The Complete History of the WWE Championship - Part 12
WWE's decision to make Eddie Guerrero WWE Heavyweight Champion in 2004 demonstrated a change in the company's attitudes when it came to selecting what type of performer would headline its events.
At five feet six inches tall, Guerrero was at least a foot shorter than WWE's preferred template for headliners. He was no Undertaker, Rock or Stone Cold that's for sure. Although physically he did not measure up, he more than made up for it with his electrifying charisma.
His infectious personality endeared fans to him and following his title win, WWE were forced to re-evaluate their stance regarding smaller performers who could connect with an audience.
If Guerrero had not become champion, then it's highly likely that the likes of Edge, Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles and other smaller, slender performers would never have become World Champions in WWE.
Latino Heat unquestionably paved the way. His World title run was entertaining for sure and began with a bang when he upset Brock Lesnar at No Way Out on February 15, 2004. Although his feud with his conqueror JBL underwhelmed in the ring and at the box office, his reign remained significant. Guerrero delivered as champion but struggled with the burden and was genuinely grateful to JBL for succeeding him as the figurehead.
Guerrero's death on November 13, 2005, in many ways was even more groundbreaking for the company as a whole.
Guerrero's tragic demise led WWE to begin drug testing its performers once again (it had previously tested its wrestlers between 1992-96) for recreational and performance-enhancing substances. It would later employ stringent testing for concussions also. The health of WWE's performers has never been better in the years since.
Part 12 looks at WWE Championship reigns from 2003 through to January 2006.
Previous parts in this series can be found here:
Brock Lesnar (March 30, 2003 - July 27, 2003)
Brock Lesnar regained the WWE Championship in a dream bout between two former standout amateur wrestlers when he ended Kurt Angle's third reign as champion in the main event of WrestleMania XIX.
On a card that also played host to Stone Cold Steve Austin versus The Rock, Hulk Hogan versus Vince McMahon and Triple H versus Booker T for the World Heavyweight Title, it was an amazing show of faith by WWE to place the youngster Lesnar in the headline spot rather than the tried and tested veterans. That Angle entered the bout with a career (and potentially life) threatening neck injury was an even greater risk to WWE.
The 'Mania top liner was a sterling technical collision. However, Lesnar nearly paralyzed himself at the conclusion after a Shooting Star Press attempt went awry and he landed head-first into the canvas. An impromptu F-5 ended the bout instead.
Lesnar remarkably recovered quickly and next clashed with then mid-carder John Cena in an average match at Backlash one month later before next successfully retaining the title against a familiar foe, The Big Show in an amazingly exciting Stretcher Match at Judgment Day.
Angle had been sidelined since WrestleMania after undergoing neck surgery but returned in time to face Lesnar and Big Show in a triple threat encounter at Vengeance on July 27.
In a stunning encounter, Angle pinned Lesnar to end the champion's second WWE Championship reign.