The 411 Wrestling Top 5 5.06.13: Week 218 – Top 5 Favorite Title Changes
Hello everyone and welcome to 411 Wrestling’s Top 5 List. What we are going to is take a topic each week and all the writers here on 411 wrestling will have the ability to give us their Top 5 on said topic, plus up to three honorable mentions.
So, on to this week’s topic…
5. The Boyhood Dream Comes True (WrestleMania 12) – I know that a lot of people shit on the WrestleMania 12 Iron Man match, but I am a huge fan of that match. I loved the work, I looked the pace and I loved that just because we were told that there could be numerous falls, that there were none. Shawn finally winning and having the big moment is one of those times that is fun and emotional all at the same time.
4. Mankind Wins The Title – Yo Adrian, I Did It! (January 1999) – Mick Foley was a guy I liked in WCW, and then a performer I loved in ECW. He got his shot in the WWE and while I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Mankind character at the beginning, Foley made it work. The character evolved, and with the evolution came the big moment when he won the WWF Title. On Raw, defying all odds at ringside (and from WCW) and with the help of DX and Steve Austin, he won the title. The crowd reaction was amazing, and was an amazing moment in the history of the Monday night wars.
3. Eddie Guerrero defeats Brock Lesnar (2004) – This is one of those picks that starts a theme, and that is “MY GUY WON THE BELT!” We are all wrestling fans, we all have “our guys” we root for and want to succeed. Eddie was one of those guys for me. From the first time I saw him at the AAA When World Collide PPV through his WCW years, Eddie always entertained me. When he got his shot in WWE, I was thrilled, but at no time did I ever imagine that he would win “the big one.” But for one reason or another, Eddie did overcome all of the odds, all of the stereotypes of being too small, and in a magical moment, he won the title. Viva La Raza.
2. Randy Savage Climbs to the Top (WrestleMania IV) – WrestleMania IV is an event that is way too long, doesn’t have a lot of good wrestling on it and is an event that most fans would not willingly sit and watch unless it was under torture. But I loved the show for one reason; Randy Savage climbed to the top and won the gold that night. Savage had to survive Butch Reed, Greg Valentine and the One Man Gang to make the finals. Ted DiBiase had an easier time, with a bye, and they would meet in the finals. While some will say that Hogan took away from the win, I didn’t and still don’t care. Randy Savage won the WWF Title!
1. Christian Cage Wins The NWA World Title – As a big fan of Christian, I actually loved when he went to TNA because I knew (for several reasons) that he would get a chance to have a run on top. That happened when he defeated Jeff Jarrett for the NWA Title. He scored the big win, he kissed his wife and TNA did everything to make it a big moment with the fireworks and crowd rushing into the ring. If you were a fan of Christian, you loved this moment. Some will talk about his World Title victory in WWE, but this was the moment for me.
5. The Rock wins WWF title, Backlash 2000 Just a month after getting screwed by the McMahon’s at Wrestlemania, the Rock was ready for payback against HHH for the title. The deck was stacked with Shane as the ref and McMahon and his stooges at ringside. We got an awesome brawl with fantastic moments like the Rock hitting a Rock Bottom on both HHH and Shane through an announcer’s table but it looked bad as McMahon and his cronies got involved to smash the Rock with a chair. But then the glass shattered and the place went insane as out came Stone Cold Steve Austin with a chair to wipe out everyone on the McMahon’s side. Then Linda McMahon came out to shove Stephanie down and as the Rock hit a spinebuster and People’s Elbow, ordered a suspended Hebner into the ring to make the three count. This is how you overbook a match right and beautiful seeing the Rock triumphant against all odds, a highlight of one of WWF’s best years ever.
4. Goldberg wins U.S. title, 1998 Most will cite Goldberg beating Hogan as a favorite but it was his earlier title win that won me over. Goldberg was starting to take off as he faced off with Raven, who had just won the US title the night before, on a hot “Nitro” broadcast. Goldberg manhandled Raven until his “Flock” raced in, taking advantage of a no-DQ rule. However, Goldberg ended up single-handedly destroying the entire Flock and when Raven tried to leave, a bunch of fans picked him up to throw him back. A spear and a jackhammer later, Goldberg had won the title and the fans had a new hero to root for. This is how you build a new star up and would help WCW have one of their last true shining moments.
3. A.J. Styles wins X-Division Championship, Unbreakable, 2005 In my opinon, still the greatest match in TNA history. For twenty minutes, Christopher Daniels, Samoa Joe and A.J. Styles put on a masterpiece, bouncing off each other wonderfully with amazing spots all around. Joe leaping over the top rope with stunning agility; Daniels monkey-flipping Styles to Joe with Styles doing a hurricarana in mid-air; Joe flipping both guys off the top rope and so many more. The fans were enraptured as it went on, the three doing everything they could to steal the show and succeeded. In the end, Styles flipped an Angel’s Wings attempt into a bridging pin and got the three count, finishing off a glorious title switch that remains a classic showing what TNA is capable of when they’re allowed to really cut loose.
2. Ricky Steamboat wins NWA World Title, 1989 I’m one of the biggest Ricky Steamboat marks you’re ever going to find. I was a fan of his for years, his tenure in Mid-Atlantic terrific and his WWF run should have been longer. So my joy when Steamboat reached the top of his class was great. After a return to the NWA weeks earlier to pin Ric Flair in a tag mach, Steamboat and Flair went at it in a fantastic battle on PPV in my hometown of Chicago. It was a brilliant affair, would have been the match of the year if they hadn’t ended up topping themselves twice over later. It ended with Steamboat getting a small package with ref Tommy Young out, Teddy Long racing to make the pin, fans worried over a “Dusty Finish” but Young backed it up. To see the Dragon with the NWA World title finally around his waist was absolutely wonderful and making me proud to call myself a fan of the man.
1. Ultimate Warrior wins Intercontinental Title, SummerSlam ’88 Some may find this an odd choice but I stick by it. Fans today have no idea how incredibly annoying it was to see the Honky Tonk Man, a comedy midcarder, as the IC champ for over a year. In a time when that belt was respected for going to good workers, him cheating his way to victory time and again drove people nuts. He was scheduled to face off against Brutas Beefcake at the first SummerSlam but Beefcake got taken out by Ron Bass so HTM made the mistake of challenging anyone in the back to come out. That familiar music hit and the crowd roared as the Ultimate Warrior charged out and in the space of just 30 seconds, wiped out HTM for the belt. The pop of the Madison Square Garden crowd when the three count was made was one of the biggest ever, fans erupting in joy to see HTM finally dethroned. Say what you will about the Warrior but he deserves an everlasting place in the heart of every WWF fan for ending HTM’s reign at last and in fine style.
5. Ultimate Warrior becomes WWE Champion – While today the Warrior might not be as big of a name as he once was, and arguably, he might have tarnished his legacy a bit. Still, in 1991 there was no one bigger than the Ultimate Warrior and I’ll even go as far as counting Hulk Hogan. Wrestlemania VI was the place, and the Royal Rumble gave us a sample of what was to come. Hogan and Warrior had a match that far exceeded what many believed they could do. The end result was the Ultimate Warrior pinning Hogan clean in the middle of the ring. The torch was apparently being passed on. The future result was perhaps not what the WWE would have wanted, but the moment when the Warrior won and he and Hogan embraced was tremendous. Perhaps not as fondly remembered by many, but definitely one of those “you had to have lived it, to appreciate it” moments.
4. Ric Flair wins the Rumble – “With a tear in my eye…..”, man that promo is amazing. Ric Flair survived coming in at number three in the 1992 Royal Rumble, one of the best Rumbles with a large amount of huge names. He survived for 60 minutes and in the end eliminated Sid Justice with an assist from Hulk Hogan to become the 2nd man to hold the NWA and WWE Championship, the 1st being Buddy Rogers. Flair put on a five star performance at that Rumble, but the MVP was easily Bobby Heenan on commentary, put those two together, and the post Rumble promo as an added bonus, and you have yourself one of the best title changes, and one of the best moments in professional wrestling.
3. Edge cashes in – While at this point the cashing in of the Money in the Bank briefcase might not be what it used to be, the first time it occurred was just outstanding. New Years Revolution featured an Elimination Chamber match. After a beaten and bloodied John Cena defeated Carltio to win the match, the chamber was lifted up. Vince McMahon came out and announced there would be one more match, Edge would be cashing in the MITB briefcase. Two Spears later, and the crowd was in an uproar as Edge had won his first WWE Championship. His celebration afterwards was very well done. A moment that comes to mind is him laying on the ring, looking at the title like a kid looks at a new toy, and then proceeding to mess around with the spinner.
