Throughout the years, WWE has seen many of its stars become staples of the company and have lengthy careers. This is particularly true in the title scene of the promotion, and for the most part, wrestlers who have held titles tend to maintain a consistently important role on the roster. This isn't always the case, however. There have been some notable examples of performers who have won a championship, only to have their role reduced or to leave the WWE all together.
Sometimes, it's just the result of the short-term booking, and their drop off in significance is by design. Other times, it's because the initial plan for their push bombed, and they weren't worth keeping around in the first place. Especially in the late 80s and throughout the 1990s, we've seen plenty of examples of names who were supposedly in the main event scene for the long haul, only to have their role mitigated soon after a title run. Some of these wrestlers found success elsewhere, and some didn't, but whatever the case, their possibility for consistent title-winning success in WWE was capped, and they spent only a brief amount of time at the top.
Ranked below are 15 one-off champions in WWE history who didn't do much in the industry after their title reign.
20 Ahmed Johnson
Johnson was a one-time holder of the Intercontinental Title in 1996, but today is often remembered as a hallmark of the "no man's land" state that WWE was in just before the Attitude Era made way. After losing the title, he was slotted into a long-running (too long, actually) feud with The Nation Of Domination, and never did anything significant in the title scene ever again. He was probably better than many fans today give him credit for, but on the other hand, he was never really put in a good position to succeed after his title run, often being a filler in tag matches, constantly being shuffled around. He was soon cast aside as new superstars such as The Rock and Steve Austin were elevating themselves in the company.
19 Sgt. Slaughter
While he had several stints in WWE throughout the 80s, Slaughter's claim to title fame was his one run as WWE Champion in 1991. The title reign was basically used as a vehicle to give Hogan another title run, and the previously patriotic Slaughter was cast as an Iraqi sympathizer, at a time when tensions in the Middle East were growing, and The Gulf War was taking off. He would only be champion for a few months before Hogan beat him at WrestleMania, and was immediately cast in the mid-card, never doing anything else of note. He actually stuck around until 1993, but again, his role was mitigated, and it was clear that he only gained prominence for the one "Anti-American" angle involving Hogan.
18 Honky Tonk Man
Roy Wayne Ferris toiled in various promotions as a mid-carder for about a decade until he landed the Honky Tonk Man gimmick in WWE. He won the Intercontinental Title in 1987, and against all expectations (especially considering his gimmick), he held the strap for over a year. After that, it's clear that management had no idea what to do with him, and he was slotted into an awkward tag team with Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, as Rhythm & Blues. The team stuck for a while, but never did anything significant, and the drop-off was quick until Ferris left the company all together in the early-90s. His title reign is an important part of WWE history, but he wasn't really a surefire main event talent, and that showed soon after he lost the belt.
17 The Bodydonnas
Only around for about a year in the dire tag landscape of 1995 and 1996, the Bodydonnas were a cheesy tag team, who were destined for a short run. Chris Candido and Tom Prichard were solid in-ring talents, but the gimmick was so ridiculous and pretty typical of what fans were seeing at the time in WWE. They notched one tag title run and then disappeared, as per usual with many gimmicks in the mid-90s WWE. Both Candido and Prichard would go on to do better elsewhere in their career, and the Bodydonnas team is actually just a blip on their respective resumes. A product of the hell that was mid-90s WWE booking and nothing more.
16 Marty Jannetty
So, after a while it became pretty clear that Shawn Michaels was the one that carried The Rockers, and that Jannetty was pretty much just along for the ride. This was proven as he toiled in the mid-card scene in singles action, as well as the horribly failed reinvention of The Rockers in the mid-90s. Jannetty won one Intercontinental Title and one Tag Title in WWE, but this was honestly due to a lack of talent on the roster a the time, than anything else. It wasn't that Jannetty was awful, it's just that he was never an upper-tier talent, and his most noteworthy days in the ring came as Michaels' tag partner.
15 The Moondogs
Often forgotten in the tag team shuffle of the early-80s in WWE, The Moondogs actually held the tag belts for a brief amount of time. Their cartoonish gimmick personified the era that they wrestled in, and their reign at the top was short-lived, before they made their way to various other promotions throughout the decade. While they are certainly worthy of retrospective highlight reels and definitely a part of WWE history, their gimmick wasn't really conducive to longevity, which explains their relatively short running time with the company. All things considered, the Moondogs were a product of their time, but still had enough appeal and intrigue for one title run. Once they lost the belts however, it was a slippery slope, and they never did much else.
13 The Mountie
Essentially just another mid-card gimmick in the early-90s WWE landscape, and there were many at the time, The Mountie actually ended up winning the Intercontinental Title for two days in 1992, until Roddy Piper won it in reuturn at the Royal Rumble. From then on it was the undercard or bust for The Mountie, being involved as a filler in tag matches, and wrestling opponents who weren't the most inspiring. He would have some success in tag action in proceeding years, but his stint as a singles competitor peaked as a two-day title holder, before losing footing within the scene completely. The overplayed Canadian Police gimmick is actually probably more recognized as early-90s WWE fodder, than is the fact that he actually held a title.
