Fifteen years ago, a tournament was held to unify eight cruiserweight and junior heavyweight championships from different organizations. The titles to be unified included the British Commonwealth Junior Heavyweight Championship held by Jushin “Thunder” Liger, the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship held by The Great Sasuke, the WAR International Junior Heavyweight Championship held by Ultimo Dragon, the WWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship held by Gran Hamada, the WWF Light Heavyweight Championship held by El Samurai, the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship held by Masayoshi Motegi, the NWA World Welterweight Championship (from CMLL) held by Negro Casas, and the UWA World Junior Light Heavyweight Championship held by Shinjiro Otani.
In the finals of the tournament, on August 5, 1996, it was the Great Sasuke reigning supreme by last defeating Ultimo Dragon. As a result, Sasuke became the first ever J-Crown Octuple Unified Champion, although the title itself is more commonly known simply as the J-Crown. The J-Crown only remained active and unified for a little over a year, with five different men claiming the title for their own during that span, all of whom had competed in the tournament to crown an inaugural champion. Despite the brevity of its existence, there was significant prestige placed upon the J-Crown due to the title’s nature.
On this date in 1998, WWE hosted the inaugural Fully Loaded pay-per-view under their now defunct In Your House banner. The Tag Team Titles changed hands in a star-studded main event when Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Undertaker defeated reigning champions Kane and Mankind, The Rock and Triple H wrestled to a time limit draw in a 2-out-of-3 falls match for the Intercontinental Championship, and Ken Shamrock was defeated by Owen Hart in a first-of-its-kind dungeon match with Dan Severn serving as the guest referee. However, the event is not remembered for any of these things. Instead, it’s most fondly recalled for the controversial “bikini” worn by Sable in her swimsuit contest with Jacqueline.
Sable was originally dubbed the winner by host Jerry “The King” Lawler, although the decision was later reversed and Sable was disqualified on account of not wearing an actual bikini top. Today, in a time when the wrestling world is a buzz over the potential reversion back to a PG-13 rating, I think it’s appropriate to be reminded of how edgy the Attitude Era was at times. This served to be one of the most defining moments of Sable’s career, and it became a symbol synonymous with the adult-oriented programming of the WWE in the late 90s.
In the Spring of 1997, the odd combination of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels became the World Tag Team Champions by defeating the British Bulldog & Owen Hart on an installment of Monday Night Raw. After reigning as Champions for nearly two months, the pair was forced to vacate the titles due to an injury sustained by HBK. Through a series of tournament matches, Bulldog & Owen won the right to face Austin & a partner of his choosing with the vacated straps on the line. Although Mankind originally volunteered himself to be Austin’s partner, the Texas Rattlesnake refused the help, citing that he “wanted nothing to do with that freak.” The baddest SOB in WWE history resigned himself to wrestling a handicap match with the belts on the line. When it came time for the contest, however, on July 14, 1997, Austin received some help from an unlikely source. Mick Foley, abandoning his Mankind persona for the first time since joining the WWE, danced down to the ring wearing tie-dye and sunglasses. Dude Love was born.
Dude Love and Steve Austin would win the tag team titles that night. Unfortunately, they were soon forced to vacate them when Stone Cold suffered a severe neck injury at the hands of Owen Hart. Dude moved onto a feud with Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and eventually transformed into Cactus Jack. After a few months on the sidelines, Austin returned and began his feud with The Rock. Meanwhile, also occurring on the July 14, 1997 episode of Monday Night Raw was Yoshihiro Tajiri’s first televised match in America, a losing effort to Taka Michinoku.
On June 13, 1993, WWE hosted its first ever King of the Ring pay-per-view. It was not the first installment of the classic tournament, but it was the first to be given its own dedicated, televised event. At the show, the WWE Championship was decided in a match that saw reigning Champion Hulk Hogan take on a massive challenger in the form of Yokozuna. Hogan connected with his trademark big boot on a number of occasions and even landed his Leg Drop finisher but was unable to pin Yoko. In the closing moments of the match, a planted photographer jumped onto the ring apron, and his camera exploded into the face of Hogan, stunning the Champion. As a result, Yokozuna was able knock the Hulkster to the mat and connect with a leg drop, securing the pinfall victory. This marked Hogan’s last appearance in the WWE for almost nine years as he would depart for WCW following the ’93 King of the Ring and not return again until 2002. Yokozuna & Mr. Fuji had succeeded where many had failed before in effectively killing Hulkamania.