2. Mankind becomes WWE Champion – Even Tony Schiavone giving out the result didn’t sour the moment for me. Having followed Cactus Jack in WCW and ECW, and finally seeing Mick Foley win the big one after many years of hard work was just plain special. Sure Austin had the assist, but Foley still had his moment. His celebration with DX, and his Rocky reference was all good light-hearted fun. While he obviously wasn’t going to hold the gold for a long period of time, the fact that a visually non-prototypical wrestler worked his ass off and saw his sacrifice and hard work pay off sends a positive message any way you look at it.
1. Eddie Guerrero wins WWE Champion – Speaking of following careers, El Paso, Texas is 15 minutes away from me, so seeing Eddie Guerrero get the 1, 2, 3 on Brock Lesnar and winning the WWE Championship still to this day holds up as one of my absolute favorite moments in wrestling. The celebration afterwards was just icing on the cake. The Guerrero family was there, and the emotion poured, Eddie celebrated with the crowd, and although he might have his detractors, It’s hard not to see this title change, and post-match celebration and not at the very least smile.
5. Mankind defeats The Rock – “That will put butts in seats!” It sure did, and it was a memorable title change. The match itself is a pretty typical Attitude Era style match. You have some brawling, some overbooking and a very hot crowd (holding up way more signs than nowadays). The reason this title change is one of my favorites is because I didn’t surf the web at the time. If you would have told me Mankind was going to win the title on Raw that night, I would have laughed in your face. I probably would have told you to go fuck yourself for lying to me too. This was a feel good moment that truly encapsulates what the Attitude Era was all about.
4. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin defeats The Rock – At the peak of WWE’s success, this was easily the most important match they could headline their biggest show of the year with. Despite headlining Wrestemania XV together, they had only become more popular over the course of two years. At this point, it was almost hard to tell who the most popular wrestler in the United States was. Either way, it was of these two men. The Rock and Stone Cold delivered in spades as well. They wrestled an instant classic that will be remembered by wrestling fans until this sport is dead and gone. This was the tipping point for WWE, but what a tipping point it was. Austin vs. Rock is easily one of my favorite matches (and title changes) of all time.
3. Shawn Michaels defeats Bret Hart – This match is still the most referenced title change in wrestling history as far as I can tell. We all know the drama behind it. It’s been well documented by numerous sources. The Montreal Screwjob signaled a huge change in how WWE would eventually be booked and perceived by its audience and mainstream in general. Vince McMahon screaming “ring the fucking bell” was the catalyst to his heel persona that would help make Steve Austin and WWE household names. Despite Hart’s career tanking shortly thereafter and Shawn Michaels dropping the title to Austin months later, the ramifications of this bout are still being felt today. Watching back, it’s still quite the sight to see.
2. Chris Benoit defeats Triple H and Shawn Michaels – This match was absolutely incredible. Up until this point, I had never been caught up in the drama of a wrestling match as much as this. The Wrestlemania 20 triple threat is probably the match that made me begin to really appreciate the quality of a good match. Chris Benoit was the underdog going into this and that made pulling for him that much more exciting. The fact that he actually did win and overcame two of the biggest names in the business made this title change feel surreal at the time. Everybody wanted it to happen, but I don’t think many actually believed it would. It was great match with a great post-match as Benoit and Guerrero embraced with their championships under a plethora of confetti.
1. Edge Cashes in on John Cena – The first Money in the Bank cash in will always be the best for me. This crowd absolutely erupted when Edge marched down to the ring to challenge a battered John Cena for his championship. We had never witnessed anybody cashing in a MITB contract before, so this was pretty crazy at the time. After Cena defeated five other men in the Chamber, Vince McMahon’s music hit and the crowd immediately knew they were about to see something special. No cash in will ever top the first. It truly was a magical moment. Edge even teased cashing in during the show but it went right over my head at the time, making it even crazier for me. I’ve been an Edge fan for a long time and this was really cool to see. It’s easily my favorite title change so far.
5. Dolph Ziggler wins the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio, April 8, 2013 – For nearly three years, members of the Internet Wrestling Community have been begging for Dolph Ziggler to capture a world title in the WWE. He actually had a reign that lasted about a minute on February 18, 2011, a reign that is easily (and appropriately) forgotten by many diehard fans.
