When is a title change not a title change? That might sound like some frustratingly impossible philosophical question, but it’s actually a dilemma that can be answered. A title change is not a title change when a professional wrestling promotion refuses to acknowledge it. While the “official” record books of a professional wrestling promotion may be billed as the gospel truth, the real truth is that the records that companies like WWE go off of aren’t always as accurate as they would like you to think they are.
There are rare times in wrestling history when a performer wins a championship, but it never enters the official record book. The most common cause of this phenomenon is the script itself. Some bookers intentionally write a “false” title swap. Other times, though, a strange series of circumstances causes legitimate championship winners to lose their place in history. While these occurrences are removed from the official history books, obviously, those who were in attendance that night to see the title swap tell the tale for years to come. It’s often because of those fan reports and that we know about these 15 wrestling title changes that officially never happened.
15 A Broken Rope Robs The Rockers of a Championship Run
14 The Ultimate Warrior Wins the Intercontinental Championship a Few Days Before Winning the Intercontinental Championship
As you’re going to soon find throughout this list, the vast majority of phantom title changes occurred during television tapings and house shows. Because none of these events were broadcast live, promoters had the option of reversing a match decision if they felt the need to. One of the most obscure cases of this practice occurred in August of 1988 at a house show in Hartford, Connecticut. At that show, The Ultimate Warrior beat the Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental Championship. What’s strange about that is that The Ultimate Warrior also beat Honky Tonk a few days later at SummerSlam for that same championship.
13 The WCW Television Championship Changes Hands Four Times in Four Nights
This one is strange and unbelievable, so you know that it has to involve WCW. On April 30, 1998, Chris Benoit challenged Booker T for the Television Championship at a non-televised show (again, this was WCW). Shockingly, Benoit won the title from Booker T that night. That next night during a separate show, Booker T won the title back from Benoit. That is until the next night when Chris Benoit won the belt back before dropping it to Booker T the night after that.
12 Chris Jericho Upsets Triple H on Raw and Immediately Loses the Title
11 Chris Benoit “Wins” the WWE Championship Twice in 2000
10 Bruno Sammartino’s Historic Title Reign is Saved by a Technicality
9 Ric Flair Keeps his Title Because Dusty Rhodes Won’t Take his Mask Off
8 Bobo Brazil Is Denied His Place in Wrestling History as the First African American World Champion
It’s amazing how many phantom title changes would have been historic if they had actually ended up being recognized. For instance, you might know Ron Simmons as the first African-American world champion. Well, technically he is and technically he isn’t. In another world, that honor would go to Bobo Brazil who beat Buddy Rogers for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1962.
7 Ted DiBiase’s WWE Championship Defenses are Wiped From History
This is one of the most infamous instances of a non-recognized title change on this list, but the full story behind this phantom swap is stranger than you might think. It all started when Andre the Giant beat Hulk Hogan for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship during the February 5, 1988, episode of The Main Event. Soon thereafter, he handed the belt to Ted DiBiase as part of their storyline agreement. About a week later, WWE ruled the title change didn’t count and put the belt up for grabs during the WrestleMania IV tournament.
6 Greg Valentine Tricks the Referee and is Named Champion
5 Carlos Colon’s Victory Over Ric Flair is Quickly Ignored
Back in the territorial wrestling days, every promotion had their own local champion, and wrestling’s governing body – the NWA – named one person to be the champion of all promotions. Now, as you might imagine, a local champion facing off against the world champion tended to be a pretty big deal. That’s especially true if the local champion was Puerto Rico’s own Carlos Colon. Colon was the guy responsible for helping to set up a real wrestling scene down in Puerto Rico, and fans down there loved him beyond reason.
4 Mike Rotunda and Barry Windham Accidentally Become Tag-Team Champions
The details on this one are a bit thin, but the overall story is too good to pass up. In the ‘80s, Barry Windham and Mike Rotunda were involved in a pretty heated feud with the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. While not the most famous tag-team feud of all-time, the two teams still managed to draw large crowds across the territories. According to an interview with Rotunda, the plan was for Rotunda and Windham to chase the heels for a while before a big televised blow-off. That plan was derailed at a house show when Rotunda and Windham won the titles accidentally.
3 Antonio Inoki Refuses to be WWE Champion
2 Ric Flair Unofficially Drops the NWA Championship to Jack Veneno in Order to Prevent a Riot
False title changes are done for many reasons, but this might be the only false change that was done in order to keep an entire arena full of people safe. To understand this story, you have to understand two things. Jack Veneno was beloved in the Dominican Republic and Roddy Piper was not. So when Piper accompanied Flair during Flair’s match against Veneno for the NWA Championship, fans in attendance were not too happy to him. The original plan was for Piper to interfere and cost Veneno the match. However, when Piper tried to interfere, the guards in attendance pointed guns at his head.
1 Owen Hart’s Only WWE Championship Win is Erased From History
This may very well be the saddest false title change on this list when you take into consideration what would happen after it. During the mid-90s, Owen Hart was locked in a classic feud with his brother Bret. Owen was never better than he was during this time. He was so good, in fact, that many felt he deserved to win the WWE Championship. Officially, that never happened. Unofficially, it actually did. During a lumberjack match between Bret Hart and Owen Hart that WWE taped for one of their Coliseum Home Video releases, Owen Hart defeated Bret for the WWE Championship.
Owen actually got to celebrate in the ring with the lumberjacks for quite a few minutes before WWE officials ruled that Owen had cheated and the match should be restarted. Bret won the rematch. Owen was denied his arguably well-deserved title reign as the WWE never formally acknowledged the change.
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