Many longtime wrestling fans point to title reigns to show how much the sport has changed. There is the eternal argument about whether a star from one era would have captured a belt in another one. Some complain about the number of titles even though lots of meaningless championships is not a new phenomenon. By far the most common argument, though, is how the much shorter title reigns have become since the good ol’ days.
To be fair, the argument will occasionally have some truth to it. This was seen during the Attitude Era when titles were regularly hot-shotted in order to add excitement to television shows. Even more infamous was Vince Russo’s WCW tenure in which he had the WCW World Championship change hands 25 times. (The Tag Titles also changed hands 21 times, the Hardcore Championship 19 times, the Cruiserweight Championship 14 times. Thankfully, the United States belt brought some stability to the title scene. It only changed hands eleven times.)
Sometimes the complaints get a little out of hand. People got very upset over how many times the Raw Women’s Title has changed hands while some fans lose their minds over the fact that Dolph Ziggler is a former World Champion. Sources of frustration? Sure. Something to rant online about? Not really. Constant title changes happened in Memphis all the time. I mean, Tommy Rich and Ron Garvin are former NWA World Champs.
However, there are some title reigns that should cause fans to look twice. Here are some of the most head-turning title runs in wrestling history.
Road Warriors (NWA World Tag Team Champions; Oct 1988 – April 1989)
The Road Warriors are one of the most dominant tag teams in wrestling history. They were the first team to win the Triple Crown of World Tag-Team Titles (AWA, NWA, WWF). They won belts in Japan and ruled the PWI Awards. Yet, in 1988, fans questioned if they had lost their edge. The Road Warriors that had destroyed the competition the previous five years seemed to be gone. A heel turn that year seemed to remove all doubts — when they won the NWA Tag Belts from the Midnight Express, it seemed like there was no end in sight. Roughly six months later, crooked referee Teddy Long shockingly cost Hawk and Animal their titles. It was an unmemorable reign and the duo never had a chance to have the great NWA Tag Title run fans dreamed of. (Honorable mention: the team losing the AWA World Tag Titles to Jimmy Garvin and Steve Regal remains one of the biggest upsets in wrestling history.)
Buddy Rose and Doug Sommers (AWA World Tag Team Champions; May 1986 – Jan 1987)
Really, there are so many choices when it comes to the AWA Tag Titles. The Roadies’ title loss was already mentioned. There was also the time the titles changed hands four times in October 1987, and a number of oddball teams have held the belt. However, this one still manages to stand out — it may have been the fact that career jobbers-to-the-stars beat future legends Scott Hall and Curt Hennig. Or maybe it was because the belts inexplicably changed hands on a countout. Strangest of all, was the fact they almost held the straps for a year. That being said, it lead to some great matches against the (Midnight) Rockers, including the famous “blood” match.
Honky Tonk Man (WWF Intercontinental Champion; June 1987 – Aug 1988)
It may be the most shocking title win in history. After Rick Steamboat beat Randy Savage in their classic WrestleMania III match, he seemed destined to have a long run with the belt. Not only was Steamboat’s reign surprisingly short, Honky Tonk Man went on to have the longest run in the history of the title. It is a record that is likely to never be broken. The Ultimate Warrior’s title victory is one of the most iconic moments in WWF history and a spectacular end to a historic title reign.
Fabulous Freebirds (WCW World Tag Team Champions; Feb 24, 1991 – Feb 18, 1991)
No, that’s not a mistake: the Michael Hayes and Jimmy Garvin version of the ‘Birds actually held the title for negative six days. How? WCW used to tape weeks of TV at a time. At the February 18 tapings, Garvin and Hayes lost their Tag Titles to the Steiners. Problem was, they had not yet won them at the WrestleWar card. It didn’t matter at the time since it played out correctly on television, but it was not long before everyone found out what had happened. Classic WCW.