The Strange And Unique History Of The FTW Title
The belt will be on the line at AEW's Fyter Fest
Following months of underlying tensions and outright dissention, Team Taz members Brian Cage and Ricky Starks will square off on night one of AEW's Fyter Fest. To up the ante, Cage will be defending the FTW Heavyweight title that was gifted to him by Taz at the same event one year ago.
The animosity between Team Taz members doesn't necessarily need a championship at stake for the match to fulfill its purpose, but putting the FTW belt up for grabs doesn't hurt the match any.
In fact, it's nice little slice of nostalgia, a quaint walk down memory lane, for ECW fans of 1998.
The letters "FTW" have stood for different things through the years ("For the Win" being an innocent example). But in edgier times, they most certainly meant, "F--k the World."
And that variation of FTW was an apropos name for the belt when it was first conceived.
The date was May 14, 1998. "The Madhouse of Extreme" in Queens, NY was doing what it often did, and that was play Thursday night host for some quintessential ECW action. The event was titled "It Ain't Seinfeld", referencing the fact that Seinfeld's series finale was airing on NBC at the same time. Over 76 million people watched Jerry Seinfeld and friends face jail time for violating the "Good Samaritan" law, but about a thousand New York revelers chose to take in some ECW instead.
And it was core ECW for '98 - a very good Jerry Lynn/Justin Credible match, some comedy, some hardcore gore, and a Dudley Boyz in-ring tirade that led to a fan jumping out of the balcony on a dare. You know, nothing out of the ordinary.
Aside from Bubba Ray Dudley almost facilitating another near-riot through his goading words, the most noteworthy occurrence of the night was Taz introducing a new object to the ECW fold.
But first, a little bit of backstory.
Taz felt he was the uncrowned ECW champion, and the man from the "Red Hook section of Brooklyn" had a point. Reigning champion Shane Douglas was beset with injuries at that point, and it looked like he was gonna miss some time (indeed, Douglas only wrestled two matches between March and September of 1998).
ECW *could* have vacated the title, but the long-term plan was for king heel Douglas to drop to gold to Taz (who hadn't been champion before). It was paramount that Douglas hold the belt until he could drop it to Taz in a meaningful, well-built coronation on pay-per-view.
Playing off of Douglas' prolonged absence to come, Taz took credit for putting "The Franchise" on the shelf, and claimed he should be the champion right now. But, tired of the "uncrowned champion" label, and knowing that Douglas wasn't lacing up the boots any time soon, Taz introduced his *own* belt, which he would defend in lieu of that World title he believed belonged to him.
Bearing an orange strap, Taz called the belt both the "Brooklyn Heavyweight title" and the "F--k The World Heavyweight title".
The latter name takes on a different meaning if you adjust the emphasis. If Douglas couldn't defend his World Heavyweight title, then (in Taz's mind) f--k the World Heavyweight title.
Taz's character was very simple: a snarling, surly bulldog of a man whose arsenal consisted of harsh strikes, an array of suplexes, and deadly submissions (notably the katahajime, the Tazmission). There was nothing pretentious about the "Human Suplex Machine", as he brought a blue collar, working man's attitude to the ring. Think a more low-key, MMA-based version of who Stone Cold was in 1998.
The FTW title was meant to be a reflection of Taz's ethos - it was the fighting man's title. Just as the Million Dollar belt suited Ted Dibiase's greed, vanity, and self-indulgence, the FTW title represented someone like Taz that took on all comers, no excuses.
So long as Douglas had injuries as a reason for why he couldn't defend his title, then Taz was going to parade the FTW title around. And if Douglas was unhappy with Taz grandstanding to that degree, then he could stand up and try to do something about it.
Ironically, over the ensuing seven months that Taz toted around the new championship, he only defended it twice.
The first defense took place on August 2 at the 1998 Heat Wave in Dayton, OH. With Douglas providing guest commentary, his Triple Threat teammate Bam Bam Bigelow stepped up to the plate against Taz. The Falls Count Anywhere bout was a rematch from March 1's Living Dangerously, when Bigelow defeated Taz to win the Television title, after famously putting him through the canvas on a Tazmission escape attempt.
