Hi folks! Today, we’re talking about WWE finally bursting its universal bubble with a prick of cross promotion. To my surprise, it was announced on last night’s SmackDown that the Impact Wrestling Knockouts Champion Mickie James will feature in this year’s Royal Rumble. She also works for the NWA, with her biggest contribution being the booker of the all women’s PPV EmPowerrr.
With WWE mentioning James as the Knockouts Champion, it has led to speculation over whether she’ll appear at the Royal Rumble with the title. Of course, this depends on her retaining against Deonna Purrazzo at Hard To Kill. As lovely as she is, we’re not here to talk about Mickie James. Instead, we’re going on a time traveling adventure to find three times when WWE featured another promotion’s championship. Before we do, let me tell you what won’t count.
– After WCW & ECW closed its doors, WWE staged an “invasion”. No, this was not an actual invasion, and the WCW Championship’s had become property of the WWF. They were not featuring another promotion’s titles because they were dead. Management did this to create a WCW show under the WWF banner, but a Buff Bagwell vs. Booker T match soured Vince McMahon’s vision. They soon unified the WCW titles with their WWF counterparts, which are likely gathering dust somewhere in a warehouse.
– When the WWF worked with ECW in 1997, there was a mini invasion famously known for Jerry Lawler calling the promotion “Extremely Crappy Wrestling”. Despite featuring ECW wrestlers on shows and PPVs, it featured none of its championships. Raven & Terry Funk were the World Champions, while Shane Douglas held the TV title. They featured none of them on WWF TV, as Rob Van Dam, Sabu, The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer and others were used instead. The Eliminators were the tag team champions, but were used mostly as bodyguards for their ECW brothers. You know, just in case anything wild happened.
– When WWE revived ECW, it brought back the original ECW title for a short time. After they made Rob Van Dam vacate it after One Night Stand, they dumped the old belt and introduced a new black design, which no one fondly remembers. Again, it doesn’t count because WWE owns the rights to ECW.
– The World Wrestling Federation was keen to survive in the changing landscape of the 70s and 80s. To keep relevant, it allowed Superstar Billy Graham & Bob Backlund to travel the world and compete in champion vs. champion matches. None of them had a decisive finish. Billy Graham fought the NWA World Champion Harley Race at the Superbowl of Wrestling. Later that same year, Bob Backlund fought the NWF Champion Antonio Inoki twice in Japan. He would later challenge Ric Flair for the NWA World title in 1982. All these matches happened in other promotions, so it doesn’t count in my book.
– In 1979, when Antonio Inoki defeated Backlund for the WWF title in Japan, the WWF did not officially recognize it. The history books describe this as a phantom reign, and Inoki never returned to America with the title. Management did everything to show that Backlund’s reign went interrupted.
– During the partnership with New Japan, the WWF made a title just for Antonio Inoki, so he wouldn’t defend any from his promotion. This was the WWF Martial Arts Championship, and Inoki defended it in “shoot fights”.
– Again, during the partnership with New Japan, the WWF introduced titles which found their way over to Japan at some point. This included the WWF Junior Heavyweight Championship, famously known for its groundbreaking matches between Dynamite Kid & Tiger Mask. This doesn’t count because it’s featuring new titles with the sole purpose of being defended in Japan to gain exposure.
I think that covers everything? It’s possible I may have overlooked something, so there could be an edit if any examples are provided. With that said, let’s finally get to the three times WWE featured another promotion’s championship on TV.
#3. Ric Flair as the NWA World Heavyweight Championship (1991)
You may know the circumstances between Ric Flair’s departure from NWA/WCW in 1991, but just in case you don’t. WCW President Jim Herd wanted to pay Ric Flair less money. He also wanted Ric to change his gimmick by becoming a gladiator called Spartacus, so he could apparently “change with the times”. Predictably, Flair wasn’t having any of that and refused. Before the Great American Bash, Herd fired Flair and vacated the WCW Championship.
