Wrestlers aren't usually in the business of turning down championships in wrestling because they not only result in fame, fortune and glory, but they're the theoretical cornerstones around which all the competition is based. With that said, there are definitely situations where a wrestler should or could have looked at a situation, looked at the boss and said 'I'm gonna sit this one out'. That's what this list is about, the times a wrestler should've looked at the situation, seen the writing on the wall and taken the brave step to turn down the gold for an ultimately better chance at success.
The reasons for turning down championship gold are out there and occur more than we fans may realize. The number one reason is creative direction problems but the list quickly expands. Timing issues, character development issues, self-preservation, legitimacy, dignity, wrong belts, injury, records for the sake of records, being recognized at the wrong level, it goes on and on and should be heeded for the wise option it actually is. Often it would take a brave person to call off their own perceived successes, but throughout the annals of WWE history, there have been noted examples of this type of wise action being taken. Each example is a moment where a career went off course and should be learned from.
And of course, honorable mention to David Arquette who claims to have done everything he could to not be crowned WCW Champion only for Eric Bischoff to essentially force it on him. That said, here we go!
20 Bray Wyatt - WWE Championship (2017)
Considering how good the match he won the title in was, it's almost unthinkable that a year later Bray Wyatt absolutely should have denied the opportunity. In what many consider the best ever Elimination Chamber match, Bray defeated both John Cena and AJ Styles to secure his first and only WWE Championship, but it went unfathomably bad from the moment that show ended.
Now Bray Wyatt is nowhere to be seen, his credentials are tarnished, and most importantly, that first momentous championship win can never be recaptured.
Bray Wyatt is now reliant on a complete re-imagining and repackaging if he's to continue in WWE, and it all stems from that terrible first WWE Championship failure.
19 Bayley - Raw Women's Championship (2017)
Not only should Bayley have refused this championship reign behind the scenes, but she actually had the option to refuse it on television and looked underhanded for not doing so. WWE botched Bayley so thoroughly on the main roster that it's no surprise her first and so far only Raw Women's Championship reign was bungled. It even did ancillary damage when during it she ended Charlotte's PPV winning streak in title matches a month out from WrestleMania instead of saving that for the grand stage.
Bayley was a bad champion and from her tarnished initial win to the character assassinating feud with Alexa Bliss where she lost the title, she'd be much better off if the chance for her first championship win was still alive.
18 Finn Balor - Universal Championship (2016)
No-one in Finn Balor's position could really have refused this opportunity, but unlike a lot of the examples on this list, it was the misfortune that came with the opportunity that Finn would have done well to avoid. Short of a premonition he couldn't have possibly seen the devastating shoulder injury he received coming, nor the weirdly focused crowd rejection of the physical championship that tarnished the match itself.
When it was all said and done, Balor was on the shelf for most of a year, Vince McMahon's faith in him was no doubt removed due to his immediate injury in a crucial position, and he's not come close to returning to that prominence since that day.
17 Dolph Ziggler - World Heavyweight Championship (2011)
Is there a less impressive official World Title reign than Dolph Ziggler's first? Ziggler lost a World Heavyweight Championship encounter to Edge at the 2011 Royal Rumble, but due to a ban on Edge's Spear, Vickie Guerrero awarded Dolph his first World Championship on SmackDown only for Edge to win it back less than an hour later.
In this case, Ziggler's "reign" was a baffling footnote that effectively stained his credibility for years to come.
His second reign cashing in Money In The Bank went some way to relieving that, but unquestionably Dolph would be better off if this had never been recognized as an official reign, which he could've insisted upon.
16 Jack Swagger - World Heavyweight Championship (2010)
Jack Swagger, it's often forgotten, was quite a good ECW World Champion during that brand's latter days. His World Heavyweight Championship reign, however, began a bad stretch for that title and Swagger himself. Swagger stumbled when the ECW brand was folded into the main rosters, but his out-of-nowhere Money In The Bank win looked to have him on the right track. He could rebuild and re-establish himself with his wrestling credentials was the common thought process.
Instead, they had him scrambling to cash in immediately, he went on to be a subpar joke of a champion, and until recently was thought to be the worst World Champion of either brand split.
15 Mr. Anderson - TNA World Championship (2011)
Sometimes it's not just the wrestler who is in the wrong place at the wrong time for a championship reign, but the physical title belt acts as a constant reminder that something is just off. CM Punk had that when he carried around the maligned 'spinner belt' for his 434-day reign despite proclaiming it 'ugly', and Mr. Anderson (Mr. Kennedy in WWE) had it when he carried around Jeff Hardy's alternate TNA World Title instead of the official championship belt.
