wrestling / Columns

Top 7 World Title Reigns Ended Due To Injury

April 10, 2023 | Posted by Steve Cook
Batista Smackdown 1000 Image Credit: WWE

Impact Wrestling Champions have had some hard luck lately. Josh Alexander had set the record for longest-reigning Impact World Champion and had a pretty impressive reign defending against the likes of KENTA, Rich Swann, Bully Ray, Jacob Fatu, Mike Bailey, Frankie Kazarian, Alex Shelley and many others. He was forced to relinquish the championship after 348 days due to a tricep injury. A tough blow for Alexander, who had done as much to increase Impact’s credibility among wrestling fans as anybody in recent years. People could say what they wanted to about Impact, but they had to admit that Impact’s World Champion was deserving of the term “World Champion”.

At the same time, Knockouts Champion Mickie James is out of action due to a rib injury. Her status will be confirmed this week on Impact. Basically, if you’re employed by Impact and have a belt, there’s a good chance you’ll be hurt pretty soon. I don’t make the rules.

All this talk of titles being vacated due to injury got me thinking about the past. These days, it seems like people just hold on to their titles forever, even if they happened to be injured. AEW had a couple of champions injured last year that stayed on while “interim champions” were crowned during their absence. This led to a lot of drama. WWE’s champions defend rarely enough that injuries aren’t really an issue. Back in the day, it seemed like a major champion would vacate their title due to injury at least once or twice a year.

Now seems as good a time as any to look back at the Top 7 times a major championship was vacated due to injury. (I left off Alexander’s reign since it spawned this column. Would probably put it top three or four, some would say it’d be too high there and others will get mad at me for leaving it off. Is what it is.)

7. Finn Balor (2016)

The brand extension in 2016 left Raw without a major championship, as WWE Champion Dean Ambrose was drafted by SmackDown with the second overall pick. Raw Commissioner Stephanie McMahon & General Manager Mick Foley responded to this by introducing the Universal Championship, named after the WWE Universe. I mean, the Universe is bigger than the World, so kudos to them for thinking about the big picture. Seth Rollins was considered the favorite to win the championship since he was winning everything else at the time, but a new star freshly called up from NXT got the nod instead.

Finn Balor was given quite the push upon his arrival. He was the fifth overall pick in the WWE Draft, and won a series of matches leading to his match with Rollins at SummerSlam. It was Finn’s first match on a main roster PPV, and he made the most of it. Balor became the first Universal Champion, managing to win a major heavyweight championship not even a month into his stay on Raw. It was a darn good way to make a new star, and people were pretty excited about it.

There was only one problem. Balor tore a labrum during the match. He was stripped of the championship the next night. Balor would come back after WrestleMania 33 and has been a staple of WWE programming for most of the time since. He’s had a solid run, but nothing quite like what he was doing in July & August 2016.

6. Edge (2011)

Edge has had a number of injuries that put him out of action at inopportune times and led to him vacating championships. If it wasn’t for the existence of 1990s Shawn Michaels, Edge might hold the record for most times losing a championship outside of the ring. Heck, he still might. Edge held a ton of championships and had a ton of stints on the IL. Somebody ask Ryan Byers about it, he’ll know for sure.

The most notable instance of Edge having to vacate a championship due to injury took place after WrestleMania XXVII. He’d been heavily involved in SmackDown’s World Championship scene since early 2010, and was coming off of a big title defense against Alberto Del Rio at WM. Some of us were a little surprised that Edge won that match since Del Rio was supposed to be a big deal. We were even more surprised when Edge came out on the Raw after the Raw after Mania and let us know that he had to retire due to spinal stenosis. It was kind of awkward, but it did lead to Christian getting a title reign, and that was probably the only way Christian could have gotten a title reign under Vince McMahon’s regime.

5. Daniel Bryan (2014)

When people talk about Daniel Bryan’s rise to prominence during early 2014, they tend not to mention anything after WrestleMania XXX. Bryan’s story leading into the event was interesting, and his reaching the mountaintop at the end of WWE’s biggest show of the year was one of wrestling’s all-time moments. It was a fairy tale ending to the story of Daniel Bryan bucking the Authority.

Then the fairy tale ended, and Bryan was feuding with Kane. It made sense from a storyline perspective, as Bryan & Kane had been connected off & on for the past couple of years. However, nobody really wanted to see Kane challenging for the WWE Championship in 2014. Kane wasn’t a particularly interesting character at the time, and he wasn’t going to have the kind of matches with Bryan that fans wanted to see. It was a pretty lackluster start to Bryan’s reign, and it also served as a pretty lackluster finish to Bryan’s reign.

As it turned out, Bryan injured his neck and needed surgery. The title reign that Bryan’s fans wanted to see ended after sixty-five largely unremarkable days. It was kind of weird…on one hand fans were disappointed to see it end, while on the other hand they were relieved that Bryan’s reign couldn’t sink further into the abyss than it already had with the Kane feud. Trust in WWE booking wasn’t exactly at a high point in 2014.

4. Seth Rollins (2015)

One year after Bryan’s WrestleMania Moment, it was time for Seth Rollins to have his. Rollins cashed in the Money in the Bank contract at WrestleMania, defeating Roman Reigns & Brock Lesnar to win his first WWE Championship. Unlike Bryan, Rollins had some viable competition for the Championship soon after winning. Reigns, Randy Orton & Dean Ambrose were in the picture early on. Brock Lesnar made some guest appearances, then John Cena became Rollins’ main opponent come SummerSlam. Rollins even defended the Championship against Sting, but we don’t like to talk about that match since it was Sting’s last for a few years.

