Seth Rollins’ reign as WWE champion has come to an end without a pinfall or submission loss. The champ has suffered defeat at the hands of a knee injury and has been forced to relinquish the title. Interestingly enough, Rollins is hardly the first WWE world champion to hand over his belt without suffering a loss.
1979 – In one of the most fascinating stories of pro wrestling history Antonio Inoki defeated Bob Backlund for the WWWF championship in Japan. What makes this so fascinating is how it all played out. Inoki immediately vacated the title and the WWE has never acknowledged the title change. Backlund wound up defeating Bobby Duncam in a Texas Death Match at Madison Square Garden to win the vacated title which fans never knew was actually held up.
1981 – The WWF title was held up once again during Bob Backlund’s championship reign. A controversial finish to a Backlund vs. Greg Valentine match in M.S.G. on October 19, 1981 saw a dazed referee accidentally raise Valentine’s arm (great finish btw!). The title was declared vacant until their rematch which saw Backlund decisively win a Texas Death Match the next month in M.S. G. It should be noted that the vacancy was never acknowledged outside of New York.
1988 – Andre the Giant defeated Hulk Hogan for the WWE championship on the Main Event. Andre then sold the championship to the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. Jack Tunney didn’t stand for that and immediately declared the title vacant. The title of course was decided in the WrestleMania IV championship tournament.
1991 – Tunney held up the title once again after a series of controversial title changes between The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan. Hogan used ashes from Taker’s urn in the rematch to win which prompted the ruling. The title was decided in what was in my opinion the greatest Royal Rumble match of all-time won by Ric Flair.
1997 – Shawn Michaels lost his smile in 1997 and relinquished the WWE title. Some have accused Michaels of taking a leave of absence so he would not have to put Bret Hart over in a WrestleMania rematch. Bret wound up winning the title anyway as the title was decided in a Fatal Four-Way Match between Hart, Steve Austin, Vader, and The Undertaker.
1998 – This was an odd one to say the least. Champion Steve Austin lost a Triple Threat match to The Undertaker and Kane but they pinned Austin with a double chokeslam at the same time. The title was held vacant and was decided at In Your House between The Undertaker vs. Kane. That match ended in a no-contest so a tournament was held at Survivor Series. The Rock wound up winning the tournament and his first WWE championship.
1999 – See a pattern here? Vince McMahon took a page out of Antonio Inoki’s book and wound up relinquishing the title immediately after winning it. Vince pinned Triple H in a match where Shane McMahon was the special guest referee. The title was decided in a Six-Pack Challenge match at Unforgiven which saw Hunter regain the title.
2007 – It would take eight years for the WWE title to become vacant once again. This was the first vacancy due to injury unless you count Shawn Michaels’ knee/losing his smile vacancy. Cena tore his right pectoral tendon on RAW in a match against Mr. Kennedy. There was no match to declare a new champion as Vince McMahon opted to handpick a champion instead. Vince picked Randy Orton.
2011 – You could argue that CM Punk vacated the WWE championship when he left the company after Money in the Bank. In Punk’s absence the WWE held a tournament which saw Rey Mysterio defeat The Miz and subsequently lose to John Cena. Technically this is not acknowledged as a vacancy by the WWE.
2013 – Triple H holds up the WWE championship after he strips Daniel Bryan of the title. Bryan defeated Randy Orton at Night of Champions yet referee Steve Armstrong admitted the next night on RAW to giving Bryan a fast count.
2015 – Seth Rollins suffers a major injury and is forced to vacate the title.