Fans at the WWE Live event in New York at Madison Square Garden (MSG for short) on July 7, 2017, got to see Kevin Owens go up against AJ Styles with Owens’ US Title belt on the line. Though it was odd to see a Smackdown Live fight on a Raw show, it wasn’t the biggest shock to most people in attendance as fans got to witness AJ Styles emerge victorious from the match and become the new WWE United States Champion.
With Kevin Owens already reeling and disoriented and stumbling around the ring, Styles set up on the ring apron, adjusted his arm band and prepared for the Phenomenal Forearm.
When Owens stumbled into position, Styles jumped up onto the top rope, bounced all the way to Owens in the middle of the ring and came down on him with that Phenomenal Forearm. The move left Owens laid out flat on his back and Styles got the clean 1-2-3 pin for the title win.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, championship titles changing hands at live events or house shows was pretty common. This was because most of the money was made at house shows and TV was used as a tool to get people to go to the live shows. So, title changes at said shows was a way to keep fans coming back and excited about them. By the 1990s and into the 2000s, the rise of the importance of television and Pay-Per-View meant that most title changes would happen on TV. But house show title changes still occurred, with one of the most famous times also taking place at MSG, on Nov. 26, 1994, when Kevin “Diesel” Nash defeated Bob Backlund in 8 seconds to become Champion – which was the beginning of his huge 358-day run as champion.
Backlund had only been the champ for three days after defeating Bret “The Hitman” Hart at the 1994 Survivor Series. Vince McMahon decided to put the belt on Backlund so Hart wouldn’t have to lose to Diesel – which Vince was afraid would garner Nash major boos from the crowd. Defeating Backlund, on the other hand, garnered Diesel the cheers McMahon wanted for him.
More recently, Samoa Joe won the NXT Championship from then champion Finn Balor at a house show in Lowell, MA on April 21, 2016. Though NXT is considered WWE’s developmental territory, many could argue that move was a test run to see how modern audiences will react to surprise title changes at house shows.
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