Most wrestling careers are long and varied. Few stay on top forever, while others find that climbing to the top is a long and winding road. As such, some of your favorite Superstars have little-known or little remembered histories as secondary or even tertiary champions. Sometimes big names are handed secondary belts in order to reclaim lost prestige for that particular title (see: John Cena’s run as the United States Champion), while in other instances, big names are given secondary titles to reestablish their main event bonafides to a suspicious audience (see: Roman Reigns as the United States Champion). Finally, there are those moments when wrestlers are on the come-down and are given titles just to keep them around a little while longer.
Whatever the case, most pro wrestlers, whether mid-card or main event, have had forgotten reigns as champions in various federations. Some of these instances may be surprising, while others may not be. In any case, each entry here is a nice remainder that every superstar has a much broader background than most fans realize. Even men like The Undertaker once held lower card titles, while some talents that are only featured on shows like WWE’s Main Event were once world champions.
15. Rob Van Dam, WWE European Championship
The WWE’s European Championship spent most of its short career (1997-2002) as a joke. While some wrestlers did legitimize the title as a signifier of in-ring excellence (D’Lo Brown, Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero), others hammed it up, thus making it a belt only fit for goofballs (Al Snow, Crash Holly, Val Venis). By the title’s final year, the European Championship meant little at all. Indeed, on WWE programming, the title was mostly forgotten.
Because of this, when RVD won the European Championship on the July 22, 2002 episode of RAW, there was little fanfare made about the fact that he was to be the last European Champion ever. After defeating Jeff Hardy in a Ladder match, RVD unified the European title with his Intercontinental Championship. A little over a month later, RVD would do the same thing to the Hardcore Championship after beating Tommy Dreamer on RAW. Thus, RVD can take credit for being the last WWE European Champion and the last Hardcore Champion.
14. The Undertaker, WWE Hardcore Championship
While RVD was quickly ascending the ladder in 2002, The Undertaker was well-positioned at the top of RAW. In that year, The Undertaker would win his fourth and final WWE World Championship after defeating “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan at Backlash. Although it was a short reign (only 63 days), ‘Taker was booked as an unstoppable menace who prided himself on being the “Big Evil.”
Earlier, as part of his transformation from the “American Bad-Ass” to “Big Evil,” The Undertaker undertook a brief sojourn as a wrestler in the company’s Hardcore division. Specifically, after a particularly good feud, ‘Taker defeated RVD at the 2001 installment of Vengeance and became the Hardcore Champion. Considering that most Hardcore title reigns barely lasted more than 24 hours, Taker’s 58-day reign is laudatory. However, there seemed to be little reason for The Deadman to hold the Hardcore title, especially since previous Hardcore Champions included lower-tier talents like Raven, Mike Awesome, and K-Kwik (better known today as R-Truth). Even worse, Maven, the first ever winner of Tough Enough, was the man who ultimately took the title from The Undertaker.
13. The Undertaker, USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship
If you know anything about professional wrestling, then you know that Memphis is the last holdout of territory-era wrestling. While other territories collapsed in the 1980s thanks to talent raids by the WWE Memphis remained active and outside of the control of both Vince McMahon and Ted Turner’s WCW. Of course, Memphis wrestling is synonymous with Jerry “The King” Lawler, the greatest champion in the territory’s history. From the 1970s to the 1990s, everything in Memphis led back to Lawler. “The King” was the territory’s perennial champion and its chief monster slayer. In early 1989, Lawler’s greatest foe was a tall redhead known as Master of Pain.
Prior to becoming The Undertaker, Mark Calaway was known in Memphis as Master of Pain, a mean ex-con who wore jeans and threw a heart punch with one gloved fist. In many ways, the Master of Pain gimmick (and Calaway’s “Mean Mark” Callous character in WCW) was a precursor to The Undertaker’s “Big Evil” era. On April Fool’s Day 1989, the Master of Pain defeated Lawler for the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship, a belt that Lawler had created after defeating Kerry Von Erich in order to unify the AWA World Heavyweight Championship and the WCWA World Heavyweight Championship. Twenty-four days later, Lawler won the title back. Although a minor moment in Calaway’s career, it’s still something to note that the relatively green Deadman briefly dethroned “The King” of Memphis.
