10 vacant World Championships in WWE history
What began with cheers of exultation at WrestleMania 30 ended with subdued gasps of disbelief when The Authority stripped Daniel Bryan of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Citing Bryan’s longer-than-expected recovery time following neck surgery, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon demanded a fighting champion physically capable of defending his title. Despite his omnipresent desire to compete, Bryan had no choice but to vacate his hard-won prize.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time the submission specialist was forced to relinquish championship gold —a hardship he shares with several elite Superstars throughout history. WWE.com recalls 10 landscape-changing instances where World Titles have been left without a bearer.
WWE President Jack Tunney vacates the WWE Title – Feb. 1988
In the midst of a twin referee scandal on “The Main Event” in February 1988, Andre the Giant was able to “pin” longstanding titleholder Hulk Hogan to capture the WWE Championship. The Eighth Wonder of the World then stunned the WWE Universe by turning over his newly acquired title to “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase.
As a result, then-WWE President Jack Tunney decided to declare the WWE Title vacant and rule that the next champion would be determined in a tournament at WrestleMania IV. Though Hogan and the giant would each receive a first-round bye, it was Randy “Macho Man” Savage who ultimately emerged as the new WWE Champion.
Mr. McMahon strips “Stone Cold” Steve Austin of the WWE Title – Breakdown: In Your House, Sept. 27, 1998
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s WWE Title was made vacant in 1998 by Mr. McMahon, in the wake of a controversial Triple Threat Match at Breakdown: In Your House. At that event, The Undertaker and Kane delivered a double-chokeslam to The Texas Rattlesnake and both simultaneously pinned the rebellious titleholder — leaving a clear winner undetermined.
While plenty of hell was raised by Austin over the held-up championship in the weeks that followed, The Rock would eventually capture the vacated championship gold in a 14-man tournament at Survivor Series 1998.
A Legacy attack renders Batista unable to defend the WWE Title – Raw, June 8, 2009
Just 24 hours after Batista overcame Randy Orton in a brutal Steel Cage Match for the WWE Championship at Extreme Rules 2009, The Viper unleashed a relentless Raw assault on The Animal, causing him to suffer a torn bicep. Batista was left no choice but to vacate WWE’s top honor, which his serpentine adversary ended up reclaiming on Raw a week later in a Fatal 4-Way Match against John Cena, Triple H and Big Show.
Shawn Michaels loses his smile and the WWE Title – Feb. 13, 1997
In February 1997, a knee injury forced Shawn Michaels to vacate the WWE Championship in a very emotional Raw address. Bret “Hit Man” Hart went on to capture WWE’s top prize in a Fatal 4-Way Match at In Your House: Final Four, defeating "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Vader and The Undertaker. Yet, his fourth reign as champion was only destined to last a mere 24 hours before he lost it to Sid on the following night’s Raw.
CM Punk walks out with the WWE Title – Money in the Bank 2011
Eight days after CM Punk left WWE with his newly captured WWE Title at Money in the Bank 2011, a replacement champion was crowned on Raw in Rey Mysterio. The Ultimate Underdog would lose the championship gold that same night to John Cena. However, before The Champ could celebrate, The Straight Edge Superstar re-emerged with his own WWE Title, setting the stage for an Undisputed Champion to be named at SummerSlam 2011.
The Viper sidelines The Champ to vacate the WWE Title – No Mercy 2007
An injury at the hands of his imminent No Mercy No. 1 contender, Randy Orton, in October 2007 brought John Cena’s year-long reign as WWE Champion to a sudden halt. As a result, the title was declared vacant, until Mr. McMahon awarded it to The Viper at the aforementioned pay-per-view. WWE’s Apex Predator would go on to lose the championship gold — and re-win it — that same night against Triple H.
Controversy strips Hulkster of the WWE Title – Dec. 1991
As the result of two controversial title changes in the ongoing rivalry between Hulk Hogan and The Undertaker in 1991, President Jack Tunney opted to strip The Hulkster of the WWE Championship. It would then be awarded to the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble Match — the first Rumble contest in history to help declare a new champion. That free-for-all showdown was won not by Hogan or The Phenom, but by “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. WOOOO!
Mr. McMahon relinquishes the WWE Championship – Raw, Sept. 20, 1999
With the unlikely aid of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon pinned Triple H to win the WWE Championship on the Sept. 16, 1999, edition of SmackDown.
The head of WWE would go on to vacate the title on Sept. 20, paving the way for The King of Kings to reclaim the crown a week later in the Six Pack Challenge at Unforgiven, where The Game overcame The Rock, The British Bulldog, Big Show, Mankind and Kane.
Edge bids farewell to the World Title and the WWE Universe – SmackDown, April 15, 2011
One week after valiantly defending the World Heavyweight Championship against Alberto Del Rio at WrestleMania XXVII, Edge was forced to make a difficult announcement on Raw: Diagnosed with a condition known as cervical spinal stenosis, The Rated-R Superstar revealed he would be retiring from in-ring competition. As such, he would have no choice but to relinquish his World Heavyweight Title.
Edge officially vacated the top prize in an emotional address on SmackDown, proclaiming that “it’s been one hell of a ride” before placing the World Heavyweight Title in the center of the ring.
Fast count leads to WWE Title abeyance – Raw, Sept. 16, 2013
Daniel Bryan might have defeated Randy Orton at Night of Champions, but it was a referee’s fast count that would tarnish The “Yes!” Man’s hard-fought WWE Championship victory over The Viper — the same Superstar who cut Bryan’s first reign with the title down to mere minutes at SummerSlam, thanks to a successful Money in the Bank cash-in.
Because of the referee’s actions, Bryan was forced to surrender his title to Triple H, who held the title in abeyance. WWE’s richest prize would remain without a bearer until WWE Hell in a Cell more than a month later, where WWE’s Apex Predator reclaimed the championship.