12 Shane Douglas
Although he would achieve greater accomplishments in ECW, WCW and various other promotions, Shane Douglas was a one-time Intercontinental Champion (as Dean Douglas) in 1995. Had WWE not been in such a whirlwind of bad booking, and lack of talent, there's a chance that Douglas could have actually stuck around through the Attitude Era, and made it his stomping grounds. Instead, he wasn't booked properly, being given a horribly boring college lecturer gimmick (hence using the name "Dean"-they were really running out of ideas), and Douglas would depart to a better situation in ECW, and attain additional success in WCW. In fact, in both promotions, Douglas would win more titles, including being a four-time ECW Title-holder. All in all, he was just another superior talent ruined by the bad WWE booking of the time.
11 Superstar Billy Graham
A one-time WWE Champion in 1977, Graham had several stints with the company, but this was the only one that lent him any title success. It was at the peak of his career, and many would say that this title run combined with his gimmick, served as an inspiration for Hulk Hogan's entire character. After many disputes with management, he lost the title a short time later, and none of his returns to WWE in the 80s provided the same success. Graham was a certified mid-carder in the decade after his title run, never again appearing on the main event scene, leaving many fans to wonder what could have been. He's best remembered as the prototype for Hulk Hogan, and one of the best WWE stars of the 70s.
10 Rick Rude
After a successful feud with Jake "The Snake" Roberts soon after arriving in WWE, Rude had one stint as the Intercontinental Champion in 1989. It looked as though he could be a star for years in the WWE landscape, and a consistent main event type talent, but he departed for WCW soon after his title reign. Rude was a superior talent, but his roots were in Jim Crockett Promotions, and ultimately, WWE was foreign territory. He was one of the few successful crossovers at the time, and he could have had staying power, but it wasn't in the cards, and his one-title run is the only championship he saw in a WWE ring. He's fondly remembered as a part of the late-80s in WWE, but his run there was very brief on the whole of it.
6 Ken Patera
One of the first in a long line of Olympian-based gimmicks, Patera had one run as the Intercontinental Champion in the early-80s, and then was relegated to mid and lower card action. His gimmick was based on fact, as he had been an Olympic weightlifter, strongman competitor, and athlete in general, but it didn't translate into long term success in the wrestling world. It's the kind of gimmick that would have cut it at the time, but as the industry grew, the interest level for something like that wasn't as gung-ho as it once was (except for Kurt Angle, but that was entirely different circumstances). Patera overall had a solid career, but his IC run was the peak of his WWE years, and it was all downhill from there.
5 Rocky Johnson & Tony Atlas
The first African-American tag team duo to hold the belts, Atlas and Johnson appeared to be stars for years to come in WWE, during their title run in 1983. They had the charisma, the look and the in-ring ability to be something great, but Atlas' issues with substance abuse ran to the forefront, and the team never maintained longevity. The drop-off was extremely quick, and one of the most promising tag teams at the time, was disbanded. Atlas would shuffle around in singles competition, on-and-off during the proceeding years, but never received another main event shot. As it stands, "The Soul Patrol" as they were known, were one of the best tag teams of their era, however brief the run may have lasted.
4 The Texas Tornado
A main event star in Texas before making his way to WWE, Kerry Von Erich was probably the most talented in his large family of wrestlers, and looked poised to be a star. He captured the Intercontinental Title upon arriving in WWE, but his personal issues quickly took hold over him, and he would pass away a few years later. The story of the entire family is really quite tragic, and Kerry Von Erich was just another name on that list. He had a rare combination of in-ring ability and charisma, and almost certainly would have received a WWE Title shot, had he not fallen victim to his demons. One of the most natural talents of all-time, and probably should have been in WWE earlier than he was. Von Erich unfortunately never lived to reach his full potential.
3 The Brain Busters
Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard will forever be remembered as NWA/WCW legends, but they did have a short run in WWE, and received quite the push to go along with it. They captured the Tag Titles, and served as a much needed breath of fresh air in the late-80s tag division, bringing the stiffer NWA style of wrestling into a rival promotion. As everyone knows, this WWE run wouldn't last long, and they would be back in the WCW ranks rather quickly. Still, they made an impact while they showed face in WWE, and given that they were both in the prime of their careers, they had plenty of worthy highlight reels from the time spent there. They would lose the belts to Demolition, and disappear a short time after, but their time working for McMahon definitely isn't a stain on their resume.
1 Ultimate Warrior
In what is one of the most case examples of a crash and burn story in professional wrestling, the Warrior was a star in WWE, and a few short years later was out of the promotion all together. He came in like a whirlwind during 1987, became one of the most popular wrestlers in the promotion's history, and four years later was essentially done with the company. It really was unprecedented, and somewhat similar to Bill Goldberg's story about a decade later. Barring a brief three-month return in 1996 which never amounted to anything, the Warrior remained mostly retired, until his unfortunate death in 2014. He experienced massive highs in his career, but also crushing lows, and the Warrior remains one of the most enigmatic WWE superstars of all-time.