The chaotic chronicles of the Hardcore Championship
The very mention of the word “hardcore” conjures up such Extreme icons like Tommy Dreamer, Raven and, of course, the one and only Hardcore Legend himself, Mick Foley. But Gerald Brisco? Mighty Molly? Members of The Mean Street Posse? All of these competitors had one thing in common: They all held WWE's Hardcore Championship.
Taking a cue from ECW’s tremendous popularity of the 1990s, WWE introduced the Hardcore Championship in late 1998, but just a few short years later, the title had devolved into something of a no holds barred punchline. It was one of the elements that gave the Attitude Era all of that attitude, but what happened to the Hardcore Championship?
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The Hardcore Title was bestowed upon Mick Foley under his Mankind persona in November 1998 by Mr. McMahon. ( WATCH) At the time, the deranged Superstar had swapped his torn brown threads for a shirt and tie in an effort to impress The Chairman. In exchange, The Boss created the Hardcore Championship for Foley, who had gained fame in Japan and ECW by competing in some of the most brutal hardcore death matches in the history of sports-entertainment. The title resembled a battered and beaten former WWE Championship, fondly referred to as the “winged eagle,” only this version was in pieces and covered in duct tape. The championship’s rules catered to Mankind’s smash-mouth ring style, and stipulated that all defenses would take place with no disqualifications, no count-outs and with pinfalls counting anywhere.
The Hardcore Title turned out to be part of a larger scheme by Mr. McMahon, who turned his back on Mankind to crown The Rock his Corporate Champion. Later that month, The Corporation’s personal security force, The Big Boss Man, defeated Mankind in a Ladder Match for the Hardcore Championship and the title’s lineage had officially begun. ( WATCH)
The Hardcore Championship wasn’t designed to be a beacon of absurdity. It was a legitimate accolade for the grapplers who specialized in a unique brawling style. One of the most popular Superstars of the Attitude Era, The Road Dogg, was quick to target the new title and defeated The Boss Man to become the title’s third champion. The title’s first pay-per-view exposure came at the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre event where Bob Holly and former ECW favorite Al Snow took their battle into the nearby Mississippi River. ( WATCH) Holly became so enamored with the emerging ring style that he formally ditched “Bob” to become Hardcore Holly.
Road Dogg’s New Age Outlaws ally, Billy Gunn, noticed the success his partner had achieved and went after the Hardcore Championship himself, competing for the title in a marquee matchup at WrestleMania XV. Some fans might have viewed this as a demotion for the fast-rising Gunn, but to be featured in such a spotlight on The Grandest Stage of Them All is no small feat. And for a time, the Hardcore Championship was as desirable a title as any. It created heated rivalries, including an infamous incident involving Boss Man and Snow. ( WATCH) Unfortunately, that didn’t last for long, and the title soon went from revered to notorious.
Some might have said that by carrying a scale to the ring and insisting on being introduced as weighing more than 400 pounds, Crash Holly – Hardcore’s much smaller cousin — had an inflated sense of self. Some might have said that he was merely confident. But there is no question that he changed the course of the Hardcore Title forever. After reigning as champion for only one week, Crash vowed to defend the title 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And off to the races we were. ( WATCH)
Perhaps the crew-cutted blond was a little too cocky, thinking he could defend all comers at all hours of the day, but not even Crash could have predicted the bedlam that would immediately begin. The Mean Street Posse were the first to take up the offer. The very night the younger Holly made his vow, he was attacked in the arena’s parking lot by the khaki-clad crew. Crash managed to escape with title intact, but just more than a week later, Pete Gas scored a three-count at Newark International Airport. ( WATCH) This became the first of hundreds of title changes under the infamous 24/7 rule, and with Gas as champion, the title never again carried the same legitimacy. Over the following months, Crash fended off foes not only at baggage claims, but also at indoor carnivals ( WATCH), circus parking lots ( WATCH) and even in his own hotel room ( WATCH) — not to mention being pinned by one of The Godfather’s female associates for the title.
