The WWE Championship is the biggest and best prize in all of professional wrestling. It's history stretches all the way back to 1963 when inaugural champion Buddy Rogers began the coveted prize's lineage. Since then many of the industry's greatest performers have chased and held the title. Anyone who becomes a professional wrestler would be lying if they said their ultimate goal wasn't to become WWE Champion one day. As many a wrestler will tell you though, it's not necessarily the title that makes the man and simply being made WWE Champion is not what will have you go down in the history books as one of the all time greats. In fact there are countless occasions in all pro wrestling companies, WWE and its biggest prize included, where championships have been placed around the waists of those who either do not deserve or do not do it justice.
With the WWE Championship, during a history that covers over 50 years in the business it's understandable that some of the men who have held the belt won't have had their careers furthered by being WWE's top asset. In fact there are a handful of names whose careers have seen a significant down turn once they've finally reached those lofty heights. Maybe it's like a dog chasing a rabbit Once they've finally got what they've been chasing for so long they don't know what to do with it. Or maybe it's simply a case of WWE selecting the wrong man to crown at the wrong time. Whichever it may be, here are 15 Superstars who didn't have their career's furthered by becoming one of the top champions in WWE.
Sheamus has been WWE Champion multiple times during his long stay in the company. In fact to this day The Celtic Warrior has been a World Champion an impressive five time. It really would be unfair to say that all five of those times have been unsuccessful for the Irishman. The latest of those times however did not exactly fire Sheamus into the stratosphere. From the moment he won the Money in the Bank match in 2015 all the way up to him using it to clinch the WWE Championship almost six months later fans were left scratching their heads. The title run didn't last and Roman Reigns quickly won the belt back, leaving Sheamus to slip back down into the mid card where he has remained ever since.
Kane has been a main stay in WWE for 20 years now. When you take that into consideration it's absolutely shocking that The Big Red Machine has only won World Championship gold three times in that period. What makes that fact even more surprising is that only one of those three reigns was with the WWE Title, and it was all the way back in 1998 and lasted just 24 hours. Despite Kane only being around for about a year at the time, he had already proven that his character didn't need titles to remain near the top of the card. I'm sure he likes having that championship on his resume but his career would have taken the same trajectory whether those 24 hours with the belt had happened or not.
13 Jack Swagger
Jack Swagger may have never held the WWE Championship while he was with the company, but he did have a spell in possession of the World Heavyweight Championship when it was supposedly seen as equal to WWE's most prized possession. The roster was split in two and therefore they needed two world titles. For a while the big gold belt continued to hold the prestige that it had done in years gone by, but it soon became watered down. By the time Swagger won the championship in 2010 it really didn't mean much at all. The Real American cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to take the title from Chris Jericho. That was where Swagger's WWE career peaked as following the reign he slipped gradually down the card until he was released in 2017.
12 Sycho Sid
Sycho Sid, as he was known in WWE, actually held the WWE Championship twice over a very short period of time. Throughout the end of of 1996 and the first few months of 1997 Sid was a key player in rivalries involving himself, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. It was a time where WWE were building stars like The Hitman and HBK and Sid was ear marked to be part of that rebuild. Unfortunately some hot shotting of the title around that time created controversy and Sid's two reigns were rather hollow. His second reign came to an end when Sid lost the belt to The Undertaker at WrestleMania XIII, a match that fans forget closed the show as it is very much overshadowed by the famous Bret Hart versus Stone Cold battle from earlier that night.
11 Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio has been in the business for just about as long as Kane, but for a multitude of different companies unlike The Big Red Machine of course. Due to the luchador's mask and small stature fans are fooled into believing Rey is a lot younger than he seems. His size meant that Mysterio had to work twice as hard to carve himself out a decent career in pro wrestling, and that he did. Rey has won many championships throughout his long and impressive career, but the WWE title is one that he's only managed to clinch the one time, and it was a forgettable reign at that. Rey won a tournament for the vacant title in 2011 and unlike his masked peer Kane, he didn't even get 24 hours to savor that career landmark. By the end of that same night he was forced to defend his newly won belt against John Cena, a match that Mysterio lost.
10 The Great Khali
Similarly to Jack Swagger, the mammoth Great Khali never actually managed to get his massive hands on the WWE Championship. He can boast that he held the World Heavyweight Championship though, but it didn't do much for the Indian Superstar. WWE had a big vision for the big acquisition that was The Great Khali but it didn't exactly pan out. Khali squashed The Undertaker as well as winning the world title on Vince McMahon's quest to make him a big deal with not much luck. Following his unsuccessful stay in the championship scene Khali slipped into obscurity before leaving the company altogether, not before he spent some time as the Punjabi Playboy however. Poor Khali.
9 Bob Backlund
Bob Backlund is an undeniable legend in pro wrestling history and can boast two reigns with the coveted WWE Championship. Well his first reign is the one he'll want to boast about. Backlund won the title back in 1978 and incredibly remained champion for almost six years before losing the belt to The Iron Sheik in late 1983. Bob would have to wait over ten years for his second run with the belt, and if you ask him now I'm sure he'd tell you it wasn't worth the wait. It lasted just three days before he lost it to Diesel and while his first WWE title reign would have made his career, the second one most definitely did not help it in any way, shape or form.
