The WWE Championship is the most prestigious belt in all of professional wrestling. It has a long and storied history that dates back over 50 years. Any Superstar that has competed anywhere in that period of time would struggle to say that winning it wasn’t their ultimate career goal. It’s not the only World Championship that has been up for grabs in WWE over that period of time though. When Vince McMahon bought out WCW they also adopted their World title and made it their own. Plus since the latest roster split WWE has added a Universal Championship to its gold haul. All of them signify that you’re one of the company’s top guys, but some are more willingly awarded than others.
When your honor roll of World Champions stretches back for over 50 years there are understandably going to be a few Superstars in there that fans didn’t necessarily want to see leading the way. WWE is very much a company that produces one, sometimes two, huge mega star per generation, and they often lose their way when it comes to finding the ‘next top guy’. There’s a certain someone being pushed by the big wigs right now, rest assured he will make an appearance on this list. There are also times when we the fans force those higher ups’ hands. Times when they make a Superstar a World Champion when they really don’t see what we see in them. This list will cover both sides of that coin. World Champions WWE wanted, and World Champions the WWE Universe wanted.
15. Reluctant: Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio was, and still is, an innovator and an inspiration when it comes to luchadors and smaller guys competing in the mainstream. The former World Champion began his career on US soil at WCW in the ’90s. It’s common knowledge that in WCW the cruiserweights were limited to competing within their division. It wasn’t until they folded and Rey made the move to WWE that his career really started to take off. Mysterio eventually made it to the very top and has more than one World title reign under his belt, but those reigns were pretty hollow. His first time with a World Championship was merely a nod to Eddie Guerrero and his fans as Rey was a close friend of his and it happened shortly after Latino Heat had passed away.
14. Forced: Great Khali
At Battleground we saw the return to WWE television of The Great Khali. He helped his fellow countryman Jinder Mahal retain the WWE Championship against Randy Orton, although it seemed Khali may have been a little confused. After the match Khali kept taking the championship from Mahal and holding it up as if it was his. Thankfully it isn’t, although it was an unwelcome reminder that Khali was WWE’s World Heavyweight Champion once upon a time. His size and his country of origin blinded WWE to how little the fans wanted to see him atop the company, and the fact that he wasn’t a great performer in the ring. Let’s hope his repeated grabbing of Jinder’s title was simply Khali getting over excited and not some foreshadowing on WWE’s part.
13. Reluctant: Bray Wyatt
Bray Wyatt has been one of WWE’s key players for a few years now. Trouble is they either don’t seem to see it, or equally as worrying they don’t know how to put The Eater Of World’s talents to good use. It seemed that they were finally coming to their senses when they had Bray win the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber earlier this year, overcoming John Cena and AJ Styles in the process. No luck. It would appear that the title reign was merely a token one to shut the fans up. Wyatt lost the belt at the following pay per view, WrestleMania 33, and ever since has returned to having no real direction. Plus now he’s on Raw a major championship seems further away than ever.
12. Forced: The Miz
The last twelve months or so have been the best of The Miz’s career. The one mistake the multiple time Intercontinental Champion continues to make is that he reminds us of the time he headlined WrestleMania XXVII and was WWE Champion. That may seem a little backward of me to say, but if I were The Miz I’d be a lot prouder of the work I’m doing now than what I was doing back then. He may have been WWE Champion, but the reign was hardly a success. Miz was merely used as a pawn in WrestleMania’s main event that year to help begin the legendary rivalry between John Cena and The Rock. When you’re a WWE Champion who is overshadowed by the guy you beat and someone else who isn’t even in the match, safe to say the fans aren’t likely to be on your side.
11. Reluctant: Chris Jericho
Someone else who brags about something that happened an awful long time ago is Chris Jericho. At Vengeance 2001 Y2J defeated both The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin on the same night to became the company’s first ever Undisputed Champion. A pretty amazing night and certainly one worth bragging about, even if it is almost sixteen years later. By Jericho’s own admission however he knew pretty quickly that he was nothing more than a transitional champion being used to please the fans. Even on the night when he was told he would be the one leaving with the belts he was astounded. This is one WWE will never be able to ignore however since it was such a landmark moment that truly brought the curtain down on the WCW and ECW invasion angle.
10. Forced: Diesel
Kevin Nash is a WWE Hall of Famer, and deservedly so. When you think of Nash you’re mind will likely go straight to his years in WCW. A part of the infamous nWo and a man who innovated the business along with the others in that faction. Nash had a fair few years in the business leading up to that though, mainly as Diesel in WWE. There was a time under Vince McMahon that Nash was ear marked as the next guy to be the face of the company. With that in mind he was made WWE Champion. The way he became champ really set Kevin up to fail. The man then known as Diesel defeated the beloved Bob Backlund in a matter of seconds, and at a house show to boot. It was the beginning of a long, unsuccessful, and unwanted championship reign.
9. Reluctant: Chris Benoit
Unlike Chris Jericho’s crowning moment in 2001, Chris Benoit’s World Championship win in the main event of WrestleMania XX is one that WWE have managed to almost completely scrub from their history. Benoit overcame what seemed to be insurmountable odds to stand in the ring with that title raised at Madison Square Garden. He won the Royal Rumble match after entering first and went on to defeat two of the greatest in the history of the business, Shawn Michaels and Triple H, in a triple threat match. It was a shock to see WWE have Chris defeat two of the all time greats, but their reasoning soon became clear. The title win was nothing more than to give the fans a feel good moment to close out WrestleMania. Benoit was not booked like a World Champion after that night and the main event MSG win was by far the peak of the reign.