Now, the Big Gold Belt was representing the lineage of the WCW and the NWA World titles. Therefore, while WCW no longer recognized Flair as champion, NWA continued to do so from his departure in July, up to September 8th. Flair signed with the WWF in August, and his manager Bobby Heenan brought the “Real World Title” with him. So for a short time, the WWF allowed Heenan to refer to Flair as the NWA World Champion (& Real World’s Heavyweight Champion) on TV. Flair didn’t appear in person until a Prime Time Wrestling show on September 9th, and stood with the physical belt.
As far as I know, this hadn’t happened before. WCW tried to sue Flair for taking the title with him, but a loophole stated he had the legal right to hold it because he had put down a deposit. This sum of $25,000 needed to be returned to him, with interest, before any handing over of the title could happen. Flair stopped appearing with the belt, and instead used a World Tag title, which they blurred out on TV to cover themselves. WCW did not get its title back til the following year.
With the WWF playing a part in Flair’s shot fired at WCW, it would have later consequences. Eric Bischoff got one back on Vince McMahon by having Alundra Blayze (aka Madusa) drop the WWF Women’s title in the trash on Nitro.
I believe this incident induced some paranoia in Vince McMahon, when Bret Hart suggested he could leave the company while holding the WWF title. He had seen this story before. McMahon did everything in his power to stop the possibility of Bret Hart appearing as the “real World Champ” on Nitro, leading to the infamous Montreal Screwjob.
#2. Tazz as the ECW World Heavyweight Championship (2000)
Mike Awesome screwed ECW by signing with WCW while holding their world title, which needed an odd solution to rectify. Awesome had nuclear heat with the ECW roster, so he could not drop the title to any of them because they would likely hurt him for real. As Paul Heyman and Vince McMahon had worked before, they came to the solution of sending Tazz. At the Cyberslam PPV, while still contracted to the WWF, Tazz defeated Mike Awesome for the ECW title.
For a short time, Tazz appeared on WWF TV with the title. On SmackDown, he surprised the WWF Champion Triple H and challenged him to a match, which he lost. Vince McMahon later expressed some regret over the way he booked it. WWE’s YouTube has this match, but it purposely doesn’t show Taz holding the ECW title. We can see the only video I could find of the complete match below, and includes Michael Cole calling him the ECW Champion. Tazz held the title for ten days before dropping it to Tommy Dreamer.
#1. The NWA Invasion (1998)
The partnership between WCW & NWA had been over for a while, which allowed a new one between the WWF & NWA. In late 1997, James (Jim) Cornette and NWA officials made a match for the NWA North American title between Jeff Jarrett & Barry Windham. Cornette interfered on Jarrett’s behalf, and this began a new stable in the WWF. Soon after, The Rock N’ Roll Express showed up and were awarded the NWA World Tag Team titles.
The stable grew with additions of Barry Windham and the tag team of the new Midnight Express (Bart Gunn & Bob Holly). Cornette kicked out the Rock n’ Roll Express after getting his own WWF version of the Midnight Express. However, nothing was bigger than the “Beast” Don Severn. He was the NWA & UFC World Champion and held a bunch of other titles. They had legitimized the stable with Dan Severn, but it didn’t last long. The stable disbanded in the summer and Vince McMahon told Cornette there would be no more NWA matches.
It didn’t stop Dan Severn continuing to appear on TV as the NWA and UFC Champion. Nobody in the history of WWE has freely carried around other promotions titles as long as he did. Severn debuted in a match against Flash Funk on March 31st, 1998. His last match was a loss in a triple threat against Ken Shamrock & Steve Blackman on February 7th, 1999. Severn left the company because he did not want to tattoo 666 on his head and join The Undertaker’s new Ministry of Darkness stable. Which is fair enough! You don’t mess with Dan Severn.
While the NWA invasion hadn’t been considered a success, it shows the WWF was willing to help out. Although, you could say the NWA was a dead brand by this point in history. With enough goodwill, anything is possible, including cross promotion in WWE.