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The Complete History of the WWE Championship - Part 3

The Ultimate Warrior: Career peaked at Wrestlemania VI
The Ultimate Warrior: Career peaked at Wrestlemania VI
Paul Benson

Hulk Hogan became the second man, after Bruno Sammartino, to win the WWE Championship on more than one occasion when he defeated Macho Man Randy Savage in the main event of Wrestlemania V.

However, when Hogan defeated Savage, plans were already being put in place for a successor. Not just as WWE Champion, but for figurehead of the entire company.

Hogan had been "The Man" in WWE since January 1984 (Becky Lynch hadn't even been born yet). For the rest of the decade, he was the biggest star in the company and the most well known wrestler on the planet.

Merchandise bearing his likeness, movies and even a cartoon series called Hulk Hogan's Rock n Wrestling, which ran from 1985 to 1987, dominated the mainstream. Hogan was a major league celebrity and he and WWE were a box office sensation.

However, Hogan's fame afforded him some perks in terms of his wrestling schedule. While every other WWE performer worked a full time schedule, of up to six matches per week, Hogan's house show schedule was extremely light.

Hogan was now in his mid 30's, and Vince McMahon was looking for a younger alternative, one who would be dedicated to the cause full time, without outside distractions.

His choice: The Ultimate Warrior.

Warrior's crowd responses were almost as loud as Hogan's and his merchandise sales were comparable also.

Warrior had lost the Intercontinental Championship on the undercard of WrestleMania V to Rick Rude, and would regain it from him at SummerSlam in August 1989. Warrior's rise to main event status was almost complete.

At WrestleMania VI on April 1, 1990, Warrior's journey to the top was completed as he supplanted Hogan as WWE's top star. However, his role as company figurehead was to be short-lived.

In the third part of my series - part 1 and part 2 can be found here - I will cover the reigns of Warrior through to Hulk Hogan's record breaking, albeit short lived, fourth WWE Championship run.

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Hulk Hogan (April 2, 1989 - April 1, 1990)

Hulk Hogan en route to winning his second WWE Championship at Wrestlemania V
Hulk Hogan en route to winning his second WWE Championship at Wrestlemania V

Macho Man Randy Savage was the ultimate professional in early 1989.

Despite his hugely successful title reign, both in the ring and at the box office, he willingly complied with Vince McMahon's plan to relieve him of the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania V.

Unlike Superstar Billy Graham, who had sought to delay his title loss to Bob Backlund, Savage adhered to the script, despite the loss of earnings it would mean to him.

However, his loyalty earned substantial benefits at WrestleMania V. The Savage/Hogan title match pulled a new pay per view record of 750,000 buys; a colossal number that would not be surpassed for a full decade.

The story line reason for Savage turning on his buddy Hogan to set up the title bout was jealousy. Savage incorrectly believed that Hogan had designs on his real life wife, Miss Elizabeth. The green eyed monster exploded on the February 3, 1989 when Savage attacked Hogan backstage .The WWE Champion's maniacal performance still retains it's power when viewed three decades later.

A sell out crowd of 18,946 was on hand at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City to witness Hogan pin Savage to win his second WWE Championship.

It was a very popular result and Hogan was still box office gold and justified McMahon's decision to relieve Savage of the belt.

So successful was the Hogan/Savage encounter, though, that WWE decided to run re-matches in all of it's major markets over the next few months.

Hogan's next opponent was the polar opposite of Savage in every way. That man was actor, Tom "Tiny" Lister AKA Zeus.

Zeus had been a character in the WWE financed movie, No Holds Barred, which had starred Hogan and Lister as opposing wrestlers.

The story line was that Zeus and Hogan had developed a real life rivalry on the film set and now Zeus wanted to prove that he was tougher than the WWE Champion.

It was a bonkers premise but one that proved to be a financial success. SummerSlam and Survivor Series, both built around the Hogan/Zeus feud pulled 575,000 and 380,000 buys respectively.

A non-worker, Zeus performed admirably in each of his bouts with Hogan, that were usually contested under tag team rules, to ease the burden on the inexperienced Zeus.

