It is possible to trace the history of iconic wrestling champions simply by reviewing the month of December alone, starting in 1906 all the way up to the Monday Night Wars era of 1995. The sport’s first superstar, Frank Gotch, lost his world title on December 1, 1906 to Fred Beall in New Orleans. No doubt this loss shocked fans back then as much as Rhonda’s Rousey’s recent humbling by Holly Holm. Gotch would win the title back just two weeks later showing that promoters even then could treat the title as a hot potato. The next Superman champion, Strangler Lewis, captured his first world title on December 13, 1920. Lou Thesz , like his mentor Strangler Lewis, also won his first version of a world title in December, the 29th of 1937.
The first meeting of Thesz against the man who made wrestling in Japan (in part because Thesz made him) Rikidozan took place on December 6, 1953 in Hawaii. Rikidozan took the December big win tradition back to Japan scoring his first title victory (in a worked match that ended as a shoot) on December 22, 1954. After Rikidozan’s death, ironically in December 1963, one of his successors, Antonio Inoki, fought NWA champion Dory Funk Jr to a draw on December 2, 1969. It was the first time the NWA strap had been defended in Japan in over a decade. Unable to win (buy) the NWA title, Inoki beat Johnny Powers in December 1973 for the not so prestigious NWF World Title. This belt later morphed into the IWGP Title which is still defended today, often as the main event at the Tokyo Dome.
Any conversation about championships needs to involve Ric Flair. Flair won his first world title – a tag team belt with Greg Valentine – on Christmas Day in 1976. He’d also grab the big gold belt on December 27, 1993 in a four star match battling Vader and again in forgettable match against Randy Savage on December 27, 1995. So there’s wrestling history, from Gotch to Flair, looking at just December titles changes.
But more than title changes, December is highlighted by these 15 historic moments:
15 T14. Andre the Giant profiled in Sports Illustrated
14 T14. The Wrestler Debuts
13 Tribute to the Troops Debuts
12 Vader Debuts, Inoki Loses, and Sumo Hall Burns
11 T10. “Paul Heyman, You’re Fired!” (for real)
10 T10. Jeff Jarrett Resigns from TNA
9 The Funks Battle The Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher
8 Chris Jericho Becomes Undisputed World Champion
7 T6. Starrcade 1997
6 T6. Starrcade 1998
5 Ric Flair Debuts
4 Lita vs. Trish Stratus Main Event Raw
3 WWE Invades the NWA
2 Kerry Von Erich Loses to NWA World Champion Ric Flair
1 Vince McMahon Announces the “Attitude Era”
According to Mick Foley’s book, the “attitude era” actually started a few months earlier with Vince addressing talent on the night of Brian Pillman’s death. A few weeks later came the Montreal Screw Job and Vince’s “Bret screwed Bret” interview. Yet this promo on Raw from December 15, 1997 announced the new direction clearly to the WWE fans. Wearing a hideous brown sports jacket with the words “Cure for the Common Show” super-imposed beneath him, McMahon began with “It has been said that anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation.” Using inane analogies (comparing WWE to Seinfeld – yes, there is something wrong with that) and dissing Hulk Hogan (“the era of the superhero who urges you to say your prayers and take your vitamins is definitely passé”) McMahon told viewers that a new attitude had arrived. He warned parents to use “discretion” and mentioned the fictional 50 year history of the WWE has an “entertainment mainstay…all over the world. He ended the promo by kissing the ass of the networks and the fans, but moments before uttered words true then but maybe not since. He said, “as the times have changed, so have we.” So when did Sheamus become contemporary and cutting edge?
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