On August 26, 2002 – twelve years ago yesterday – Rob Van Dam defeated Tommy Dreamer to unify the WWE Intercontinental and Hardcore Championships, thus ending nearly four years of wrestling anarchy. I remember the Hardcore Championship fondly… as a kid just getting into wrestling, it was the easiest possible thing for a short attention span like mine to process. Here’s one guy, here’s another guy, here’s a kendo stick and a fire extinguisher, defenses can happen at any time or place, GO CRAZY. Obviously, I was sad to see the title go. At the time, I thought maybe they’d bring it back eventually. WWE resurrected the United States Championship, so there was hope, right? I don’t really know if there’s a place in the modern PG era for a Hardcore Championship, but we’re not here to discuss the future. Let’s dwell on the past! I hereby submit my countdown of the twelve greatest WWE Hardcore Champions, one for every year of inactivity. You know how this works – I attempt to justify my picks, and you call me an idiot in the comments section. Fun for everyone!
12. Big Boss Man (Four title reigns, 154 total days)
Right off the bat, let’s start with some controversy. Boss Man’s 154 combined days as Hardcore Champion are the second most of any WWE superstar, so why am I placing him so low? Three words: Kennel From Hell. No one walked away from that match with their dignity intact. Dominant though he was, I cannot bestow a high rank to anyone who has wrestled while literally surrounded by dog crap. Speaking of which…
11. Al Snow (Six title reigns, 129 total days)
First of all, raise your hand if you were too young to get the “Head” joke at the time. How on earth did my parents let me watch this?
Here he is, Big Boss Man’s opponent in the Kennel From Hell match. Unlike Boss Man, Snow was much more of an easy fit for the hardcore division. Hardcore wrestling occasionally works when a more straight-laced wrestler like Boss Man comes in and starts succeeding almost out of spite, but more often than not, you need a borderline crazy person like Al Snow. He was not the slightest bit afraid to get weird with it, and that was the charm. Also, this was about as creepy as mannequins got until Condemned: Criminal Origins came out.
10. Goldust (Nine title reigns, 13 total days)
With only 13 total days as Hardcore Champion, you might be starting to accuse me of bumping Goldust up a few spots just because I met him back in April and he was super nice. And wouldn’t you know it, you’d be right. Jokes aside, it’s GOLDUST. The Bizarre One has figured out some key to wrestling longevity, previously only held by Yuji Nagata. All of Goldust’s short reigns came in 2002, starting when he played spoiler to Tough Enough winner Maven, who will not be appearing on this list. At least he can say he’s the only Home Shopping Network personality to pin The Undertaker.
9. Shane McMahon (One title reign, six total days)
I’m putting Shane here on this list for one simple reason: He didn’t have to do any of this. You’re the son of a billionaire, you could coast through life if you wanted to, and you’re STILL out here jumping from ungodly heights? He had nothing to prove, and he just did this stuff anyway. Never underestimate the power of the family business.
8. Bradshaw (17 title reigns, 56 total days)
Oh man, THAT HAIR
The Artist Currently Known as JBL gets a spot here not only because barroom brawls translated perfectly to hardcore title defenses, but also because he changed up the title history a bit. When he held it in the summer of 2002, he renamed it the “Texas Hardcore Championship.” He would later go on to rename Michael Cole “Maggle.”
7. Tommy Dreamer (14 title reigns, 28 total days)
I’ve mentioned in another column just how big of a Dreamer fan I am, and I think it’s weird how little time he got with the title compared to his other ECW brethren. He’s the Innovator of Violence, man! Sorry, look at me trying apply logic to hardcore wrestling.
6. Rhyno (Three title reigns, 49 total days)
I’m not even sure why I like Rhyno so much. I think it’s just because he’s a straightforward wrestler who really enjoys bending dudes in half with his finisher. Rhyno’s smash-mouth style translated well to the hardcore division, obviously. He’s hanging around on Impact these days if you still need a fix. Why you gotta be so rude to EC3, man?
5. Crash Holly (22 title reigns, 108 total days)
Like Al Snow, Crash realized just how crazy the hardcore division was and ran with it. I mean, if you have to get in the ball pit with the Headbangers, then by God, you better commit to it. Crash truly was the personification of how gloriously silly a wrestling segment could be. Unfortunately, he passed away in November of 2003.
4. Mick Foley (One title reign, 28 total days)
Mrs. Foley’s baby boy only has one Hardcore Championship reign to his name, but remember – he was the first. What started out as a condescending joke at Mankind’s expense turned into a legitimate title. Well, “legitimate” in the sense that people would resort to elaborate golf cart chases in pursuit of it, but you get my meaning. For his initial contribution, he gets this spot. Respect the legends.
3. Rob Van Dam (Four title reigns, 134 total days)
By way of his unification victory over Tommy Dreamer, Van Dam is officially recognized as the final WWE Hardcore Champion. And luckily, it happened at a time when we were still getting peak RVD. None of this stuff where he’s three degrees of rotation from breaking his neck on Rolling Thunder, thank goodness. This was Van Dam at his best, punctuated with some killer ladder matches.
2. Steve Blackman (Six title reigns, 172 total days)
THE LETHAL WEAPON. Blackman’s 172 days as champion are the most of anyone out there. In the chaotic world of the WWE’s hardcore division, he was a fixed point. Plus, no one could wield a kendo stick like he could. He made it look like… well, like actual kendo.
1. Raven (27 title reigns, 94 total days)
Hailing from The Bowery, the grungy messiah known as Raven belongs in any discussion about the WWE Hardcore title. His 27 reigns are a record – not just for the Hardcore championship, but for ALL of the WWE’s titles. As the eternal outsider, Raven WAS the hardcore division. He’s violent, charismatic, and a true veteran – he turns 50 next month and he’ll still be out there wrestling. Was there ever a better hardcore champion? Nevermore.