The Hardcore Title was one of the best relics of the Attitude Era in the WWE. It was only active for four years (1998-2002), but it packed plenty of memories and champions into that time frame. The title started out just being defended in no DQ matches, but in February of 2000, the “24/7 Rule” was added, meaning the belt could be won (or lost) at any time both wrestlers and a WWE referee were present. This changed the title into a weird hybrid of hardcore matches and comedy segments. The title would change hands over a dozen times in one night on multiple occasions. Matches would take place during interviews, in airports, and even in the Mississippi River. There would be ladder matches, Kennel from Hell matches, and even an evening gown match for the only WWE Championship made with duct tape and sharpie.
It’ll never be included in any serious WWE Grand Slam considerations or on many WWE Hall of Famer resumes, but the Hardcore Championship was incredibly fun. It saw some of the most colorful characters of the Attitude Era, and delivered some of the most chaotic backstage segments in pro wrestling history. The title started as a joke that Vince McMahon gave to Mankind (his lackey at the time), but ended up merged into the Intercontinental Title, one of the most prestigious singles titles of all-time. The title was defended in five different countries on two continents. It also inspired a pale imitation in WCW in its final years, same as most of the WWE’s good ideas.
There were 229 reigns and over 50 champions. In honor of the upcoming Extreme Rules PPV, here are the best of the best. These choices include prolific hardcore wrestlers with ECW experience as well as hall of famers that spent time competing for this unique title.
15. Pat Patterson
He was the first Intercontinental Champion, a WWE Hall of Famer, and one of the very few openly gay sports entertainers. And also, last but not least, a Hardcore Champion. He was not known as a hardcore wrestler in his prime, but his 1981 Alley Fight with Sgt. Slaughter won the Wrestling Observer’s Match of the Year award. With all those accolades, Pat Patterson will likely still be remembered forever as a Stooge for Vince McMahon during the Attitude Era. That role led Patterson to become one of the greatest wrestlers to hold the Hardcore Title.
14. Gerald Brisco
Brisco was always Pat Patterson’s co-stooge and partner in crime, even when they were fighting over the Hardcore Title. A Hall of Famer himself, Brisco gets the slight edge in this list by being a two-time champion. Much like the Kennel From Hell match, the Stooges would take the Hardcore Title to new infamy in 2000 with a Hardcore Evening Gown match against each other. In this match, neither wrestler won. That isn’t just referring to the hits to their legacy, but a third party (Crash Holly) ran down and took the title away from these two WWE legends before either could be stripped naked.
The Big Red Machine has as many nicknames as he does accolades. The former World Champ can bet on a place in the WWE Hall of Fame if he ever retires. One of those accolades was a Hardcore Championship reign. He only held the title once, but he makes the list due to winning the title in a pretty good match at the grandest stage of all – WrestleMania. The Triple Threat match that Kane won over Raven and The Big Show was on WrestleMania X-7, widely regarded as one of the best wrestling PPVs of all time. Kane also successfully defended the title against Kurt Angle when the Olympic Champ was at the height of his powers.
12. Jeff Hardy
The flashier Hardy brother only had three reigns for a total of 16 days, but Jeff was a great Hardcore champion because of both his legacy and the quality of his title matches. The Hardy Boyz were the innovators of the TLC match alongside the Dudley Boyz and Edge/Christian. It was only natural that when Jeff went solo, he would be drawn to this particular belt. He had a great feud with Rob Van Dam in 2001 with two very highly rated Hardcore title matches that summer. They clashed at the InVasion PPV, and then had a final ladder match at SummerSlam that stole the show (even though Jeff couldn’t steal the title).
11. Shane McMahon
SummerSlam 2000 saw Shane making his first, and only, title defense against Steve Blackman. The match started innocently enough. The two brawled up the aisle as Shane fled. Then he tried to escape by climbing up the entryway set. Blackman followed and after a few kendo stick strikes, Shane fell farther than the top of Hell in a Cell, farther even than most scaffold matches, through the stage below. It was an reckless stunt, even more stunning because it was done by Vince McMahon’s son. Only in professional wrestling. And it was all over the Hardcore Title. He only needed one match to make his mark as a champion.
10. Stevie Richards
After Stevie Richards was saddled with the dead-end Right to Censor gimmick, he needed a major change. The ECW Alum would go back to his roots and throw himself into competition for the Hardcore Championship. Stevie would wrack up 21 reigns as champion, but totaling only 35 days. Most of those reigns were less than one day and happening in house show battle royals, but they still count. You could say that Stevie lost the title 21 times, but he also won the title 21 times. Even with a borderline joke championship as this one, that’s very impressive.
