The Hardcore Championship Celebrates Three Years of Chaos
Originally published in the November 2001 RAW Magazine.
Three years ago this month, a World Wrestling Federation tradition was born.
On the Nov. 2, 1998, episode of RAW, Vince McMahon presented Mankind with the Hardcore Championship, trying to trick Mankind into thinking he would be the "Corporate Champion." At the time, the Hardcore Title was just a prop in Mr. McMahon's game of corporate manipulation, but three years later, it's still alive and kicking -- and has become a vital and can't-miss part of World Wrestling Entertainment programming.
"It's funny, because the Hardcore Title started as a joke by Vince McMahon on Mankind, but it has become one of the most hotly contested championships that we have in World Wrestling Entertainment," says Kane, who counts his Hardcore Championship win at WrestleMania X-Seven among his career highlights. "A lot of times, it's one of the best matches on the show, and it's definitely the match that gets the most 'oohs' and 'aahs.'"
The title probably wouldn't have taken off if not for the early defenses of Mankind, which were stunning in their brutality, and groundbreaking in their offense. And although the title was given to him as a joke, Mankind defended the title with the same heart, determination and focus as he would any other championship.
One of his early challengers was the Big Boss Man.
"I took the Hardcore belt from Mick Foley, and soon after that, Mick Foley won the WWE Championship," the Boss Man says. "That shows the level of intensity, the quality of people holding it. We had to fight to prove that this was a title worthy of being in World Wrestling Entertainment. To be honest with you -- and this is a quote from Mick Foley -- to be in the Hardcore matches and to hold the Hardcore belt, you had to fight and entertain as hard as you do for the world belt. It was extremely rough, because of the physical abuse that the body takes."
Another early Hardcore Champion was Al Snow, who would often take his matches through the backstage area and outside the arenas.
"I try to be as creative as possible in Hardcore matches, but a lot of the time it's a group effort," Snow says. "You see these Hardcore matches, and sometimes eight or nine people can get involved, and all of those people also have to be in on the creative process. I like Hardcore matches; they're fun and entertaining, but they really take a toll on your body."
One particularly memorable storyline took place following SummerSlam 1999, when Snow and the Boss Man were feuding for the title. Snow had been carrying a little dog to the ring with him, named Pepper. The Boss Man kidnapped the dog and cooked him up -- feeding Al some "Pepper steak." Of course, the Boss Man didn't really kill any dogs, but it made for a hell of a storyline!
"It was a fantastic storyline, and I still have people coming up to me to this day and ask me if I really did wring that dog's neck and cook him up," the Boss Man said. "If you check out J.R.'s cookbook, you can get the original recipe on how to fix Pepper Steak. You need a live Chihuahua and a bunch of baking grease!"
The Boss Man was involved in another memorable Hardcore Championship storyline later that year. The sick and twisted Boss Man made a habit of mocking the Big Show, as Show had to endure his father's battle with cancer. At the funeral, Boss Man interrupted the services, tied the casket to the back of the Blues Brothers car, and dragged it behind him through the cemetery.
"Out of everything I've done in the wrestling business, that was probably the top and most funniest thing that I've ever done," said the Boss Man. "I enjoyed it most because it was so over-the-top. Driving the Blues Brothers car, yanking the casket off the grave, making his mamma admit that he was a bastard on national TV -- you don't get funnier than that."
One would be remiss in writing a story about the Hardcore Championship without mentioning another early pioneer of the division -- Bob "Hardcore" Holly, the man named after the Hardcore division. Holly earned his nickname in the days following the St. Valentine's Day Massacre Pay-Per-View in February 1999, when he won his first Hardcore Championship by pinning Al Snow on the banks of the Mississippi River.
"That's really where my career took off as Hardcore Holly," said Holly. "That night was a really good night for me, because that was the break that I needed for my character to be created and finally get somewhere."
Holly's second Hardcore Championship reign began the following month at WrestleMania XV, when he upended Billy Gunn for the title.
"WrestleMania XV was the first WrestleMania I've been in since I've been here, so that meant everything to me," Holly said. "That stands out most in my mind as the highlight of my career as of right now."
The self-professed "Big Shot" would also make Hardcore history at WrestleMania 2000, when he won a 13-man Hardcore Battle Royal to regain his Hardcore Title.
