The Miz’s victory over Randy Orton to win the WWE Title on Monday Night Raw made me think about another sudden title switch that stuck with people for years to come: When the Ultimate Warrior barnstormed the Honky Tonk Man to win the WWF Intercontinental Title at SummerSlam 1988.
Granted, times were different for pro wrestling in the 1980s. Plotlines and feuds didn’t move as quickly as they do today. There were only four pay-per-view events a year, the others being the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, and Survivor Series. And wrestlers held their titles for far longer than current WWE superstars.
The Honky Tonk Man is a good case in point: He won the title in June 1987 from Ricky Steamboat and went on to hold it for nearly 15 months, which still to this day makes him the longest reigning Intercontinental Champion ever. It’s hard to explain if you were not a fan back then, but in ’88, that belt was considered a major championship.
Much like the Miz this week, Warrior wasn’t Honky Tonk’s scheduled opponent that night. Instead, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake was set to challenge for the title. But weeks earlier, Outlaw Ron Bass attacked Beefcake, slicing him open with cowboy boot spurs in what is still a fairly gruesome angle.
On YouTube, I found a rare, uncensored version of that angle—back in the 1988, the WWF showed the attack but put a big red “Censored” X over the screen so that you couldn’t see Beefcake bleeding. If you watch closely in the YouTube clip, you can actually see Bass gig Beefcake with a blade before he rakes the spur across his head.
Warrior’s victory began a huge push for him that culminated in his WrestleMania VI title-for-title main event with Hulk Hogan.
We’ll see what happens with the Miz, as pushes stop and go without much reasoning these days in the WWE. But his rise has been planned out, given he cashed in his Money in the Bank chance, and the whole storyline weaves in nicely with John Cena’s temporary “retirement” and a continuation of Orton’s feud with Wade Barrett and the Nexus.
Clearly the Miz is a hard worker who has improved greatly over the years both in the ring and on the microphone. Will he follow the Warrior’s footsteps and be in the main event at WrestleMania as the result of this surprise title change?