The most prestigious championship in all of professional wrestling is the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. In December 2013, the WWE decided to go with only one world title with the unification of the World Heavyweight Championship that originated in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and the WWE Championship when Randy Orton and John Cena fought at the Tables, Ladders, and Chairs pay per view.
The WWE Championship has existed ever since 1963 when Buddy Rogers was their first champion. Bruno Sammartino has the record for the longest reign at 2803 days- which will never be broken. The modern record for the longest title reign belongs to CM Punk when he held the title for 434 days; that ended at the Royal Rumble in 2013. When it comes to having the most reigns with the WWE version of the world title, John Cena has the record at 12, with Triple in second with 9.
This article is going to take a look at 15 wrestlers that have never held this prestigious championship. The list will include a few wrestlers who are not currently in the WWE or have never even wrestled with the company; however, with the emergence of NXT, and the signings of wrestlers like Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, and Austin Aries, the feeling is that some of the current greats who have not been with the company have the possibility to join the WWE at some point in their career.
16. Shinsuke Nakamura
When the wave of former New Japan Pro Wrestling superstars came over to the WWE earlier this year, the biggest surprise of them all was the biggest star of them all in Shinsuke Nakamura. He made his NXT debut in Dallas’ Takeover event against Sami Zayn; a match many regard as the best pro wrestling match so far this year. Nakamura made his pro wrestling debut in 2002, where his entire career was spent in New Japan Pro Wrestling, becoming the IWGP Heavyweight Champion on three occasions, and the IWGP Intercontinental Champion on five. It will only be a matter of time before Nakamura is on the main roster, and it would be a shame if he never holds the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
15. Jay Lethal
The only wrestler on this list without even an appearance in the WWE is Jay Lethal. Though he is only 31 years old, he has been wrestling since 2001 in various companies such as Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling. While his tenure in Impact Wrestling lasted over six years, he never was their world champion. He left Impact Wrestling and returned to Ring Of Honor where he is their current world champion going on over 300 days now. With the signings of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, many regard Jay Lethal as the greatest wrestler to never wrestle for the WWE. Hopefully that changes one day as he’s proven he can be the top guy of a company for a long period of time.
14. Bobby Roode
While he is not officially signed with the WWE, it seems like Bobby Roode is very close to putting his name on that contract. When you talk about the best wrestlers to never have been in the WWE (in a major capacity – a couple Velocity matches doesn’t count), Roode was on that ever-changing short list. I say ever-changing because the WWE has made some amazing signings as of late with AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Samoa Joe to name a few. Roode has been wrestling with Impact Wrestling for his entire career until he decided to leave this past March. He should blow through NXT quickly and be in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture in no time.
13. Drew Galloway (McIntyre)
Drew Galloway has a very unique position on this particular list. He is the only one on the list that is a former WWE Superstar, and is currently with another major promotion (Impact Wrestling). Galloway started in the WWE in 2006 and in 2009 was pushed as Vince McMahon‘s “Chosen One”. The future seemed very bright for Galloway before he fell into mid-card hell, then was apart of the comedy group 3MB with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal. He would eventually join Impact Wrestling early in 2015, and in March of 2016, he became a world champion for the first time. If the bridges can be mended with Galloway and the WWE, they should definitely promise him a run as WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
12. Sami Zayn
Sami Zayn is one of many wrestlers on this list that you can put in the “in due time” column of being a future WWE World Heavyweight Champion. He started in the WWE back in May of 2013 on the NXT brand, and was instantly loved by the NXT Universe at Full Sail. After working most of his career behind a mask, he was unmasked as Sami Zayn, and he was able to develop a popular character that is on the main roster now as of 2016. Zayn was the 5th person to hold the NXT Championship when he won it in December 2014, and it will be just a matter of time before Sami Zayn is the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
11. Samoa Joe
The signing of Samoa Joe to NXT in the spring of 2015 sent shock waves throughout the wrestling community because he was the first wrestler who came directly from Impact Wrestling to the WWE. It was an idea that was previously unfathomable because of the fact that Vince McMahon wouldn’t even acknowledge Impact Wrestling as credible. Joe became NXT Champion last month at an NXT live event by defeating Finn Balor. It is just a matter of time before Joe is called up to the main roster, and once he does, he will definitely be a big player in the main event scene.
10. Kevin Owens
When it comes to putting together a list of WWE Superstars that will lead the company over the next five to ten years, Kevin Owens is definitely at the forefront of that group. Ever since he made a statement at the expense of John Cena on his main roster debut, Owens has been a major player in the WWE, including already having two reigns with the WWE Intercontinental Championship. While he hasn’t had a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, he was in a Fatal-4-Way the night after WrestleMania for a chance to face the champion. It is just a matter of time with Owens, and he should be a favorite for the upcoming Money In The Bank match.
9. Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes is only 30 years old, but he has been in the WWE system for ten years now. He was only in developmental for one year before making his main roster debut in 2007. From Legacy to being Dashing to Team Rhodes Scholars to Stardust, Cody has been involved in a lot of different angles that has earned him six total tag team championships and two WWE Intercontinental Championships. Word is that his run as Stardust is coming to an end and he could start a faction with Tyler Breeze and Tye Dillinger with the return of Cody. Once he sheds the Stardust gimmick, one could say that it is “written in the stars” that Cody can be in the main event picture before long.
8. Bubba Ray Dudley
If you’re looking at just his WWE career, you’d wonder why a man who has hardly ever gone solo in the WWE would be on this list, but thankfully Impact Wrestling saw something in Bubba Ray as a singles competitor. While most people thought the Aces & Eights stable was a poor ripoff of the nWo and Sons Of Anarchy, it showed that Bubba Ray could be a top singles guy in the company. He was a great heel as Bully Ray who could not only talk on the mic, but get it done in the ring. It would be cool to see the WWE give Bubba Ray this same chance, but considering they’re still wearing their outdated garb, it’s hard to think they will do anything new and fresh with the Dudley’s.
7. Kofi Kingston
Kofi Kingston debuted with the WWE early in 2008 on the ECW brand, and had his biggest singles success at the end of 2009 when he feuded with Randy Orton. Though he has not gotten back to that level of singles success, Kofi is riding a huge wave with The New Day since their debut as a trio in the fall of 2014. The New Day is currently the WWE Tag Team Champions (using the Freebird Rule), and they are quickly approaching a full year as tag team champions. Once they lose those belts, the group should start challenging for singles gold, and the veteran of the group Kofi could be a great candidate as world champ just based on his time with the company.
6. Big E
With Big E on this list, there are back to back entries for The New Day in this article. It should be no surprise with as big as they have been over the past year and a half. While Kofi has not had a major singles push, Big E was the second ever NXT Champion when he defeated Seth Rollins late in 2012. Big E is a big guy with a lot of skill in the ring and charisma on the microphone. He’s a unique personality and when you put the whole package together, you can definitely see Big E as a WWE World Heavyweight Champion down the road- especially as they should push The New Day in this direction eventually.
5. AJ Styles
The wrestling world was buzzing at the beginning of this year when it was announced that AJ Styles would be coming to the WWE with fellow New Japan Pro Wrestling stars Shinsuke Nakamura, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson. AJ made his debut as the third entrant in the 2016 Royal Rumble to a huge ovation. Just a few months later he was in the main event of Payback, and will be in the main event again at Extreme Rules. It is clear that Vince McMahon is very much behind AJ (even though he made his name on Impact Wrestling) and if he doesn’t get the job done at Extreme Rules in a couple weeks, his time to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion will come sooner than later.
4. Bray Wyatt
The WWE has always portrayed Bray Wyatt as a special attraction. From the introductory vignettes, to his own fonts and graphics when he comes to the ring, to the unique ring entrance, there are a lot of different things that are being done for Bray Wyatt. Oddly enough, with as important and dangerous the WWE has presented Wyatt, he has never won a single piece of gold in NXT or the WWE. Even though he’s not won a title in the WWE, his presence to go along with his ability on the microphone and in the ring has made Wyatt a huge asset. He’s only 28-years old, so there is plenty of career ahead for Wyatt. It will just be a matter of time before he becomes the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
3. Wade Barrett
Here is another interesting entry into the article as, while I was in the process of writing this, Barrett announced that he was leaving the WWE a month ahead of the end of his contract. That still doesn’t change the fact that he should have been a WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Back when NXT was a competition, Barrett was the first ever winner for many reasons. He had a great presence, he was a great talker, and portrayed a brawler very well inside of the ring. Barrett made his debut in 2010 before leaving the company just last week. He was the 2015 King Of The Ring, and a five-time WWE Intercontinental Champion, but the WWE dropped the the ball with Barrett, especially when his Bad News Barrett gimmick started taking off with the WWE Universe.
When Rusev was brought up to the main roster of the WWE in 2014, he was billed as an unstoppable machine, and many thought he was on the fast track towards the WWE World Heavyweight Championship much like Sheamus (his former League of Nations partner). However, when Rusev’s undefeated streak ended at the hands of John Cena, so did the monster push. Now that the League of Nations has disbanded, Rusev will be better positioned for a bigger push. At Extreme Rules he will take on Kalisto for the United States Championship, and it will only be a matter of time before he is in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture. He’s too talented not to be.
1. Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose was one of those independent darlings with a huge following ever since he debuted in 2004 as Jon Moxley. He’s always been a turned-up version of his own self all the way to the present day as Dean Ambrose in the WWE. After breaking through with one of the best factions of all-time in The Shield, Ambrose has carved out a great career on his own that has even led to a few shots at the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. While he has fallen short, he has gained the respect of the WWE Universe and generally gets the biggest pop of all of the wrestlers. Ambrose’s shot will come soon, and maybe even at next year’s WrestleMania if we can get that dream triple threat match of The Shield members with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns.