In 1980 Vincent Kennedy McMahon founded Titan Sports and purchased his father’s wrestling company. Vince McMahon was the first wrestling promoter that would go against the territory systems that would designate a federation to a certain region and would distribute his television show and videos to a national, and eventually, an international audience.
Despite some competition in the 1990’s from WCW, the WWE has remained the number one wrestling promotion in the United States, which makes their World Heavyweight Title the most prized possession in pro wrestling. Here is a look back at the history of the WWE World Heavyweight title that currently resides on their Monday Night Raw program.
Bob Backlund’s Reign
Ask a WWE fan some of the greatest WWE Champions of all time and they are sure to list Hulk Hogan, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but Bob Backlund was the original dominant force in the Heavyweight Division. During the late 70’s Bob Backlund made his debut in the WWE, which at the time was the WWWF. Bob Backlund began a feud with the champion “Superstar” Billy Graham. Each time Backlund fought Graham he would get closer and closer to winning. First Backlund lost by count out, then double count out, then he won by count out. Finally Bob Backlund pinned Billy Graham for the WWWF World Heavyweight Title. While Backlund was holding the title it would change from WWWF to WWF.
According to the WWE Bob Backlund’s title reign went from his title win against Billy Graham in 1978 until 1983. However, Bob Backlund actually lost the title to Antonio Inoki in Japan. A week later Backlund would get a rematch against Inoki. Bob Backlund pinned Inoki in the rematch but the match was thrown out because of interference and the belt was given back to Inoki, but he refused to take it. When Bob Backlund returned to the United States he appeared with the title as if the whole thing never happened.
Whether the loss to Antonio Inoki counts or not Bob Backlund was the WWE Champion the better part of five years. Every good thing must come to an end though. The fans were starting to get tired of Bob Backlund’s long reign. Vince McMahon wanted to put the belt on a younger more charismatic wrestler but since he and Backlund were both faces, he needed a heel to be the transition champion. Bob Backlund went out without actually losing though. During his title defense against the Iron Sheik, Bob Backlund was put in the Camel Clutch. Backlund never quit or submitted but his manager threw in a towel causing him to lose the WWE World Heavyweight Title to the Iron Sheik. The Iron Sheik would only hold the WWE World Heavyweight Title for about a month before losing it to the young charismatic kid that Vince loved, Hulk Hogan
Hulkamania Runs Wild
On January 23rd 1984 Hulk Hogan pinned the Iron Sheik to win the WWE World Title and Hulkamania was born. Hulk Hogan caused an explosion in wrestling’s popularity. Hulk Hogan’s feuds often consisted of him taking on an opponent even larger than he is. Hulk Hogan would be in trouble to start the match as the bigger opponent over powered him. Then Hogan would get a second wind, fight back and overcome the bigger opponent. Hulk Hogan would hold the WWE World Title for four years before getting his biggest challenge ever.
A Giant Opponent
In 1987 the WWE decided to turn Andre the Giant heel because of his jealousy over Hulk Hogan. At Wrestlemania III Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant battled and Hulk Hogan defeated the giant after body slamming him. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase desperately wanted the WWE World Heavyweight Title but failed to beat Hulk Hogan on many occasions. Ted Dibiase then hired Andre the Giant to win the title from Hulk Hogan and then give the title to Ted Dibiase. Andre the Giant agreed and did defeat Hulk Hogan with help from the referee Earl Hebner.
The onscreen President of the WWE, Jack Tunney, decided that the WWE World Heavyweight Title could not be given to anybody and therefore Ted Dibiase was stripped of the title. Since Andre the Giant did pin Hulk Hogan he is considered to have a title reign, but Ted Dibiase is not. Around the same time Hulk Hogan had been wresting tag matches with Randy Savage as a team called the Mega Powers. They even had a tag match against Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant.
The Macho Man
At Wrestlemania IV a tournament was held to crown the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The Mega Powers, Ted Dibiase and Andre the Giant were all in the tournament. During a quarterfinal match Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan wrestled in a double DQ match. Their tag team partners, Randy Savage and Ted Dibiase would advance all the way to the finals of the tournament, where Randy Savage would win and become WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
Mega Powers Explode
Eventually there was dissention among the Mega Powers because of Randy Savage’s jealousy towards Hulk Hogan. Randy Savage would eventually turn heel against Hulk Hogan and hired Sherri Martel as his valet. The feud would come to a head at Wrestlemania V where Hulk Hogan would defeat Randy Savage to regain the WWE World Heavyweight Title.