The match called back to that canvas breach, when the two went through the entrance ramp off of a DDT. Minutes later, after both emerged from the human sinkhole, Taz leapt onto Bigelow's massive back, and choked him out with the Tazmission for the win.
Certainly that's the most famous defence of the title. But more significant to the lore of the belt was the match that took place at the ECW Arena that December.
With Douglas back in action by this time, all systems were go for the World title switch from him to Taz, to take place at Guilty as Charged on January 10, 1999.
Three weeks prior to then, Taz defended the FTW title in a three-way match against Sabu and Justin Credible in Philadelphia. After destroying Sabu to his liking, he intentionally let his old nemesis pin him, ceding Sabu the championship.
According to Taz, he was so confident that he would defeat Douglas that he no longer needed the FTW belt.
Indeed, come January 10, in front of 2600 fans in Kissimmee, FL, Taz outlasted Douglas in a 22 minute main event, choking him out with the Tazmission to win his first ever ECW World title.
While one would think Taz would be happy with the upgrade (especially since he voluntarily jettisoned the FTW belt onto somebody else), it turns out he had a little unfinished business with the man now holding his custom championship.
Sabu and Taz found themselves on a collision course once more, this time each holding something the other wanted. For Taz, he giveth the FTW belt, and he'd gleefully maul his longtime rival to taketh away. And Sabu, he'd reigned as ECW champion before. Toppling his enemy to get that belt back would be extra sweet.
The two faced off in a title for title match at an ECW house show in Concord, NC that February, only for that showdown to end in a thirty-minute draw.
The better-remembered unification match took place at Living Dangerously on March 21. There in Asbury Park (just 90 minutes away from Taz's home), the ECW champion regained the "Brooklyn Heavyweight title", all but ending his feud with Sabu in grand fashion.
The FTW title was absorbed into the ECW championship, and was never a part of ECW storylines again. After 10 months, "FTW" may have remained Taz's attitude, but it no longer had physical representation.
However, the belt didn't exactly die there.
In November 2002, Chris Chetti (a former ECW wrestler, and cousin to/trainee of Taz) resurrected the belt in Maryland Championship Wrestling, declaring himself titleholder. The following July, another ECW alum/Taz disciple in Danny Doring won the title as part of a multi-belt unification match in Glen Burnie, MD. Neither title change is "officially" acknowledged, however.
After that, the belt lay dormant for 17 years.
At the 2020 Fyter Fest, Brian Cage was supposed to challenge Jon Moxley for the AEW World Heavyweight title. However, the match was delayed, due to Moxley having to quarantine, following a positive COVID test for wife Renee.
Mirroring the theme of a World champion "ducking" his top challenger (legitimate reasons be damned), Cage was bestowed the FTW title by manager Taz, a physical coronation for an uncrowned, would-be champion.
Though Moxley did defeat Cage when they met weeks later at Fight For the Fallen, the hand-me-down belt remained with "The Machine". In fact, he's made three successful defenses of the title, defeating Brian Pillman Jr, future teammate Will Hobbs, and Brandon Cutler.
Perhaps its appropriate that in 2021, we're seeing the FTW title get some play at a time when WWE has resurrected the grand poobah of all customized "in my image" belts, the Million Dollar title. The two have never before been active in the same time frame, and here in the latter-day Big Two, we have both being defended in notable match-ups.
Could Matt Cardona's Internet title be far behind?
The history of the FTW championship may not be as deep or storied as many other belts, but it's all worth noting, especially as the belt maintains relevance here in 2021. Perhaps with a little more consideration, this could be the "other" midcard title in AEW that some fans clamor for, especially when there's only two regularly-sanctioned male singles titles catering to a roster of several dozen viable contenders.
As Brian Cage and Ricky Starks get set to square off at the first night of Fyter Fest on Wednesday, it's nice to not only look back at what the belt has stood for, but also what the belt could come to mean for a still-growing All Elite Wrestling.