Titles used to mean so much in wrestling. The NWA title was a truly huge prize defended across the territories and that champion was known to be a great worker and wrestler. Secondary titles were also important, as Bret Hart once noted the Intercontinental title was cherished for going to great workers and the Tag belts meant a lot, too. WCW had their variety of titles with the U.S., TV and even Cruiserweight championships, which were all huge in sparking up shows. Even ECW had their own belts and TNA has kept up as well. Sadly, as time has gone by, belts have faded a bit in importance. Vince Russo helped introduce the concept of “hot-shooting” championships, and that’s taken hold since it’s now rare to see a guy holding a belt for more than a few months. It also means some folks get a title they don’t deserve.
A big issue is that without the territories, guys don’t get to show their stuff and whether or not they deserve a run, you also see lower-ranked guys get elevated too fast. So many times, it works out badly, and it all adds up to weaken the would-be championship runs. But the brutal truth is some never deserved these belts to start with and giving them over led to bad stuff. Here are 15 wrestlers in WWE’s history who didn’t deserve their championship runs:
15. Honky Tonk Man
This may cause some controversy but it remains true. In 1987, the Intercontinental championship was already recognized as a great one for workers. Recent champs had included Greg Valentine, Tito Santana, Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat, so you expected the IC belt to go to another fantastic worker. Steamboat requested time off for his family but Vince wanted him to drop the belt first. According to legend, Butch Reed should have won it but didn’t show up that night so, at random, they chose the Honky Tonk Man, a jerk known for his bad Elvis impressions. Having him beat Steamboat for the title was a big upset at the time and he was simply the least likely guy imaginable to be the number two man in the WWF. HTM didn’t help by having himself constantly disqualified to keep the title and angered fans by keeping it for so long. When he finally lost to the Ultimate Warrior at the first SummerSlam, it was an epic moment for the company. However, it just doesn’t seem right that the longest-reigning IC champion is also among the worst joke workers of his time.
After years of various failed characters and gimmicks, Solafo Fatu finally got over as Rikishi in 2000. The goofball fat guy, who would dance with Too Cool and stick his rear end into people’s faces, was a wild act. However, he was still mostly a comedy act, not quite a guy worthy of holding a championship. Yet, on an episode of SmackDown, Rikishi was put over Chris Benoit (yes, Chris Benoit) to win the Intercontinental championship. The fans may have enjoyed it but the fact was that the guy was okay as a brawler, but not a worker capable of holding the IC belt. His reign only lasted weeks before he lost it back to Benoit with various rematches. The guy was just better as the fun-loving dancer than a serious titleholder in WWF.
13. Bret Hart
Bret Hart is a legend, we can all agree on that; he’s a multiple WWE Champion, IC champion, Tag Team champion, and he’s given some truly classic matches over the years. His popularity in Canada is immense and the Montreal Screwjob just added to his iconic status. In 2010, after over 12 years, Bret finally returned to WWE to make some peace with Shawn Michaels and then beat Vince down in a rather bad Mania match. In May, the Miz lost a match that meant he had to defend the US title against any member of the Hart Dynasty and picked Bret as an over-the-hill contender. Instead, Bret beat the Miz with the Sharpshooter to win, and while the Toronto crowd popped big for it, the decision was a bad one. By this point, age and a past stroke had made Bret a shell of himself, painful to watch in the ring and no longer “the Excellence of Execution.” This was quite obviously Vince letting Bret have one last go but it was so blatant that you couldn’t accept it. Bret vacated the title quickly but his last hurrah in the ring was hardly something fans of the “Hitman” wanted to rejoice.
12. Ezekiel Jackson
Jackson had all the things Vince McMahon likes in a guy: big, brawny, coming off like a monster and ready for a push. His lack of talent on the mic and his bad matches really didn’t seem to matter to Vince. Jackson won the ECW championship and was the final champion for the brand before it was finally put out of its misery. An injury kept him out for months and it made him even worse in the ring. But WWE kept on pushing him with the Corre and then defeated Wade Barrett for the Intercontinental championship. The fans didn’t take to Jackson at all, as he had no real personality and just looked bad overall. He lost the belt after two months to Cody Rhodes. Jackson didn’t last another year before another injury and was then released.
