Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Night The Championship Changed Hands

Is there any greater thrill for a wrestling fan than seeing a championship change hands live before their very eyes?  The pin.  The pop.  The emotion.  It's one of the great concepts that makes professional wrestling the amazing spectacle that it is.  The big win is often the culmination of a long and arduous struggle.  Other times the win is completely out of the blue and shocks the fans as much as it thrills them.

The title change has also had many uses on the business end of pro wrestling.  Does a certain town need a shot in the arm?  Switch a title to prove that "anything can happen" and that the fans cannot afford to miss a single show.  Maybe a certain star needs a special moment to prove that they have what it takes to make it on top.

Regardless of the reasons, title changes are one aspect of the business that always make the proverbial "record books."  Whereas "wins" and "losses" weren't tabulated until fans began to do so a few years ago, some record was kept of most title changes.  In modern times, the images of these wins are the stuff that classic magazine covers are made of.  But what about a record from the night of the win. A printed listing of the match that would go on to make history.  That would be, of course, the program.

Wrestling event programs have become somewhat of a lost art.  What once existed at nearly every wrestling show in some way, shape, or form became a relic somewhere along the line.  As far as WWE goes, the company selling shows on the brand name rather than its stars often leaves paying fans wondering right up until belltime just exactly who will be on the show.  To its credit, the company does still sell a large, elegantly designed book at each event that is labeled a program, but it is usually devoid of match info.

The company has continued to produce an event-specific program each year for WrestleMania and has done similar efforts for a few select SummerSlam and Survivor Series shows of the past five years.  Of course, most pay-per-view event programs will contain a match where a championship changed hands, but none in recent memory were more grand than WrestleMania XXX.  Daniel Bryan's show-ending championship celebration was unlike most title wins seen in the modern era.  The fans wanted it, had rabidly followed the progression, and were absolutely ready to explode into their favorite one-word chant.

A month shy of thirty years prior to Bryan's thrilling win, another title change occurred that had roots tied both into real life and into the hearts of thousands of Texans.  The place?  Texas Stadium.  The title?  The NWA World Heavyweight Championship.  The man?  Kerry Von Erich.  Just a few months prior, David Von Erich, considered by many WCCW fans to be the next world champion, passed away suddenly.  At the first of several Parade of Champions events to honor David, Kerry went on to capture the title from "Nature Boy" Ric Flair.  The celebration is a video that needs to be seen in order to comprehend the fan reaction.  There's no doubt that many fans had program in-hand while celebrating.  The publication is a fun mix of modern and traditional wrestlng programs.  Like with much of what WCCW did, the program is ahead of its time by being oversized and printed on much nicer stock paper than was the norm at the time.  The then-recently deceased David is the focus of the cover, but the championship match and its participants are not forgotten.

Occasionally, it's the lineup sheet itself where the actual match info is located.  For many years, the WWF produced a program magazine sold at events that had the lineup sheet either attached or on an included piece of paper.  By 1998, the company had ceased producing the program publication and instead would print copies of their monthly magazine with a $5.00 price tag to be sold at events.  That is the case with King of the Ring 1998.  The event may be most remembered for two mind-blowing falls, but there was also a shocking WWF Championship change.  No one in the Pittsburgh Civic Arena or around the world expected Stone Cold Steve Austin to lose to Kane in the First Blood Match, but that was indeed the end of a shocking night in the Attitude Era.

Of course, the big switch doesn't always have to involve the main championship prize.  Tag team championships can be just as prized, and when you're talking decorated tandems, you have to mention The Midnight Express.  On the July 10, 1988 Great American Bash stop, Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane took the United States tag team championship from one of their best rival teams, The Fantastics.  In this instance, the manager of the Midnight Express, Jim Cornette himself, was suspended above the ring in a small steel cage and confined to a straight jacket.  It was a match-of-the-night candidate to be sure, as was usually the case when these two teams met.  Two different programs were sold along the 1988 Bash tour, but the one sold that particular night featured these two teams right on the back cover.

Programs are among my favorite wrestling items to collect.  Pinpointing them to a great match or moment sets them aside from the newsstand magazines.  If the particular show is on video as all of the ones mentioned here are, it's fun to peer into the audience and maybe catching a glimpse of what is now a collectible.  If we only knew then what we know now...

2 comments:

Johngy said...

Interesting post!

J\/\/ said...

Thanks, Johngy!