12. Bobby Eaton, WCW World Television Championship
“Beautiful” Bobby Eaton is arguably one of the greatest in-ring workers of all time. Generally described as one of the nicest men in the business, Eaton made his name as a tag team specialist. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Eaton was part of the legendary Midnight Express tag team, first with Dennis Condrey, then with “Sweet” Stan Lane. With their manager Jim Cornette, The Midnight Express captured tag team gold in Mid-South Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling, and Jim Crockett Promotions/NWA/WCW. Much later, Eaton found success again as part of The Blue Bloods team alongside Lord Steven Regal.
Because of this, few know that Eaton enjoyed a brief run as a singles competitor. From 1991 to 1992, Eaton found success on his own and as part of The Dangerous Alliance stable. Before that stable’s creation however, Eaton briefly held the WCW World Television Championship. Interestingly, Eaton defeated one future Dangerous Alliance stablemate (Arn Anderson) to win the title, then lost the belt to another future member of the Dangerous Alliance (“Stunning” Steve Austin).
11. Steve Austin, Million Dollar Championship
Although underutilized in WCW, “Stunning” Steve Austin was pretty successful during his tenure with the company. In total, Austin held the WCW Television Championship twice, the United States Championship twice, the WCW Tag Team Championship once, and the NWA Tag Team Championship once. These weren’t forgettable reigns, either. Austin’s first run as the TV Champ lasted 329 days, while his first run as the U.S. Champ lasted 240 days.
Despite this pedigree, and despite a short, but celebrated run in ECW, Austin debuted in the WWE (then the WWF) as The Ringmaster, the latest protegee of Ted DiBiase. As such, DiBiase crowned The Ringmaster as the Million Dollar Champion. Austin would hold the title for 152 days. During that time, The Ringmaster slowly morphed into the “Stone Cold” character that would propel Austin into the upper echelon of wrestling history.
10. Goldust, WCW United States Championship
Like Steve Austin, not many wrestling fans under the age of 30 know that Goldust had a successful career in WCW before he jumped ship for the WWE in 1995. From 1991 until 1995, Goldust wrestled under the name of “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes. Often accompanied to the ring by his father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, “The Natural” received a quick push to the upper mid-card as a “white meat” babyface.
At first, Rhodes found success as a tag team wrestler, winning the WCW and NWA Tag Team Championship with partners Barry Windham and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. On top of this, Rhodes, Big Josh (later Doink the Clown), and Tom “The Z Man” Zenk, held the short-lived WCW World Six-Man Tag Team Championship.
9. T.J. Perkins, TNA X Division Championship
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t remember T.J. Perkins’ time as TNA’s X Division Champion. “The Fil-Am Flash” spent only 94 days as the champ in the summer and fall of 2013. Also, rather than wrestle as himself, Perkins wore a mask and a full body suit. Although known as Manik, Perkins was the second iteration of the Suicide character that had its origins in the 2008 video game TNA Impact!
Like a lot of great indie workers who found sporadic success in TNA, Perkins had great matches during his time with the company, but was rarely considered anything other than a Cruiserweight attraction. For a brief moment, Perkins/Manik was part of The Revolution stable headed by “Cowboy” James Storm. This was a close as Perkins got to the TNA main event scene.
8. Xavier Woods, TNA World Tag Team Championship
To too many WWE fans, Xavier Woods’ history with the company begins and ends with The New Day. To be fair, The New Day is the greatest thing that Woods has ever done, but the guy has quite the lengthy history outside of the popular stable. In the WWE alone, Woods competed in both Florida Championship Wrestling and NXT. In 2014, Woods was part of a tag team with R-Truth.
