Seven rare championships from the WWE vault
Championships aren’t anything new in sports-entertainment. Top grapplers have been wrapping leather straps around their waists since the turn of the 20th century when Estonian strongman George Hackenschmidt staked his claim as the best mat man in the world. Since then, an innumerable amount of titles have been promoted by wresting companies across the globe, from the prestigious WWE Championship to the unnecessary WCW World Six-Man Tag Team Titles. But what happens to all these championships when they're no longer defended?
As the WWE Classics team found out, some wind up on eBay, a few land in Larry Zbyszko’s rumpus room and an ever increasing number are acquired by WWE’s resident archivist Benjamin Brown. After spying Brown unwrapping “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s “Smoking Skull” WWE Title, we asked the archivist to let us inside WWE’s trophy case. After weeks of shameless begging, he eventually caved and we ended up with an up-close look at unique championships created for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Layla and more.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin's "Smoking Skull" WWE Championship
Long before John Cena introduced his contentious “spinner” redesign of the WWE Title, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin gave the coveted championship a “Texas Rattlesnake” makeover when he revealed what would become known as his “Smoking Skull” belt. On the July 27, 1998, edition of Monday Night Raw, Austin stomped to the ring for a confrontation with The Undertaker and brought with him his personalized WWE Title, which wagged a middle finger in the face of WWE history by replacing the classic WWE eagle design with rattlesnakes, barbed wire and a human skull. ( PHOTOS)
It wasn’t the first time the WWE Title had been modified. During his 1977 reign as champion, the flamboyant “Superstar” Billy Graham embellished his title with a flashy red leather strap. More than a decade later, Ultimate Warrior did the same thing, accessorizing the championship with purple, blue and white straps. But in Austin’s case, the revamp wasn’t approved by management. According to WWE archivist Benjamin Brown, “The Texas Rattlesnake” shelled out his own money for the title and shocked everyone when he debuted it in the ring. ( FULL WWE TITLE HISTORY)
WCW Tag Team Championship
It took the better part of an afternoon to unravel the mystery behind the sole WCW Tag Team Championship Ben Brown found hiding in the WWE archives. At first, Brown assumed the title came over during the 2001 WCW “Invasion” of WWE when teams like Booker T & Test and The Hardy Boyz competed for the Atlanta organization’s championships on Raw. But when looking through old photos, it became clear that those titles were similar, but bigger and bulkier than the version we had. ( PHOTOS)
And then Buff Bagwell’s mom sprang to mind. Earlier this year, WWE Classics did a feature recognizing “absurd champions” like former WCW Tag Team Champion Judy Bagwell. ( WATCH) An image we uncovered of Mrs. Bagwell wearing our championship helped us realize that our title was introduced to WCW in 1998. At that time, Kevin Nash & Scott Hall were clashing with The Steiner Brothers over the tag titles. After losing the championships in controversial fashion, The Outsiders claimed they were still the rightful champs and introduced these titles in an act of defiance. When Hall & Nash beat The Steiners, their new championships were officially recognized. As for how one of the titles ended up in Stamford, Conn.? Maybe Judy Bagwell knows.
The Rock's "Brahma Bull" WWE Championship
Don’t recognize The Rock’s “Brahma Bull” variation of the WWE Title? That’s not surprising. The championship which was designed as The Great One’s answer to The Texas Rattlesnake’s “Smoking Skull” title never appeared on Raw. And, according to a story that’s spread across the internet, it’s because The Rock’s championship was lost in the mail before it could be revealed.