9. Hardcore Holly
Bob Holly was the consummate company man for WWE, and he saw a rebirth when he changed to Hardcore Holly. He was an early standard bearer for the title, showcasing its wilder elements in a Memphis PPV match that ended in the Mississippi River. He’d also win his second of six Hardcore Titles at WrestleMania XV. Holly would ride his new Hardcore attitude up the ranks of WWE, even getting a Heavyweight title match against Brock Lesnar. He also would keep up the hardcore style by competing in an Elimination Chamber match for the ECW Title. But he never would have as much success as he did wrestling for the Hardcore Title.
Mankind is a hardcore icon, as well as the reason for the title’s existence. He never won the title – it was awarded to him by Mr. McMahon. But Foley had just flown off of Hell in a Cell twice months earlier, so his hardcore credentials were pretty legit. After a couple successful defenses, Mankind would lose the title to the Big Boss Man in a ladder match, and move on to a WWE Title feud versus The Rock. Foley gave the title real credibility as the first champion, which was important for a new title that really didn’t have many precedents in pro wrestling.
7. Al Snow
As wrong as it feels to rank Al Snow over Mick Foley in anything, in this case, it’s perfectly legitimate. Snow was a mainstay in the Hardcore Title scene for most of 1999, including a monster (especially for this title) 91 day reign that would be the second longest of all-time. His third reign as champion included the infamous “Kennel From Hell” match against the Big Boss Man. His vulgar, oddball character was perfect for the Attitude Era. His mannequin head was a weapon of choice for winning Hardcore matches, and played on the “Head” double meaning as well.
6. Crash Holly
Crash Holly would never really rise above being a sidekick to Hardcore Holly, but he carved out a lot of success in the Hardcore Title scene. The smaller Holly wracked up 22 reigns as champion for 2nd all-time. The 24/7 rule was instituted after Crash’s first title win, and Crash would be a part of some of the funniest applications of that unique rule. The Newark airport was the scene for him losing and regaining the title. Crash also lost the title once by being pinned while sleeping. Finally, Crash spent just over 100 days as champion, good for 5th best.
5. Steve Blackman
After spending some time in the WWE’s brief foray into MMA, including several Lion’s Den matches with Ken Shamrock, Steve Blackman was a natural fit for the new hardcore division. After bringing his love of Kendo Sticks and violence to Hardcore Title matches, Blackman would have five reigns over 172 days – most all-time. Also, as mentioned earlier, he was a part of the SummerSlam 2000 Hardcore Title match, following Shane McMahon’s gigantic fall with an elbow drop and title win. Blackman left the WWE shortly after losing the title for the last time, and the title’s retirement, leaving his Hardcore Championships as his only WWE legacy.
4. Big Boss Man
In his later years as an enforcer for the Corporate Ministry, Big Boss Man would give police brutality a whole new meaning. After beating the first Hardcore Champion, Mankind, in a ladder match, Bossman would dominate the early months of the new title. He would have the longest reign in WWE history at 97 days. This was before the 24/7 rule, but it was still very impressive. His unsuccessful Kennel From Hell match vs Al Snow was the end of a bizarre title feud that included Bossman killing Al Snow’s dog and feeding it to him. Now that’s hardcore.
3. The Undertaker
It’d be easy to forget The Undertaker was ever Hardcore Champion. He won the title from RVD in a great PPV ladder match, and held the title for almost two months despite the 24/7 rule being in effect. Most superstars were probably a little intimidated to sneak attack the Deadman over the Hardcore Title during that time. Despite only being champion once, The Undertaker ranks as one of the best champions for his great performances in Hell in a Cell, Buried Alive, and other gimmick matches. Those wars with Mankind, HBK, and Kane likely paved the way for the title’s success.
2. Rob Van Dam
Mr. Monday Night spread four reigns over 134 days, never really participating in the 24/7 mayhem. He was no stranger to hardcore matches, having been one of ECW’s most decorated superstars. RVD’s first matches in WWE after the Invasion of 2001 were all Hardcore Title matches. He had great matches against Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, and The Undertaker for the title. The well-reviewed matches definitely elevated the title’s prestige and threatened to steal the show. Fittingly, RVD would also be the final Hardcore Champion when he won the unification match with the Intercontinental Title in 2002.
What about Raven? Well, he won the title 27 times, more than anyone. He also held it for 94 days, proving he was more than a 24/7 rule opportunist. Finally, Raven, more than anyone else, spent his entire career wrestling in the hardcore style. He started in ECW, which basically always operated as No DQ. His long, bloody feud there with Tommy Dreamer was one of the greatest of all time. After moving to WCW, Raven never changed his style, wrestling under Raven’s Rules, which basically meant anything goes. After joining the WWE in 2000, it was easy for him to dominate the Hardcore Title scene. He constantly won and lost the title for two years until it was retired in 2002.
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