The rest of the show obviously revolved around the actual King of the Ring tournament. Bret Hart, who won the tournament two years earlier, fought his way to the finals with wins over Razor Ramon and Mr. Perfect earlier in the night. Meanwhile, his opponent, Bam Bam Bigelow, entered the finals by defeating Jim Duggan in the first round and receiving a buy in the second round after Tatanka and Lex Lugar wrestled to a time limit draw. Despite his opponent’s extra rest, Bret Hart emerged victorious in the show’s main event, becoming the only man to ever win two King of the Ring tournaments.
On this date in 2004, John Bradshaw Layfield brought some of the worst publicity possible unto the WWE. At a live event in Munich, Germany days before, Layfield performed a Nazi goose step during a tag team match in an attempt to generate heat from the crowd. The gesture, which is actually an arrestable offense in Germany, greatly offended members of the live crowd, and days later, the inappropriate behavior made news world-wide. When pictures surfaced of the taunt in question, the WWE issued a statement apologizing for the debacle and assuring that JBL had been reprimanded. Although he faced no real consequences from the WWE, the rest of the media were not so forgiving.
On June 8, 2004, CNBC issued a statement regarding the objectionable action. Layfield had been serving as a financial analyst for the network for the preceding few weeks but found himself on the outs after his Nazi salute. “CNBC has terminated its relationship with John “Bradshaw” Layfield following his conduct this past weekend in a wrestling match”, said the issued statement. “We find his behavior to be offensive, inappropriate and not befitting anyone associated with our network.” JBL’s explanation for his choice to display such mannerisms was not what you’d describe as apologetic. “I’m a bad guy [on WWE TV],” explained Bradshaw, “I’m supposed to incite the crowd. I’ve done [the Nazi salute] for decades.”
On this date in 1988, a man took the first step towards achieving his boyhood dream. During a WWF taping in Oakland, California, a young tag team known as The Rockers made their television debut. The flashy duo earned a victory over Iron Mike Sharpe & The Intruder with a double team high cross body block, but the real story wasn’t the outcome of the match. No, the world was granted its first look at Shawn Michaels, and that surely trumped anything else that transpired that day. The Heartbreak Kid would go on to lead a Hall of Fame career, contributing in no small part to turning WrestleMania into the spectacle that it is today and paving the way for talented grapplers without the classic comic book physique to claw their way to the top of the mountain. And it all started on June 1, 23 years ago.
Interestingly, Shawn Michaels and partner Marty Jannetty weren’t the only wrestlers making their television debut on that fateful summer night. Joining them was the Big Bossman, who made his first WWF appearance with a win over Louie Spicolli via a big sidewalk slam. I could be wrong, but I certainly can’t remember a day when multiple superstars of this caliber all made their television debut.
Fifteen years ago today, the face of professional wrestling as we know it was changed forever. It was during the May 27, 1996 edition of WCW Monday Nitro that Scott Hall interrupted a match between Steve Doll and The Mauler. Hall, who had wrestled as Razor Ramon in the World Wrestling Federation just weeks prior, appeared unannounced on Nitro, declaring himself to be an Outsider. He entered the ring in his street clothes and cut a promo about waging war on World Championship Wrestling. Fans couldn’t discern what was fact and what was fiction, the commentators were stunned, and everyone in the WCW locker room was put on notice. The most successful storyline of professional wrestling’s modern era was underway.
Two weeks after Hall’s debut, the Bad Guy was joined by Kevin Nash, best known to fans at the time as former WWF Champion Diesel. The pair, collectively known as the Outsiders, were portrayed as invaders sent by the WWF to infiltrate Ted Turner’s WCW. Although the myth of them working for Vince McMahon was eventually debunked, they continued their war against World Championship Wrestling. At Bash at the Beach in July of ’96, Hall & Nash were joined by Hulk Hogan, and the New World Order was born. The nWo was the driving force behind the Monday Night Wars – it was what propelled WCW past the WWF, and it was eventually one of the causes of the company’s demise. Six years following Hall’s debut in WCW, he returned to the WWE along with Nash & Hogan, resuming the nWo gimmick. Although that was the last true incarnation of the New World Order, their legacy can still be witnessed in the way professional wrestling stables are constructed today.