There was a time in the earliest days of the World Wide Wrestling Federation when you were lucky to see more than a couple of World Heavyweight Champions within the same decade. In fact, the iconic WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino once held the championship for an astonishing 2,803 days – over seven years! And though that still holds as the longest WWE Championship reign in history and will likely never be outdone, that type of lengthy title run was the norm during that time.
Flash forward to the Attitude era in the late 1990s and the World Wrestling Federation Championship is flying around like a hot potato among the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Triple H and Mankind. Upon the inception of the original brand extension a few years later, WWE introduced a second World Championship, meaning the company was now crowning new title holders twice as fast, and though those titles were unified a few years ago, WWE has once again returned to the format of two World Championships.
Needless to say, the opportunities for a great pro wrestler to have a run with a world title in WWE are vast. That’s not to say it’s easy; the world of professional wrestling is an ocean of aspiring stars with only two prizes to hold at the top of the mountain at any given moment. Let’s take a look at some current WWE Superstars who will never see fortune smile upon them in their quests to become a WWE World Champion.
15. Zack Ryder
What an unfortunate case is the career of one Zack Ryder. His first taste of glory came as one of Edge’s lackeys on SmackDown during one of Edge’s legendary runs in the main event scene. When Ryder broke out on his own years later he began cultivating what would become a majorly popular character among the WWE Universe when he started spiking his hair and calling everyone “bro.” He did everything seemingly on his own and organically got the crowd behind him, and it looked as if he had struck gold.
Unfortunately, WWE did not see Ryder in the same light that his fans did and never gave him much in the way of opportunities. The company stomped on his momentum at every turn and now with some years having passed it is more than obvious that WWE will never put Zack Ryder in the position to become a World Champion.
Adrian Neville was a big star in NXT and had a very impressive run with the NXT Championship, but one look at him told you all you needed to know about how he would fair once being called up to Raw and SmackDown. Neville was extremely athletic and put on some of NXT’s greatest matches, but that doesn’t matter when you’re competing under Vince McMahon’s rule unless you’re also marketable, and that was a quality WWE just did not see in him.
Neville has an awkward appearance and little to no charisma, so when he joined the main roster his ship sank quickly. It was practically no time before Neville faded into obscurity and fans often didn’t know if he was being held off of television or was simply injured. He has found a spot recently in the newly minted Cruiserweight division, but that does nothing for his prospects of one day becoming the WWE World or Universal Champion.
Ever since Rey Mysterio left WWE years ago the rumors around the wrestling community have been that WWE has been on the search for a new big Mexican star. With the company’s relationship with Alberto Del Rio souring on more than one occasion, WWE seemed to be looking to the sensational Kalisto to fill that role. Kalisto is supremely athletic, perhaps one of the most talented high flying and technical wrestlers on the WWE roster, and he’s pretty short, which isn’t normally something the company goes for but it certainly seemed to help him fit the Mysterio mold.
Kalisto becoming the next Mexican main event star, however, was not to be. WWE allowed him to ride the wave of his momentum to two runs with the United States Championship but gave up on him in quick fashion. He has had a few moments since being drafted to SmackDown Live in the brand extension in 2016, but it has become increasingly apparent that WWE has no big plans for Kalisto.
12. Tyler Breeze
Tyler Breeze almost never happened. Originally wrestling as Mike Dalton in NXT, he was forced to find the Breeze gimmick or face a release from the company, and for a long time it worked. The hardcore wrestling nuts at Full Sail University greatly appreciated the Tyler Breeze character, frequently giving him very positive reactions despite his cocky heel persona. Using a cell phone and a selfie stick to film himself as he made his way to the ring was a big hit, but inside the ring, he was all business and that’s what truly matters to the educated fan.
Tyler spent years in NXT without ever being lucky enough to snag a run with the NXT Championship. Just as it began to look like he would never be called up to the main roster he made his debut on SmackDown, but things predictably went south fast. Now having been paired with Fandango in a unit who refers to themselves as Breezango, Tyler has seen more frequent and consistent usage on television, but it’s clear he’ll never be a World Champion.