If that was the case, then what the hell had Benjamin Brown been lugging around to show off at WWE Axxess events across the country? WWE’s archivist set out to investigate, but leads went nowhere and the WWE mailroom kept mum. Finally, he turned to his good friend Ata Johnson aka The Rock’s mother. The Most Electrifying Mom in All of Entertainment reached out to her son and reported back that the “lost in the mail” story was untrue. According to The Great One, the title never appeared on television for creative reasons. Instead, the “Brahma Bull” championship was stashed away at WWE HQ where it waited for more than a decade to make its debut here on WWE.com. ( PHOTOS)
The Fabulous Moolah's Women's Championship
When you’ve held a title for nearly 30 years, chances are you’ll make it your own. So it should come as no surprise that legendary female wrestler Fabulous Moolah embellished her Women’s Championship with a photo of her toothy grin during her staggering 28-year reign atop the ladies division.
Adorned with sparkling jewels befitting the classy Southern belle, the title, as Brown pointed out, is inscribed with the words: World’s Champion Girl Wrestler / September 18, 1956 / Baltimore, Maryland. ( PHOTOS) This date points to the night when Moolah defeated Judy Grable to become the NWA Women’s Champion. The WWE Hall of Famer would go on to defend her title through the presidential terms of Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter before losing the title to young upstart Wendi Richter on July 23, 1984. That seminal Ronald Reagan–era showdown was broadcast on MTV as “The Brawl to End it All” and garnered record ratings for the fledgling network. ( WATCH FULL MATCH)
And, although her untouchable record came to an end on that New York night, Moolah had the last laugh. As Wendi Richter pulled her newly won title to her lips for a celebratory kiss, she saw the smiling face of her wicked rival staring right back at her.
Undisputed WWE Championship
Yes, it was Chris Jericho who famously unified the WWE and WCW Titles at Vengeance in 2001 to become the first-ever Undisputed WWE Champion, ( WATCH) but Triple H was the first Superstar to carry this version of the championship. Following The Game's victory over Y2J at WrestleMania X8, Ric Flair presented the new champion with the sleek title, which was designed by New York–based tattoo artist Keith Ciaramello. ( WATCH)
By far the heaviest title that we shot for this feature, the Undisputed WWE Championship increased in size a total of three times during its existence in order to properly fit the heavy hitters who carried it like The Rock, The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar. And when The Next Big Thing became exclusive to the SmackDown brand in 2003, the Undisputed WWE Title once again became the WWE Title. ( PHOTOS) Its design would remain until 2005 when new champion John Cena debuted his signature “spinner” version of the championship.
Lay-Cool's bifurcated Women's Championship
Michelle McCool and Layla weren’t the only duo to share a singles title, but they may have been the first to slice a championship in half. In the weeks after Layla pinned Beth Phoenix to become the Women’s Champion in May 2010, the British-born Diva and her blond bestie Michelle began sharing ownership of the title. Although WWE only recognized Layla as the official champion, the ladies of Team Lay-Cool pushed their co-ownership of the title to the extent that they cut a lightning bolt down the center of the championship and split it in two as if it were a friendship bracelet. ( PHOTOS)
At Night of Champions 2010, McCool, competing as the co–Women’s Champion, defeated Divas Champion Melina to unify the two titles. With that, the Divas Championship became the sole prize for females in WWE and the WWE archives were left with a broken Women’s Title to display thanks to Layla and Michelle. ( FULL WOMEN'S TITLE HISTORY)
World Tag Team Championship
The most enduring image of WWE’s many title designs is undoubtedly the eagle. But while the bird of prey has been most closely associated with the version of the WWE Championship that was carried by Superstars like Hulk Hogan and Bret “Hit Man” Hart in the late ’80s through the mid-90s, it actually appeared on the Word Tag Team Championships before it ever debuted on WWE’s top prize. That version of the tag titles first appeared in the mid-80s around the waists of duos like The Hart Foundation and Demolition and lasted right through the “Attitude Era” with very slight alterations. ( FULL WORLD TAG TITLE HISTORY)
So where does the eagle come from? According to Brown, it’s Chief Jay Strongbow who deserves credit for introducing the iconic image into the title’s design. A key WWE employee after his tenure in the ring, the WWE Hall of Famer was the man who oversaw the designs of the new titles and requested that an eagle be front and center on the championship. ( PHOTOS)