The win was historic for more reasons than that. The Hardcore Battle Royal was one of the initial concepts of the "24-7 rule," a unique storyline which allowed the Hardcore Championship to be defended 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As part of the "24-7 rule," the Hardcore Title changed hands a record-setting 11 times at WrestleMania, culminating in Hardcore Holly's win.
Hardcore's cousin Crash was the champion when the "24-7 rule" began, and he was soon defending his title everywhere -- airports, arcades, hotels and even the circus! Crash became known as the "Houdini of Hardcore," after displaying his amazing ability to escape seemingly inescapable title defenses.
"The 24-7 thing was great," Crash said. "I had a really good time with it. No one can deny that the 24-7 thing was one of the most over things last year. It's something which had never been done before. It allowed for some good comedy -- some really fun stuff."
Another memorable Hardcore Championship moment came at SummerSlam 2000, as Shane McMahon defended the title against Steve Blackman. The Lethal Weapon chased Shane up the TitanTron, and hit the Boy Wonder so hard with a kendo stick that Shane fell 50 feet. And seconds later, Blackman himself jumped off the TitanTron and delivered a legdrop to score the pin and the title.
"People comment on that match constantly," Blackman said. "Everywhere I go, they ask me about that. He did take a hell of a fall -- falling backward makes it even more impressive, doing that on the blind. It was a rough match. It was a hard landing -- he landed harder than I did because he went further than I did. It's not all the time that people fall from that height. The people did seem to really pop on it."
As dangerous and breathtaking as the leap was, Blackman said he was in the zone that night, knowing the Hardcore Title was at hand.
"I felt OK up there," he said. "The worst part was just trying to turn around on that ladder all sweaty. While I was facing it and shimmying up it wasn't that bad. It was the turning around part, getting in position that was difficult. My hands were so sweaty because it was 15 minutes after the match started. But once my feet were planted, I was ready to go."
As 2000 ended and 2001 began, superstars such as Raven, Big Show and Kane took their turns holding the Hardcore Championship. But as spring 2001 came, a new trend started in the Hardcore division, as former ECW stars -- including Rhyno, Mike Awesome and Rob Van Dam -- began dominating the division.
"I think the ECW guys are a really good fit in the Hardcore division," said Van Dam. "I hope we can continue to raise the bar."
Van Dam and Jeff Hardy raised the bar at SummerSlam 2001, waging a memorable Hardcore Ladder Match.
"It was unique in the sense that, for a Hardcore Title Match, we used nothing but a ladder," Jeff said.
Part of the fun -- and challenge -- of the Hardcore division is to constantly come up with new ideas and surprises for the fans. What starts out as an original concept can quickly degenerate into a cliché if Superstars aren't careful. But the competitors say that coming up with new ideas is just part of the fun.
"I try to be as idealistic and creative as possible when I'm getting into a Hardcore match," Raven said. "See, a lot of people look at a wall and see a wall. I look at a wall and see something that someone can be thrown through. A lot of people ask me how I can possibly come up with something new and entertaining each time I go out there, and honestly, it's the fans. If the fans like what they saw last time, it really motivates me to find something new that they might like even more."
Blackman says that Hardcore ideas just come to him.
"I do my best thinking if I go home and I sit down and turn the TV and radio off and I just sit there and think," said the Lethal Weapon. "Then I'll pick up something like a garbage can and just think, 'How else can I use this?' Things just come to me. Not necessarily things with the weapons, because that's pretty much standard. But things with the garbage cans -- throwing 'em, kicking 'em, swinging 'em backwards over your head, dropkicking 'em -- I just sit around in complete silence and stuff just comes to me. I guess I'm just blessed to think of stuff to do."
Crash says that the psychology is also different in Hardcore matches. "I've always subscribed to the 'less is more' theory," he said. "If you go in the ring at the beginning of the match and hit the guy with a chair 50 times, it loses its meaning. Instead, you have to tell a good story. That way, you're more likely to get a better reaction, and less likely to get hurt."
Yes, the Hardcore Championship has come a long way in the past three years. Every show, the matches are more innovative, more breathtaking, and more explosive than ever before.
"It started out as a joke by Mr. McMahon, but I don't think even he realized it would turn out to be such a big part of the show," said the Big Boss Man. "I wouldn't trade any of my experiences in the Hardcore division for the world.
"The most fun a person can have in his entire life is to work here in World Wrestling Entertainment, and the Hardcore Title has only made it more fun."
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