Jinder Mahal recently became the 50th person to win the WWE Championship. It’s a big accomplishment, not just to be etched into history, but also to be given the brass ring after such a largely insignificant WWE career.
There have been a few others who won the top title in surprising fashion, but none quite like Mahal. Stan Stasiak was probably the last person anyone expected to defeat Pedro Morales for the WWWF Championship. Bret Hart was a firmly-established midcard act in 1993, yet he suddenly won the WWF title on an untelevised event, to the (pleasant) shock of many. JBL was coming off a long run as one half of a beer-swilling comedy act when he quickly changed gimmicks and (just as quickly) captured the WWE title from Eddie Guerrero.
The difference in those champions and Mahal is based on the booking after they won. Stasiak didn’t even hold the title for ten days before dropping it to Bruno Sammartino; his whole reign was just a glorified hand-off intended to be forgotten. Hart’s victory was meant to usher in the next generation of smaller main-eventers. JBL was given a ten-month reign to solidify him as a main-eventer worthy of the title thrust upon him.
Does anyone really think Jinder Mahal will carry the belt for ten months?
It reeks of desperation on Vince’s part to give his most prestigious title to “an Indian” (who was born in Canada, but I digress) in the hopes of securing WWE Network subscriptions in India. It’s naked. It’s shameless. It’s classic McMahon. As much as WWE commentators will try to make Jinder out to be the next big thing, history will show him to be another in a long line of main-eventers WWE will try their hardest to pretend never happened.
On that note, here are fifteen other main-event failures WWE wishes we’d forget about…
15 THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1990)
It’s difficult to talk about Ultimate Warrior with objectivity, due to the surreal and tragic circumstances surrounding his return and sudden death in 2014, but setting that aside it can’t be denied that his initial run at the top of the WWF was a complete disaster. Warrior was positioned to be the next Hulk Hogan, defeating the long-time face of the company at WrestleMania VI and then taking his place at the top of the house show circuit soon after. It didn’t take long, however, before it became apparent that his shtick had a much shorter shelf life than that of the Hulkster.
Warrior’s nine months as the face of the WWF saw a sharp decline in ticket sales and revenue. By the end of the year he was the first WWF Champion to get second billing on many big shows. After dropping the belt he never received another sustained main-event push in WWF again.
14 DIESEL (1994-1995)
Kevin Nash is rightly famous as one-third of the original nWo, but before jumping ship to WCW, he was given a lengthy main-event run in the WWF as "Diesel." The parallels to his time at the top and that of Roman Reigns’ struggles to be “the man” are numerous. Both were positioned as “cool dudes” by an increasingly out of touch Vince McMahon. Both were pushed harder and harder despite continued fan indifference. And both dominated the top of the card instead of superstars most fans preferred to see main-eventing.
As with Warrior, Diesel ruled the WWF roost during a time of steadily-declining business. How much of that was due to his own corny, stale character and how much was due to the unavoidable bad business the company was suffering in the mid-90’s can never be fully known. The fact is, everyone recognizes “Kevin Nash’s” contributions to wrestling; no one cares about Diesel.
13 SHAWN MICHAELS (1996)
There’s no denying Shawn Michaels’ place in wrestling history. He’s a genuine icon of the business and a worthy Hall of Famer. That doesn’t change the fact that his first run at the top of the WWE mountain went over like a wet blanket. The once-cocky braggart heel was turned into an underdog champion with a fighting spirit. It’s one of the only two stories Vince knows how to tell with his babyfaces (the other being “unbeatable superhero”). It was a character that clashed with Michaels’ natural talents as a performer and caused his 1996 championship run to be such a dud.
Big feuds with British Bulldog, Vader and Mankind failed to bring the company back to financial prosperity. He dropped the title at Survivor Series, after eight disappointing months, and though he won the title a few more times after that, he never received another lengthy reign as a babyface champion.
12 CHRIS JERICHO (1999, 2002)
Jericho’s nearly-20 year WWE career has proven him to be one of the best. That said, there have been two times he was positioned at the absolute top of the card, and both were both busts. Jericho started with the WWE in the summer of 1999 with the expectation being that he might main-event the next WrestleMania. His debut promo with The Rock is one of the most memorable moments in Raw history, but it was followed up by Vince McMahon becoming increasingly unimpressed with the sarcastic Canadian. He fell sharply to the bottom of the midcard soon after debuting.
