Raw Women’s Champion “The Man” Becky Lynch walked to the ring holding the Money in the Bank briefcase with a sad look in her face. With tears in her eyes, she gave an impassioned speech revealing that she has to leave wrestling without immediately giving the reason why. Asuka ran out to the ring to get her briefcase back before Lynch explained that the Money in the Bank ladder match from last night wasn’t for a title shot, but the Raw Women’s Championship. After handing her the belt, she finally revealed to Asuka and the world that she’s expecting.
For “The Man,” it was a bittersweet moment as her historic championship run that lasted 399 days was coming to an end but for good reasons. While the long reign finished in an anti-climax, it was still historic because it instantly became the most famous title vacancy in women’s wrestling history. There are few men’s championship vacancies throughout history that match the impact and emotion of Lynch’s. Here’s a look at the biggest five abrupt endings to World Championship runs in WWE history, all of which ended in far more tragic circumstances than “The Man.”
Shortly after recapturing the WWF championship from Sid at the Royal Rumble, Shawn Michaels looked set to defend his title at WrestleMania 13. His presumed opponent looked to be Bret Hart in a rematch of the previous WrestleMania’s Iron Man match, where Hart was rumored to win and set a rubber match for the following WrestleMania. Instead, Michaels appeared on Raw on February 2nd and announced that he was stepping away from wrestling due to a knee injury and “losing his smile.” He gave a somber speech in front of a sad crowd and hinted at possible retirement.
At WrestleMania, Michaels was sidelined to commentary while Hart competed in arguably the most significant and most important match of all-time against Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Heartbreak Kid eventually returned to the ring that Summer and embarked on a series of controversial angles such as forming De-Generation X and the Montreal Screwjob before suffering a back injury that put him on the shelf for four years. Wrestling insiders speculate that Michaels’s personal demons played a bigger role in vacating the championship than his knee injuries. Whatever forced HBK to give up the title, it was another chapter of his endlessly controversial career during the ’90s.
To go from being the World Champion in WWE to retired in an instant is a devastating situation, and that’s exactly what happened in 2011 to Edge. Following his World Heavyweight title defense against Alberto Del Rio at WrestleMania XXVII, Edge announced on Raw that his neck injuries had finally caught up to him, and he was going to have to retire in one of WWE’s most tear-jerking moments. With his retirement, he vacated the title, which actually led to a feel-good moment of his long-time friend and tag-team partner Christian winning the championship. While Christian didn’t have a run with the belt, he did go on to have a great program with Randy Orton throughout the Summer of 2011.
Edge would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the next year but make his shocking return at the 2020 Royal Rumble match after a nine-year hiatus.
Daniel Bryan’s performance at WrestleMania XXX will go down as one for the ages, and no matter what’s happened since nothing could take away from that incredible moment in the sun. Unfortunately, his title run following ‘Mania didn’t last long. After defending the championship at Extreme Rules against Kane, Bryan announced that he was going to need neck surgery, which prematurely ended his historic championship reign. John Cena won the vacated championship at Money in the Bank, which led to his memorable match at SummerSlam with Brock Lesnar that was completely one-sided. Had Bryan stayed healthy, he likely would’ve dropped the title to Lesnar at SummerSlam as well. His injury might’ve spared the Yes-Movement from seeing a devastating beatdown from The Beast.
Sadly that was the first of many injuries for Bryan over the next two years, which led to his retirement in 2016. Thankfully he was medically cleared two years later and continues to wrestle to this day.
2015 was the year of Seth Rollins. He captured the WWE World Championship in an epic fashion by cashing in the Money in the Bank briefcase during the main event of WrestleMania 31. Throughout the year, he hung onto the title feuding with everyone from Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Sting. It looked like Rollins was going to hang onto the championship going into WrestleMania 32 until he suffered a devastating injury that November at a live event. His ACL, MCL and medial meniscus were all torn and prematurely ended his first WWE title reign.
Rollins would return six months later and has continued a hugely successful WWE career, but his injury ruined a potential WrestleMania main event spot in 2016.
One of the most tragic title vacancies in WWE history happened in 2016 when Finn Balor was forced to vacate his newly won Universal Championship. Balor made history when he was drafted to Raw and earned the right to compete for the newly created title on his show debut. At SummerSlam, he defeated Seth Rollins as “The Demon” to become the inaugural Universal Champion. Unfortunately, Balor suffered a labrum tear in the match that put him out of action for half a year, forcing him to relinquish the belt only one night after winning it.
Just as Chris Jericho broke out as a main eventer when becoming the first Undisputed WWE Champion, Balor was meant to become a breakout star as the first Universal champion, but his shoulder injury ruined that chance. While he hasn’t reached the same heights in the WWE since, Balor looks to rejuvenate his career in NXT.
Becky Lynch had to vacate her WWE Raw Women's Championship after a lengthy run, but she's far from the first Champion whose run ended prematurely.