On January 23, 1984, Hulk Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik to win his first WWF Heavyweight Championship. Four years later, he would lose the title for the first time to Andre the Giant. In those four years, Hogan would defend the title against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at The War to Settle the Score, King Kong Bundy in a steel cage, and at the first three WrestleManias. In fact, Hogan would wrestle to gain or defend the title at the first NINE WrestleManias. During his first title reign, his defense schedule was, shall we say, a bit on the lighter side. He regularly went more than two or three months between televised title defenses, at one point going over six months between bouts.
At Wrestlemania III, on March 29, 1987, Hogan defeated Andre the Giant. His next title defense was on October 3, 1987, at Saturday Night’s Main Event against Sika of the Wild Samoans. Throughout his career, Hogan regularly took long breaks between defending his many WWF/WWE and WCW Heavyweight Championships. So, what about the 30-Day Rule wrestling fans often cite? Does a champion really need to defend their title every 30 days if one of the greatest wrestling attractions of all time could willfully ignore the rule? Were there simply no viable challengers during this time? What about the current WWE? Why does Brock Lesnar–and before him Goldberg, Triple H and The Rock–get to ignore this rule often cited when champions become injured or refuse to defend their titles? Let’s explore the current reign of WWE Universal Champion and see what we can discover in this week’s installment of “Explain Like I’m Kayfabe.”
At WrestleMania 33, held this past April in Orlando, Florida, a massive return match was held. For the first time since 2004, Brock Lesnar and Goldberg, two massive stars of the wrestling world, stood toe to toe in a WrestleMania match, this time for the still newly minted WWE Universal Championship. Goldberg, fresh off a victory against Lesnar at Summerslam and a strong showing at the Royal Rumble, had defeated then champion, Kevin Owens for the strap at Fastlane the month prior. In a brutal–in more ways than one–match, Lesnar toppled the aging former-WCW mainstay, winning his first WWE Universal title. His first title defense will come at the oddly named Great Balls of Fire PPV in July against new number-one contender, Samoa Joe. This puts 99 days between Lesnar’s win and his confrontation with the Samoan Submission Machine.
This is certainly not the longest gap between title fights, as evidenced by the Hogan discussion above. Lesnar himself had a longer gap of 126 days after defeating John Cena for the WWE Championship at their brutal Summerslam 2014 encounter, between Lesnar’s defense against Cena at Night of Champions and against Cena and Seth Rollins at the following January’s Royal Rumble. While Hogan’s 189 day gap appears to be the longest since the dawn of Rock and Wrestling, Lesnar’s gap in 2014/2015 is the longest since the advent of weekly TV and monthly PPVs. The big questions here are two-fold: Why is this important and why does WWE allow this to occur?
Regular title defenses are important because they give new contenders opportunities.
Every so often, a champion like Dean Ambrose or Daniel Bryan comes along. The are scrappy underdogs who will fight any and all comers. These “fighting champions” are often crowd favorites who, despite their best instincts, will accept challenges, no matter how despicable the methods of their challengers become. John Cena’s United States Championship Open Challenge is an excellent example of this, giving Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens both their debuts on Raw. Title defenses on any level allow new matches and new contenders to receive the opportunity to make their way up the ladder of success.
Regular title defenses are important because they keep champions honest.
Some champions, like The Miz or Seth Rollins pre-injury, need to be forced to defend their titles by authority figures. Rollins continually ducked defenses of his title with the help of the often ineffectual J & J Security. In an ironic twist, one of the contenders chasing him was the very same Brock Lesnar he defeated at WrestleMania 31 after cashing in his Money in the Bank contract during the main event. Many of these champions must be locked down into signed contracts for matches made by authority figures when their time avoiding direct conflict finally comes to an end. The 30-day rule can aid in cornering these cowardly champions, getting them to defend their championships when they might normally sit back and rest on their laurels.
The 30-Day rule allows the championship to remain in play even if the champion suffers injury.
Finn Bálor is perhaps the most publicly acknowledged example of this in recent memory, with the exception of Seth Rollins. Just a few minutes into his match with Rollins for the brand new WWE Universal Championship, Bálor dislocated his shoulder. As shown later on replay and in the WWE 24 documentary, Bálor decided to pop his shoulder back into place and continue the match. In the end, he would win the title and destroy his shoulder. The injury would force him out of action from August 2016 until post-WrestleMania 33. The night after winning the title, Bálor came onto Raw in a sling and relinquished the championship, knowing that he would not be able to defend it. Naomi, Daniel Bryan, and even Batista all had to give up their championship reigns due to injury. Save Bryan, who gave up his Intercontinental Championship in retirement due to injury, all came back to reclaim what was theirs, with new champions taking up the reigns of the New Era in their absence.
So, why does Brock Lesnar get a pass? Why should the Beast Incarnate be allowed to defy this rule? Well, like those who came before him, including the Immortal Hogan himself, Lesnar is an attraction. With that comes the benefit of choosing when and where you get to fight and knowing that the company needs you more than you need them. After WrestleMania, Lesnar and his advocate, Paul Heyman, looked for a prime opportunity to showcase a title match in a way that would attract the full attention of the WWE Universe. No NXT Takeover the night before, no John Cena to steal his thunder. Lesnar and Heyman must have looked at the calendar and given Stephanie McMahon and Kurt Angle the ultimatum that his first title defense would be where it would make the biggest splash. Where the return of Brock Lesnar would be the biggest thing on the card with no competition from any other match or superstar. They looked at the calendar and said July 9 in Dallas at the newly created Great Balls of Fire PPV. That left three months to determine the best opponent for the Conqueror and time for both men to prepare for what is certain to be, in the words of Jim Ross, a slobberknocker. Is Brock Lesnar ready for Samoa Joe? Will the Samoan Submission machine grab the brass ring? Only time will tell, but as for the 30-Day Rule, it seems that some people are just above the law and Brock Lesnar truly is one of them.