When Ziggler won the Money In The Bank Ladder Match in 2012, it was overshadowed by John Cena’s briefcase win on the same night. Cena would later become the first guy to cash in and lose, furthering everyone’s anticipation of Ziggler’s eventual cash in moment.
After an agonizing wait, Ziggler finally cashed in on the now famous 2013 “Raw After Mania” card, much to the delight of the sold out IZOD Center in New Jersey. This unique crowd greeted Ziggler with a Steve Austin like pop and jumped from their chairs when their bump-crazy favorite scored that final three count.
Time will tell how Ziggler’s reign stacks up, but it is one that will forever be a part of wrestling—and WrestleMania—history.
4. Eddie Edwards wins the ROH World Championship from Roderick Strong, ROH Manhattan Mayhem IV, March 19, 2011 – What an amazing move by Ring of Honor. The company had started a practice of telegraphing its title changes thanks to iPPV and their TV taping style. But this win came out of nowhere. Eddie Edwards was primarily a tag team wrestler. He was also the first ever ROH World Television Champion, but was terribly booked as a coward champion for far too long. Earning a title shot by winning 2010’s Survival of The Fittest, Eddie had an untelevised title shot at Roderick Strong in New York City, one that was assumed to go down as a great—and successful—title defense for Roddy.
That wasn’t the case as Edwards picked up what surprise win, later revealed to be a well-kept secret booked several months in advance by the company. With only three title defenses and his dropping the title to a lackluster (at the time) Davey Richards, Edwards will hardly be remembered as one of the best ROH World Champions. But his title win will always be one of my favorites.
3. CM Punk wins the (WWE) World Heavyweight Championship, WWE Raw, June 30, 2008 – Many Money In The Bank cash-in moments could easily be part of a list like this: the aforementioned Dolph Ziggler cash-in, The Miz beating Randy Orton, Edge making the inaugural cash in, but this one truly shocked the world.
Long before topping the WWE’s merchandise sales list, “walking out” on the company or being “The Best in the World” by holding the WWE Championship for 434 days, CM Punk was a guy many figured wouldn’t get a fair shake in the WWE. He was supposedly “too indy” for the company to push, and was just going to go down as a “skinny fat guy” who would be called upon as a role player from time to time.
Fast forward to WWE’s WrestleMania 24 PPV in Orlando, Florida, where CM Punk would basically win Money In The Bank because Jeff Hardy’s screw-up found him off of the WrestleMania card. At that time, many assumed that Punk would become the first man to cash in his Money In The Bank contract and lost.
Three months later, he was cashing in against the first man to become world champ via a Money In The Bank win, Edge. Punk would actually never lose the title in this reign, and sparked what is not considered to be a sure-fire Hall of Fame career for the skinny fat indy guy.
2. Ricky Steamboat wins the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship from Ric Flair, NWA/WCW Chi-Town Rumble, February 20, 1989 – Months beforehand, Steamboat returned as a surprise partner Eddie Gilbert, pinning Ric Flair on TBS to become an immediate #1 Contender to Flair’s world title. This lead to their title match at the Chi-Town Rumble PPV, where Steamboat would win his first (and only) world championship.
The Ric Flair-Ricky Steamboat trilogy is long considered one of the best in wrestling’s history, but many people sleep on this first match. None of their encounters match the intensity and edge-of-your-seat drama that this match provides, and it stands up to many title matches put on today—24 years later.
1. Austin Aries wins the TNA World Heavyweight Championship from Bobby Roode, TNA Destination X, July 8, 2012 – TNA proved on this one night that they still had a set of balls, and that the feel good surprise was possible. Nevermind the fact that I picked Aries to win—despite the pick, I don’t think I myself believed it would happen.
But it did.
The moment is one I’ll never forget. It had literally been several years since a match had me sitting on the edge of my seat. At that time, wrestling became real again. Scripted or not, I didn’t know who was going to win. There was no reason for Bobby Roode to lose at this point…he was already the longest reigning world champion in TNA history, he was finally being used properly as champion and he was on a collision course with James Storm at Bound For Glory.
And those facts made it that much more special.
The best title changes are the ones no one sees coming, even if they got the prediction right. Austin Aries winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championship from Bobby Roode, and being made into a main eventer for TNA, let me be 100% a fan and 0% an analyst. While it was only for a short period of time, it was still brilliant. This match would later be names my 2012 Match of the Year, and still holds on as my favorite title change of all time.
List your Top Five for this week’s topic in the comment section using the following format:
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