Even before this, Woods had some success in TNA as a tag team specialist. Between 2007 and 2010, Woods, wrestling under the name Consequences Creed, teamed with Ron Killings (R-Truth), pro football player Adam “Pacman” Jones, and current ROH Superstar Jay Lethal. The latter duo, known as Lethal Consequences, defeated Beer Money, Inc. to win the TNA Tag Team Championship. The reign only lasted 26 days between December 2008 and January 2009. By 2010, following a short tour in New Japan Pro Wrestling, Creed joined FCW and became Xavier Woods.
7. R-Truth, NWA World Heavyweight Championship
These days, R-Truth is a comedy act. I personally enjoy him, but even I know that The Golden Truth is beyond lame. The team is in fact a reminder how little Vince McMahon’s company has learned since its nadir during the early 1990s, when kid-friendly wrestling meant wacky, stupid gimmicks and promos with the intellectual depth of a puddle.
The NWA World Heavyweight Championship seems to represent the very opposite of McMahon’s “sports entertainment” model. After all, the title is one the oldest championship in pro wrestling history, and the list of NWA Champions includes the likes of Lou Thesz, “The Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Dory Funk, Jr., Terry Funk, Jack Brisco, Harley Race, and many other legends. However, ever since Shane Douglas threw the belt down on ECW television in 1994, the title’s prestige has been a little tarnished. Between 2002 and 2007, the NWA World Championship was once again the top prize for a semi-large federation, in this instance TNA. During its time in TNA, men like Sting, Christian, A.J. Styles, and Jeff Jarrett held the belt. R-Truth, then wrestling under his real name as Ron Killings, held the NWA World Championship twice. His first reign lasted over one hundred days.
6. The Rock, USWA World Tag Team Championship
When Jerry Lawler joined the WWE as a commentator in late 1992, he brought his Memphis wrestling territory with him. In other words, the USWA basically functioned as a WWE developmental territory throughout the 1990s. Down in Memphis, McMahon and company not only gave work to veterans in need of a new start (Sid Vicious, Doug Gilbert), but they also used the territory as a way to “smarten up” young, WWE-bound talent. Indeed, the style of wrestling in the USWA was similar to the WWE, with loud gimmicks commingling with slow-paced matches. Flex Kavana, later to be known as The Rock, was one of these colorful characters who first got his start in Memphis.
Before debuting on the main roster in November 1996, The Rock, as Kavana, got his first taste of championship gold down in the USWA. On June 17, 1996, Kavana and Bart Sawyer became the USWA Tag Team Champions after beating Brickhouse Brown and Reggie B. Fine in a tournament final. In a perfect crystallization of why Memphis was an old school territory, Kavana and Sawyer quickly dropped the belts to the team of Lawler and Bill Dundee.
5. Karl Anderson, GHC Tag Team Championship
The WWE is happy to talk about all the success that Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows had in New Japan Pro Wrestling. This is probably because the WWE knows that most fans know about this recent past, so they probably feel that hiding it would be an exercise in futility. Furthermore, by all accounts, it looks like the WWE doesn’t view NJPW as competition, therefore Michael Cole and others can drop as many references to the IWGP Tag Team Championship as they want.
As part of the Bullet Club, Gallows and Anderson won the IWGP Tag Team Championship three times. The team’s first and longest reign lasted a full year. Interestingly, the WWE don’t seem as willing to talk about Anderson’s other successful partnership. On June 19, 2010, Anderson and Giant Bernard (Matt Bloom, alias A-Train and Lord Tensai), collectively known as Bad Intentions, captured the IWGP Tag Team Championship. The pair would go on to hold the belts for an astonishing 564 days. On top of this, as the IWGP Champs, Bad Intentions also captured the GHC Tag Team Championship in Pro Wrestling NOAH, NJPW’s biggest rival. Bad Intentions would hold these belts for 218 days.
