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Nine competitors who came back to win championship gold
The New Age Outlaws’ dethroning of WWE Tag Team Champions Cody Rhodes & Goldust at Royal Rumble may have prompted some members of the WWE Universe to invoke the word “fluke,” but it most certainly prompted chants of “You’ve still got it,” too.
After all, the huge title change — which brought the Rhodeses’ three-month reign to a close — came nearly 14 years after Billy Gunn & Road Dogg last held tandem championships in WWE, making it one of the longest gaps between title wins in WWE history.
Yet, The Outlaws are hardly the first Superstars to go years between title reigns. Check out this WWE.com list of nine title droughts to see where Gunn & Dogg’s tag championship comeback ranks historically.
Bob Backlund (3,985 Days)
Bob Backlund — part of the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2013 — arrived at greatness after defeating WWE Hall of Famer “Superstar” Billy Graham for the championship gold in 1978 and proceeding to hold on to it for almost six years. Only an injury could bring an end to Backlund’s successful reign, but few doubted he possessed the natural ability to get back on top someday.
After an eight-year break from the squared circle, Backlund came back to WWE in 1992 to try his throwback tactics against a new crop of Superstars. Now calling himself Mr. Backlund and hiding his unhinged attitude behind a business suit, the old school competitor finally regained the WWE Title from another WWE Hall of Famer, Bret “Hit Man” Hart, in a Submission Match at Survivor Series 1994 — just 10 years, 10 months and 28 days after conceding it to The Iron Sheik.
Randy Orton (2,427 Days)
When Randy Orton was drafted to SmackDown in 2011, he likely gazed into the mirror and asked himself one question: “Do I still have what it takes to take back what I lost?”
As a former seven-time World Title holder, The Viper had already proven his credentials as one of the most influential champions of the 21st century. Now, he needed to show his reputation was warranted to a roster of competitors that looked little like the one he faced upon becoming the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history in 2004.
Of course, WWE’s Apex Predator proceeded to challenge and defeat Christian for the World Heavyweight Title and held it for more than two months. The experience Orton received in the six years, seven months and 24 days between his reigns as World Champion only made the success that much greater.
The Legion of Doom (2,075 Days)
By the time the legendary pairing of Hawk & Animal took their particular brand of pain from WWE to Japan in the mid-1990s, they had already reached a level of success that few grappling partnerships ever realize. The team’s resume already included tag titles in WWE, NWA and AWA and left no one in doubt about their in-ring capabilities and larger-than-life personalities.
Still, the marauders in the spiked shoulder pads and iconic face paint hadn’t lost a step as they returned for their second tour-of-duty in WWE in 1997. Within eight months of their return — and five years, eight months and six days removed from their last taste of championship success in WWE — the Warriors returned to the summit by laying claim to the World Tag Team Titles once again after defeating The Godwinns on Raw on Oct. 13, 1997.
New Age Outlaws (5,082 days)
For years, whenever Road Dogg would introduce himself and New Age Outlaws tag team partner Billy Gunn before the WWE Universe for a bit of nostalgic fun, it seemed as though the “five-time Tag Team Champions of the world” line in his pre-match rallying cry was unlikely to need updating. After netting the World Tag Team Titles on five separate occasions between November 1997 and November 1999, The Outlaws lost the titles to The Dudleys on Feb. 27, 2000, and their days of holding tandem championship gold appeared to be over.
That all changed on Jan. 27, 2014, when The Attitude Era icons shocked Cody Rhodes & Goldust to win the WWE Tag Team Titles at Royal Rumble. The lineage of the WWE Tag Team Titles doesn’t link directly to the World Tag Team Titles they held in the late 1990s, but The Outlaws’ latest run is nonetheless remarkable, coming 5,082 days after they lost the World Tag Team Titles to The Dudleys. Though the complexion of WWE’s tag team division had changed completely by the time they regained the straps — gone were The Headbangers, Too Cool and The Hardys, replaced by the likes of The Usos, The Shield and The Real Americans — The Outlaws proved that ring generalship and knowhow are ageless qualities.
