abeyance,” so DiBiase actually wore and defended the gold at a number of house shows between the match and the official announcement. For once, we totally understand why WWE pretended this didn’t happen, as it makes DiBiase look like a true jerk, yet he still wore the belt, and the defenses still happened.
15 Chris Jericho And Chyna – WWE Intercontinental Co-Champions
In rare cases, it almost makes sense that WWE would simplify things by pretending a championship reign, or some aspect of one, never happened. On top of that, considering the idea of “co-champions” has only been tried once in wrestling history, that they would act like it never happened at all really isn’t that much of a stretch. That strange, brief time came in January of 2000, when both Chris Jericho and Chyna were recognized as WWE Intercontinental Champion due to a match between them ending in a double pinfall. In an unexpected twist, while once rivals, sharing a major championship actually brought the two together, helping one another defend it to ensure they’d both remain recognized champions. Despite their better efforts, that’s not what happened, as WWE now pretends instead of two champions at once, there were actually zero, calling the title vacant during this time frame. Not that it makes much of a difference, as the double reign merely broke up two Jericho solo reigns, so aside from Chyna defending it once or twice on his behalf, not a whole lot changed in regards to its ownership.
14 Carlos Colón – NWA World Champion
Decades before raising a few WWE Tag Team Champions of his own, Carlos Colón was one of the preeminent legends of the Puerto Rican wrestling scene. He achieved this status as a main event superstar for the World Wrestling Council and by innovating the concept of hardcore with violently bloody matches against fellow Hall of Famer Abdullah the Butcher. Another significant notch in Colón’s belt was defeating “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship in a unification match with the WWC World Championship, an achievement that should have made this one for the record books in and of itself. The one catch is that it wasn’t filmed and thus was never aired on NWA television. While NWA did initially acknowledge it happened, pretending Flair won the title back in a nonexistent match a few weeks later, they’ve since defaulted to just pretending the first change never happened. Later that year, Flair and Colón had a second match also won by the legendary Puerto Rican, but this time NWA knew to simply leave their title out of it.
13 Victor Jovica – NWA World Champion
Maybe Ric Flair should have just kept out of Puerto Rico altogether. In between his multiple high profile matches against Carlos Colón, the NWA World Champion defended the gold against a second Puerto Rican legend in Victor Jovica. With all due respect, Jovica hasn’t quite achieved the level of international fame as Colón, if only because he doesn’t have any kids who went on to work for Vince McMahon. Jovica was still plenty noteworthy in his native land, though, and was a big enough star to defeat Flair for the oldest wrestling championship in the world on February 8, 1983. This time around, rather than hand Flair back the gold and pretend some imaginary match happened, the NWA made an official three days later that Jovica’s feet were on the ropes, so the title change never happened. Considering how many titles Flair won that same way, this seemed just a little bit biased.
11 Owen Hart – WWE World Champion
In the long history of sibling rivalries, it could perhaps be argued that the best of all was waged between Bret and Owen Hart. That’s almost definitely the case when wrestling is concerned anyway, as the two wrestled countless incredible matches against one another throughout the early 1990s, making one another huge stars in the process. One of their finest contests came at SummerSlam 1994, but this entry is actually about a lumberjack match from a house show taped less than two weeks earlier. While Bret won virtually every match between himself and his brother on television, except the first one, but especially when the WWE Championship was on the line, it was Owen who picked up the duke during this seemingly random encounter. All the bad guys at ringside ran into the ring and celebrated with the new champ, only for the referee to decide Owen had acted in a nefarious manner to earn the win, restarting the match. Some 5 minutes later, the gold was back around the waist of the Hitman, where it would stay for several months, never returning to his brother Owen’s possession.
7 Bette Boucher, Yukiko Tomoe, Sue Green, And Evelyn Stevens – WWE/NWA Women’s Champions
No matter how a person feels about the Fabulous Moolah’s personal life, it can’t be denied that she was one of the first true female superstars in WWE. By and large, Moolah attained this status through a historic 27-year reign as WWE Women’s Champion, or so Vince McMahon and company would have us believe. The truth is, Moolah actually won and lost her championship dozens of times before McMahon purchased her contract and the title from the NWA in 1984, and they just pretended she kept it from her very first victory decades earlier. Four of the most notable women to defeat Moolah for the gold are listed above, and truth be told, there could easily be more who were lost and forgotten over time. In fairness to Moolah and WWE, none of these women ever held the gold for more than a few days or weeks before she took it back from them. However, it’s still pure deceit to pretend she was the only wrestler to hold the gold from the ‘50s to the ‘80s.
3 Killer Kowalski – NWA World Championship
Back before Vince McMahon owned everything and people across the globe could track down obscure matches on the Internet, territories could get away with saying whatever they wanted to a local audience without most people in attendance knowing any better. Should promoters feel especially ambitious in lying to their audience, they might even pretend a wrestler held a title the main governing body didn’t believe they had the right to hold. This may sound a little confusing, so maybe explaining the most notable example will help a little. On November 21, 1962, Killer Kowalski defeated Buddy Rogers for the NWA Championship, only for Rogers to reveal he broke his ankle early in the match and get the title returned to him. However, half the country only heard the first part of this story, as some promoters treated Kowalski like the champ while others wouldn’t. Somewhere along the line, the confusion got cleared up and only Buddy was recognized, but that doesn’t change the fact Kowalski defended the “NWA Championship” for several years.
2 Bobo Brazil – NWA World Championship
Because wrestling is a predetermined sport, it could be argued very little on this list actually “matters” from a historic standpoint. That said, this entry in particular is absolutely baffling for the fact it had massive social and political ramifications, yet the NWA now acts like they weren’t brave enough to make such a statement. Granted, Bobo Brazil is still one of the most important legends of wrestling with or without any gold, having been one of the first black athletes to sell out arenas across the country. In fairness to the NWA, there was also a bunch of controversy surrounding Brazil’s historic 1962 title victory. The big issue was that the man he defeated for the gold, “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, claimed he was injured in their match. Always a hero, Brazil didn’t want his win marred by his opponent’s ailment, so he returned the title. However, doctors found Rogers was lying, and gave it back to Bobo. For whatever reason, the NWA pretends like none of this happened today, even though it historically broke down racial barriers in the heat of the civil rights movement.
1 Antonio Inoki – WWE World Championship
Nowadays, whenever WWE leaves the United States and heads overseas, it’s almost guaranteed to be a WWE Network event or at least a highly publicized show. Back in the ‘70s, though, anything that happened in WWE outside of America was bound to be unofficial from the start. This was even the case when Japanese legend Antonio Inoki defeated Bob Backlund for the WWE Championship on November 30, 1979. Taking a page out of the NWA book, the original plan was for Backlund to simply win back the gold a few days later, yet it got a little complicated from there due to Inoki refusing the title six days later after a shady rematch. Rather than simply have a third match, WWE booked a new contest between Backlund and Bobby Duncum, Sr. for the “vacant title.” Then, after Backlund won and everyone went back to New York, they pretended just about everything that happened in Japan like it was all a dream. Not even Inoki’s induction to the WWE Hall of Fame has inspired the company to tell the truth.