Tale of the title
It is the most prestigious title in WWE history. It has been held and defended by some of the most dynamic athletes in the world, and has forever changed the lives of everyone who has proudly worn it around their waist. Now, its history is chronicled in a new book, The WWE Championship: A Look Back at the Rich History of the WWE Championship, on bookshelves now.
Far more than a mere chronological listing of past titleholders, The WWE Championship by Kevin Sullivan delves deep into the stories behind the most epic confrontations and memorable rivalries that helped shape the past, present and future of sports-entertainment. To tell these gripping tales of the squared circle, Sullivan reached out to the WWE Legends, Superstars and Hall of Famers themselves, speaking with the likes of Bret "Hit Man" Hart, Shawn Michaels, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Edge, John Cena and countless others who tell the tale of the illustrious title's lineage.
"It's a title history with the volume turned up," said Sullivan, who also penned the comprehensive WWE Encyclopedia. "There's stuff in this book that you're not going to find anywhere else."
Tasked with retelling nearly 50 years of WWE history in a single volume, Sullivan, a former WWE employee of 10 years, explained that the best approach was to treat the coveted title like a protagonist on a journey.
"It's a narrative, and the title is the character here," he said. "You start at the beginning and work your way to where we are today."
The unsung champions
"Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers. "Superstar" Billy Graham. Hulk Hogan."Stone Cold" Steve Austin. These are some of the names that immediately spring to mind when pondering the most influential competitors to hold the WWE Title. But in writing this book, Sullivan was determined to spotlight the WWE Champions that might be overlooked when considering the all-time greats.
Among the author's favorite WWE Title reigns? That of WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik, which lasted just under a month from December 1983 to January 1984. The reviled Iranian Superstar was defeated by none other than Hulk Hogan, who would be instrumental in transforming WWE into the pop culture juggernaut it is today.
"The Iron Sheik helped kick off Hulkamania, and he was the bridge between two eras," argued Sullivan, noting that the Sheik's first and only WWE Title reign ended the six-year supremacy of straight-laced silent assassin Bob Backlund before ultimately ushering in a new breed of flashy, ultra-charismatic Superstars. "On paper, that [Iron Sheik] reign lasted just a few weeks, but there was so much more that went into it."
Behind the Superstars
While doing research for The WWE Championship, Sullivan was overwhelmed by the surprisingly candid stories from numerous past and present Superstars whose lives were profoundly affected by the title -- even if they never held it in an official capacity. "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase was one such competitor.
DiBiase has always affirmed that everyone and everything has a price -- including the WWE Championship, which he attempted to purchase from titleholder Hulk Hogan in early 1988. When Hogan refused his brash proposal, DiBiase essentially bought the title from Andre the Giant. WWE officials refused to acknowledge that devious title "victory," but the WWE Hall of Famer told Sullivan that the moment he brought the championship back to his hotel room was nevertheless a powerful one.
"[The Million Dollar Man] said he put it on the nightstand and he was thinking of his father [fellow grappler "Iron" Mike DiBiase], who had passed away," Sullivan told WWE.com of one of the many emotionally charged passages in The WWE Championship. "He was thinking back to when he was a kid and his father would bring home his titles. He told me, ‘My father would have been so proud to see me with the [WWE] Championship.'"
Sullivan continued, "[During the interview], he was crying a little bit in his voice, and I was choked up just hearing the guy."
Also revelatory to Sullivan was WWE Hall of Famer Bret "Hit Man" Hart affirming that it was his fifth -- not his first -- WWE Title victory that means the most to him to this day.
"I immediately would have thought that the first time you win [the WWE Title] is the best time ever," Sullivan said. "He told me how important it was to have that amazing match with The Undertaker [at SummerSlam 1997]. To Bret, it was everything."
It was during that monumental contest that special guest referee Shawn Michaels attempted to assault The Excellence of Execution with a steel chair, a moment that would lead to one of the most talked about nights in sports-entertainment history: Survivor Series 1997.
Like all great championships, the WWE Title has at times been surrounded by controversy, and never was that more apparent than at Survivor Series 1997 in Montreal. There, Michaels defeated Hart for the WWE Title under dubious circumstances in what came to be known as the "Montreal Screwjob," a plot masterminded by Mr. McMahon to ensure that the departing Hit Man would not leave WWE as its champion. (WATCH)
When Sullivan spoke with both HBK and The Excellence of Execution about that fateful evening -- to which an entire chapter is dedicated in The WWE Championship -- the discussions were far different than the author had expected.
"If you look at it in the book, [Hart] looks at the ‘Screwjob' as a blessing almost, and HBK sees it as a negative in his career," Sullivan said. "You'd think it would be the opposite."
The WWE Title has and shall forever remain the grandest prize in sports-entertainment, largely because of the iconic warriors who have earned the right to call themselves "WWE Champion."
"When you win the WWE Title, you're in a fraternity with the most elite people who have ever stepped into the ring," Sullivan explained of the Superstars showcased in The WWE Championship. "This is what you're working for."
For more incredible stories as told by WWE Champions from all eras, order The WWE Championship: A Look Back at the Rich History of the WWE Championship by clicking here. To learn more about Kevin Sullivan, follow him on Twitter.