Of course, the belt suited nobody but Hardy himself in its design, and Anderson looked out of place.
He should have been enjoying his first official World Heavyweight Title run in a major U.S. promotion.
14 Batista - WWE Championship (2009)
Usually when a serious injury occurs WWE cleverly makes the best of a bad situation, either writing the wrestler out to someone's benefit or having a surprise title change that keeps fans on their toes. What they don't usually do is put the championship on someone they know is going under the knife soon, only to have to vacate the championship immediately afterward. Well, that's what happened for Batista's first ever WWE Championship reign.
He defeated Randy Orton inside a steel cage at Extreme Rules 2009, and vacated the WWE title less than two days later despite WWE knowing full well he was injured and about to need time off.
13 Dolph Ziggler - United States Champion (2017)
Dolph Ziggler has maintained a consistent level of quality in his WWE tenure, exemplified by the statistic that he has held a title every year since 2010. The closest he came to missing out was last year when out of nowhere, with zero momentum, he suddenly captured the United States Championship in the middle of December. This was an interesting development that was literally throw away when Dolph chucked the title down and declared he was done.
Dolph has subsequently said that this was supposed to make an interesting impact with an extended absence, but he just popped back for the Royal Rumble a few weeks later, nullifying everything the aborted title reign was supposed to accomplish.
12 Braun Strowman - Money In The Bank/GRR 2018
Not a championship but both 'titles' you can earn nonetheless, Braun Strowman's Money In The Bank/Greatest Royal Rumble wins this year had potential but came to such nonsensical endings that you know that whatever plan was in place had been thrown out and replaced with gibberish by its conclusion.
Not only did WWE have to continually write themselves out of plot holes over Braun not cashing in when he should, but it ended when he handed away the opportunity for a conventional championship shot at Hell In A Cell.
Anyone else would've either been more interesting or less stupid in the end, and Braun could've done all his chasing the same way without either. A waste of old and new conventions.
11 Shinsuke Nakamura - United States Championship (2018)
A consolation prize in every definition of the word. Shinsuke Nakamura maintained a level of aura within WWE throughout his NXT run, but when he lost back-to-back WWE Championship tilts against Jinder Mahal, things began to go off the rails. His feud with AJ Styles disappointed, and WWE decided that to stop the bleeding they'd have Shinsuke hold the U.S. Championship, but by then it was clearly being offered as a flotation device.
He's had no clear feuds since winning the belt, with Randy Orton having a weird feud 'around' him, but it's looking like whatever chance Nakamura had to be considered a World Champion in WWE is over. And unfortunately, the United States Championship was the symbolic nail in that coffin.
10 Randy Orton - World Heavyweight Championship (2004)
A title reign that completely derailed Randy's momentum, turned the WWE audience against him, and stalled him out from holding any major title for two and a half years. Many overlook all of that because Orton can claim to be the youngest World Champion because of it, but it was terribly executed and any benefits from it completely belonged to Triple H and then Batista.
Not only can WWE not use the footage from the win because of Chris Benoit's involvement, but Randy Orton was made to look foolish, losing the title straight away to Triple H as an obvious transitional foil. He got exposed by fans turning on him for appearing more petulant rather than defiant in his fruitless pursuit of the title.
9 John Cena - WWE Championship (2017)
This one was just a meaningless notch to bump up Cena's overall number of title reigns and there's no other way to look at it. The inevitability of Cena's win at the time made the match with AJ Styles fall flat compared to their previous outings and simultaneously cut off Styles' much more important first WWE Championship reign.
Despite what eventuated with Bray Wyatt's subsequent title run, if he'd ended a more significant reign like Styles' it would've meant more. Instead, Cena had a two-week hiccup of a run that is a footnote at best.
The entire exercise revolves around matching Ric Flair's recognized amount of title reigns, and it felt exactly as transparently cynical as that implies.
8 Rusev - United States Championship (2016)
This one is on Rusev because it was such a carbon copy of his first reign which was fated to end at the hands of Cena before it began, whereas this one was destined to run into the Roman Empire from the get-go. Rusev continually plays above his level, bringing genuine comedy and sympathy to roles as few others can, and yet WWE sees him as little more than the foreigner to be eaten by patriotic good guys.
This reign could have been skipped for anything and Rusev would be better off, but he instead spent months getting easily handled by Reigns. That burial only multiplies when the face you're losing to is treading water between stints chasing the top title and Rusev was the willing casualty.
