In most major sports, there are measurements and statistics that rank the best in each sport. In football, a quarterback is valued by yards, touchdowns and Super Bowl trophies. In baseball, its home runs and runs batted in. But in professional wrestling, some might bring up world championships and long winning streaks when discussing some of the best wrestlers of all time.
However, not every legend in wrestling won a world championship. It would certainly help ones case, but there have been a number of cases where wrestlers are arguably held down or not used properly. It could be a combination of backstage politics. There’s also the chance the wrestler in question just happened to be ahead of their time or in an era with someone like Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan.
But not all of the greatest wrestlers in the world ever needed a championship to be the center of attention. Fans respect those who are able to have the best athletic performances that steal the show. They have the charisma to match their in-ring skill to captivate the audience. Nowadays, it seems like those wrestlers are able to have their turn as a world champion – e.g. Bray Wyatt. But in the 1970s and 1980s, it was a lot different.
There are several talented wrestlers who were never able to win a world championship in their careers. The following are the top 15 wrestlers who should have won at least one world title in their otherwise illustrious and legendary careers.
15 Arn Anderson
There are tag team specialists who have gone on to win world championships. The list includes the likes of Jeff Hardy, Edge, Christian and even Bubba Ray Dudley in TNA. Arn Anderson is likely one of the best supporting cast members in wrestling. He was always known as The Enforcer in The Four Horseman. He was also part of one of the best tag teams of all-time with Tully Blanchard – winning tag team gold for NWA and WWE.
Anderson had all of the tools to be a world champion. He was intimidating visually and his move set mixture of technical and striking offense matched. But Anderson also carried on the supporting enforcer role after wrestling and behind the scenes in WWE. He’s loyal to top WWE officials like he was for a top wrestling in Ric Flair.
14 “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
The world of professional wrestling has seen a number of talented wrestlers who have extremely patriotic gimmicks. Hulk Hogan was known as a “Real American” during the height of Hulkamania. But when it came to “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, it was a little more simplistic patriot who looked like he was getting pushes here and there from 1989 to 1992. For example, he won the 1988 King of the Ring after defeating Haku.
This was the same year he won the 1988 Royal Rumble, the first in WWE history. And yet, he was never able to win singles gold in WWE. He did have the World Television Championship and United States Championship during his time in WCW from 1994 to 2001. It’s a shame he never won a world title, but he did get his honor at the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011.
13 Wade Barrett
The WWE had a lot of talented superstars in the PG Era who never quite got that last little shove close to the peak of the mountaintop. Wade Barrett was easily one of the most impressive rookies in the first season of NXT back in 2010. While many rooted for Daniel Bryan, Barrett earned himself the right to win that first season. The WWE seemed to feel they had someone special by making him the leader of the quickly impactful Nexus faction.
But over the years, Barrett would struggle with unfortunate injuries that kept slowed his momentum down. He still left the WWE with a lot of accomplishments, including five reigns as Intercontinental Championship and the 2015 King of the Ring – although the latter has lost it’s prestige since it stopped being a consistent staple after 2010.
12 Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes is not likely going to remain on this list for very long. With his travels to TNA Wrestling and Ring of Honor, he will finally get the opportunity to become a top man in the world of wrestling. It’s unfortunate that the WWE never fully recognized that. From the time he was in Ohio Valley Wrestling in 2006 until his 2016 departure, the youngest Rhodes was one of the best all-around talents the WWE had.
He was athletically gifted, had a decent look and could make any gimmick the creative team gave him look like gold – e.g. from “dashing” to “disfigured.” Rhodes even put up with a rip-off of his brother’s Goldust character. But that went nowhere for too long. Rhodes left the WWE as a two-time Intercontinental Champion and the possibly of winning world titles anywhere he wants to go.
11 “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
Ted DiBiase was easily one of the best heels during the 1980s and 1990s. A man who likes to flaunt his wealth and use money to get what he wants was a simple, yet effective way to get the crowd riled up. And there was a very brief time he wore the WWE Championship in 1988, but it wasn’t official and quickly ended. In 1988, Andre the Giant defeated Hulk Hogan for the title and then gave the belt to DiBiase.
DiBiase actually wore the belt to three house shows, but was quickly stripped of the championship. The championship was considered vacant and WWE would not recognize DiBiase a WWE Champion. This feels like a way to mess with DiBiase since one would question why the WWE decided to go along with the booking if it wasn’t going to eventually lead to DiBiase winning the tile at the subsequent tournament at WrestleMania IV.
10 William Regal
If there was ever an English wrestler who deserved better during his time in the WWE, it was William Regal. Arguably one of the best technicians was also an amazing heel who just seemed to have the natural charisma to get people to loathe him when he wanted. Whether he was an in-ring competitor or as an authority figure, Regal was a top villain. Interesting enough, it looked like he was about to be a main event star in 2008.
Regal would win the 2008 King of the Ring title while still the acting general manager of Raw. He made decisions based on his best interests, with Vince McMahon’s blessing. But a 60-day suspension for a violation of the WWE Talent Wellness Policy undid all of that. Regal had everything possible, making it a shame his demons cost him his best chance at a world championship.
9 Rick Rude
When thinking about how prestigious the WWE Intercontinental Championship in the late 1980s, “Ravishing” Rick Rude was one of the big names to hold the title. He was the stereotypical heel who would woo the women in the crowd. It was unfortunate he wasn’t able to go higher than the Intercontinental Championship in the WWE. The WCW International World Heavyweight Championship, but the title only lasted a year after WCW split from NWA.
