Professional wrestling has been around for many years, and there have been many professional wrestling champions. There are wrestlers who have won several titles, with multiple reigns, in a variety of companies around the world and then there are wrestlers who have only won a single title for a single company. What ties these individuals together is the fact that they were all wrestlers. They were hired by the companies that employed them to get into the ring and perform as wrestlers; not as managers, authority figures, valets or announcers.
However, throughout the history of professional wrestling, or at least during the recent history of professional wrestling, companies have decided that it might be good for ratings or mainstream acceptance if non-wrestling participants were awarded championship reigns. While in some cases it might have attracted mainstream attention, in most cases the non-wrestler is simply someone employed by the company in a different capacity. This person is given a title reign simply to draw heat and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but this does not stop the companies from doing it over and over again.
That said, here are 15 non-wrestlers who have enjoyed reigns as champions in professional wrestling companies.
15 Maria Kanellis-Bennett: TNA Knockouts Champion
Maria Kanellis spent time in the WWE, but mostly as eye candy, as evidenced by her Playboy Magazine pictorial. After leaving the WWE, she ventured to Ring of Honor, met her husband Mike Bennett, and the two of them traveled to TNA. In TNA, Maria was appointed as the Leader of the Knockouts division, which made her a heel authority figure for the women of Impact Wrestling. In the course of her rule, Maria created her own champion, saw that champion be defeated by Maria’s lackey, and then Maria became champion on her own.
Maria, with her version of the “finger-poke of doom,” forced her assistant Allie, who had won the title, to lie down so that Maria could gain the pin and win the title. The victory made Maria the TNA Knockouts Champion and just one of many non-wrestlers who have won titles in professional wrestlers. Time will tell how history will view her championship reign.
14 Gerald Brisco: WWE Hardcore Champion
Gerald Brisco was a very talented wrestler in his youth. The team of Gerald and Jack Brisco was formidable in a variety of territories. However, by the time that Gerald Brisco won the WWE Hardcore Title, he was no longer wrestling. He was 55-years-old and was working as one of Vince McMahon’s stooges, alongside Pat Patterson. During the Attitude Era, because Crash Holly created the rule that the Hardcore Title would be defended 24/7, many people would hold the Hardcore Title in the WWE and one of those people was Stooge Gerald Brisco.
Brisco won his first title by pinning Crash Holly backstage while Crash was sleeping. This reign made history by being the first reign after the creation of the 24/7 rule that lasted more than three weeks. Brisco’s second reign lasted a few television segments, as he would win the title only to be pinned less than an hour later by Pat Patterson.
13 Pat Patterson: WWE Hardcore Champion
Gerald Brisco had his second WWE Hardcore title reign ended by Pat Patterson, the first man to ever hold the WWF Intercontinental Championship. The Pat Patterson who won the IC title was a 38-year-old who was an accomplished wrestler and was a frequent world title contender, but whose career would end due to retirement five years later. The Pat Patterson who won the Hardcore title was a 59-year-old stooge for Vince McMahon.
Patterson’s reign would last only six days, as he would defend the title against Brisco in a hardcore Evening Gown Match at the 2000 King of the Ring PPV. During the match, Crash Holly would sneak in and pin Patterson to retake the title for himself. Unlike Brisco, Patterson would never regain the title, but would go down in history as the oldest person to hold the Hardcore title and one of the oldest men to ever hold any title in the WWE.
12 Stephanie McMahon: WWE Women’s Champion
Being a McMahon in the WWE means that you have power and with that power, you can be anything that you want to be, even a professional wrestling champion. The McMahon men have held titles because they have to prove, as Vince likes to say, that they have the biggest “grapefruits.” However, Stephanie never wanted to be a wrestler, but somehow, she became the WWE Women’s champion. Stephanie would “defeat” Jacqueline for Stephanie’s one and only women’s title reign, and would keep the title for a few months before losing the title to Lita in a match with The Rock as special referee.
During her title reign, Stephaine would have a number of title defenses where her opponent was unfit to compete by the time the matches were due to start. She would hold the title until she ran across an opponent that could not be scared off or beaten up to the point of not being able to compete, and a live opponent was more than Steph could handle.
11 Vince Russo: WCW World Heavyweight Champion
During the Monday Night Wars, both WCW and the WWE did some strange things with regards to their companies and the championships. As a writer for the WWE, Russo is credited with helping to create much of what would become the Attitude Era in the WWE, and because of the success of the WWE, Russo was hired by WCW, in the hopes that he could have the same success for the opposition. However, Russo would create some of the most forgettable wrestling television ever.
After his dispute with Hulk Hogan regarding creative control, Russo would put the world title on Booker T and would replace Jeff Jarrett with himself as the top contender. In a badly overbooked cage match with weapons involved against champion Booker T, where Russo wrestled in a helmet and shoulder pads, and where practically the entire roster got involved, Goldberg would enter the cage after Scott Steiner slammed the cage door in Booker’s face. Goldberg would spear Russo through a cage wall and would celebrate with Booker while the announcers feigned confusion over what had just occurred while the show went off of the air.
The following week, Russo would come on television to relinquish the world title that no one actually could confirm that he had won, but apparently had won because he had realistically exited the cage first the week before due to the Goldberg spear. After this, Booker T would win a match that was scheduled to be Jarrett versus Scott Steiner, and all was right with the wrestling world.
10 Shane McMahon: WWE Hardcore and European Champion
Shane McMahon is another power broker who was booked to win titles in a wrestling company. The difference between Shane and many of the other non-wrestlers on the list is that Shane actually competed in matches against top wrestling talent, though his title wins were just as tainted as the others.
Shane would win the European Championship from X-Pac in a tag match where Shane would team with Kane. Kane would do the wrestling and Shane would get the pin and win the European title from X-Pac. After not defending the title, Shane would announce his retirement from wrestling, thus vacating the title. However, Shane would sneak into a Hardcore title match between Test and Steve Blackman and would win the title from Blackman. Shortly after this, the 24/7 rule would be briefly suspended in order to protect Shane from attacks until his rematch, where he would lose the title back to Blackman.
9 Eric Bischoff: WCW Hardcore Champion
Eric Bischoff is the next in a long line of authority figures and power brokers that would become champions in the companies in which they are in charge. In mid-2000, Bischoff and Vince Russo would create a storyline where the veteran wrestlers were feuding with new, younger talent. However, Bischoff and Russo were siding with the young talent, labeling them The New Blood in the feud against The Millionaires Club. At the start of the feud, all of the titles were stripped and reassigned, but Terry Funk would win the Hardcore title from Norman Smiley.
Because of the nature of Hardcore matches in WCW, Bischoff would challenge Funk for the title and due to legal interference from members of the New Blood, Bischoff would pin Funk to become champion. Bischoff would then assign the title to Big Vito and Johnny The Bull, allowing the two men to defend the title under the Freebird Rule, which was a true sign that the company was in trouble.
8 Vince McMahon: ECW and WWE World Champion
As the owner of the WWE, Vince McMahon went from being cast as an announcer to being, at one time, the top heel in professional wrestling. Also, as owner of the company, Vince can do whatever he wants to do, as evidenced by some of the characters, gimmicks and match stipulations the fans saw during the Attitude Era. One of the things that Vince wanted to do was to prove that the WWE was the best company in professional wrestling, even if he had to make himself champion to do it.
Vince won the WWE World Championship when Vince’s “Corporation” replaced his feud with Steve Austin with a feud with D-Generation X. During the new feud, Vince defeated Triple H in a match for the title with Shane as special referee. Years later, as Vince was trying to prove that the WWE was the best company ever, he recreated ECW into his own image. During ECW’s run, he won the ECW title by defeating Bobby Lashley with the help of Shane McMahon and Umaga. Vince, like Shane, wrestles matches, which places him slightly above other “non-wrestlers,” but just like theirs, Vince’s title victories are tainted.
7 Ed Ferrara/Oklahoma: WCW Cruiserweight Champion
Ed Ferrara was the writing partner of Vince Russo, first in the WWE and then in WCW. Ferrara helped Russo create some of the best and worst storylines and characters in both of these companies and perhaps the worst that Ferrara has ever created is the one that saw him win a title.
The duo crafted a storyline where former Women’s champ Madusa became romantically involved with Cruiserweight Champion Evan Karagias. She would eventually swerve Evan and defeat him for the Cruiserweight title. Madusa’s win would be followed by a storyline where Ferrara would create the “Oklahoma” character for the purpose of mocking Jim Ross and his bout with Bell’s Palsy.
While in the guise of Oklahoma, Ferrara would feud with Madusa over the Cruiserweight title, even though he was well above the weight limit. Ferrara would win the championship from Madusa, only to vacate the title because he was over the weight limit. Despite that, he would go down in history as the heaviest holder of the title.
6 Terri Runnels: WWE Hardcore Champion
Terri Runnels was a valet. Terri Runnels was eye candy. Terri Runnels was, at one time, the wife of Dustin Runnels, also known as Dustin Rhodes or Goldust. Terri was also a holder of the WWE Hardcore Title.
Terri, like many other talents in the WWE between 2000 and 2002, benefitted from the 24/7 rule that was attached to the Hardcore Title. The rule stipulated that anyone, at any time, as long as a referee was present, could pin the champion and become champ. So Terri attacked then-champion Stevie Richards while Richards was being interviewed backstage during an episode of Raw. Terri would pin Richards and take the title, only to have Richards take it back minutes later.