Christian (3,156 Days)
Christian’s 2012 Intercontinental Title reign may not have been his first, but it could be his most meaningful. After inducting his best friend, Edge, into the 2012 class of the WWE Hall of Fame, Captain Charisma confessed experiencing a “moment of clarity” that reset his expectations on earning championship gold rather than whining and complaining about lacking chances to acquire it.
When the “Peep Show” host defeated the relentless Cody Rhodes at WWE Over the Limit to regain the title, he got back where he fell off the Intercontinental Title track just eight years, seven months and 21 days after conceding it to Rob Van Dam. In doing so, the charismatic competitor added even more magic to an already prestigious symbol of excellence as well as his storied career.
Tommy Dreamer (3,333 Days)
Tommy Dreamer’s pursuit of the ECW Championship was a story of true redemption for a hardcore competitor who paved his own path.
Dreamer won and lost his championship gold in mere minutes and before a capacity crowd. After eight years of missed opportunities, The Innovator of Violence took the fight to Tazz to become the new ECW World Heavyweight Champion at CyberSlam 2000 — only to lose the title less than half an hour later at the same pay-per-view to Justin Credible. The renegade promotion folded one year later, taking any chance of an encore reign for Dreamer with it.
Or so it seemed. The WWE Universe witnessed a reborn ECW in 2006, and with the relaunch came a new ECW Champion to chase. The ECW Original struggled to make the most of the new opportunity and threatened to walk away from the company in 2009 if he could not seize the championship gold by WWE Extreme Rules.
That never happened, as nine years, one month and 16 days from his momentous victory at CyberSlam, Dreamer validated his hardcore heritage by winning the ECW Championship for a second time at the pay-per-view that served as the descendant to ECW One Night Stand.
Lex Luger (1,983 Days)
Before he was The Narcissist who was made in the USA, Lex Luger served as a WCW stalwart who regularly plied his trade against the likes of WWE Hall of Famers The Four Horsemen, Dusty Rhodes and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. After attaining success in the tag team ranks and as the United States Champion, Luger made it to the top by winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Bash at the Beach 1991.
After taking his talents to WWE for a few years, Luger returned to WCW in 1995 as part of the Alliance to End Hulkamania and later as one of the competitors looking to push back against the nefarious New World Order. His resistance did not prove futile, as The Total Package successfully won the WCW World Title back from the clutches of The nWo on an episode of Monday Nitro in 1997 that took place five years, five months and six days from the moment he surrendered the championship gold for the first time.
The Fabulous Moolah (4,468 Days)
The march of time can make any contender feel out of step against the titleholder they intend to challenge, but grapplers like WWE Hall of Famer The Fabulous Moolah show that true champions can remain forever young.
Moolah made herself a household name in the WWE Universe following an uninterrupted run as WWE Women’s Champion that lasted nearly three decades. She successfully held the coveted title for 10,170 days during her first championship reign between 1956 and 1986, and later added on 600 days in two ensuing reigns in 1986 and 1987.
Those achievements alone leave Moolah’s legacy without reproach, but the grand grappler decided to add one more chapter to her impressive story. It was 12 years, two months and 23 days after last holding the WWE Women’s Championship that Moolah clinched it for a fourth time at No Mercy in 1999. As she was 76 years old at the time of her triumph, she singlehandedly proved that no aspiring contender can use their age as a barrier to their success.
Terry Funk (9,066 Days)
Everybody likes a comeback story, and they got just that in the tale of Terry Funk. Following in the footsteps of his WWE Hall of Fame family, the tough-as-nails competitor displayed true grit while plying his trade in the NWA as well as in Japan during the 1960s and 1970s. He accrued countless victories and championship success while raising the bar for competition in the squared circle. Of those many achievements, it may be easy to miss the significance of his United States Title wins.
Funk’s first reign as United States Champion lasted all of 18 days in 1975, but it was his follow up that serves as a testament to the grappling icon. Twenty-four years, nine months and 25 days after his inaugural reign, Funk defeated Lance Storm at a Live Event in his hometown of Amarillo, Texas, in 2000 to win the United States Championship for a second time.