Hogan's next opponent, Mr Perfect, in contrast to Zeus, was a superlative in-ring performer. However, the much smaller Perfect was not deemed by fans to be a threat to Hogan and despite their excellent matches, their feud did not draw.

The 1990 Royal Rumble event was promoted around their feud and pulled a paltry 260,000 orders. Suffice to say, the box office king, Hogan did not shoulder the blame.

Switching gears, WWE decided to pit Hogan versus fellow muscleman babyface sensation, The Ultimate Warrior, at WrestleMania VI, who McMahon quickly decided was Hogan's heir apparent to the WWE throne.

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The Ultimate Warrior (April 1, 1990 - January 19, 1991)

The Ultimate Warrior: Lacked Hulk Hogan's box office magic
The Ultimate Warrior: Lacked Hulk Hogan's box office magic

WrestleMania VI at the Toronto SkyDome played host to a rare babyface versus babyface encounter between WWE Champion Hulk Hogan and Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior.

The pair had squared off briefly in the 1990 Royal Rumble. Their exchanges completely overshadowed Hogan's interactions with Mr. Perfect, who had been promoted as Hogan's biggest threat to win that bout prior to the super-card.

Hogan had to drop the belt at WrestleMania, as he was due to film the movie, Suburban Commando, following the show. Instead of a transitional champion, Vince McMahon decided that Warrior should cleanly pin the man he was set to replace as WWE's number one star instead.

The result was a shock on the night. Hogan had not lost cleanly since he returned to WWE in December 1983.

It was meant to be a career moment for Warrior, but Hogan, fearing that Warrior could well supplant him as WWE's top earning star permanently, decided to steal the new champion's spotlight.

Hogan in his autobiography, Hollywood Hulk Hogan, was astonishingly candid when he described his behaviour following his title loss. Hogan said: "At the end of the night, the referee was supposed to get the belt from the timekeeper and give it to Ultimate Warrior. But this was my chance to steal back everything he had gotten from me... I zipped over to the timekeeper... I walked up on the ring apron with the belt, looked up to God, shook my head yes, walked into the ring and handed Ultimate Warrior the belt. As I left the arena, 68,000 people in the SkyDome watched me go. Ultimate Warrior held the belt over his head in victory and no one cared."

Indeed, Hogan had intentionally sabotaged Warrior's big moment.

Shockingly, WWE were to do Warrior no favors, either. The new champion was booked against Rick Rude, whom he had already feuded with for the majority of 1989, and Mr Perfect, who had failed to draw with golden goose, Hogan.

Warrior also failed to develop his in-ring skills or promo work during his reign and when his drawing power failed to meet expectations, the decision was made to relieve Warrior of the belt.

Hogan was set to return to the summit of WWE once more.

However, there would be a transitional reign between Warrior and the Hulkster. McMahon had hoped to book a re-match between Warrior and Hogan at WrestleMania VII, wherein Warrior would lose the strap. Warrior, however, refused to comply. Feeling (rightly) that he had been disrespected by Hogan at WrestleMania VI, Warrior would not agree to lose the WWE Championship to him.

Therefore, the most shocking WWE Champion of the 20th century was set to be crowned instead; a champion who would attract boatloads of negative headlines for the company.

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Sergeant Slaughter (January 19, 1991 - March 24, 1991)

Sgt Slaughter: Transitioned the title from Ultimate Warrior to Hulk Hogan
Sgt Slaughter: Transitioned the title from Ultimate Warrior to Hulk Hogan

Sergeant Slaughter had been a big star in the 1970s and 1980s as a preacher of American pride and supporter of the troops. He was also famous for competing in a number of dynamic, well received Boot Camp Brawls during his previous run in WWE.

However, when he returned to the company in August 1990, he had undergone a startling personality shift. The once great patriot had now renounced his American patronage and instead pledged allegiance to Iraq, with whom the United States politically had extensive tensions.

The gimmick backfired when war broke out between the two countries and the mainstream media who had historically been kind to the company were now inflicting mountains of bad press on WWE, whom they believed were attempting to profit from the Gulf War.