Two years later he was given a second green-light, and became the first Undisputed Champion. That too ended poorly as he was quickly overshadowed by Triple H and Stephanie’s marital drama. He’s proven he can be a major player, but it doesn’t seem he’ll be given another chance to be the major player.
11 THE BIG SHOW (1999, 2002, 2006)
The Big Show first won the WWE title at the 1999 Survivor Series and followed it up with an embarrassing and disappointing feud with perennial mid-carder Big Boss Man. After two wasted months, Show ended up dropping the title, not even on PPV, but on Raw. It would be three years before he received another chance at the top.
In 2002 an out of shape Big Show was given the honor of being the man to dethrone Brock Lesnar as WWE Champion; fans responded about as enthusiastically as you could imagine and the title was quickly shifted over to Kurt Angle. Again, years would pass before he was given another chance.
In 2006 an even more out of shape Big Show was given the honor of being the man to dethrone Rob Van Dam as ECW Champion. His reign was so bad, it helped kill the brand at the December to Dismember PPV.
10 TRIPLE H (2002, 2009)
The son-in-law is no stranger to main-event runs, and while a few of them have been great, some were show-killers. In 2002, Triple H returned from a quad injury and won the Undisputed Title from Chris Jericho (see above). Unfortunately, Triple H’s three months as the top good guy was met with indifference by a post-InVasion crowd that cared more about Rock, Austin…and even Hulk Hogan (who Triple H dropped the belt to after only a month as champion).
Years later, Triple H won the WWE title at No Way Out 2009, a month before WrestleMania XXV. He was positioned as the main attraction in the middle of a feud with Randy Orton. It wasn’t exactly a fresh and exciting matchup though, and most of the creative focus was given to The McMahon Family. Fans sat on their hands for his reign and treated the WrestleMania XXV main-event as a chance to hit the road early. Not good.
9 GOLDBERG (2003)
Here’s a main-event run that could have been great, had WWE simply pulled the trigger on it a little earlier. When Goldberg debuted in WWE (April of 2003) fans embraced him whole-heartedly. Instead of hot-shotting the belt to him (since it should have been obvious his popularity would be a fast-burning candle), WWE continued with Triple H’s reign of terror (his time as World Heavyweight Champion and face of Raw made the show almost unwatchable) throughout the spring and summer.
Even at SummerSlam, when Goldberg was at peak-popularity, WWE kept the title on Triple H, after everyone was not only ready but expecting a title change. By the time he actually won the belt (in September), the moment had passed and Goldberg had predictably, already cooled off, making his short and pointless time at the top of the card a waste best left forgotten (and ignored during his most recent run with the Universal Title).
8 CHRIS BENOIT (2004)
Obviously, there are other reasons why WWE would like fans to forget about Chris Benoit, but putting those aside, his world championship reign in 2004 was certainly disappointing. Benoit won the title at WrestleMania, after one of the greatest matches in the show’s history, but looking back it’s clear the win was more about the past than the future. WWE rewarded Benoit with a taste of the main-event as a thank-you for years of hard work; there was never an intention to keep him atop the pyramid.
Benoit’s main-event run was basically over as soon as it began. He won the Royal Rumble in January but played third-wheel to the Triple H/Shawn Michaels feud. In fact other than the match where he lost the title, the only times he ever main-evented as champion was when Triple H was also involved. After he passed the belt to Randy Orton at SummerSlam, he never sniffed the main-event again.
7 RANDY ORTON (2004, 2007-2008, 2013-2014, 2017)
Has there ever been a superstar given as many main-event chances without ever moving the needle? Orton first got his shot in 2004, when he defeated Benoit at SummerSlam, but his babyface run bombed and he dropped the belt to Triple H within a month. In 2007 he got another chance, working as a heel opposite John Cena. Again, however, his eight month reign went nowhere and had fans begging for a title change for all the wrong reasons.
Years later he got another chance, but as before, his 2013 run bored the masses. Fans wanted Daniel Bryan to main-event, but instead Orton took the belt and entered fan-rejected feuds with John Cena, Big Show and Batista. Years would pass before he got another chance, but another chance he got: Sure enough, his fifty day reign in 2017 went just the same as the others…just as the inevitable next main-event run will go too.
6 ROB VAN DAM (2006)
Sometimes it’s the bookers fault a main-eventer fails. Other times a superstar is given every opportunity to succeed but blows it through his own incompetence. Rob Van Dam was given the main-event on a silver platter, and even though he was never going to displace John Cena as the face of WWE, he nevertheless was set-up for a long main-event run. All he needed was to stay out of trouble.
