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
During the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, WWE sported the deepest tag team roster that the company has arguably ever had. The Hart Foundation, Demolition, The Rockers, The Brain Busters…for a company that supposedly has never really cared that much about tag team wrestling, they sure had a lot of hall of fame teams on payroll. Title changes between these teams tended to be a pretty big deal, especially when a team like The Rockers won their first championship against the Hart Foundation. Don’t look too hard for that title change on the official WWE record books, though. The Rockers’ win occurred during a television taping on October 30th, 1990, but WWE stripped The Rockers of their belts just a few days later. Why? Some say that it had something to do with backstage politics, but most believe it’s due to the ring rope breaking midway through the title match and the resulting contest being too boring to actually put on television.
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.
Officially, the first win was ruled a DQ and stricken from the record books. Unofficially, WWE used the show as an opportunity to tape Warrior as IC Champion beating a few jobbers so that they would have footage to air in the weeks following SummerSlam.
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.
If you’re keeping score, the WCW Television Championship changed hands four times in as many days. Why did WCW do this? So far as anyone can tell, it was just to give the live audiences something to remember. Most people at these shows had no idea the title changed hands so rapidly.
12 Chris Jericho Upsets Triple H on Raw and Immediately Loses the Title
While some phantom title changes are legitimately a mistake or the result of someone wanting to change their mind after the fact, some are simply booked as part of an ongoing storyline. One of the greatest examples of the latter method occurred during the January 3, 2000 episode of Raw. This was during the time when Triple H was at the top of his heel game and Chris Jericho was winning over the audience by relentlessly mocking him and Stephanie. Against all odds, Jericho managed to beat Triple H for the tile during this episode of Raw. However, due to a “fast count,” Triple H demanded that the results be reversed that same night. Still, Jericho “winning” the title remains one of the loudest crowd reactions ever.
11 Chris Benoit “Wins” the WWE Championship Twice in 2000
Speaking of WWE Championship changes that didn’t actually happen, we come to Chris Benoit. While WWE doesn’t really acknowledge the Chris Benoit title reigns, they still are technically part of the promotion’s history. Well, all of them except for these two, that is. The first false win for Benoit came during the Fully Loaded 2000 PPV when Benoit beat The Rock by disqualification. As per Commissioner Foley’s prior stipulation, Benoit was named WWE Champion. However, Foley wasn’t happy with the circumstances, ordered the match to be restarted, and The Rock won. Later, Benoit competed against The Rock, Undertaker, and Kane in a fatal-four-way for the WWE Championship. Benoit also won that match, but Foley again reversed the decision on account of The Undertaker’s foot being on the rope.
10 Bruno Sammartino’s Historic Title Reign is Saved by a Technicality
The year is 1967, and Bruno Sammartino is in the midst of an historic title run. For the last four years, Sammartino has taken on all challengers and has walked away with the champion. Now, however, he must face Ray “The Crippler” Stevens in California where Stevens is a wrestling god and the local champion. The two engage in a two out of three falls contest that sees Stevens pin Sammartino for the first fall only for Sammartino to win the second via submission. Remarkably, Stevens actually wins the third fall via countout and is named the newest WWWF World Heavyweight Champion. However, in a very strange ruling, it is determined that the title cannot change hands via count out under any circumstances. As such, the title change was not recognized.
9 Ric Flair Keeps his Title Because Dusty Rhodes Won’t Take his Mask Off
You’ve got to give the NWA credit for really knowing how to come up with some absolutely bizarre finishes that would ensure the champion never actually lost the title. One of the most amusing instances of the promotion’s infamous “Dusty Finishes” happened on February 9, 1982. That night, mysterious challenger known as The Midnight Rider took on champion Ric Flair and won the title. Now, it was obvious to everyone in attendance that Midnight Rider was just the recently suspended Dusty Rhodes under a mask. When Rider was asked to remove his mask following the victory, Rhodes refused to do so in order to avoid being fired. Because of this, Flair was able to keep the belt. Like we said, the promotion loved bizarre finishes.
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.
The reason why Brazil isn’t recognized for his place in history is due to the circumstances of the match. Brazil initially refused to accept the victory after finding out that Rogers wrestled with an injury. However, as part of the storyline, doctors ruled that Rogers was not injured and Brazil was named the champion. Despite this, the title change is not officially recognized by the NWA nor is Brazil’s place in history.
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.
You probably know that part, but what you might not know is that DiBiase actually defended the belt a few times after getting it from Andre. One of these defenses even saw him hand Bam Bam Bigelow one of Bigelow’s few pinfall losses at that time. Despite all this, the title reign is not recognized.
6 Greg Valentine Tricks the Referee and is Named Champion
NWA may have been more famous for their wonky finishes, but that doesn’t mean that WWE hasn’t pulled one out from time to time. This has to be their craziest scripted false finish by far, however. During the early ‘80s, shortly before the reign of Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund was still going strong as WWE Champion. One of his biggest rivals during this time was Greg “The Hammer” Valentine. Well one night in Madison Square Garden, Greg Valentine finally got the better of Backlund. He didn’t pin or make him submit, mind you, but rather he convinced the recently knocked out referee that the official had counted Backlund’s shoulders down when it was Valentine who had actually lost. Valentine was the champion for a few weeks before Backlund beat him in a rematch and WWE erased Hammer’s win from history.
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.
Naturally, then, they went crazy when Colon managed to beat NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair in 1983. There was just one problem. According to NWA, the match never happened. NWA let Peurto Rican fans believe Colon had won and then gave the belt back to Flair in a fake match a couple of weeks later. Colon’s original win was never made part of official NWA history.
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.
Rotunda says that the heels simply forgot to kick out of a pin attempt and the referee did not stop his count. WWE simply had the heels win the belts back at the next house show without ever acknowledging the accidental win formally.
3 Antonio Inoki Refuses to be WWE Champion
In the case of false title changes, it can sometimes be hard to tell what is part of the story and what is based on reality. Consider, for instance, what happened between Antonio Inoki and Bob Backlund in 1979. During a trip to Japan, Inoki managed to beat Backlund for the WWE Heavyweight Championship and seemingly ended Backlund’s long title reign in the process. However, Backlund won a rematch shortly thereafter that was later declared a no-contest due to outside interference. Despite this, Backlund still returned to America as champion. Why? Well, the official reason is that Inoki refused the championship due to the interference in the rematch which really doesn’t make any sense. It also doesn’t make sense that WWE wiped the initial win from their history books and don’t count it against Backlund’s reign.
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.
Sensing something awful was about to happen, Flair decided to drop the belt to Veneno that night in order to appease the audience. The NWA covered the whole thing up by having Veneno claim he didn’t want to leave the Dominican Republic to defend the title.
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.