11. Renee Dupree
In 2003, Vince decided to take Renee Dupree and Sylvian Grenier, two talented Canadians and billed them as La Resistance, a team that played up every French cliché imaginable. The whole thing was meant to be a mockery of France being against the Iraq War (which was actually supported at the time) and the two just came off as nutty goofballs, especially considering their finisher was literally tickling a guy. Despite how fans hated them (and not in the good way), they were given a run as Tag Team champions that was rather disliked, losing the belts after two months. Dupree was then moved to SmackDown to win the Tag Titles with Kenzo Suzuki, a team that had no chemistry in the ring, ridiculous promos and came off worse than La Resistance. Dupree’s stock fell after those losses as the guy came off too goofy to be a serious threat.
10. Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio is rightly hailed for his fantastic skills and help put the Cruiserweights on the map in the United Sates. He proved that in WCW with his great matches and even putting up with being horribly unmasked. He came back masked in WWE to be quite popular and not only a multiple Cruiserweight champion, but also sold merchandise by the carload. But for all his popularity, having Rey as World champion was a bad idea. His promos were okay but not great, and while fans loved his outfits, he wasn’t the guy to carry a company. The brutal truth is that the World champion should not look a 100 pounds soaking wet, and just over five-feet-tall. That’s not to mention how the entire storyline of his title victory was “in memory of Eddie Guerrero,” which came off incredibly exploitive. This 2006 run, not to mention a later run in 2010, did little to truly help Rey out and showed that sometimes, “the little guy” really doesn’t belong over the bigger guys.
9. Animal & Heidenreich
The Road Warriors were one of the greatest tag teams in all of wrestling history. Hawk and Animal blew away fans with their style, smashing opponents apart, delivering wild promos and winning nearly every tag team title there was. In 2005, two years after Hawk’s death, Animal showed up on SmackDown to promote a new DVD about the Legion of Doom when tag champions MNM came out to insult him and Hawk’s legacy. Out came Heidenreich, and the weirdo known for reading poems in between bad matches offered his aid to Animal. Animal not only let him be his partner but allowed his friend to don face makeup and the spiked shoulder pads while winning the Tag Team titles. Fans hated it from the get-go, seeing it as a disgrace to Hawk’s memory and the team never clicked in the ring together. They would drop the belts after a few months and fade fast, as this gasp at nostalgia backfired majorly.
8. Road Dogg
1999 was truly when Vince Russo’s influence was getting worse for WWE, including his desire to “hot-shoot” the titles around. It’s no coincidence this is also where the once-prestigious Intercontinental championship began its decay into an almost forgotten title. A key moment was when Road Dogg Jesse James, one-half of the popular New Age Outlaws, beat Val Venis (another bad choice as champion) for the title in March 1999. James was a rough worker, only great in his partnership with Billy Gunn (the ref for the match) and it also threw off some of the plans for Mania that seemed to push different feuds and set up a complex multi-worker match for the belt. Dogg was fun on the mic but really sucked as a singles guy, and would drop the belt after just two weeks. But even being given the title would be the first sign of Russo’s “Crash TV” style, which ultimately hurt the company badly.
7. Roman Reigns
There is an entire book to be written on how badly WWE has ruined the Roman Reigns push. The timing was one thing, as everyone in 2015 wanted to have Daniel Bryan regain the WWE title at WrestleMania 31, but WWE was intent on Roman in that spot. The brutal truth is that Roman just doesn’t click as a main event guy and the face of the company. His promos are okay at best (and that’s without the horrible stuff like “Suffering Succotash!”) and the fan reactions he gets make John Cena look unified in popularity. He’s okay in the ring with his work but hardly a guy who can carry a long match, winded too early and his offense is more suited for a heel thug than the hero champion. The fact that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose have proven themselves far hotter with the crowds and as titleholders just goes to show that WWE’s attempt to make Roman “The Guy” has been an epic failure that is badly hurting the company.
