On Monday night's WWE Raw show, reigning champion Daniel Bryan was stripped of his World Heavyweight Championship belts. The resultant match to determine a new champion will be held at the next pay-per-view Event, Money In the Bank.
As many readers will know, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship has been around for a long time and is the oldest and most prestigious within the company. There have been 44 separate champions and as you might imagine, this is not the first time the title has had to be vacated.
The first controversy relating to the title came during a reign not officially recognised by the WWE. Antonio Inoki, whom we discussed in our last blog, defeated then champion Bob Backlund in Japan in late November 1979. A re-match the week later was declared a no-contest because of interference from another wrestler and Inoki refused the title (allowing his reign to go unrecognised) and it was subsequently declared vacant. Backlund won a Texas Death match to recapture the title in December 1979 but would eventually lose the title when his managed forfeited a match to the Iron Sheikh.
Perhaps more shockingly, Andre the Giant sold his title to the Million Dollar Man, having won a match against Hulk Hogan by way of a bribed referee. The title was vacated by order of WWE's president Jack Tunney and later won by 'Macho Man' Randy Savage.
A few years later, the title was to be vacated again. The Undertaker had beaten Hulk Hogan at 1991's Survivor Series with the assistance of Ric Flair. Given the outside interference, a rematch was ordered for the subsequent pay-per-view at which Hogan recaptured the title with the aid of the ashes from Paul Bearer's Urn. Given these dual controversies, Jack Tunney vacated the title which was won by Ric Flair at the subsequent Royal Rumble.
There have been occasions on which a title win has been overturned in the same evening or during a particular match. This was the case for Rob Van Dam who beat the Undertaker and Chris Jericho, whom beat Triple H. Both their wins were overturned in an evening. More recently, the Rock was afforded a second chance to defeat CM Punk at 2013's Royal Rumble when his match was re-started by Vince McMahon following interference from 'The Shield'. Vince himself, having become the oldest wrestler to win the title, vacated it after only a week.
Other storyline title vacancies have provided great drama for viewers. Stone Cold Steve Austin had to vacate his title in 1998 after he was pinned simultaneously by the Undertaker and his storyline brother, Kane. A re-match between the 'Brothers of Destruction' at the Judgement Day Pay Per View was deemed a no-contest when Stone Cold, as the guest referee, performed a double count-out and declared himself the winner. He was 'fired' and the Rock later won a title tournament. In a 2011 storyline similar to one in the Ring of Honour promotion, CM Punk won the title and then walked out on the company. In the intervening weeks both Rey Mysterio and John Cena won the title but Punk returned to beat Cena and his reign is deemed to have lasted throughout this period.
Daniel Bryan is no stranger to losing the title. He won at the 'Night of Champions' in 2013, only to be stripped of his belts by Triple H, citing a fast count by the referee. Bryan's mentor, HBK, would later betray him and help Randy Orton to win the title during a re-match.
Bryan is also not unique in having had to forfeit a reign through injury. Shawn Michaels lost his title to a knee injury in 1997 and John Cena his, to a pectoral muscle tear ten years later. Another notable injury-related forfeit was Dave 'The Animal' Batista, whom tore his left bicep.
Perhaps then, if nothing else, Daniel Bryan can at least be content that he has added to the annals of WWE title history. No doubt he will be working hard on his recovery, to ensure that this is not his final chapter.