In the wrestling industry there will always be those who excel more than others. Top spots are real and are desired by all. Unfortunately, they are only reserved for a select few. This is simply the way it goes and once this sad realization becomes apparent it then becomes much more easy to settle into middle.
The fans are often frustrated with these situations as their favourite Superstars are held back continuously while the same old faces continue to dominate the main event scene. In a weird way, the wrestling industry is the equivalent of an adult version of high school politics.
Think back to the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan: the outcasts trying to get by in a world run by the most popular kid in school, the quintessential jock, John Cena. Those fans who acted as the Punk’s and Bryan’s of their high schools developed a distant bond with these unwashed wrestlers; the feeling of common ground.
Now take a look at the current Divas scene: the champion is the pretty blonde head cheerleader whose father is the most well-respected alumni in school history. The former champion is the girlfriend of the top jock while the weird foreign exchange student attempts to capture the title.
Meanwhile, Sasha Banks is left in the background; the girl who would be the queen of the halls elsewhere. However, Banks attends an institution that is controlled by the upper-class Connecticut types; those who are out-of-touch with the world beyond suburban America.
In this article we intend to provide the shunned students with their proper due. Those Superstars who managed to “grab that brass ring” and actually become a champion WWE; albeit for a little while.
For the purposes of this list, we will focus entirely on the WWE and World Heavyweight Championship with an emphasis placed on the length of each title reign (30 days or less).
These are the top 15 “paper champions” in WWE history:
15. Stan Stasiak
The era belonged to Bruno Sammartino as his legendary reign of 2,803 days as WWE Champion was over. However. Sammartino was set to reign again when he challenged Stan Stasiak for the belt.
Just a little over a week earlier (9 days), Stan Stasiak would defeat another wrestling legend for the championship in Pedro Morales with Stasiak serving as the transition between Morales and Bruno Sammartino.
The victory would set in motion another lengthy championship reign for Bruno Sammartino.
14. Ivan Koloff
Who exactly ended that first WWE Championship reign of Bruno Sammartino? The answer: “The Russian Bear,” Ivan Koloff. The wrestling community knew that Sammartino would eventually lose the belt but the shock remained.
However, this title reign – like the previous discussed – was simply a transition as well. Ivan Koloff would hold the title for a total of 21 days before losing the belt to Pedro Morales.
Ivan Koloff is a forgotten champion but a champion nonetheless who once represented the company for a short three weeks.
In April 2011, the WWE Universe would bid adieu to one of its most beloved Superstars as injuries would force then World Heavyweight Champion Edge into early retirement; a circumstance resulting in the vacating of the gold.
And who better to claim the title next than Edge’s real life best friend, Christian? However, two days later at a SmackDown taping, Randy Orton would claim the belt as his own. This not would deter Christian who would then win it back from Orton.
This time around, Christian would hold the World Heavyweight Championship for 28 days; making a grand total of 30 days as champion over two title reigns.
12. Andre the Giant
The times were much different and wrestling was not as acrobatic or high-flying as it is nowadays. The biggest stars in the industry were WWE Champion, Hulk Hogan and the most recognizable big man ever, Andre the Giant.
In a highly-anticipated rematch from WrestleMania III, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant would square-off again at The Main Event in February of 1988. With a crooked referee in place, Andre would defeat Hogan for the WWE Championship.
Following his victory, Andre would attempt to surrender the WWE Championship to Ted DiBiase; a move deemed invalid and thus the title was vacated. Andre was WWE Champion for mere minutes.
11. Big Show
In WWE, Big Show is a former two-time WWE Champion as well as two-time World Heavyweight Champion. While two of these reigns exceed our 30 day marker, two can fall into the “paper champion” category.
For 28 days in the fall of 2002, Big Show would reign as WWE Champion. However, it was his 45 second reign as World Heavyweight Champion that stands out most in the championship career of Show.
Big Show would defeat Mark Henry for the World Heavyweight Championship at TLC 2013. However, the celebration was short-lived as Daniel Bryan would immediately cash-in his Money in the Bank and take the title.
The 1998 King of the Ring Pay-Per-View is remembered best for one thing: the brutal Hell in a Cell match which took place between The Undertaker and Mankind; a night that defined Mick Foley as the most hardcore wrestler who ever lived.
In the main event that night, Stone Cold Steve Austin would place the WWE Championship on the line against Kane in a First Blood match. When Austin shed blood, Kane was declared the new WWE Champion.
However, this title reign would only last over night as 24 hours later on Raw is War, Stone Cold Steve Austin would reclaim the WWE Championship.
9. Dolph Ziggler
On the SmackDown 600th episode special, acting General Manger, Vicikie Guerrero would strip current World Heavyweight Champion, Edge, of the title and award it to her boyfriend, Dolph Ziggler.