11. James Ellsworth
In 2016 the WWE Universe was introduced to a man who would catch lightning in a bottle. James Ellsworth showed up on an episode of Monday Night Raw and was squashed instantly by the massive Braun Strowman, but something about Ellsworth clicked for the fans and his popularity saw him brought back and offered a contract with the biggest wrestling company in the world. Since then, he’s consistently been involved in some of the biggest storylines in the company alongside the likes of Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles.
This unique looking “chinless” wonder has undoubtedly captured the attention of wrestling fans, but has he done the same for the decision makers in WWE? For the time being that certainly seems to be the case, but Ellsworth has been squashed so many times at this point that if he were going to have a run with the WWE World Championship it would have happened already.
10. Big E
Before The New Day became a monstrous hit, Big E was floundering. He debuted as a big, silent, boring bodyguard for Dolph Ziggler and almost didn’t recover from such an overdone role. Indeed, teaming with Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods saved his career in a lot of ways. The New Day allowed Big E, as well as his teammates, to stretch their creative muscles and break out of the stereotypes black wrestlers are so often forced into in WWE, and the entire industry is better for it.
It’s been a run worthy of an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, but it’s worrisome to think of what might come of the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions of all time when the company feels they’ve run their course. Big E is the likely favorite to go on to solo success, but it’s unlikely he’ll be able to replicate the glory he achieved with the once in a lifetime combination of The New Day.
9. Luke Harper
The Wyatt Family has been around for a good long while now in WWE. They’ve not experienced the greatest win record as Vince McMahon can’t decide how much he likes them even though the WWE Universe has repeatedly shown their interest in the stable. Luke Harper is perhaps the most underrated member of the team, which is something that can be seen by going back and looking at his brief solo run when he feuded with Dolph Ziggler over the Intercontinental Championship. Unfortunately, WWE gave up on him and had no idea what to do with him besides throwing him back into the fray with the Wyatts.
Luke Harper certainly has all the tools needed to be a huge solo star for WWE, but it has become apparent that he may never receive the opportunity to truly shine on his own. Being buried within so many teammates makes it difficult for Harper to show his strengths and results in him never being allowed to compete on the level of his group leader, Bray Wyatt, so his success directly depends on that of others. Unless he’s given a huge solo run soon, he’ll never capture a World Championship.
8. Apollo Crews
The hype was real when Apollo Crews crashed into NXT. Triple H spoke very highly of the young prospect and he was right to do so; in his first match alone Apollo impressed everyone with an unreal athleticism rarely seen in a WWE Superstar, especially one of his size. He’s massive and ripped, and he’s a good looking guy, too. His toothy smile is incredibly marketable and physically it’s believable that he could take on any main event guy and come away with the win.
But any fan who is familiar with the workings of WWE could tell during Crews’ early NXT days that his infectious smile was going to get old fast. And indeed it has, as only a few months into his main roster run Apollo’s momentum had almost completely vanished and he was rarely being seen even after the brand extension when he was drafted to SmackDown Live.
7. Bo Dallas
Bo Dallas is another former NXT Superstar who had a very memorable and lengthy run with the NXT Championship but failed to connect with the mainstream WWE audience. Dallas was a huge deal during his time in the developmental territory, to such a degree that his impending debut on Raw and SmackDown was greatly looked forward to by the WWE Universe. However, as is the case with so many stars who were successful in NXT, he fell victim to Vince McMahon’s lack of understanding what was so special about him to begin with.
Since leaving NXT Bo Dallas has struggled to even receive time on screen. His multiple gimmicks have all failed to work to any degree and it remains to be seen whether it’s because the different audience doesn’t take to him, or if it’s because Vince McMahon doesn’t take to him. Whatever the case may be, Bo Dallas has fallen way too far to ever be seriously considered for the World Championship picture at this point.
6. Braun Strowman
Members of the WWE Universe absolutely did not take kindly to Braun Strowman upon his addition to the Wyatt Family. Rumors swirled that he was set to face the Undertaker at WrestleMania 32 and the internet wrestling community had a mental breakdown. It was understandable considering all the massive Strowman usually did was stand around and look mean, although it was reported he was actually quite athletic for his size and Vince McMahon wanted him to wait to break out his arsenal at WrestleMania.