Though the 24/7 rule was considered a joke by the company, making the title a joke as well, Runnels would become one of four women who would hold the WWE Hardcore Title.
5 Harvey Wippleman: WWE Women’s Champion
During the Attitude Era, the WWE did some very strange things, especially with regards to championships. Chris Jericho and Chyna were co-holders of the Intercontinental Title, making Chyna the first woman to holds a men’s singles title and Chyna would also compete in the Royal Rumble. However, just as Chyna was the first woman with a men’s title, Harvey Wippleman was the first man to win the Women’s Championship.
“The Kat” Stacy Carter had become the Women’s Champion by competing in an Evening Gown match that was held inside of a kiddie pool. She would defend the title in a variety of pudding matches and other matches where the winner must strip the clothing off of the loser. However, after having seemingly cleaned out the division, The Kat would make a challenge that would be answered by Hervina, who would be revealed as Wippleman in drag. With help from Jacqueline, who was serving as one of the Lumberjills for the Snow Bunny match, Hervina would defeat The Kat for the title. Unfortunately, though Jacqueline would take the title from Wippleman days later, but she could not remove his name from the history books.
4 Adam “Pacman" Jones: TNA Tag Team Champion
Adam “Pac-Man” Jones is a professional football player who began his career with the Tennessee Titans. During his time with the Titans, Jones was suspended for violating the NFL conduct policy and, during his time away from the game, he signed a contract with TNA Wrestling. In TNA, he was placed in a tag team with Ron “The Truth” Killings, now known as R-Truth in WWE.
Because Jones was still under contract with the Titans, the Titans agreed to let Jones work for TNA provided that Jones was not involved with anything physical. In other words, he couldn’t touch anyone and no one could touch him.
Jones and Killings would win the tag titles from TNA Hall of Famers Kurt Angle and Sting, by having Jones refuse to tag into the match until the end of the match and with Kurt Angle turning on Sting, knocking Sting out so that Jones could tag himself in and take the pin. The team would add Consequences Creed (Xavier Woods) to defend the titles with Killings under the Freebird Rule so that Jones could live up to the agreement between TNA and the Titans. Creed and Killings would lose the titles, but in matches where Jones was involved, the team was undefeated.
3 Bobcat: WWE Hardcore Champion
Cynthia Lynch, known as Bobcat in the WWE, was not a wrestler, thus her inclusion on this list. However, she was also not a valet, a manager, an authority figure or anything else that might get her near a title. In fact, before winning her title in the WWF, her claim to fame within the company was that she appeared on television as one of The Godfather’s Hoes.
As with many on this list, Lynch took advantage of the Hardcore Title’s 24/7 rule and, during a match between The Godfather and Crash Holly, Lynch snuck into the ring while The Godfather was distracted and stole the pin on Holly. The pinfall would give Lynch the Hardcore Title, but Holly would win the title back from Lynch seconds later.
Despite being one of the many titleholders who would lose the title within minutes after winning it, Lynch would go down in history as the first of four women who would win the Hardcore title.
2 David Arquette: WCW World Heavyweight Champion
David Arquette was one of the stars of the film Ready to Rumble, which featured many WCW stars. During the film’s run, Arquette was brought in and placed into an alliance with Kanyon and current champion Diamond Dallas Page, who also worked on the film. Due to the alliance, Arquette and Page ended up in a tag match against Eric Bischoff and Jeff Jarrett, with the stipulation being that the one who scores the pin would leave the match as World Heavyweight Champion. Arquette would score the pin over Bischoff and become champion because writer Vince Russo thought that it would increase mainstream attention. Unfortunately, he was wrong.
Arquette would lose the title to Jarrett in a match based on the final match from Ready to Rumble, which also featured Page. Arquette’s run would be considered one of the things that brought WCW to its knees and led to the company going out of business.
1 Judy Bagwell: WCW Tag Team Champion
Judy Bagwell is the mother of WCW star Marcus “Buff” Bagwell. Buff and Rick Steiner were involved in a match for the tag titles when Bagwell would turn on Steiner during the match but despite this, Bagwell and Steiner would win the titles. Because Bagwell aligned with the opponents during the match, WCW allowed Steiner to choose a new partner and Steiner chose Kaos, formerly of the team of High Voltage with his partner Rage.
Kaos would be secondary to the feud between Steiner and Bagwell and would sustain an injury, leaving Steiner without a partner again. Because of the feud with Bagwell, Steiner would choose Buff’s mother Judy. Though Judy is not officially listed as a champion, she would participate in a title defense with Steiner against Rick’s brother Scott and her son Buff. Rick and Judy would win the match and retain the titles, but the titles would be vacated when Steiner sustained an injury. The feud would be shelved and the titles would be awarded to the winner of a tournament, but the brother versus brother and mother versus son element would be the most unique dynamic that WCW would incorporate during the Monday Night Wars.