WWE loves to give out World Championships, but they don’t always get it right. These are the Superstars who didn’t make the most of their chance.
Being the WWE World Champion should be the greatest accomplishment a Superstar can have. It’s the moment a career hits its pinnacle, becomes legendary and turns into everything fans could dream of. Sometimes though reaching the top of WWE’s mountain is less about skill and more about just being in the right place at the right time. For some guys it comes too early, for others it should never have come at all. So let’s rejoice and look back at the WWE World Champions who stank up the show with their awful reigns of terror.
I’ve used the term “World Champions” because I’m also going to lean into the World Heavyweight Championship history – which in itself is a fun house of terrible reigns. To balance this I am going to try and balance between picking from both.
The Almost Worst Champions
The Iron Shiek: Didn’t impress and didn’t really make the most of his main event run.
Andre The Giant: Deteriorating health put an end to his best days long before he touched the title. He avoids placement because of “that match” and “that moment”.
10. Rob Van Dam
Oh RVD, how it should have been oh so different. For years, fans were begging to see RVD climb the WWE ladder and make it to the top. He was insanely popular and had an exciting move set that captivated audiences. So when he finally won Money in the Bank and challenged John Cena to a Championship match – the stars seemed to be aligning
Sadly RVD’s personal vices got the better of him, and one ill-fated police pull over later and his main event career in WWE was dead. RVD (Along with Sabu) was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence and drug possession. WWE had no option but to force RVD to drop the Championship just 22 days into his reign – a move that upset many fans and left the emerging ECW brand without its star player. Perhaps worst of all, fans were robbed of a title run they’d been begging for since the WCW Invasion angle back in 2001.
9. Jinder Mahal
Jinder Mahal begins his ever-so-tedious crawl up this list – with a WWE Championship reign that feels much longer than it has been.
It doesn’t help that he has all the likeability of a wet paper bag. Pushed from nowhere in mid-2017, Jinder captured the WWE Championship from Randy Orton at No Mercy 2017, arguably creating the biggest shock in the history of the title. But much like Rey Mysterio (We’ll get to him in a bit) just because you tell him to quack like a Champion doesn’t mean is a Champion.
Jinder’s place among some of WWE’s greatest champions is only further harmed when you look at the matches he’s mustered in his reign. Two tedious slogs against Randy Orton (Not counting that time Orton beat him clean on Smackdown Live) and a tepid outing against WWE’s rising star Shinsuke Nakamura underline just how woeful his run as WWE Champion has been.
There’s still time for him to fix this, but WWE really hasn’t endeared Jinder to anyone.
8. Sgt Slaughter
Slapping the WWE Championship on Sgt Slaughter probably would have made sense in better circumstances. Sadly for audiences, this wasn’t one of those moments.
With the Gulf War well underway, Vince made the decision to have Hulk Hogan capture the WWE Championship in a gutsy show of patriotism. When it became clear however that they couldn’t find anyone from that region willing to fill the role of nuclear heat magnet, WWE brought Sgt Slaughter back into the fold. He’d capture the WWE Championship at Royal Rumble, becoming an Iraqi sympathizer in the process.
The build to the Hogan/Slaughter Wrestlemania match was drowned in negative press, anger from audiences and reported death threats to Vince. The last one’s actually a bit of a fib – WWE had trouble selling out Wrestlemania VIII with Slaughter at the head of the card – audiences really didn’t care.
It also didn’t help that he wasn’t a great in-ring performer. Without the attractive moves to make audiences shriek in delight, Slaughter was the dictionary definition of a paper champion.
7. Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio had two WWE World Title runs in WWE, both of which were horrendously bad – for different reasons.
His initial came after capturing the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 21. Reports suggest that Vince McMahon was very against the move to put the belt on the pint sized wrestler, and it pretty much showed in the months after. Rey barely won any of the matches he fought in as Champion. He’d lose all manner of opponents, eventually dropping the belt and returning to the mid-card (Where he pretty much stayed afterward).
In 2011, Rey got his second chance at top prize – capturing the WWE Championship on two weeks after SummerSlam 2011. Don’t worry if you forgot about this one though – it lasted less than two hours. See John Cena had been left out of the Championship tournament. He made the gutsy play to tell Rey that he wanted a shot at the title – which Rey bizarrely accepted (Despite having already fought). He lost (of course) and pretty much disappeared through injury soon after
Rey is a classic example of “just because they get cheered doesn’t mean they’ll make a good Champion”.
(Before someone says it, we’re not talking about his monster WCW Title run)
When WWE bought out WCW, many asked why Goldberg didn’t make the jump with other Superstars (Spoilers; contract nonsense). When the option came up in 2003 to bring Goldberg on board, WWE jumped at the chance. With Rock set to leave for Hollywood, they used his leaving as a way to build up Goldberg in WWE and for several months, they went about building him up as an absolute monster.
So when he finally captured the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Unforgiven, fans were expecting a WCW Title like run that made him look strong and unbeatable. They didn’t do this at all. In fact, his run was punctuated with hugely forgettable matches and constantly being undermined by Triple H, who reportedly wanted to ensure he was the strongest booked Superstar on Raw.
This led to Goldberg being booked as a lame duck Champion, someone who was constantly being outsmarted by Triple H.
5. Jack Swagger
Swagger’s first (and only) World Heavyweight Championship run is more a case of “too soon” for the WWE Superstar. His star had been slowly climbing in the company throughout 2009, to the point where he was considered a star of the future by fans. So when he went and won the Money in the Bank contract at Wrestlemania in 2010 – fans were genuinely intrigued to see what the company had planned. They were even more shocked when he cashed in on Smackdown within days – becoming the top guy on the blue brand.
