The world of professional wrestling is built on a clear and distinct hierarchy of talent. For the most part, it’s clear which wrestlers are at the bottom and the top of the totem pole, and which ones stand to gain the chance for a push, which in turn will usually give them some kind of a title run. While it’s true that many wrestlers tend to stay in their lane for most of their career, sometimes we can observe a shift where a mid-card wrestler ascends to the status of a title-holder. It’s not exactly commonplace, but it’s happened more than you may remember over the years.
And it’s happened over every major American promotion as well. WWE, ECW, WCW and TNA have all given pushes to unlikely candidates before, which gave the roster a considerable shakeup at the time. While most of these were short-lived, it’s interesting to look back and see the circumstances under which they came, and how it helped the career of the wrestler in question. Sometimes it paid off in a big way, and other times it was merely a blip on the radar.
Ranked below are 15 wrestlers you forgot ever won a title belt.
15. Marty Jannetty
It’s somewhat strange to think that Jannetty never won a title in WWE while he was with The Rockers, which was far and away his most popular gimmick with the company. No, instead of holding the tag belts with Shawn Michaels, Jannetty actually had a short-lived Intercontinental Title run in the mid-’90s. Trying to transition to being a singles wrestler–a move then never did quite work out–Jannetty won the strap from Michaels, only to drop it back to him a month later.
Though Jannetty had a pronounced tenure with WWE, he never did match the success he had in The Rockers after the team disbanded in 1991. He didn’t possess the charismatic qualities to go far, battled numerous issues with substance abuse, and eventually fizzled out all together, transitioning to the Indie scene in due time. Now, you’re more likely to see Jannetty charging too much for autographs at a pre-show meet and greet.
14. Kenzo Suzuki
Suzuki certainly wasn’t the biggest Japanese wrestler WWE could have brought in during the mid-2000s, but he remained a fixture in the company for over a year. His run is generally thought of as underwhelming, but it’s often forgotten that he was able to capture a Tag Title with Rene Dupree in 2004. The tag division may have been in shambles, but it still counts as a legitimate title reign.
Again, Suzuki never had the talent and reputation of some of his peers in Japan. He was average at best, and the move to bring him in was always a curious one on WWE’s part. It’s tough to say that he was a success, and by winning even just one tag title he probably overachieved in WWE. He’s definitely one of the stranger signings WWE made during the 2000s.
13. Ahmed Johnson
Now remembered for his faux-intense and unintentionally hilarious promos that he would cut, Johnson at one time was actually considered to be a rising star by WWE. He had the build, a cool finisher, and was wrapped up in several notable feuds from his early time with the company. But it didn’t take long for his career to delve into the depths of mediocrity, and he soon became a punchline, again, mainly for his borderline-ridiculous promos.
However, he did hold the Intercontinental Title on one occasion, becoming the first African-American IC champ in WWE history. This seemed to indicate that he would soon be in the main event scene, but for the reasons mentioned above, it just never happened. Johnson would sink further down the card, until he left WWE a few years later, which was essentially the last hurrah for his wrestling career as a whole.
12. David Flair
It would have been difficult for David Flair to live up to his father, who is confirmed to be one of the greatest wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots, even if he had the talent to do so. When it became clear that the younger Flair wasn’t in the same universe as a wrestler, it became more of a running joke than anything else. He was forced upon WCW fans in 1999, and remained with the company until it folded.
Most will remember the segments with The Nature Boy, and the odd angles that David appeared in. Some may forget however, that he actually held the WCW Tag Titles with Crowbar, in a legitimate fashion during 2000, as well as the United States Championship. Of course, his wrestling career never amounted to much after that, despite numerous attempts to break through in TNA and on the Indie scene.
11. The Mountie
Generally cast aside as another subpar early-’90s gimmick from WWE creative, The Mountie was actually portrayed by Jacques Rougeau, who had seen much success in the tag ranks in the preceding years. Though the Canadian law enforcement gimmick was silly at best, it actually was able to sustain itself through several years of the WWE mid-card, as he held the Intercontinental Title for a grand total of two days in 1992.
It’s the shortest IC Title reign in history, and The Mountie only won the title because Bret Hart was going through contract negotiations at the time. He’d lose the title back to “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who subsequently lost it back to Hart at WrestleMania of that year. Still, The Mountie actually held a WWE title, despite the brief reign.
10. Scotty 2 Hotty (Scott Taylor)
Mainly remembered for his post-match dancing as a member of Too Cool, it’s easy to forget that they also held the tag titles, and that Taylor himself held the Light Heavyweight Title in 2000. These reigns weren’t major ones in the company at the time, and title changes were becoming more rapid in The Attitude Era anyway, but Taylor did indeed have several runs with two different WWE titles.
Of course, the antics of Too Cool are the real takeaway from his career. There probably was never a better comedic faction during the Attitude Era, and it helped save the careers of Rikshi and Brian Christopher, along with Taylor’s, giving them another five-plus years in WWE.
9. Fit Finlay
Racking up ring time in both WCW and WWE, Finlay is actually one of the more recognizable mid-card figures from the mid-90s to the mid-2000s. While much of his work consisted of matches to fill up the card, or to put someone else over, there were a few title runs intermingled as well.
He captured TV Title gold in WCW during the apex of WCW’s popularity, and also the United States title in WWE a few years later. It made sense in both instances to give the title to a good in-ring worker who had proven his reliability. His success as a trainer confirms his wrestling prowess, so it’s no surprise he got some time with a belt, even if he resided in the mid-card for most of his career.
