For the first 20 years of the WWE Championship history, the only way for people to see matches was attending the local show, which was mainly in New York City. However, as the brand expanded, WWE started to be televised and more exposed to the public. With the advent of WrestleMania, closed circuit television branched out to pay-per-view simulcast, and hundreds of viewers became millions. WrestleMania heightened the desire to present compelling stories to conclude at an event, increasing the sports entertainment factor with the element of saga.
For a number of years, WWE was known for having champions with very long reigns, due to the concept of appealing to the crowd and making their money as a company based on box office draws. Either fans came to an arena wanting to see their hero fight another battle successfully, or their villain dethroned. When Buddy Rogers became the inaugural champion on April 25, 1963, he was one of the most hated villains in the business. People wanted to see him lose. Then, three weeks later, Bruno Sammartino made the fans in New York City proud, as he unseated the "Nature Boy." He would sell out arenas for nearly eight years, before losing to "The Russian Bear" Ivan Koloff on January 18, 1971. Sammartino would regain the title nearly three years later, and retain it for nearly three-and-a-half years before losing to "Superstar" Billy Graham.
Bob Backlund would become the next major babyface to maintain the WWE Championship for a long period of time, as his reign in 1978 recognizably lasted nearly six years. Backlund would divert from the uber-charismatic showcase of professional wrestling, and present more of a mat-style approach to the fans. However, he played the underdog role quite well, which is why he maintained the title for so long.
Although the era of the house show title changes significantly reduced in the late 1980s, after Hulk Hogan defeated the Iron Shiek on December 26, 1983 and kept the title for over four years in his first run, Bret Hart revived the tradition of house show victories by winning his first WWE Championship against Ric Flair on October 12, 1992 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. His near six-month reign would end at WrestleMania IX, as he would be defeated by Yokozuna.
The last WWE Championship change at a house show occurred on November 26, 1994. On a Saturday evening, Kevin Nash – as Diesel – would defeat a snobby, villainous Bob Backlund in eight seconds to win the WWE Championship and become the top babyface of the company in an instant. His reign would last nearly a year, before losing to Bret Hart at the 1995 Survivor Series event.
This title win was 23 years ago. Since then, there have been a total of 105 title changes, all occurring on Raw, SmackDown, or pay-per-views. This past weekend, WWE hosted Starrcade, and resurrected the event for the first time in nearly 17 years. The main event bout was a steel cage match between AJ Styles and Jinder Mahal. Although Mahal used his dastardly tactics to once again try to win a match and regain the championship, the "Phenomenal One" overcame interference from the Singh Brothers and won the match.
Although this event was named Starrcade, it was still considered a WWE Live Event (house show), and Mahal could have broken the long streak. However, due to AJ Styles, the 23-year streak lives on, and it will be interesting to see who ends it.
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