wrestling / Columns

Top 7 Reversed Title Wins

December 2, 2022 | Posted by Steve Cook
Chris Jericho WWE Image Credit: WWE

This edition of the Top 7 is brought to you by a fan submission! As always, you can submit ideas to [email protected], and if I like them they’ll surely be used at some future date or time.

Top 7 reversed title wins?

Like I mean the top 7 times where a challenger wins a title only for the referee to reverse the decision and the champion retains. Shaun

It’s one of those classic wrestling tropes. Fans think they just saw a title change hands, but it turns out that they didn’t. Something happened that the referee didn’t see or account for, and the title has to be returned to the champion. Always a shame. Here are the seven most magnificent reversed title wins.

7. Chris Benoit Almost Beats The Rock

Fully Loaded 2000 was headlined by three matches pitting three of the WWF’s top stars of the past few years against three men that had debuted in the company within the past year to great fanfare. The Undertaker battled Kurt Angle, Triple H faced off with Chris Jericho in a Last Man Standing Match, & The Rock defended the WWF Championship against Chris Benoit. It wasn’t a good night for the “new guys”, as the Attitude stars scored a clean sweep. However, there was a moment where it seemed like Benoit had scored one for the new guard and become the new WWF Champion.

Due to Rocky resorting to some excessive violence towards Benoit in the weeks leading up to the event, Commissioner Mick Foley made the ruling that the WWF Championship could change hands via disqualification. This gave Benoit’s second, Shane McMahon, the bright idea to cause a disqualification by hitting referee Earl Hebner in the back with a steel chair. Since Rock wound up with the chair in his hands by the time Hebner started regaining his faculties, Hebner came to the conclusion that Rock hit him with the chair. Rock had Benoit in the Crippler Crossface & Benoit was tapping like a drunk man, but it didn’t matter. Rock was disqualified and there was a new WWF Champion! Until Commissioner Foley came out a minute later and re-started the match because he didn’t accept that sort of malarkey. Rock would win soon afterward and Benoit would have to wait until WrestleMania XX to become a world champion.

6. Owen’s Only Reign as WWF Champion

The summer of 1994 saw Owen Hart get a number of chances to dethrone his older brother Bret for the WWF Championship. One took place on a marathon Superstars taping in Portland, Maine on August 17. This particular contest happened to be a lumberjack match, meaning that various WWF Superstars would be at ringside to keep the competitors in the ring. The issue with that stipulation became apparent when Jim Neidhart, who was on Owen’s side in the family dispute, interfered in the match and enabled Owen to get a pinfall on Bret to become WWF Champion. Owen’s fellow bad guy wrestlers even jumped into the ring to lift Owen on their shoulders, re-enacting Bret’s celebration of defeating Yokozuna for the title at WrestleMania X.

Their joy didn’t last long. After some other referees came out to explain what happened, the finish was replayed on the video screen by the entrance in a rare usage of instant replay in pro wrestling. The referee’s decision is usually final, but it wasn’t in this case & the match was re-started. Owen would eventually be pinned after running into Neidhart on the apron and getting rolled up by Bret for the three count. There was no replay on that one. Owen would never win the WWF Championship, though he would have reigns as Intercontinental & Tag Team Champion & win a couple of Slammy Awards. You can see this match on WWF’s Wham Bam Bodyslam VHS release, which will get uploaded to Peacock in approximately 14 years.

5. Miz Goes Over The Limit

The main event of Over The Limit 2011 ended up basically being a handicap I Quit Match. John Cena agreed to defend the WWE Championship against The Miz under I Quit rules, but Miz decided that his apprentice Alex Riley had to be involved as well. So Cena got beat up by two men for over twenty minutes, but wouldn’t quit because he was John Cena and John Cena could never quit. Miz knew this would happen, so he took a page from The Rock at the 1999 Royal Rumble and had a pre-recorded John Cena saying “I Quit” ready at the right time just like Rock had a pre-recorded Mankind saying “I Quit” ready at the right time.

The only problem? Once Rock had pulled that over, referees paid more attention to such things. The first person to try that trick might get over…the second person, not so much. So of course once that got overturned, the first time Miz got put in a submission hold he had to quit like nobody ever quit before. It didn’t really land with me, but for those folks born just after me that accept John Cena as their GOAT, they cite this as one of their favorite matches.

4. The Rock Didn’t Verbally Submit

The Rock had been crowned as the Corporate WWF Champion after Survivor Series 1998, after defeating Mankind in the first re-enactment of the Montreal Screwjob. There were diminishing returns each time the finish was done, but it worked well at the end of the Deadly Game. Mankind got the first shot at The Rock, at a PPV properly named after the current WWF Champion, Rock Bottom.

Rock even went down to the ring with Vince & Shane McMahon, with banners featuring his image in the entranceway, so you knew who the favorite was here. One referee got bumped, so Shane came in to KO Mankind, but accidentally KOed Rock. Cover got 2, which led to more ridiculousness. One of Michael Cole’s first great calls, in case you’re one of those folks marking out for him mentioning NJPW angles. Mankind sunk the Mandible Claw into Rock. Tim White called for the bell and raised Mankind’s hand. Vince McMahon grabbed the microphone and let us know what was up. Since the Rock did not tap out or say I Quit, he was still the champion! Mankind got the upper hand on Vince, Shane, Patterson & Briscoe. Then Big Bossman & Ken Shamrock came in to even the odds so Rock could get his licks in.

A fantastic piece of business that led to more business later on between Mankind & The Rock. Once Mankind got that three count over Rock and officially became WWF Champion, everybody lost their minds. Even if it was spoiled online or by Tony Schiavone on WCW Monday Nitro. People wanted to see Mankind get his due, and they eventually got to see it.

