Being a “sport,” professional wrestling has no shortage of championships, streaks, milestones and records. There’s a segment of the fanbase that adores that aspect of the business, keeping track of various win/loss records, championship reigns, matches wrestled in a year, and such. Look hard enough on Google and you can find a lengthy breakdown from some rando about how Ric Flair’s “sixteen” world title wins is bogus WWE propaganda and how the real number is far higher.
Being a “fake” sport, these aren’t debates I would get bent out of shape about, but that’s just me. If you’re the type to obsess over it, knock yourself out — we all have our hobbies. Likewise, being a fake sport means that a lot of the stats that some pour over and scrutinize are entirely arbitrary and the history around them sometimes subject to revision and outright erasing, making it hard for a solid consensus to build around them. Baseball has its home run record, basketball has its points record, football has its touchdown record; for the most part those are undisputed.
In pro wrestling things are often a little less rock-solid.
That being said, it may interest you to know that there is a milestone in American sports entertainment that is not often talked about because, to my knowledge, it’s never been achieved before. And it’s a milestone that, with one victory at this year’s SummerSlam, could be reached.
The American Triple Crown.
The idea is that for a generation or more, there have been at least three major pro wrestling organizations operating in North America, but for all that time, there has never been a superstar to claim the world title in all three independent promotions. Now here’s where the slippery nature of “fake” stats comes in, because of course most everyone knows The Big Show claims to be the first man to hold the WCW, WWE and ECW championships, but of course you’d also be right to say that’s a bit dubious since the WWE controlled the ECW brand at the time Big Show won that championship, so if anything that milestone requires an asterisk.
To the best of my knowledge there has never been a superstar to win all three world titles from the three major (independent) United States wrestling organizations. There’s never been a superstar whose boss from three different company’s all looked at him and said “this guy should carry our torch.” A few men have come close, however. For example...
“The Man” himself is arguably the most decorated “world” champion in history (Jerry Lawler can claim many more “heavyweight” championships, but again, lots of asterisks abound there), and got his first big main-event push in Jim Crocket’s Mid Atlantic promotion (an arm of the NWA). His first real break in the business with under Verne Gagne (who trained him) and the AWA, but Flair never won the AWA’s top prize. He did, of course, win the NWA Title, and would be the champion for the organization until 1991 when he left for the WWF.
Only a few months after signing with Vince McMahon, Flair secured his second (different) world championship, winning the 1992 Royal Rumble for the WWF Title. He later returned to WCW (which, for the purposes of this article, we’re treating as an offshoot of the NWA) and won many more championships, but for the time when the NWA, WWF and AWA ruled the land, the best Flair could do was 2/3.
Hogan too had stints in the AWA, NWA and WWF but unlike Flair, Hogan made his mark in the WWF before jumping to WCW. In both cases he entered the company as basically a pre-annointed champion. He left the AWA for the WWF in large part because he felt he was never going to be given a run with the top title. The WWF on the other hand, brought him in specifically for that purpose: Hogan won the WWF Championship barely a month after Vince McMahon (junior) brought him into the company. After running the territory for the next decade, he left for WCW and won their world championship in his first match for Turner.
Throughout this time a third wrestling company was rising in the ranks but Hogan never had the chance (or, likely, the desire) to work for Paul Heyman and his upstart ECW promotion. Their extreme world title was the third and missing piece in Hogan’s trifecta of American wrestling dominance.
Fast forward to a new generation where there was a new player in town, two new ones in fact. ECW and WCW both folded in 2001, leaving WWE the sole major player in the US. TNA quickly rose from the ashes of WCW and Ring of Honor it can be argued did the same from ECW’s remains. Neither has been able to secure the same marketplace that WCW or ECW held, and TNA can hardly even be called a United States promotion anymore. Nevertheless for a time they were the #2 and #3 businesses in town and during that time AJ Styles rose from WCW jobber to become one of the most popular and talented superstars never to work for WWE.
Styles debuted in Ring of Honor in 2002 (the company’s first year in existence) and though he won the Pure Championship, and competed for the World title on several occasions, he never won the company’s top prize. Later that he year joined TNA and quickly blossomed, eventually becoming the franchise’s biggest “home grown” star. Styles won the NWA Championship (which TNA was using as their top title) on two occasions, and the TNA World Championship twice as well. When he finally joined WWE, he did so with an impact, defeating John Cena (more than once!) and capturing the WWE Championship. Today he’s regarded as one of the best in the world and one of the very few to win both a WWE and a TNA world title. But still, despite that, he’s only got two of three big ones in the USA.
Which takes us to SummerSlam, and to:
Joe dominated America’s #3 promotion, Ring of Honor, winning their world title and holding it for a record twenty-one months. When he joined TNA, the #2 company, he went undefeated for a year and a half, and ultimately captured the company’s top title. After years of domination, Joe left, and journeyed around for a bit before landing in WWE, the #1 company in the states. At SummerSlam, the company’s second (third?) biggest show of the year, the two former TNA and ROH stars will face off for the WWE Championship in a match few would have believed they’d ever see just three years ago.
And if Joe wins he’ll achieve a feat that has never seen before: He’ll become the first person ever to hold a world title in all three of the then-biggest United States wrestling promotions in existence.
Will he? We’ll see.
What do you think, Cagesiders? Do you think destiny is calling for Joe at SummerSlam? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.