Swagger’s title run can be summed up as a mess. A run of matches that never once tried to justify him as Champion, instead leaning heavily on the tried and tested “Rey Mysterio” booking method. His matches weren’t bad per say – he had some decent showings against Orton and Undertaker during that run – but the wheels came off fairly quickly as fans lost interest. His potential was being squandered and thanks to some awful, AWFUL promo work from Swagger, fans had plenty of reasons to turn off when he appeared on TV.
The title was taken off him in June of 2010, and it’s never come close to going back on him. Arguably one of the more bemusing champions WWE has ever put forth.
4. Big Show
In 1999 Big Show was a big deal in WWE. Having jumped from WCW, there was a push to try and showcase that WCW talent would be given the chance to shine in WWE if they made the leap. Yet as 1999 wound down, Big Shows lack of in-ring ability really began to show through. He slowly drifted down the card, ending up in a feud with Big Boss Man. It was awful, but then came the decision to drop the belt on Paul Wight out of nowhere.
See at Survivor Series 1999, WWE promoted the main event triple-threat featuring the three biggest guys in the company at the time. Austin, Rock, and Triple H. Sadly Austin’s neck were pretty badly beaten up, so the decision was made to switch him out on the night. The man they chose to replace him with – Big Show (Who fought earlier in the evening against Boss Man). The fact that he won was a huge “what the fuck” moment in WWF – and that was kind of the beginning of the end for Big Show’s popularity as WWF Champion.
He continued to feud with Big Boss Man (why?) until dropping the title on the first Raw of 2000 to Triple H. After this he kind of became an annoying whiny giant who somehow found his way into the Wrestlemania 2000 main event. After this he was shipped off to WWF’s developmental territories and told to get in shape. Truly a bizarre Championship run. He’d go on to win other World Titles, but fans have never taken to Big Show as one of the major champions.
Everyone gets nostalgic about Kane but they also like to forget that he had multiple terrible Championship runs over the years. In 1998 he was the man who defeated Steve Austin at King of the Ring for the WWE Championship. To this day that decision remains baffling, various internet reports suggesting that title change only came about because WWE had booked themselves into a corner (Kane had to set himself on fire if he lost). Clearly not wanting to incinerate a Superstar, they had Kane drop the Championship back to Austin the very next night on Raw.
Yet despite this, I kind of feel his World Championship reign in 2010 was arguably more terrible. At least with the first WWF Championship reign, we were left wondering “what could have been”, his World Heavyweight Championship run left us asking “when will it end?”. Kane managed to win the Money in the Bank during that PPV and even cashed in on a hapless Rey Mysterio on the same night. From there though, things kind of went off a cliff. Kane ended up feuding with Undertaker for several months, somehow managing to be entirely forgettable in the process. He also had brief skirmishes with Rey Mysterio and Alberto Del Rio during this reign – which in themselves were entirely forgettable.
It’s bizarre that Kane’s long tenure with WWE hasn’t resulted in a more fitting World Championship reigns. In both, he looked woefully poor, an awful way to treat one of the biggest monsters in the company who could have been one of the great heel champions. It’s nice he got the runs, but there were so many better moments to make Kane one of the company’s top champions.
2. Vince McMahon
1999 wasn’t a good year for the Championships in WWF – with most of them being hot-potato-ed round the roster. Perhaps the biggest moment of insanity came when Vince McMahon himself was crowned WWF Champion, in a move that makes no sense to this day.
Triple H was in the midst of his first WWF Championship run, having taken the belt off Mankind a few weeks prior. His increasing arrogance and heel antics rubbed Vince up the wrong way; which ultimately led to the two having a match on Smackdown. The match itself was entirely one-sided, with Hunter kicking a pretty inept Vince around like a sack of potatoes for 10 minutes – right up until Stone Cold Steve Austin interfered and attacked Triple H – draping an unconscious Vince over his body and capturing the Championship. It was a shocking moment, ruined less than a week later when Vince vacated the Championship without defending it.
Two points as to why this was such a bad idea. Number 1 – it hurt Triple H’s momentum at the time. Yes, Austin was strongly involved in the finish but Triple H had already been messed around when it came to the Championship back at Summerslam. Losing to Vince undermined him incredibly – in particular given that he’d win it back not 10 days later at Unforgiven 1999 pay-per-view. Perhaps the biggest reason though was Vince did nothing with the belt. Him holding it only stole momentum from the title scene and undermined the entire logic of the title scene up to that point. The fact Triple H never got his revenge only added to this annoyance and sullied his first champions run at the top of WWE.
The fact Triple H never got his revenge only added to this annoyance and sullied his first champions run at the top of WWE.
1. Great Khali
Oh, boy was Khali a sack of garbage. The guy had the look to be Champion for sure, but everything else about him was laughable lacking. His inability to hold a decent match was highlighted by an early WWE run that showed all the potential of sinking ship. Yet bizarrely, Khali captured the vacant World Heavyweight Championship in a battle royal on Smackdown (Why is it always on Smackdown that we get these awful title changes). Perhaps the best sign that Khali was doomed from the start was when he grabbed the World Heavyweight Championship belt and proceeded to hold it aloft upside down. Fitting.
Khali’s title run featured some impressive opposition – from Batista to Undertaker. Sadly all of these matches were terrible, and not because of the other guys. Khali’s move set was shocking as he waddled around the ring like his knees were made of granite. Perhaps best of all though, he had all the charisma of an off-bottle of milk. Every Khali promo was a delight in awfulness, with audiences desperate to see the back of him. Fans didn’t want to see him as champion and as it turns out, neither did many of the Superstars around him who felt the champions in-ring work was dangerous.
He lost the title eventually to Batista, after 61 long and painful days. One of the worst Champions ever, period.