3. Y2J temporarily out-smarts The Game

Chris Jericho had become a pain in Triple H’s rear end early in 2000, mostly because of his tendency to say mean things about Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley. Stuff like calling Stephanie a trashbag ho & other things that don’t play well in 2022. Stephanie wasn’t happy, so Triple H wanted a match with Jericho on the April 17 edition of Raw in order to defend his wife’s honor. Jericho successfully goaded H into making it for the WWF Championship, then introduced the Acolytes, who he’d paid for the evening to watch his back & keep H’s DX buddies at bay. Towards the end of the match, referee Mike Chioda got inadvertently taken out. Earl Hebner came down to fill in, and it just so happened that Hebner recently had some issues with Triple H. So it wasn’t too surprising when Earl’s count of Jericho’s pinfall on Triple H was a bit fast. The fans didn’t realize or didn’t care at the time, and lost their minds over their new WWF Champion.

Since this was early 2000 and Triple H had a ton of stroke with ownership, that didn’t last. H & Shane McMahon drug Hebner back to the ring, made him admit he screwed Triple H, and reverse the decision. The championship was returned to Triple H, and Jericho would have to wait a bit longer before winning his first of ocho world championships.

2. Super Sunday

Nick Bockwinkel was the standard-bearer in the AWA. He was the ideal man to pass the torch to the next man that would carry the AWA throughout the 1980s. Hulk Hogan was seen to be that guy, and would have been the ideal man to knock Bockwinkel off of his throne. Depending on who you believe & what version of the story they’re telling at the time, it was supposed to happen at an event the AWA called “Super Sunday” that took place on April 24, 1983 in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was a heavily hyped event that also featured one of Verne Gagne’s first matches after his retirement.

Apparently Verne really wanted Hulk to be his champion. He also wanted a cut of Hulk’s t-shirt money, and more importantly, his Japan money. Hogan was doing pretty well between his AWA bookings & his New Japan tours, and Verne wanted some of that New Japan payola. The Hulkster said that didn’t work for him brother, so the St. Paul fans got to see Hogan get his hand raised and immediately get cancelled out by one of those Stanley Blackburn decisions. At some point, Hogan had tossed Bockwinkel over the top rope, which was illegal and deserving of a disqualification. A shame. There’s an alternate universe where Hulkamania happened in the AWA, but it’s not entirely realistic because Verne didn’t have the mind of Vince.

Honorable Mention: ROH’s Battle For Supremacy

I’ve had the opportunity to see two of these reversed title changes in person. The first was on a Raw taping in Cincinnati on March 29, 2004. Chris Benoit & Shawn Michaels defeated Ric Flair & Batista to become the new World Tag Team Champions…until special guest referee Johnny Nitro reversed the decision because Flair had gotten pinned and he was the illegal man in the ring. Some shenanigans from Nitro eventually led to Benoit & Michaels getting disqualified.

The second took place in Dayton, Ohio at a Ring of Honor event on June 27, 2008. ROH World Champion Nigel McGuinness took on NWA World Champion Adam Pearce in a title unification match. Of course, ROH fans being complete wrestling nerds, nobody in the Montgomery County Fairgrounds thought the titles would actually be unified. It was a matter of how things would get screwy, and things ended up with Nigel getting the pinfall on Pearce but having the decision reversed because Pearce had been tossed over the top rope behind the referee’s back. The fans chanted “Dusty Finish” because we were smark like that. Heck, I’d even worn a Dusty Rhodes t-shirt for the event, that’s how sure I was the finish would be something he would have booked.

1. Starrcade 1985

This whole scenario of a title change being reversed live & in public was invented by Eddie Graham, owner & promoter of the Florida wrestling territory who mentored & created the American Dream. Dusty Rhodes learned everything he knew from Eddie Graham, and molded it into a way where he could make motion pictures, baby! Graham had many disciples that booked wrestling territories, but Dusty would certainly be his highest profile disciple, and he would book this type of finish over & over again until it became known as the Dusty Finish.

Starrcade 1985 had a lot of stuff going on. People were bleeding buckets all over the place. Magnum TA made Tully Blanchard quit. The main attraction was Dusty Rhodes challenging Ric Flair for the NWA World Championship. Dusty’s leg had got broken by Ric, Ole & Arn Anderson a few months prior, after Dusty had the temerity & unmitigated gall to save Ric from the Russians. You can see why Ric & his cousins were pissed. How dare Big Dust try to save the day & steal the spotlight. The nerve. Dusty dominated Ric for most of the match, but things went awry when Referee of the Year Tommy Young got knocked out of the ring by Big Dust. The Andersons tried to take advantage of the situation, but Dusty fought them off and rolled Ric up for the three count from a replacement referee. The fans in Atlanta’s Omni went banana, as world title changes didn’t happen every day in the 1980s. Everybody lived happily ever after…until the next World Championship Wrestling show, where we found out that the decision was reversed since the first referee didn’t make the count, and Ric Flair was still the NWA World Heavyweight Champion.

It’s easy to call this a mistake with hindsight, but Jim Crockett Promotions’ business didn’t tail off after Starrcade 85. 1986 was a very good year for the company. Dusty still had some drawing power. Ric, Arn, Ole & Tully Blanchard as the Four Horsemen put the NWA on their backs as the top heels & ran wild. Dusty got some flack with smart fans for a long time due to his booking style that happened to keep him on top…folks that came along later and saw his run in hindsight appreciated his greatness. I would happen to be one of those people. Dusty’s creativity knew no bounds, and this style of finish was just one of those things he brought to the pay window.

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