Nevertheless, WWE persevered with Slaughter's new character and he shockingly upset Ultimate Warrior to win the title at the 1991 Royal Rumble, with assistance from Macho King, Randy Savage who cracked Warrior over the head with his scepter, Setting up their own memorable encounter at WrestleMania VII.

It was a stopgap reign, one that existed solely to transition the belt from Warrior to Hogan. That title match was set for the main event of WrestleMania VII.

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Hulk Hogan (March 24, 1991 - November 27, 1991)

Hulk Hogan: The first three time WWE Champion
Hulk Hogan: The first three time WWE Champion

Hulk Hogan was part of the main event of WrestleMania for the sixth time in seven years at WrestleMania VII. However, the event drew poorly in comparison to Hogan's previous WrestleMania title matches.

The card pulled a paltry 365,000 buy rate, considerably less that WrestleMania VI's 550,000 buys and WrestleMania V's 750,000 orders. WWE did not sell out the modest 16,000 Los Angeles Sports Arena either.

Regardless of the poor numbers, which were due entirely to the bad press surrounding Sergeant Slaughter's Iraqi sympathizer gimmick, Hogan was now champion once again. Lost in the controversy, was that Hogan's title win made him the first three time WWE Champion in company history.

However, at 38 years of age, Hogan's reign was to be a stop gap also, as Vince McMahon searched for another replacement for his star draw to lead him into the future. McMahon's choice as Hogan's successor? Sid Eudy, formerly Sids Vicious and Justice and eventually a "Syco". However, much like Warrior, that plan would not work out either.

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The Undertaker (November 27, 1991 - December 3, 1991)

The Undertaker: Upset Hulk Hogan at the 1991 Survivor Series
The Undertaker: Upset Hulk Hogan at the 1991 Survivor Series

The 1991 Survivor Series was the first edition of the Thanksgiving pay per view to play host to a WWE Championship match-up.

It pitted three time WWE Champion Hulk Hogan against the undefeated Undertaker. Dubbed the "Gravest Challenge", 'Taker was portrayed as a huge threat to Hogan's title.

However, despite the promotion, it still came as a colossal shock when The Undertaker pinned Hogan to win his first WWE Championship, just 12 months after his WWE debut.

The title match was designed to set the stage for a Hulk Hogan versus Ric Flair bout, tentatively scheduled for WrestleMania VIII, four months later. A longtime NWA stalwart, Flair had joined WWE while still recognised as NWA World Champion in July 1991.

Flair had declared himself the "real World's Champion" and paraded the NWA strap on WWE television until the NWA threatened legal action and Flair agreed to return the title belt.

The goal was to set up a title match for Hogan's WWE Championship and in order to set the stage for that mega bout, Flair interfered in the Survivor Series title match-up and cost Hogan the belt, after introducing a steel chair to the match, which 'Taker duly Tombstoned the Hulkster on.

The Undertaker shockingly was World Champion. However, Hogan would soon be granted the opportunity to even the score with the Deadman.

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Hulk Hogan (December 3, 1991 - December 4, 1991)

Hulk Hogan: Terminated The Undertaker's six day reign as WWE Champion
Hulk Hogan: Terminated The Undertaker's six day reign as WWE Champion

Hulk Hogan received an immediate rematch with The Undertaker, who had defeated him (with a little help from Ric Flair and a steel chair) at the 1991 Survivor Series.

This Tuesday in Texas took place six days after the super-card and was an experiment to see whether Tuesday night would work as a wrestling pay per view night, with limited promotion (the card had not been announced until the Survivor Series broadcast). It wasn't successful and WWE would not promote another pay per view event on a Tuesday night until October 2004 (that also didn't work out).

Hogan won a record extending fourth WWE Championship in controversial fashion, after he uemptied the contents of Paul Bearer's urn and threw them into The Undertaker's face, before delivering his patented Legdrop for the victory.

However, WWE President, Jack Tunney was so dismayed by Hogan's tainted win that he stripped the champion of the title the following day and announced that the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble would be declared the new WWE Champion.

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Part 4 is coming soon, and we'll look at the winner of that Royal Rumble plus the rise of a brand new star.

Edited by Kevin C. Sullivan

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