8 Dean Ambrose
Since The Shield went their separate ways in 2014 all three of its respective members have been WWE Champions. Roman Reigns is of course constantly a part of the current world title picture. Seth Rollins had his crowning moment at WrestleMania 31. And Dean Ambrose shockingly cashed in his Money in the Bank in 2016 to foil both his former brothers. It was a fantastic moment at the time and The Lunatic Fringe was on top of the world. While holding the belt though Dean's stock just got lower and lower. Eventually he lost it to AJ Styles but by that point the crowd was almost completely turned off to Ambrose and he's struggled to get back the adoration he once had before being a WWE Champion.
7 Rob Van Dam
Like so many Superstars who made the jump from WCW and ECW to WWE following both companies going out of business, Rob van Dam was not the most beloved wrestler by Vince McMahon when he first arrived. He found himself battling for the Hardcore Championship when really he deserved so much more than that. Eventually Rob got what he deserved and became WWE Champion. His own antics meant it was short lived though. Less than a month after winning the belt Van Dam inexplicably lost it in short order. A little while later it was revealed that the ECW Original was being suspended under WWE's wellness policy and all became clear. Evidently Van Dam had been celebrating a little too hard after becoming champion and it would be the last thing of significance he did while with WWE.
6 The Miz
The Miz has been on something of a tear in WWE over the past twelve months. Prior to that however his career had become somewhat stagnant. In fact it would probably be fair to say that The Awesome One's act and role in the company had been poor since his one and only run with the WWE Championship. Miz found himself in the middle of a feud between The Rock and John Cena and not only did he not belong there, but fans were wondering what he was doing anywhere near the WWE Championship at all. Having the A-Lister as champion led to him being resented and his credibility was hindered rather than helped by him holding the company's most coveted prize.
5 CM Punk
Speaking of Superstars who were used as cannon fodder in order for WWE to boost bigger and better things, in their eyes anyway, let's move swiftly on to CM Punk. Time and time again Punk proved to WWE that he should be their top guy via his work in the ring, his skill on the mic, and simply the adoration of the fans. The Second City Saint even managed to become WWE Champion despite the system not wanting him at the top of their pile. Even then however Punk was kept out of their lime light, as much as they possibly could anyway, and main events. As Cena and Rock headed towards their WrestleMania rematch, Punk was champion and quite rightfully should have been involved. Instead he had to sacrifice the title to The People's Champ two months before and miss out on being a part of their blockbuster match.
4 Andre The Giant
Andre the Giant is one of the most iconic figures in all of pro wrestling history. He was beloved by fans and peers alike and has a legend so big that it has lasted long past his death and those who don't know of him would think he almost sounds mythical upon hearing tales about him. Despite his larger than life character and importance to the annuls of wrestling history, Andre only held the WWE Championship once, and it may be the most hollow 'victory' in the title's history. The Giant defeated Hulk Hogan for the belt after Ted Dibiase paid off referee Earl Hebner to count to three even after The Hulkster had lifted his shoulder. Upon winning Andre immediately surrendered the championship to DiBiase. The huge Frenchman may have had a legendary career, but none of it was due to his very short time with the WWE Championship.
3 Dolph Ziggler
One final appearance for the big gold belt as we introduce another man who is yet to actually win the WWE Championship, but has still been a World Champion in WWE. Dolph Ziggler. In the build to Dolph's landmark moment WWE fans were clamoring for The Showoff to finally be the top dog. Then Vince McMahon gave Dolph and the fans the moment they had all been waiting for, but in a way that suited him. By making Ziggler World Champion as opposed to putting the WWE title on him he satisfied all parties. However his time as champion did not help Dolph and much like The Miz, following his reign Ziggler slipped away from the top table. Fans have been indifferent towards him ever since and hence he has not had any further title reigns.
2 Kevin Owens
There is perhaps no better of an all rounder when it comes to wrestling coupled with mic skill in WWE right now than Kevin Owens. The Prizefighter deserved to win the championship as soon as he stepped foot in WWE but of course had to wait. To the surprise of most fans KO got his crowning moment in 2016 when Triple H aided him in winning the vacant Universal title. Sadly though for some reason once the strap was on Owens his stock began to sink. While he was champion Owens was involved in too many comedic angles and it affected his legitimacy as WWE's top guy. His loss of the belt to Goldberg in an embarrassing squash match was the whimper of a full stop that summed up Owens' title reign.
1 Bray Wyatt
If you think the wait for Owens to be champion was bad, then Bray Wyatt's was positively excruciating. Much like The Undertaker, Bray's pro wrestling persona doesn't need to revolve around chasing gold. That aside it was still far too long before Wyatt finally became WWE Champion. Then when he did it frustratingly did more bad than good. Bray went into WrestleMania 33 as defending champion with a belt that is supposedly the company's top prize. Yet the match was far from the top of the card, lackluster at best and one that he lost to Randy Orton. Since then Wyatt's actions have lacked direction and it seems that the WWE writers are as confused about his character as they were before his crowning moment.