4. Samoa Joe, GHC Tag Team Championship
Karl Anderson isn’t the only WWE Superstar to win gold in Pro Wrestling NOAH. Kenta Kobayashi, who today wrestles as Hideo Itami, is one of the most popular and successful wrestlers in the company’s history. During his time with Pro Wrestling NOAH, Itami won the GHC Tag Team Championship with Maybach Taniguchi, the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship three times, the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship three times, and the GHC Heavyweight Championship once.
Although nowhere near as successful as fellow NXT wrestler Itami, Samoa Joe also found success in Pro Wrestling NOAH. Specifically, Samoa Joe and tag team partner Magnus captured the GHC Tag Team Championship after defeating Jun Akiyama and Akitoshi Saito in July of 2012. For a time, Joe and Magnus were considered one of the best tag teams in the world. In February of that same year, Joe and Magnus won the TNA Tag Team Championship and held them until May. More than anything else, this history shows that despite all the flack it (rightly) gets, TNA once promoted very profitable and exciting talent exchanges with both Pro Wrestling NOAH and NJPW.
3. Daniel Bryan, GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship
Daniel Bryan’s time in Japan is frequently mentioned but is not often elaborated upon. A lot of this has to do with the fact that Bryan was not one of the more celebrated gaijin in Japan. Despite having tons of respect due to the fact that he held the Ring of Honor World Heavyweight Championship for 462 days, Bryan’s sojourns in Japan were not as illustrious as you might think. In NJPW, Bryan, wrestling in a mask as American Dragon, and Curry Man (Christopher Daniels) captured the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship.
In Pro Wrestling NOAH, Bryan, then wrestling under his real name as Bryan Danielson, and earned a little more respect. In fact, in 2008, Bryan defeated Japanese wrestling legend Yoshinobu Kanemaru to become the GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. His reign lasted only four weeks and ultimately ended when he lost to Hideo Itami in an excellent match.
2. Neville, PWG World Tag Team Championship
Poor Neville. The second longest reigning NXT Champion in history has all but disappeared on the main roster. Like Bo Dallas before him, Neville proves that success in NXT means little to Vince McMahon.
Prior to joining the WWE, Neville, known as Pac, was an indie darling who was best known for his work with Japan’s Dragon Gate federation and its North American offshoot, Dragon Gate USA. Neville also spent time in Professional Wrestling Guerilla, one of the coolest independent federations in the entire world. Despite stealing a lot of former PWG Champions (Kevin Owens, Daniel Bryan, Cesaro, A.J. Styles), the WWE has yet to name drop the company on television. Therefore, don’t expect the WWE to mention the fact that Neville and the newly acquired Roderick Strong once held the PWG World Tag Team Championship in 2007.
1. Dean Ambrose, CZW World Heavyweight Championship
The current iteration of Jonathan Good’s wrestling persona, Dean Ambrose, is sort of a pale imitation of his earlier character, Jon Moxley. Currently, although Ambrose enjoys plenty of popularity as “The Lunatic Fringe,” a steadily increasing chorus of detractors have taken shots at his in-ring work, his mic skills, and his gimmick. Frankly, “The Lunatic Fringe” character is not only hackneyed, but it is frequently painful to watch. Ambrose is neither as genuinely dangerous as Brian Pillman nor as off-kilter as Ken Shamrock.
This was not always the case. While working for Combat Zone Wrestling, Good played the part of Jon Moxley, a somewhat unhinged loner who cut amazing, literate, and stream-of-consciousness promos that hearkened back to Raven and Terry Funk’s time as a heel in Memphis. In addition to his bizarre, yet captivating promos, Moxley frequently wrestled in the bloody Death matches that are the company’s calling card. During his two runs as the CZW World Heavyweight Champion, Moxley engaged in gory spectacles that put Ambrose’s current exploits to shame.
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