Rude was won what was called a world heavyweight title for World Class Championship Wrestling, but that a regional promotion in Texas. Unfortunately for Rude, a back injury in 1994 forced him to retire from active competition. He never had the opportunity to wrestle a full-career, which would have likely seen him win at least a few world championships at WCW, if not with a return to WWE.
8 Owen Hart
His brother Bret might have been “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be,” but Owen Hart was a successful wrestler in his own right. He also came from the famous Hart Dungeon and was every bit as good a technical wrestler as his sibling. The WWE even gave him a win over the Excellence of Execution during a Hart vs Hart match at SummerSlam in 1994 – one that received five stars from fans and experts.
Owen Hart won just about every possible WWE title and there was a win over his brother for the WWE Championship in the mid-90s. At one show it appeared Owen had beaten Bret for the belt, but the decision was reversed and the match was restarted, negating Owen's title win. Many fans feel Owen should have gotten a true run with a world title. But instead, the WWE booked him with the goofy Blue Blazer gimmick before he unfortunately passed away in 1999.
7 Paul Orndorff
“Mr. Wonderful” had one of the best physiques in professional wrestling when he competed from the 1970s and into the early 2000s before a neck injury forced him to retire. Paul Orndorff also found himself aligned with top names. The list included the likes of fellow Hall of Fame wrestlers like “Cowboy” Bob Orton and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Orndorff had the look, the confidence and charisma one would want in a world champion.
Orndorff won most of his gold in the territory days before WWE and WCW, with heavyweight championships under the NWA and AWA banner. But that wasn’t to say he wasn’t successful in the 1980s and 1990s. He won the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Award for Feud of the Year with Hulk Hogan in 1986; the same year he won the PWI award for Most Hated Wrestler of the Year.
6 Chief Jay Strongbow
Joe Scarpa was easily one of the most recognizable names from professional wrestling in the 1970s and 1980s as Chief Jay Strongbow. But Strongbow was a wrestler who started in 1947 and went through the southern part of the states in the 1950s and 1960s. Strongbow was credited for making the sleeper hold as well-known as it was. He also had his signature tomahawk chop and Indian Death Lock against some of the best of the territory days of wrestling.
Strongbow won tag team gold in southern promotions and also in the WWE. In terms of singles titles, he only won territorial gold in Georgia and also for Puerto Rico’s World Wrestling Council. Despite not having the most titles under his resume, he was considered an inspiration to generations of wrestlers.
5 Jake “The Snake” Roberts
One of the best to have play mind games with his opponents was Jake “The Snake” Roberts. He might have been second to only The Undertaker, but Roberts was a master who inspired many to ever develop a dark and twisted character for the wrestling ring. Roberts had mid-card success to a point where his name was up there with some of the best in the WWE in the 1990s. He was never able to secure gold in the WWE.
Maybe it was his demons in the form of drug and alcohol addictions that kept him limited from being a true main event star. But there’s no denying that he had all of the talent when he got his hands wrapped around a microphone. Roberts has inspired many wrestlers and it was good that he was able to find good health in recent years. But one has to mourn what could have been if he was clean in his prime years.
4 The British Bulldog
Davey Boy Smith started in wrestling at the young age of 16 and flourished as one of the biggest names to compete in the WWE and WCW. However, he was never quite able to secure a world championship for either promotion. Similar to Owen Hart, Smith seemingly defeated Vader for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in 1993, but the decision was reversed. He likely would have kept the title if it wasn’t for legal issues stemming from an altercation at a bar that year.
The British Bulldog won several championships in the WWE, including the European and Intercontinental championships. He was extremely popular during the 1990s with the WWE, but some would believe that he was in the wrong time as wrestlers like Shawn Michaels and Diesel were sitting at the top of the WWE roster.
3 Nikita Koloff
Nikita Koloff was a massive Russian at the height of his career in the 1980s. He debuted as the nephew of Ivan Koloff, but was able to make a name for himself in Jim Crockett Promotions with plenty of gold, including the NWA National Heavyweight Championship, the United States Championship and the World Television Championship. Despite being one of the best in the 1980s, he was never given a world title reign.
Koloff had his opportunities in the main event picture. In 1988, he wrestled Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, but won by disqualification. That was one the last major championship match in NWA that Koloff was unable to secure. He was still involved in wrestling after retiring in 1992; running Universal Wrestling Alliance and running a Christian ministry.
2 Magnum T.A.
A lot of the wrestlers on this list were just not given the push to be a world champion in pro wrestling. In the case of Magnum T.A., his career was cut short in 1986 after he lost control driving in the rain and crashed his car; suffering major damage to his C-4 and C-5 vertebrae in his spine. The man who once stood tall against the likes of Nikita Koloff at six-foot-one and 245 pounds would never be the same again.
In his nine-year wrestling career that started in 1977, Terry Allen was a rising star in Jim Crockett Promotions by holding the NWA United States Championship twice. He was also in successful tag teams with Dusty Rhodes, Brad Armstrong and Jim Duggan. Many feel that he would have been a sure-fire world champion when WCW split from NWA.
1 “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
There is an argument that “Rowdy” Roddy Piper didn’t need to have a world championship in order to get over as a top star. He was able to do that all on his own with his raucous demeanor and charisma. Piper was part of some of the most iconic moments in WWE history. Several wrestlers often reflect on Piper smashing a coconut on Jimmy Snuka’s head as a memorable moment. Piper was also part of the main event in the first ever.
Piper won several regional championships during his time with the NWA. He also held the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship and the WWE’s Intercontinental Championship. But Piper didn’t need anything to be a star other than someone to set his sights on for a feud. But that doesn’t change the fact he would have looked good with the WWE Championship at least one time in his wars with Hulk Hogan.