There is no greater glory for a WWE superstar than the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The physical belt has changed a few times, it hasn’t always gone by the same name, and once it even split in two, but the words “WWE World Champion” always meant the same thing—the wrestler who earned that title was the top wrestler on the planet. WWE doesn’t always treat their champions as their top stars, but they do treat it like the top goal, and any wrestler who gets to wear any version of that title around their waist should be proud of having achieved the top accomplishment of their career.
Of course, simply holding the WWE World Championship doesn’t necessarily make a wrestler a legend. There have been more than a few former champions who failed to set the world on fire while on top, and are retrospectively seen as an embarrassment to WWE. Certain other wrestlers chose to embarrass themselves outside of the ring years later, and WWE especially wishes they could be wiped from the official WWE title history. For the sake of our list, we’re considering both the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship that existed from 2002 to 2013. Keep reading to find out which former champions to hold those titles Vince McMahon will do whatever he can to eventually erase from the wrestling universe.
15. Sgt. Slaughter
Sgt. Slaughter is a WWE Hall of Famer and certified legend, who still makes the occasional legends appearance that sees him treated with a great deal of respect. Slaughter had legendary feuds in the 1980s with Bob Backlund and Pat Patterson, but his championship success didn’t come for a full decade after the run that made him famous. Slaughter won the WWE World Championship from The Ultimate Warrior in 1991, and at the time he was a powerfully maligned heel, hated for turning on America and becoming an Iraqi sympathizer during the peak of the Gulf War. Slaughter’s title reign only lasted two months, at which point he lost the belt to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VII. Slaughter will never be forgotten by WWE, but his title reign was quite arguably the low-point of his career.
14. Psycho Sid
Psycho Sid Vicious is a controversial figure in wrestling history. His physical intensity and unhinged personality earned Sid legions of fans, but his in-ring prowess often didn’t live up to his looks or his reputation, and some of the backstage rumors about him paint him as a bit of a goofball undeserving of World Championship status. Sid held the WWE World Championship twice, first winning the title from Shawn Michaels in late 1996 and then winning the belt from Bret Hart a few months later. Sid heading WrestleMania 13 in a losing effort against The Undertaker, in what is often considered one of the worst and least noteworthy WrestleMania main events in history. Sid still makes appearances and is treated with respect, but he hardly finds himself in the upper echelon of former legends.
13. King Booker
Booker T proudly celebrates being a 5-time, 5-time, 5-time, 5-time, 5-time WCW World Champion, and has an additional World Heavyweight Championship reign under his belt from when he was performing as King Booker in 2006. King Booker won the title from Rey Mysterio at that year’s Great American Bash, and while fans appreciated his new comedic character, there’s no denying it was a huge departure from the character and personality Booker is best known for. The problem is that Booker’s other well-known character is far closer to his actual personality, and that’s the personality that shines through on his commentary appearances to this day. It’s not so much that WWE wants us to forget about Booker’s time with the championship, but the King Booker character is simply so different than the Booker T we know today it’s hard for WWE to explain the whole history, and their usual method in cases like that is to ignore the situation altogether.
12. Dolph Ziggler
Dolph Ziggler is often considered one of the most underrated superstars on the WWE roster today, with fans constantly complaining about him being stuck in the midcard facing and losing to the same opponents over and over. It might come as a surprise to newer fans of Ziggler, then, that he’s actually a 2-time World Heavyweight Champion. Ziggler was first awarded the title by Vickie Guerrero in 2011, but lost the title to Edge in less than a few hours. Ziggler had a longer turn with the championship in 2013 after he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract against Alberto Del Rio, and that time Ziggler kept the belt for just over two months before Del Rio took it back. Ziggler was shunted back down the card immediately after losing the title, and hasn’t been welcomed back into serious title contention since.
11. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy held the WWE World Championship once, and the World Heavyweight Championship twice. One of his reigns only lasted a few minutes and the other two only lasted one month a piece, but there’s no denying he was an outrageously popular superstar at the time he achieved them all. Unfortunately, he was also an unpredictable and drugged out personality, and he was arrested for drug trafficking only a few weeks after losing his last championship. Hardy left WWE and returned to TNA only a few months later, and neither company seems to have looked back on the decision. WWE sees Hardy as a drug addict and a liability, and his championships reigns basically celebrated the culture Hardy’s addictions came from.
10. Rob Van Dam
Rob Van Dam won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from John Cena at One Night Stand 2006 in an amazing moment for ECW and WWE fans alike. RVD had always been a hugely popular entertainer, and his homegrown ECW fans were overjoyed to see him reach the top of the WWE Universe. Unfortunately for Van Dam and his fans, three weeks later RVD and his longtime friend and partner Sabu were arrested for speeding while in possession of 18 grams of marijuana and Vicodin. Even though RVD had a prescription for the Vicodin, he was caught in an area where marijuana is illegal, and WWE has a zero tolerance policy for drug related arrests. RVD lost the WWE Championship the night after his arrest, and lost the ECW World Championship he concurrently held only a few days later. Given the embarrassing circumstances behind his championship downfall, it’s probably for Van Dam’s benefit WWE tries to ignore his brush on the top.
9. Vince McMahon
This might be a little confusing, as Vince McMahon obviously doesn’t want anybody to forget about him, but he probably regrets making himself WWE World Champion for a week in 1999. Vince won the title from Triple H on SmackDown, and he vacated it only 5 days later on next week’s Raw. McMahon has obviously always wanted to be a wrestler, and the match and storyline that gave him the title isn’t particularly embarrassing for the company, but he’s also definitely distanced himself from the ring. Vince’s time as a former champion is never mentioned, even at his most braggadocios moments. It doesn’t hurt that critics see it as a bad choice driven by ego, and while Vince loves talking about his achievements, he doesn’t tend to bring up things that make him look bad.
8. Antonio Inoki
Antonio Inoki is a WWE Hall of Famer and veritable legend in the sport, but he’s also one of very few former WWE World Champions to have actually had his reign with the belt completely stricken from the record. Inoki won the title from Bob Backlund in Japan in 1979, only to lose it back a few days later in controversial fashion. Inoki technically forfeited the title after a rematch against Backlund ended in disqualification, and Backlund won it back from Bobby Duncum when it was put up for grabs between the top contenders a few days later. WWE acknowledges that the ordeal happened, but they claim the confusion means the championship never officially left Backlund’s hands, and Inoki’s reign is completely forgotten. It wasn’t mentioned when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and doesn’t even appear on his profile at wwe.com.
7. Stan Stasiak
Stan Stasiak’s history in WWE is extremely short-lived, and his championship reign is exemplary of a forgotten tenure in the wrestling universe. Stasiak won the title from Pedro Morales in 1973, and lost it 9 days later to Bruno Sammartino. Stasiak’s reign was unimpressive, uninteresting, and even unoriginal in that the same tactic of a short-term heel champion was used to get the title off Sammartino and onto Morales in the first place. Stasiak’s reign is so heavily ignored that when his son Shawn Stasiak made several WWE appearances in the early 2000’s, it was rarely if ever even mentioned that he was the son of a former World Champion. Considering WWE’s long history of bringing up family relations between its superstars at every opportunity imaginable, this is a clear and intention snub that implies the entire Stasiak family could be forgotten before long.
6. Ivan Koloff
Ivan Koloff only held the WWE World Championship for 8 days, but those 8 days were some of the most historic in WWE history. Bruno Sammartino had just held the title for nearly seven and a half years, and fans generally assumed he would hold the title forever. Koloff was the Russian Bear to shock the world, and although he lost the belt to Pedro Morales shortly thereafter, Koloff’s reign unquestionably changed the wrestling world forever. His career isn’t exactly embarrassing either, as he went to great success in tag team competition throughout the 1980’s in NWA. However, Koloff is now much better known for suing WWE over concussion related injuries, and WWE even launched a countersuit against Koloff as recently as 2015. Koloff is one of the few former champions of the classic era not to be inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame, and chances are he never will.
5. Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger is one of the most recent champions on our list, and similar to Dolph Ziggler, his problem is that he almost immediately was shunted back down the card after winning the title. As a result, Swagger’s championship reign and more or less the entirety of his subsequent career is seen as somewhat of a joke in WWE, and doesn’t get a great deal of attention as a result. Swagger won the World Heavyweight Championship from Chris Jericho in April of 2010 only to lose it to Rey Mysterio less than three months later. Swagger’s next big role was as Michael Cole’s comedy second during his extremely hated feud with Jerry Lawler, and his position on the card only continued to lower from there. Swagger’s time in the Real Americans celebrated racism, and he managed to make it even worse with a conviction for marijuana position, showing a long downward spiral that may not even have ended. What has ended is Swagger’s main event respectability, and his World Championship reign is ignored as a result.
4. The Great Khali
The Great Khali is considered one of the least talented and most immobile wrestlers in WWE history. This didn’t stop him from winning the World Heavyweight Champion only a few months after his first year anniversary with WWE. Khali won the title in a 20-man battle royal after it was vacated by Edge, and he mercifully lost it two months later to Batista. Khali no doubt has some fans out there, but he probably earned them for his eventual comedy work, and not his initial run as a monster heel. Khali was both inexperienced and generally untalented when he won the title, and fans were begging for him to lose it from the very start of his reign. Khali eventually won some people over by goofing around as the Punjabi Playboy, but he even seemed less worthy of World Championship status during that time, so WWE probably wants us to forget Khali ever was in the main event in the first place.
3. CM Punk
CM Punk is a two-time WWE World Champion and a three-time World Heavyweight Champion, the best of those reigns lasting 434 days, the longest of what is considered the modern era. The reign was the longest since the late 1980’s, and the sixth longest in WWE history. Despite Punk’s incredible work during this period and the work that earned him the opportunity to hold the title for that long, Punk himself has been critical about how his time with the championship went, often feeling that he was forced to play second-fiddle to John Cena despite being the title holder. Punk has also been extremely critical of WWE’s health care policy and general treatment of their workers, which has more or less gotten him blackballed from the company for the time being. His final year with the company after losing the title isn’t viewed particularly fondly, either.
2. Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan is a 6-time WWE World Champion and one of the most important superstars in WWE history. His first title reign lasted four years and coincided with the massive expansion of WWE into a worldwide force, thanks in large part to the power of Hulkamania. Hogan’s second title reign was also historic, and the next four weren’t particularly embarrassing or anything, but unfortunately for wrestling fans, Hogan’s personal life got extremely embarrassing in July of 2015 when controversial footage of Hogan making some seriously racist comments was released on the Internet. WWE responded by firing him and all but erasing him from history. Hogan’s legacy is second to none in the wrestling world, and Hogan has left and returned to WWE on more than one occasion, but for the time being his legacy and championship history is being brushed under the rug.
1. Chris Benoit
The name Chris Benoit is an inerasable dark stain forever clouding many positive pieces of WWE history. The World Heavyweight Championship is no exception, as Benoit famously held the title in 2004 from WrestleMania XX to that year’s SummerSlam. Benoit’s journey to the championship took 18 years, and many of his fans were ecstatic when he finally reached wrestling’s peak position. More so than any other wrestler in history, Benoit threw away his legacy in one swift move only three years after holding the title when he murdered his wife and 7-year-old son. WWE has done everything they can to ensure Benoit will never again be mentioned on television or promoted in any way, and his time as World Champion is most certainly not exempt. Vince McMahon has made some shocking concessions in his day, and virtually any other wrestler on this list could one day be respected once again, but Benoit is one former champion the wrestling universe could do well to forget.