8. Amazing Red
In the early days of TNA, Red was one of the best mid-carders the X-Divsion had to offer. An underrated in-ring worker, with a gimmick that was guaranteed to catch the eye, even if he didn’t have much in the way of mic skills. He actually held the X-Divsion Title on three different occasions, although two of his reigns lasted a combined two months.
Mainly, he was used as a filler champion while TNA was still working to get over younger stars in the X-Divison. Once those wrestlers were established, Chris Sabin, Michael Shane and Frankie Kazarian among them, Red didn’t have much of a prominent role in the company. Still, to have a reliable transitional champion is an asset for any promotion, and Red was athletic enough to warrant an X-Divsion title run in the infancy of TNA.
7. Mark Jindrak
Both WCW and WWE tried their best to make Jindrak a main event star. But while he was long on looks, he was short on talent in just about every other category for a professional wrestler. This didn’t stop WCW from giving him a run with the tag titles twice, with Sean O’Haire, who was overall a better talent.
Jindrak went to WWE directly after WCW closed its doors, and found no title success in the four years he spent on the main roster. This is the most recent memory most fans have of him, and he’s generally thought of as a complete washout. This is true, but Jindrak was able to capture a few titles in the dying days of WCW all the same, for whatever it’s worth.
6. Bam Bam Bigelow
Bigelow was certainly one of the most popular heavyweights of the ’90s, but he’s not someone who’s known for any memorable title runs. He’s one of the few who actually spent time in WCW, ECW and WWE during the decade, and he stood out in each company, if for no other reason than his look, and surprising agility for a big-man.
He actually racked up a fair number of title wins for himself, including an ECW World Title, and a WCW Tag Title with Kanyon and Diamond Dallas Page, as a part of The Jersey Triad faction. While Bigelow was often used for feuds and filler in the mid-card, he had enough charisma and presence to be considered one of the top dogs most of the time. The most recognition he got was probably in ECW, catering to a more niche fanbase, compared to the other two major companies.
5. Taka Michinoku
Often remembered solely for the comedic Kaientai stable/tag team along with Funaki in WWE, Michinoku is actually one of the more accomplished juniors in his native Japan. He’s wrestled in numerous companies including NJPW (where he resides now) and AJPW, consistently putting on great matches. WWE generally doesn’t like to push international talent, but Taka was able to gain one Light Heavyweight title, which was actually the debut of the belt back in 1997.
At the time, WWE was trying to compete with the luchadores and high-flyers that WCW was bringing in, so Michinoku was a savvy signing on their part. The bad news is that after the one title reign, they had few plans to push him on a regular basis, before the character devolved into a comedic one entirely. Michinoku was able to gain WWE gold, but only for a short time to sell the fans on the idea of a cruiserweight division.
4. Ken Shamrock
Shamrock was one of the foremost crossover stars from MMA to professional wrestling, and he became a consistent presence in WWE during The Attitude Era. Combining his natural fighting ability with an intense character, he stood out among a roster of wrestlers that seemed considerably less realistic (for the most part).
He isn’t known as a great title holder with the company, but actually, Shamrock’s title success is better than many other wrestlers of his era. On top of an Intercontinental Title and Tag Title run in WWE, he was a one-time NWA Heavyweight Champion while with TNA a short time later. Shamrock’s run in the wresting business may have been relatively brief, but he was able to rack up the accolades during his heyday.
3. The Basham Brothers
In a WWE tag division that was at the lowest it had ever been, the Bashams were seen as a breath of fresh air at the time, though in hindsight, the team was nothing to write home about. They appeared less generic when they were actually around, but were almost totally forgotten the minute they left. So it may be surprising to remember that they actually held the Tag Titles on two occasions in the mid-2000s.
The run in the spotlight wouldn’t last long, and when they were eventually cast as Paul Heyman’s bodyguards, the duo were clearly nearing the end of their rope. They were released in 2007, and were out of wrestling entirely by the end of the year. This was one of the odder pushes given out by WWE in the mid-2000s, even in a subpar tag division.
2. Shawn Stasiak
Most will remember Stasiak as just one of the bevy of mid-card wrestlers that were shuffled around during the WWE buyout of WCW. Either that, or they recognized his last name from his father Stan Stasiak, who was a former WWE champion during the ’70s. For the younger Stasiak, he seemed to be zapped of the wrestling talent in the family, and he was cast off by 2002 from WWE entirely.
He did enough to warrant numerous title runs in WCW, however. He captured tag gold along with Chuck Palumbo during the dying days of the company, but the ratings were so low at that point that almost nobody saw it happen. They probably wouldn’t believe it either, considering how mediocre of a talent Stasiak was.
1. David Arquette
Having an untrained actor take home the highest title in the company was unquestionably the low point of WCW’s existence. The Arquette push was haphazard and directionless to say the least. Not that it was a total surprise, since WCW was swirling the drain before it even happened, and since it was a tie-in with the WCW film Ready to Rumble, but it cemented the fact that the company was doomed for failure, and it wouldn’t be long.
In Arquette’s defense, he never wanted to gain the title, instead preferring to just appear on WCW programming like many other celebrities did around that time. In the warped mind of Vince Russo, however, it was fitting to put the hallmark title of the company on an actor, without second-guessing the move at all. Not surprisingly, WCW closed its doors less than a year later.
Whenever anybody complains about booking today, just remind them of this angle. It’s probably the worst in the history of the business.
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