The first time a new world champion is crowned is a landmark moment for the WWE. It is a sign that the company is willing to put their faith into someone new: they trust someone different to be the face of the entire corporation. So how do they make sure they aren’t putting their faith into the wrong person? How can they definitely know they aren’t making a mistake?
Generally, potential stars are given the opportunity to work with the current champion – or someone else at the same level – to see what the reaction is. If Vince sees something he likes, chances are the potential star is given enough backing to be able to succeed and become a mega-star. How do I know this? I’m talking from experience. Below are a few examples of this process taking place.
This man is widely regarded as one of – if not the – best in ring performer ever. But who did he go up against to prove that he had what it takes to get to the top? Well his first ever WWE Championship match took place in 1992 – 4 years before he won the belt. That was against Randy Savage at the British PPV “UK Rampage” in April. Later in the same year, Michaels was again the opponent of Bret Hart as he defended the big one at the 1992 Survivor Series, in what was actually a champion vs champion match since Michaels defeated the British Bulldog for the Intercontinental Championship the previous month.
In his time away from the top of the card, Michaels proved his worth inside the ring, the most notable match being his IC Championship ladder match vs Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania X. He also, along with Diesel, won the Tag Team Championships twice, before the team split up when Michaels accidentally cost Diesel the IC belt. He won the 1995 Royal Rumble, which meant he would go on to face his former tag team partner for the bi one at WMXI. Despite having the debuting Sycho Sid as his bodyguard, he came up short in the match. He won the IC title for a third time in 1995, before finally reaching the summit by beating Bret Hart at WMXII in 1996 in the first ever Iron Man match after winning the Royal Rumble.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
He faced HBK for the title in the main event of live events in Germany in 1996; the matches were described as priceless by Jack Lanza, who also said they had to be seen to be believed.
Austin said that it was this series of matches that made him realise his “Ringmaster” gimmick was never going to reach the main event. Dropping that persona of course led to the creation of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. And it wasn’t too long before the King of the Ring tournament started, meaning that Austin 3:16 was about to take off!
Austin entered into a year long rivalry with Bret Hart which really pushed him over the line in becoming a true main eventer. This feud gave us one of the most iconic moments of Austin’s career (and of the company during the 90s) when, at Wrestlemania 13, Austin passed out instead of tapping to the sharpshooter in a submission match. Stone Cold’s feud with the Hart family continued when he focused his attention on Bret’s brother Owen and the Intercontinental Championship. During one match, Austin broke his neck when a piledriver went wrong – an injury that ultimately forced his retirement. But he did eventually recover to regain the title from Owen at Survivor Series 1997, before moving on to feud with The Rock, and Mr McMahon.
Austin dropped the IC title to the leader of the Nation of Domination, but exacted revenge by eliminating him to win the 1998 Royal Rumble; entitling him to a WWE Championship match against Shawn Michaels in the main event of Wrestlemania. Vince added a new dimension to the story though with the inclusion of Mike Tyson as the special enforcer for the match. The amount of hype and mainstream attention that the WWE got hadn’t been seen since the height of Hulkamania, and the crowning of a new champion was a passing of the torch moment for the start of a new era – the Austin era.
More recently however, the WWE has taken to giving people short title reigns to prove themselves, before building them up again in the future as main eventers with staying power…
CM Punk won the ECW Championship in 2007, won the Money In The Bank ladder match two years in a row at Wrestlemania, and cashed in successfully both times in 2008 and 2009. Throughout these two years he became a three time World Heavyweight Champion, totalling 160 days as “the man”.
He then spent a year and a half essentially away from the championship scene, although he produced the best work of his career at that point. He formed the straight-edge society, feuded with Rey Mysterio and the big show and delivered memorable promos during both the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber matches. Once Serena got released and Joey Mercury got injured, the group became a duo and soon turned on each other. Punk was traded back to raw after the group was disbanded. There he got injured pretty quickly, but he made the most of a less than ideal situation, by becoming the third member of the raw commentary team. There he could stay on TV so that he wouldn’t be forgotten by the fans, and his opinions on storylines meant a rivalry could easily be set up when he returned.
And set up it was. By attacking John Cena and aligning himself with the Nexus Punk moved back into the ring. He feuded with Randy Orton through WM before finally returning to the top and establishing himself as a main eventer for evermore with that promo. The rest, as they say, is history…
The Slammy winner for the breakout star of 2009 certainly made an impact in his early WWE career. It took him just 166 days to win his inaugural WWE Championship, managing to put John Cena through a table at TLC 2009. Although he lost it a couple of months later at Elimination Chamber, he regained the belt at Fatal-4-Way in June, with a little help from the Nexus. His two title reigns lasted a combined total of 161 days.
After losing the belt to Randy Orton, Sheamus won the 2010 King of the Ring (of which he is still the reigning champion) but went on a downward spiral after that. He scarcely tasted victory, losing to John Morrison in a number one contenders ladder match at the TLC 2010 PPV. One of these losses was to United States Champion Daniel Bryan after which he put his WWE career on the line for a title shot. He went on to beat Bryan for the US Title, but their rematch was dropped from the Wrestlemania card to the preshow, where it disintegrated into a battle royal.
Shortly after Wrestlemania, he was drafted to Smackdown in the 2011 Supplemental Draft. He lost the US belt to Kofi Kingston (returning the title to Raw), but soon turned face by way of dubious refereeing from Christian, and then facing up to Mark Henry for being a bully. This was the start of his ascent back up the card. He went on to feud with Christian – who ended his 14-match winning streak – and injured him in storyline keeping him out until around Wrestlemania time.
Although this left Sheamus without a feud (the world heavyweight championship was being fought over by Bryan, Henry and the Big Show; and Randy Orton was feuding with Wade Barrett) he went on a 12-match winning streak heading into the Royal Rumble this year. Of course, he won that too, and went on to beat Daniel Bryan for the WHC at Wrestlemania in 18 seconds – and hasn’t dropped the belt since. His current run as champion is the third longest WHC reign ever.
There is a tell all trend that can be seen going back nearly 20 years. I’ve picked out 4 examples here, but there are others. Jeff Hardy is one that comes to mind – he faced the Undertaker for the Undisputed Championship in 2003 in one hell of a ladder match, and had a friendly rivalry with HHH as well as feuding with Randy Orton in a year long build to his first world title win in December 2008. A couple of things I found interesting here is that 3 out of 4 won titles lower down the card before returning to a world title level, and Sheamus’ WWE Title runs and CM Punk’s World Heavyweight Championship runs lasted for practically the same amount of time. Maybe Vince needs to see a sustained quality over a pre-determined period of time to put faith in them again in the future.
Based on this, it is possible to guess who will main event in the future. Dolph Ziggler is an obvious one since he’s Mr Money In The Bank. Wade Barrett and Cody Rhodes – who both had excellent feuds with Randy Orton – should also be expecting to get their chance in the near future. And I can also see a return to the top for The Miz; incredibly his stint as WWE Champion also lasted 160 days.
Is this a trend you guys have noticed? Are there any other obvious examples I’ve missed? Who do you guys expect to breakthrough to the main event scene in the near future? As always, I want to know your views, and you can get them to me by commenting or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.