Wrestling 201: Retired WWE Championships, Part 1
It’s been a long time coming, but I’d like to welcome you the latest in our series looking at various aspects of professional wrestling. The first in our Wrestling 201 series will be examining inactive titles belonging to World Wrestling Entertainment. There are a few rules to go along with this, as we won’t be covering every title owned by the WWE. Instead, we’ll be looking at the titles that were defended within the company, meaning that we won’t be looking at any titles that were part of the WCW Invasion angle or ECW.
Additionally, titles that have been rebooted, such as the WWE Women’s Championship and Cruiserweight Championship won’t be part of this series either as a new incarnation of those titles are currently active within the company. This first article will also set the theme for the remainder of the Wrestling 201 series, which will look back at the history of the industry, and not just the WWE. Wrestling 201 is a project that I’m very excited to talking about, as there is plenty to cover when it comes to the history of this great sport.
WWE Divas Championship
- Inaugural Champion: Michelle McCool (July 2008)
- Final Champion: Charlotte Flair (April 2016)
- Longest Reign: Nikki Bella (301 Days)
We begin our look at the defunct titles of the WWE with a look at the most recent belt to be put on the shelf, the WWE Divas Championship. If you’ve followed our Running the Ropes podcast before the shelving of this title, then you know my feelings about it, but for those unfamiliar then I’ll give you a quick rundown. To me, the Divas Championship was an insult to anyone who was a legitimate female wrestler with even a modicum of talent. The title is a relic of the era where John Laurinaitis hired women based more on their appearance and bust size than any actual in-ring talent. Of course, not every woman from that era was awful. Natalya, Beth Phoenix, and Kharma are certainly standouts from the Divas era, though the latter never held the Divas Championship.
The title itself was introduced in 2008 as part of SmackDown to allow the Blue Brand to have its own women’s championship title. It would later move to Raw and eventually be unified by the original WWE Women’s title, retiring the original women’s title after fifty-four years. The Divas Championship would continue to serve as WWE’s flagship women’s title until it was retired in 2016 and replaced by a rebooted WWE Women’s Championship. While the Divas Championship didn’t have much of a storied history behind it, once thing I did find interesting while researching this article was that despite being active for eight years, the title was only ever defended at Wrestlemania once, at Wrestlemania XXX by AJ Lee.
The Divas Championship is not a title that I was sad to see retired when it was shelved last year. With the current crop of female talent in WWE, the Divas Championship has outlived its usefulness, and it was a time to bring in a championship for the female talent that can have prestige and feel like a real title for both the talent and the fans. Rather than something that looks like it was taken out of an elementary student’s notebook.
WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship
- Inaugural Champions: Velvet McIntyre & Princess Victoria (May 1983)
- Final Champions: The Glamour Girls (Leilani Kai & Judy Martin) (February 1989)
- Longest Reign: The Glamour Girls (866 days)
If you want to talk about a title that I feel should be reactivated in the modern era, it would be this one, the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champion. With the current crop of incredibly talented women on both the main roster and NXT, a tag team title for the women’s division seems like a no brainer.
The original WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship was active for six years but only held by four teams, with a bulk of its time being spent between The Glamour Girls and The Jumping Bomb Angels. These teams offered up some entertaining matches during the years the division was contested, and it’s unfortunate that the title was unceremoniously abandoned in 1989.
WWWF United States Tag Team Championship
- Inaugural Champion: Mark Lewin & Don Curtis (July 1958)
- Final Champions: Bruno Sammartino & Spiros Arion (July 1967)
- Longest Reign: The Fabulous Kangaroos (Al Costello & Roy Heffernan) (409 Days)
Sticking with the tag team theme, but going back to the days of the territory system, we now have the WWWF United States Tag Team Championship. Looking at the list of reigns of this title, which was defended as part of the National Wrestling Alliance, features a who’s who of names from the early days of the World Wrestling Federation. “The Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon, Waldo Von Erich, Lou Albano, and Bruno Sammartino are just a few of those who would hold this title during its years as an active title.
Ultimately, the title would be retired after being won by Sammartino due to him already being the WWWF World Heavyweight Champion at the time. With the WWE eventually leaving the territory, this title would have been redundant, so it makes sense that it would be set aside for their tag belts.
