Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Five Count: Always Remember Your First

The Miz is WWE Champion. That's also my favorite sentence to write this week. The Miz's title win on Monday night got me thinking about how much fun it is when someone wins a World Championship for the first time, so let's take a look at my pick for the five best.

5. CM Punk
Defeated: Edge - June 30, 2008

CM Punk cashing in his first of two Money in the Bank contracts was shocking, out of nowhere, and really the signaling in a change of direction for WWE. Many people have argued that WWE is in the middle of a youth movement of sorts and I believe it began on June 30, 2008 when CM Punk won his first World Heavyweight Championship. Remember when Punk signed with WWE and the smarks cried about how he'd be a jobber and "future endeavored" within months? I remember reading an anecdotal story where a fan asked CM Punk at an autograph signing if he was worried he'd end up like Shannon Moore, and CM Punk reportedly replied, "Shannon Moore owns a house."



The internet cynics had written off CM Punk in WWE from day one, he was "laughed off" by Triple H and Shawn Michaels (still don't believe that story), and he was "in the doghouse" every other week. Despite all that, CM Punk has won the World Championship three times, is a firm fixture in the upper echelon of WWE, and is so damn good, they can't even fathom keeping him off TV during injuries. That all started with CM Punk cashing in Money in the Bank on Edge and giving the Ultimate Opportunist a taste of his own medicine.

4. Rob Van Dam
Defeated: John Cena - June 11, 2006

Another Money in the Bank cash-in, but to date, this is the only time the briefcase has been cashed in for an actual, pre-scheduled match in the main event of a PPV. RVD's first title win sticks in my memory so much thanks to the atmosphere surrounding it. The win was just in time for the relaunch of the ECW Brand, which didn't exactly work out like it should have, but thanks to the New York crowd at the second One Night Stand, firmly in RVD's corner, booing Cena mericlessly, tossing his shirt back to him, and the infamous "IF CENA WINS, WE RIOT" sign, it was the perfect send-off for the original ECW.

The original ECW was such an important part of wrestling history, it was sad to see it simply fizzle out, and while WWE's relaunch eventually became a great brand, it couldn't recapture the magic. The two One Night Stand PPVs gave the brand what it needed though - a reunion in 2005, and then Rob Van Dam finally standing tall as a World Champion one year later. RVD beating John Cena allowed ECW to go out with a bang, rather than the 2001 whimper.

3. Shawn Michaels
Defeated: Bret Hart - March 31, 1996

When I was growing up, Shawn Michaels became the first heel I really liked. Something about brutally throwing his best friend through a window just seemed cool to me at age eight. As Hulk Hogan's WWE career was winding down, Shawn Michaels became my new favorite wrestler, and to see him finally win the big one at WrestleMania XII was a big moment for me as a fan. It was one of those things that I never believed could happen until I saw it because I never wanted to get my hopes up about my favorite wrestler maybe winning the WWE Title. HBK was never the biggest guy in the locker room, but the WWE landscape was changing and the possibility of him winning the title wasn't too good to be true. And like a true champion, Shawn Michaels went on to become one of the greatest to ever step foot in the ring.

2. Mick Foley
Defeated: The Rock - January 4, 1999

Mick Foley spilled blood on multiple continents, lost an ear, and most horrifying of all, worked a pro-Eric Bischoff gimmick to get to this point. Whether he was Mankind, Dude Love, Cactus Jack, or just plain' ol' Mick, he had a connection to the fans unlike anyone else, so it didn't matter that he didn't look the part of a "traditional" WWE Champion.

There's a reason wrestling fans bombarded TIME Magazine's website to vote for him as Man of the Year, there's a reason why he was one of the most important characters of the Attitude Era, and there's a reason why he won the WWE Title in 1999, because Mick would do anything to entertain his fans, even if it was insane. Mick won the respect of his fans and his peers, and that made this title win all the more sweet, because everyone knew he deserved it.

And yes, it put butts in the seats.

1. Eddie Guerrero
Defeated: Brock Lesnar - February 15, 2004

There have been 102 WWE Title reigns, and of all of them, this one is still the most unbelievable, and I mean that in a good way. Eddie Guerrero was never supposed to be a World Champion in a major US wrestling promotion. He wasn't big enough, he had his personal demons and he just wasn't "that guy." When Eddie Guerrero and The Radicalz came to WWE, it was really a vehicle for Chris Benoit to make a big splash. Dean Malenko quickly retired, Perry Saturn never really clicked with the WWE audience, Eddie Guerrero would be a solid hand in the Intercontinental Title picture, and Chris Benoit would be the big name in the acquisition. Eddie Guerrero was even eventually released due to his personal issues.



But something happened when Latino Heat returned to WWE in 2002, he started getting matches with guys like Ric Flair and The Rock, and while we always knew Guerrero was a fantastic wrestler, we saw something new emerge: a main event performer. When WWE split the rosters, Eddie Guerrero steadily became the most popular wrestler on Smackdown, and it culminated with the impossible: defeating Brock freaking Lesnar for the WWE Championship at No Way Out 2004. While this was unfortunately Eddie's only championship reign before his tragic death in 2005, it will always be one of my fondest wrestling memories. It doesn't get any better than watching someone shatter expectations and become the most unlikely success story in the history of WWE.

Countdown to Lockdown: A Hardcore JournalWWE: Viva La Raza - The Legacy of Eddie GuerreroWWE: Shawn Michaels - My JourneyWWE - Rob Van Dam - One of a Kind

4 comments:

  1. Great list, it's interesting in the past year we ween 3 first time champs with Swagger, Sheamus, and Miz.
    Austin will always stick out for me, since I was a huge fan of him at the time and you knew he was going to beat HBK.
    Undertaker kinda of the opposite because I remember being an upset kid when Hogan lost, haha. But memorible to me nonetheless.

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  2. Austin and Jericho are definitely honorable mentions. Randy Savage belongs on the list too... almost regretting having two Money in the Bank winners on here, but no Macho Man.

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  3. I'm just a little disappointed that you didn't bring up the fact that Mick Foley's first title win was also the event that "put butts in seats" and caused audience to switch over from Nitro to RAW en masse. ;)

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