6. Jack Swagger
Swagger has some skill as a decent mid-card guy but he’s not as great as WWE likes to think he is. They keep pushing him, however, and the guy was okay on the mic but just not someone you saw as a mega-star. His work in ECW was satisfactory but moving him to the main brands didn’t really do him any favors. Yet despite that, Swagger was allowed to win Money In The Bank and then cashed it in to win the World title. Despite his arrogant demeanour, fans didn’t take to him as the heel champion; he just looked lost amid the other guys on the roster and would drop the belt fast. Since then, Swagger has held the U.S. title and received various pushes but still remains a guy not ready for the highest level of competition.
5. The Great Khali
Vince McMahon has a serious love for big guys but this was just taking it too far. Khali looked impressive with his seven-foot-tall build and imposing face but that was all that could be said. His in ring “skill” was just stumbling around with hard blows and nothing much else, as he couldn’t cut a promo and the fans hated him. But WWE kept pushing him as a monster. Still, it was a blow to fans in 2007 when Khali won a Battle Royal for the vacant World championship. The fans hated it when The Great Khali won and was awarded the title. He finally lost it to Batista but it was still a showcase of how a guy so big in size can be so low in worth as a titleholder.
This is not a shot against the late Joanie Laurer, who did shift the business nicely with her role as Chyna. The woman was a fantastic sight, a bad-ass capable of taking down guys twice her size and looking great by paving the way for more effective roles for women in wrestling. It got to her head a bit as she would get surgery for her face and body to look hotter, thus rising up more in success. In 1999, she started challenging Intercontinental champion Jeff Jarrett, who made several insulting comments about women in wrestling to fire up the feud. Jarrett was about to jump to WCW and holding up Vince for a big payday to make sure he didn’t take the title with him. So the two engaged in a Good Housekeeping Match with multiple weapons and bad moves before Chyna won the title. Good as she was, having Chyna as Intercontinental champion just didn’t sit right and wasn’t helped by her and Chris Jericho becoming “co-champions” for a time. She was a pioneer in many ways but the IC belt didn’t belong around Chyna’s waist.
The Women’s title has seen some ups and downs over the years, but this was a major issue. At least Sable had some skill in the ring, but Debra was best known as the lady in hot outfits hanging around Jeff Jarrett. In 1999, she and Sable (who was about to leave the company in a cloud) went at it for the title…in an Evening Gown Match. It’s as insulting as it sounds as they just walked around the ring with Commissioner Shawn Michaels as the judge. It came to a fight with Sable tearing off Debra’s dress, leaving her in her underwear. Michaels then declared that because Debra looked so great, she was the winner and the new champion. Yep, the “champion” was decided for looking great in bra and panties. Debra only held the belt for a month before losing it to Ivory, but this still ranks among the worst moves for the women’s division.
The Cruiserweight title had been a highlight for WCW, sparking up Nitro shows as must-watch television. In 2002, WWE revived it and made it a good showcase for smaller workers, with Rey Mysterio especially highlighting some great matches. By 2007, it was still going well with Chavo Guerrero facing five opponents at the Great American Bash PPV. Just as the match started, Hornswoggle, the leprechaun goofball, ran into the ring. As the guys brawled around, Hornswoggle climbed to the top rope and hit a tadpole splash on Jamie Noble. The ref made the count and suddenly, the title was being held by a four-and-a-half-foot tall comic worker. The reaction was bad, and worse thanks to how Hornswoggle’s “defenses” consisted of matches against Chavo that were straight out of a cartoon. The title was retired and it’s sad how giving it to this guy for laughs killed a great belt.
1. Vince McMahon
To be fair, it’s not as if Vince McMahon is the first owner or promoter in history to make himself champion. Verne Gagne was infamous for holding the AWA title for years and it’s happened other times since the owner was usually the one guy who could be trusted. Still, even for his ego, Vince going over HHH to win the WWF title in 1999 was a crazy moment. At least it was after Stone Cold Steve Austin ran in to beat HHH down and Vince gave the belt up right afterward. However, far worse was his winning the ECW title in 2007. The brand was already suffering bad with fans, but letting Vince hold its title just made it even more of a total joke. It did no favours to ECW or WWE, Vince just wanting to hold a belt and lord it over the rest of the roster. It really was the last nail in the coffin to the new ECW and showed how Vince’s ego can be his own worst enemy.