Then, it was time for Kane. No, I’m not blaming Kane for the knee injury that ended Rollins’ first WWE Championship reign at 219 days, even though I love blaming Kane for things. If I had to guess, Kane probably didn’t come up with the idea for Rollins to sunset flip powerbomb him through a table. The idea of Rollins powerbombing Kane is pretty ridiculous given the sizes of both involved. Even with the momentum of coming off the turnbuckle, it looks & seems goofy. They tried it though, and Rollins ended up tearing his ACL, MCL & meniscus in his left knee. Not great!

Rollins returned in May 2016 and kept his momentum rolling. Nothing was really lost by his first title reign ending early, but it would have been interesting to see how long it went.

3. Batista (2006)

I really didn’t plan on covering so many of the title reigns I mentioned in the Top 13 First-Time Major Championship Wins at WrestleMania. I’d forgotten how many of those reigns ended due to injury. The most important of them would have to be Big Dave’s first run with the World Heavyweight Championship. Of course, Triple H was an important part of the early days of the title run. Batista had to beat The Game two more times on PPV, including a Hell in a Cell match.

The first WWE Draft Lottery resulted in Batista moving over to SmackDown, where he first dealt with JBL before having an interesting run with Eddie Guerrero where Eddie was Batista’s friend while everybody in the free world waited for Eddie to stab the guy in the back because that’s what Eddie usually did. WWE.com reported that Batista had suffered a back injury in early November 2005, and there was a hot rumor that he would lose the title to Guerrero on that week’s SmackDown episode…until Eddie passed away the day of the taping. Batista kept on as champion, and mostly competed in tag team matches with Rey Mysterio to stay active while healing up.

That plan worked until Batista was challenged by Mark Henry. Batista ended up tearing his right triceps during a house show match with Henry, and had to vacate the World Championship after 282 days. Another one of those title runs that could have lasted much longer.

2. Antonio Inoki (1988)

Image Credit: WWE

There have been a couple different versions of New Japan’s top heavyweight singles championship. The first IWGP Heavyweight Championship was awarded to the winner of the 1983 IWGP League, which was one of the fore-runners to today’s G1 Climax. Hulk Hogan scored the most points in a field including Andre the Giant, Canek, Otto Wanz, Big John Studd & Antonio Inoki. The idea was that the winner would defend the Championship against the winner of the next year’s tournament, and it continued until 1987 when it was decided that they should have heavyweight championship matches more than once a year. Inoki ended up defeating Masa Saito in the finals of a tournament to crown the first champion, which wasn’t exactly surprising because it was Inoki.

Inoki would up having four title defenses before vacating the title after 325 days due to a broken foot. Hey, 4 in 325 days was quite the increase over one title defense in a year, and it’s just about what Brock Lesnar & Roman Reigns do when they hold championships.

Honorable Mention: Rob Van Dam (2010)

This is one of my favorite ones, but I couldn’t include it because Rob Van Dam wasn’t actually injured when Abyss ran him through a razorblade factory in August 2010. We didn’t actually see what Abyss did to Rob, but this was the best explanation Larry Csonka & I could come up with at the time. This led to a tournament that would conclude at Bound For Glory, which seemed to make a bit of sense…until Rob Van Dam returned to action before the tournament actually ended. Homeboy just hung out on the undercard of BFG wrestling Abyss while his championship was being decided in the main event.

You had to love TNA.

Honorable Mention: Shawn Michaels (1997)

Shawn will probably still tell you today that he had to vacate the WWF Championship in February 1997 due to a knee injury. Nobody believed him back then except for Vince McMahon, and his speech about how he lost his smile was mocked for years afterward. I wasn’t sure if I should include it because the title reign only lasted 25 days and he might not have actually been injured.

1. John Cena (2007)

John Cena has had sixteen reigns with major WWE championships. The longest took place from Semptember 17, 2006 until October 2, 2007, and was his third reign as WWE Champion. Prior to this reign starting, Cena had already lost the championship twice during 2006, once to Edge & once to Rob Van Dam. Edge was the man Cena beat to start this run, and Cena did it in Edge’s hometown of Toronto in a TLC match. And people in 2023 think that Canadians losing in big title matches in their hometown is something new.

Cena defended the WWE Championship against the likes of Umaga, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Randy Orton, Great Khali & Bobby Lashley over a span of 380 days. It was the longest WWE Championship reign since Hulk Hogan held it for over four years in the 1980s, and still rates as the seventh-longest in the history of the championship as I type this. (Roman Reigns might pass him by the time this gets published.) Cena’s dominance of the WWE Championship and the presence of the Spinner Belt established him as WWE’s top star for years to come, in spite of what people on the Internet wanted us to believe.

Cena ended up tearing his pec during a match with Mr. Kennedy on the 10/1/07 edition of Raw. He was expected to be out for six months to a year, so stripping him of the championship was a necessity. Cena would come back way ahead of schedule, surprising everybody to win the 2008 Royal Rumble Match. It was going to take far more than a torn pec to keep John Cena away from us all.

Thanks for reading! Hit me up at [email protected] or on the social media with thoughts, comments or suggestions. Let the people know who got left out! Until next time, true believers!