8. Forced: Sheamus
There have been a handful of Superstars big enough in WWE’s history to head up the company and carry the brunt of it on their shoulders. Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold, John Cena. They’re few and far between, yet more often than not Vince McMahon can be found trying to force someone who isn’t made for that role into that slot. Trying to jam a square peg into a round hole if you will. One example of that in the modern era is Sheamus. Despite the fans never really taking to The Celtic Warrior, Sheamus has been a World Champion in WWE a staggering five times. The latest reign came less than two years ago. Fans were left wanting when the Irishman won the 2015 Money In The Bank match, and it was even more disappointing when Sheamus successfully cashed it in six months later.
7. Reluctant: Dean Ambrose
Every member of The Shield has been a World Champion at one point or another since the trio split back in 2014. While you get the feeling WWE are extremely invested in both Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns and see a bright future for the two of them, that’s not really the case for Dean Ambrose. The Lunatic Fringe may have won the WWE Championship, and then retained in an all Shield triple threat, but that was a rare high point for Dean. His mundane and awkward appearance on the Stone Cold Podcast was meant to show WWE exactly why the fans love Ambrose, but instead it highlighted his weaknesses to them. Dean would lose the WWE Championship to AJ Styles and now it would appear that may be all for him at the company’s top table.
6. Forced: Roman Reigns
On the flip side of that someone WWE does want as their champion, and the fans definitely not so much, is Dean’s Shield brother Roman Reigns. In the three years that The Shield has been apart Roman has been WWE Champion three times, and the fans seem to appreciate him less and less with each crowning moment. The only time WWE fans actually appreciated Roman winning the title was when he took it from Sheamus, although that was short lived. His latest reign came when he defeated Triple H at WrestleMania 32 in what was one of the most lackluster finishes to a WrestleMania in WWE history. The boos and complaints clearly fall on deaf ears when it comes to the powers that be at WWE, and it’s looking likely that we’ll see Reigns slaying The Beast, Brock Lesnar to become Universal Champion at next year’s WrestleMania.
5. Reluctant: Dolph Ziggler
There was no one fans wanted to see succeed more than Dolph Ziggler. The WWE Universe got behind The Show Off for so long and after a while it truly felt like WWE were utilizing their famed selective hearing when pushing Dolph. Eventually things started to fall into place though. Ziggler won Money In The Bank, something that all but guarantees a World Championship reign in your future, and indeed it did. Ziggler cashed in the briefcase and finally became World Champion. The crowd on Raw that night almost took the roof off the building and Dolph was on top of the world. I can almost picture Vince watching and saying ‘there you go, happy now?’ before slowly dismantling Ziggler to where he is today. It really was a token reign and one that WWE put in place to shut the fans up.
4. Forced: Goldberg
Last year we witnessed the shock return to a pro wrestling ring of the legendary Goldberg. The former WCW Champion was the focus of WWE’s latest video game and had been coaxed back to the company for one last run. Goldberg admitted that he returned in order to show his wife and son exactly what he had done for a living before they were around. He renewed pleasantries with Brock Lesnar in what was a terrific feud. It didn’t need a World Championship to make it what it was, but WWE couldn’t resist. At Fast Lane Goldberg effectively castrated fan favorite Kevin Owens in order to take his Universal Championship. It added another element to his WrestleMania match with Brock, but it was an element that truly wasn’t needed to make it a spectacle, it was already at that level.
3. Reluctant: CM Punk
There may never have been a Superstar that the fans and WWE were more divided on than CM Punk. Punk walked out on WWE in January of 2014 after becoming disillusioned with how Triple H and Vince McMahon were running the company, and it’s something a lot of fans still haven’t forgiven the chairman and The Game for. Despite the higher ups’ reluctance to really push Punk he was a multiple time World Champion with WWE and actually held the WWE Championship for an incredible 434 days straight. As The Second City Saint has often discussed though, despite being champ he was never really considered their top guy. It was as though Vince and co gave him the belt to keep him and his fans happy while they dealt with what they thought were the real top feuds. It was booking that led to Punk’s departure,= and means we will maybe never see him in a WWE ring ever again.
2. Forced: Jinder Mahal
Our current WWE Champion is very much one selected by the powers-that-be at WWE as opposed to being a fan favorite picked out by the WWE Universe. The Indian Jinder Mahal has been hand picked by Vince McMahon to be the company’s crown jewel for financial reasons alone. India is a relatively untapped territory when it comes to WWE, so having one of their country men, despite Mahal actually being from Canada, is an attempt by the company to appeal to the 1.3 billion people that live in the country. It’s smart I guess, but not a sure fire plan. It’s been tried before with the likes of Tiger Ali Singh and previous entry in this list The Great Khali, but not had a lasting effect.
1. Reluctant: Daniel Bryan
The greatest example in all of WWE history of fans effectively demanding that Vince McMahon make someone champion, and getting what they want, is Daniel Bryan. A small, unremarkable looking guy, it’s fair to say that certain people back stage didn’t give Daniel a second look to begin with. He was a hit with the fans though, and it was those fans who demanded that Bryan ascend to the top of the pile in WWE. It took a while with a couple of frustrating teases along the way, but eventually WWE caved. In fact they made a story line out of the whole thing. Bryan’s battle against the on screen authority figures was a literal representation of what he had been trying to get done back stage. The battle culminated in one of the biggest WrestleMania moments of all time as Bryan lifted the WWE World Heavyweight Championship above his head in New Orleans in 2014.
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