7 Alberto Del Rio - United States Championship (2015)
This one is all on Alberto because he was well aware of what WWE did with him his previous run, and should've known the United States Championship was WWE's way of placating him rather than promoting him. The match he came back to win should've sent warning bells as he wasn't afforded the quality, lengthy title defense from Cena that he'd put on in his other US Open challenge matches.
Instead, he won an abbreviated, lousy match and within the next week he had become an afterthought. By the time he lost the belt to Kalisto, ADR surely regretted ever putting pen to paper with WWE again.
6 Angelina Love - Knockouts Championship (2010)
Well, this one just had so much silliness surrounding it that everyone involved should have called it off, not just Angelina.
During one of Impact Wrestling's rougher periods they put a bunch of their Knockouts into something called a Lockbox Showdown.
The goal was to retrieve keys that corresponded to, what else, lockboxes. Inside was a bunch of prizes but most importantly, the Knockouts Championship.
The thing is, there was no way to tell which key led to which box, so when it came time for the reveal the reigning champion Tara (WWE's Victoria) lost her title by instead winning back her own spider. It's a long story. Anyway, Angelina Love won the Knockout's title by pure luck and it was ridiculous.
5 Rob Van Dam - WWE Champion 2006
Most people point to the problem stemming from RVD not staying out of trouble, but in this case, we're taking a different angle. What Rob Van Dam should have refused was not the revived ECW Championship, but the spinner WWE Championship. That belt exemplified everything WWE and exacerbated RVD's subsequent troubles.
No doubt Vince planned to remove the WWE Championship from him in short order regardless, but the spotlight that came with the belt made RVD's predicament exponentially worse and could have been dodged. I mean, who would've really minded if the 'Extreme' Champion got caught chilling between 'Extreme' exploits?
4 Chris Jericho - Undisputed WWE Champion (2001)
It's momentous, it's oft-referred, it's historically significant, but just like Randy Orton's first World Heavyweight Championship, Chris Jericho should've seen it for the cursed reign it would become. There's a reason nobody mentions anything that happened after Jericho initially combined the WCW and WWE Championships, and that's because it was all terrible.
Jericho played second fiddle to Stephanie/Triple H drama and was perpetually shown to be a weak, worthless champion that fans had no choice but to dismiss. The way he won the gold, almost as a by-product of forces surrounding him rather than any skill of his own exemplified the problem. That should've been the moment where he put his hand up and said 'Boss here's a different way to do it that doesn't stink'.
3 John Cena - WWE Championship* (2011)
This entire situation was coming off of the most interesting development in the WWE Championship since its initial unification. The problem was WWE's impatience and John Cena's inability to see how it could be accomplished better without him winning the gold the way he did. After CM Punk left holding the WWE Championship, Rey Mysterio defeated The Miz in a tournament to crown a new WWE Champion in his place.
Enter John Cena, who all at once made himself look like a jerk, an opportunist, and a cheat just because he couldn't wait to take the title from Rey that night.
If he'd waited to face Mysterio at SummerSlam, then taken the title, and THEN CM Punk had returned, almost everything surrounding this asterisk-laden "reign" could have been improved.
2 Mick Foley - Impact World/Legends Championships (2009)
Before Mick's turn towards health via DDP Yoga he was told in no uncertain terms that his wrestling career was over because of obvious issues stemming from his rough and tumble career. What was clear to every one of Mick's fans was that when he arrived in Impact Wrestling this diagnosis should have arrived earlier and prevented him from holding gold there either.
Mick looked like he was hurting, had almost no agility, and was thoroughly out of place but he held their World Championship and then their Legends Championship within months of arriving, to little benefit. Only a desperate company would have tried something so needless, but unfortunately, that was where Impact was at the time.
1 Roman Reigns - United States & Intercontinental Championships
Before we get to our entry, we want to give a quick wish of get well soon to Roman, who we hope is back on our screens very soon.
It's a seemingly endless battle between fans and Vince McMahon over Roman Reigns. One of the sticking points is that Roman never seems to simply take a backseat at any point in his career despite mass rejection. One of the ways this manifests is Vince putting coveted midcard championships on Roman, thinking this counts. Nevertheless, Reigns seems magnetized to the forefront of Raw at all times and the character blithely stumbles into each opportunity as dictated. Both these championship runs were clearly designed just to pad his resume and pretend he wasn't perpetually spotlighted above all others.