WWE Light Heavyweight Championship
- Inaugural Champion: Taka Michinoku (December 1997)
- Final Champion: X-Pac (August 2001)
- Longest Reign: Gillberg (448 Days)
The Light Heavyweight Championship was originally introduced and defended in the Universal Wrestling Association (and later in New Japan Pro Wrestling) as part of a working relationship between the two companies.
The WWE Light Heavyweight Championship was defended in Japan from its introduction in 1981 until it was deactivated and moved to the United States in late 1997. The Light Heavyweight title would be contested on WWE TV for about a year until it was won by Gillberg and would disappear from television for nearly a year and a half.
After being all but forgotten by the company, the belt would reemerge on Sunday Night Heat where it would be won by Essa Rios. After this, the title would be passed around the Light Heavyweight division, with the only notable reigns belonging to Dean Malenko. In late 2001, the title would finally be retired after being unified with WCW’s Cruiserweight title.
I feel the Light Heavyweight Championship was mishandled by WWF during the Attitude Era. A title than should have been used to elevate smaller wrestlers for the future instead spent much of its time on a joke wrestler. While Dean Malenko would have a long reign with the belt, guys like Christian and Taka Michinoku felt like an afterthought. The Gillberg reign was the biggest misstep in the title’s legacy, and it’s not surprising that it quickly went away after WWE acquired a more prestigious title.
WWE Canadian Championship
- Inaugural Champion: Dino Bravo (August 1985)
- Final Champion: Dino Bravo (January 1986)
- Longest Reign: Dino Bravo (157 Days)
The WWE Canadian Championship will be the first title we’ll be covering dying an extremely quick death after coming under the WWE umbrella. After joining the WWE in late 1995, Dino Bravo would begin being billed as the WWE Canadian Champion. He would leave the company five months later, and title would fade into memory.
The Canadian Championship is something I wish I could say more about, but with it existing for such a short time and only having a single champion, there’s not much to cover. With the Intercontinental Championship in existence at the time, there was little reason for the Canadian Championship to exist at the time.
WWE Intercontinental Tag Team Championship
- Inaugural Champions: Perro Aguayo & Gran Hamada (January 1991)
- Final Champion: Perro Aguayo & Gran Hamada (July 1991)
- Longest Reign: Perro Aguayo & Gran Hamada
Much like the early years of the WWE Light Heavyweight Championship, the Intercontinental Tag Team Championship would come from the partnership between the WWE and New Japan Pro Wrestling. The title would be very short-lived, much like the Canadian Championship, and would have only a single title reign. Because of this, I was unable to find a picture of Aguayo and Hamada with the belts.
This is another odd title to talk about, but with the working relationship between the WWE and New Japan dissolved, there was no reason for this title to stay active. Leaving the Intercontinental Tag Team Championship to live on as an answer to a WWE trivia question.
WWE European Championship
- Inaugural Champion: The British Bulldog (February 1997)
- Final Champion: Rob Van Dam (July 2002)
- Longest Reign: The British Bulldog (206 Days)
Wrapping up our first look at the inactive WWE titles brings us to one of my favorite undercard titles of the Attitude Era, the WWE European Championship. While this is a title that I have always associated with D’Lo Brown and, to a lesser extent, William Regal. The title had more than three dozen reigns in its five years as an active championship including the likes of Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, and Kurt Angle. Additionally, Shawn Micheals became the frist ever Grand Slam Champion when he captured the belt in 1997.
After its introduction, the title experienced a brief hiatus in 1999 after Shane McMahon won the title from X-Pac. The title would get a decent amount of attention for the next three years until it was ultimately unified with the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
The European Championship was introduced as part of a tournament that culminated in a match between the British Bulldog and Owen Hart in Berlin, Germany. The title would bring us a host of memorable matches and many of the athletes that would hold the title would go onto bigger and better things in the company, making the European title feel more like gateway title than the Intercontinental title at the time.
With six more titles to talk about, be sure you check back next week to see the remaining titles we’ll be talking about for the first part of our look back at wrestling history as part of Wrestling 201.