However, the return of Theodore Long – the actual GM of SmackDown – would force Dolph Ziggler into immediately defending the World Heavyweight Championship against Edge in a losing effort.
All told, Dolph Ziggler’s first World Heavyweight Championship reign would last a little less than 15 minutes.
8. Rey Mysterio
The biggest win in the career of Rey Mysterio would come at WrestleMania 22, when the biggest underdog in WWE history would win the World Heavyweight Championship in a Triple Threat match that included Randy Orton and Kurt Angle.
This first reign would last for a few months and Rey Mysterio would not regain the championship until June of 2010 where he put together a 28 day reign as World Heavyweight Champion.
Then, a year later, Rey Mysterio would win the coveted WWE Championship following the storyline departure of CM Punk and need for a new title holder. However, Mysterio would lose the belt that same night to John Cena.
7. Daniel Bryan
In the summer of 2013, the WWE Universe had fallen in love with a new hero; a man not suited to “company standards” but a man more representative of the common folk who watched wrestling and drank beer.
That year at SummerSlam, Daniel Bryan would challenge and defeat John Cena for the WWE Championship, only to have Triple H nail him with a Pedigree moments later and allow Randy Orton to cash-in the Money in the Bank briefcase.
The following month at Night of Champions, Daniel Bryan would once again win the WWE Championship by defeating Randy Orton. However, Triple H would strip Bryan of the title the following night on Raw.
6. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy is a man who perhaps was never meant to be WWE Champion but the strange Superstar would indeed accomplish such a feat by defeating both Edge and Triple H.
While his WWE Championship reign was not particularly stellar, it will look better in the record books than his two reigns as World Heavyweight Champion. The first of which lasted minutes while the second would last 28 days.
Jeff Hardy would lose his first World Heavyweight Championship immediately after winning the belt from Edge in a TLC match when CM Punk cashed-in Money in the Bank. Subsequently, Punk would also end Hardy’s second reign as champion.
5. Rob Van Dam
The Money in the Bank cash-in moment has seen its share of ups and downs, as some moments hae definitely outshined others and for obvious reason. In 2006, Rob Van Dam would decide to cash-in at ECW One Night Stand.
This would be the first cash-in that did not involved a sneak-attack or surprise appearance. The opponent, John Cena, had more than enough time to prepare for RVD who would win the gold on his home turf.
The fans’ interest in an RVD title reign was sky high but would only last for 22 days as actually getting high would lead to RVD becoming a “paper champion,” as RVD would find himself suspended for a drug possession arrest.
4. Buddy Rogers
The original “Nature Boy,” Buddy Rogers would inspire Ric Flair enough that Flair would adopt his nickname, style, and signature Figure-Four Leglock en route to becoming the greatest professional wrestler of all time.
Buddy Rogers would become a fixture of early televised professional wrestling and helped introduce the product directly into living rooms across the land. Rogers truly was an innovator ahead of his time.
In fact, Buddy Rogers holds the distinction of being the first-ever WWE Champion. However, this inaugural reign would only last 22 days as Rogers would soon drop the belt to Bruno Sammartino and never gain it back again.
In total, Edge has held the WWE and World Heavyweight Championship a total of eleven times throughout his career, with the all-time record if seven WHC title reigns.
While a few of these championship runs have lasted less than 30 days, the main focus here is the very-first championship victory Edge ever scored. This came in 2006 at New Year’s Revolution when Edge cashed-in his Money in the Bank on John Cena.
The battered John Cena had just gone to war inside the Elimination Chamber and Edge saw the opportunity to pounce, becoming the new WWE Champion in the process. However, Cena would take the belt back 21 days later at the Royal Rumble.
2. The Iron Sheik
The Iron Sheik is without a doubt the most important “paper champion” in WWE history. In December of 1983, Sheik would defeat Bob Backlund – who had been reigning for over four years – for the WWE Championship.
The Iron Sheik would hold the title for 28 days as in January 1984, Sheik’s purpose as the generational bridge was fulfilled. Sheik would lose the WWE Championship to none other than Hulk Hogan.
This would mark the first WWE Championship in the career of Hulk Hogan as the “Era of Hulkamania” was well under way at that point. The Iron Sheik played his role and played it in true Sheik fashion.
Wrestling fans love their favorite wrestlers for a variety of reasons. Hulk Hogan was the Real American, Stone Cold Steve Austin was the Badass, and John Cena is the Monday Night Superman.
However, every wrestling fan – whether he was their favorite or not – can agree that the most all-around lovable wrestler of all time has to be Mick Foley. There is something contagious about Foley’s broken smile.
Which is why Mick Foley takes the top spot on this list. Performing as Mankind, Foley would thrice win the WWE Championship with each reign lasting less than 30 days. Quite frankly, there is no greater “paper champion.”
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