Naturally he got busted for marijuana possession.
At the time he was both the ECW and WWE champion and was the star of two TV shows, Raw and the newly-launched ECW on Sci-Fi. It was just a matter of time before Cena regained his title, but Van Dam could have remained the centerpiece of ECW and a constant main-eventer for years to come. Instead he was arrested, suspended, and lost both his titles and his place at the top of the WWE for good.
5 THE GREAT KHALI (2007)
The World Heavyweight Championship was cursed. Batista vacated the title in 2006 after a triceps injury. A year later, Undertaker was forced to drop it after a biceps injury. Edge then immediately vacated it when he tore his pectoral muscle. The title was put on the line in a battle royal soon after and---in the most terrible circumstance of all--- was won by Great Khali.
The seven-foot wrestler was so broken-down and incapable of actually “wrestling” he could not even bend his knees. It took him longer to walk to the ring each week than it did the Undertaker, and ‘Taker was slow on purpose. Khali lumbered through his reign for two months, before mercifully it was ended by Batista. A year later he was given a second chance to main-event when he challenged Triple H for the WWE Title, but thankfully previous mistakes were avoided; Khali was defeated and left the main-event for good.
4 SHEAMUS (2009-2010, 2012, 2015)
The “Celtic Warrior” might as well be nicknamed “Pale Orton,” due to his multiple main-event opportunities with nothing to show for them. In late 2009, Sheamus defeated John Cena for the WWE title soon after debuting on Raw. His reign lasted a tiring seventy days. Months later, no one learned their lesson and Sheamus was given another, longer reign. After ninety days, Vince got bored with it (89 days after the fans did) and moved Sheamus out of the Raw title scene…and into the SmackDown title scene. He defeated Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds and held the belt for 200+ days. Shockingly, no one fell in love with him.
After a few years, Sheamus returned to the WWE Title by defeating Roman Reigns in a very Randy Orton way (a MITB cash-in with Triple H’s help) and three weeks of misery soon followed. Be warned: It’s just a matter of time before he returns to the top.
3 THE MIZ (2010-2011)
What made The Miz’ main-event run such a failure? His most memorable feud was against Jerry “the king” Lawler. In 2011. His greatest match was on Raw. For the first four of his six and a half month reign, he never closed out a single PPV. He was the butt of the joke, the heel who couldn’t win a match without help, the place-holder, seat-warmer, third-wheel in his own WrestleMania match, out-shined by the celebrity guest host of the show. It was a joke of a main-event run.
To his credit, The Miz has continued to work hard; he’s improved in the ring considerably, and now is worthy of another chance at the top, but back in 2010-2011 he was the last thing anyone wanted to see in the main-event. Apparently that was the consensus of Vince McMahon too as he’s yet to receive another shot at the top.
2 ALBERTO DEL RIO (2011, 2013)
On paper, Del Rio had a stellar career: Royal Rumble winner, WrestleMania world title matches, money in the bank holder. But no matter how many times he was pushed, fans never responded to him. His first main-event run came in mid-2011, when everyone was hooked on CM Punk, who overshadowed him.
Del Rio switched over to SmackDown a year later and was positioned as a babyface champion. Again, however, it was the other guy that hindered his run: WWE gave Jack Swagger a push as Del Rio’s title challenger and fans never took Swagger seriously enough to get invested in the feud. All the time and money spent building him up as a main-eventer failed twice over and Del Rio slipped out of the title picture for good soon after. When he returned to WWE in late-2015 he did so as an upper-mid-carder, and never threatened to break back into the main-event.
1 ROMAN REIGNS (2015-2016)
Right now Roman’s stale, good guy superhero shtick is worn thin. Fans spent ten years getting tired of it with Cena and he played the part much more naturally than Roman has. If WWE continues pushing Romans as “Cena 2.0” he will continue struggling at the top of the card. The best chance Reigns has is to turn heel and use what seems to be a natural bad guy persona. If he doesn’t, his next main-event run will go as poorly as his first ones have gone.
In 2015, fans overwhelmingly cheered for Lesnar (the guy who beat The Undertaker’s streak just a year before). In 2016, fans cheered news of his wellness violation and the hope that he’d be punished by being kept out of the main-event. His next main-event title run is coming soon, and if it’s anything like the last two, it will be a failure as well.