In one of the championship’s most notable moments, it was defended in a 13-man Hardcore Battle Royal at WrestleMania 2000 where it changed hands a total of 10 times. There is no doubt that while all things at The Show of Shows are bigger and better than anywhere else, this unprecedented occurrence did significant damage to the title’s lineage, as it would to any championship that bounced around that many times in only 15 minutes. True, the title was held by genuine hardcore staples like Tazz and the aforementioned Bob Holly, but it was also held individually by each member of The Mean Street Posse during the bout. It was just the first of many missteps for the once admired Hardcore Championship. Then came Patterson and Brisco.
Once heralded as two of the ring’s finest competitors, WWE Hall of Famers Pat Patterson, the first Intercontinental Champion, and Gerald Brisco became known as nothing more than Mr. McMahon’s bumbling lackeys in the despised Corporation in the early days of the Attitude Era. In the spring and early summer of 2000, the two “stooges” became obsessed with winning the Hardcore Title, and Brisco managed to do so by pinning Crash as the champion was taking a nap. Patterson and Brisco traded the title back and forth before settling their rivalry at that year’s King of the Ring event with, for some reason, an Evening Gown Match. Thankfully, Crash put the Boston crowd out of their misery by winning back the championship during the bizarre bout. ( WATCH)
Over the following year, legitimacy was restored to the Hardcore Championship. Steve Blackman, a man with a cold stare and martial arts prowess held the title for 50 days. It was the longest reign in nearly two years. And in one of the title’s greatest moments, Blackman faced none other than The Chairman’s son, Shane McMahon, for the championship at SummerSlam 2000. At the conclusion of the match, Shane toppled off the side of the event’s massive stage to the ground below, leaving an indelible image in the minds of WWE fans. ( WATCH) The title was once again, without a doubt, hardcore.
After the closing of both WCW and, more importantly, ECW, WWE gained an influx of veteran stars with hardcore experience. Mike Awesome, a former ECW Champion, made a shocking appearance on Raw in June 2001 and won the Hardcore Championship. ( WATCH) He became the first member of the so-called Invasion to win a WWE-sanctioned title. Raven, one of the most diabolical competitors to step foot in other organizations, won the Hardcore Championship a record 26 times. The intense Rhyno, the final World and Television Champion of ECW’s original incarnation, had three significant reigns with the Hardcore Title. When beloved Extreme hero Tommy Dreamer won the title, he adorned it with a New York state license plate.
Arguably the most popular ECW competitor of all time, Rob Van Dam, had four reigns as Hardcore Champion, including one for three months in fall 2001. Van Dam was defeated by the legendary Phenom, The Undertaker, at Vengeance. ( WATCH) The Deadman was one of the title’s most dominant champions during his two-month reign, and destroyed all competitors in his path until he was defeated by significant underdog Maven during a memorable bout on Raw. ( WATCH)
The short-lived credibility quickly came to an end. In spring 2002, title changes at non-televised WWE Live Events became the norm. At show after show, the title would bounce around in similar sequences before landing around the waist of the event’s initial titleholder. Shawn Stasiak, for example, is recognized as being a 15-time Hardcore Champion, but we can’t find one instance of him wearing the title on television.
If the title degenerated into something of a laughingstock — and don’t tell that to the impressive athletes who put their bodies on the line for the Hardcore Championship — it sure did go out with a bang. On the Aug. 7, 2002, edition of Raw, Dreamer won the title and the 24/7 rule was finally abandoned for good. One week later on Raw at Madison Square Garden, Dreamer faced off with fellow ECW Original and reigning Intercontinental Champion, Rob Van Dam in a unification match that was billed as “the final Hardcore Match on Raw.” Van Dam won the title to retire the extreme championship. ( WATCH)
But that wasn’t the last the WWE Universe saw of the Hardcore Title.
One year later when Mick Foley made his return to WWE, he was presented with the title in a framed case and officially became a Hardcore Legend. ( WATCH) After Foley and Edge battled in a no holds barred classic at WrestleMania 22, Mrs. Foley’s Baby Boy named both himself and The Rated-R Superstar, as co-holders of the Hardcore Championship. ( WATCH) It was absurd, but eight years after the title’s introduction, it almost seemed appropriate for a title that was intended to recognize the finest in utmost brutality.
With both Foley and Edge mostly retired, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see the Hardcore Championship defended again. And that might be for the best.