That match didn’t happen, thankfully, and Strowman was later split from the Wyatt Family in the 2016 brand extension. This did wonders for his wrestling career as he has now become one of the most entertaining and dominant forces on Monday Night Raw. It is believable that he will be soon competing for the WWE Universal Championship, but it’s unlikely he’ll prove anything more than a roadblock for the defending champion to overcome.
5. Baron Corbin
Baron Corbin spent a few years in NXT perfecting his character before debuting with a win in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32. Initially, Corbin had a pretty good thing going where he would dominate his matches in such quick fashion that fans were really into counting how many seconds it took him to win the contest. However, when that inevitably ran its course he was left with not much more than a really cool finishing move.
He’s a big guy and not the most agile which is usually a recipe for disaster in today’s pro wrestling world. Over the years WWE fans have taken more to the most athletic of wrestlers, hence why Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins have gone onto greater fan acceptance than Roman Reigns. Baron Corbin has been getting a decent push on SmackDown Live, but his appeal is extremely limited and he’ll probably never actually enjoy a run with the WWE World Championship.
Lana can be one of the most entertaining aspects of any WWE program. Her husband, however, is less fortunate. Rusev is an athletic big guy and can certainly pull his weight in nearly any wrestling match, but without Lana there to be his voice he’s not very interesting. He’s enjoying a couple of runs with the United States Championship and lent some level of credibility to that title in the process, but he can never seem to hold the crowd’s attention consistently.
Rusev has been around for a while now and has become one of the more consistent acts on Monday Night Raw, but it seems that’s about as far as it’s going to go. He has dipped his toe in the main event scene a few times, but it’s hard to imagine him having the star power to carry either Raw or SmackDown Live as the WWE Universal or World Champion.
3. Bray Wyatt
We’ve spoken about how Luke Harper and Braun Strowman don’t seem to have the greatest of prospects as it relates to being potential World Champion material. The same seems to go for the leader of the Wyatt Family, Bray Wyatt himself. When Bray first crept into the WWE and started leaving victims in his wake, it seemed as if he was blazing a clear path to the main event picture and fans saw him as the modern day version of the Undertaker, there to take over when the original finally retired from the ring.
As of now that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Bray Wyatt has faced one loss after another on all the biggest stages and lost so much of the mystique he once carried. With much of Bray’s appeal lying in his fantastic promo work and his ability to be genuinely creepy, he hasn’t felt like a legitimate threat in a very long time due to his lack of victories.
If we could put our finger on the single most underrated performer in all of WWE right now, it would have to be the amazing Cesaro. Known by his given name, Claudio Castagnoli, on the independent scene, he built a massive following coming into WWE, but the company has cut him off at every turn as he’s been on the brink of major successes, despite fans all over the world being incredibly responsive when Cesaro has been competing in the ring.
His exciting wrestling style has not proven to be enough, though. Vince McMahon has stated publicly that he thinks Cesaro is missing some charisma, but Cesaro and his fans have repeatedly scoffed at the idea that his wrestling abilities shouldn’t be enough. Like it or not, though, it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see Cesaro in the main event picture where he belongs, reigning at the top as a WWE World Champion.
1. Sami Zayn
El Generico was a huge hit on the independent circuit, so when he signed a developmental contract with WWE and reported to NXT the wrestling universe was elated. Now known as Sami Zayn, he did pretty damn well for himself. His struggle to get to the NXT Championship provided NXT with one of its best storylines ever and one of its greatest moments when Zayn finally won the title. He didn’t hold it for long, though, as he lost it to Kevin Owens a short time later.
Some injuries have kept Sami out of action for lengthy periods of time, but ever since the brand extension he has sat comfortably on the main roster. He is a consistent part of Monday Night Raw and arguably one of the most popular acts on the show, but this ultimate underdog is, unfortunately, unlikely to ever enjoy a run as the WWE Universal or World Champion, because that’s exactly how Vince McMahon will always see him, as an underdog.