It’s not easy to book a wrestling promotion. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and think “how could they do that,” but it can’t be easy to put together hours of weekly programming for a form of entertainment that has existed for over a century. You would think that the one aspect of professional wrestling that would be immune to such obviously bad booking would be the booking of the champion. Surely, it can’t be that hard to pick one guy to be WWE Champion and book them in a compelling way, right?
It might seem that way, but WWE and other promotions have shown time and time again that even the champion isn’t immune to awful runs at the top. Maybe there was once a time when you could easily name every WWE Championship holder in order, but by the time the 2000s hit, we started to receive a series of awful title runs the likes of which guys like Bruno Sammartino would have never imagined were possible. Maybe these wrestlers deserved to be the champion, but that doesn’t mean that their reigns weren’t absolutely awful. These are the top 15 worst WWE Championship reigns since 2000.
15 The Rock - 2013
If you polled wrestling fans, a majority of them love The Rock. Most everyone agrees he’s one of the biggest stars in wrestling history. Despite all of this, The Rock never really had that one defining championship reign. He had some great moments as champion, but it’s hard to say that he ever enjoyed the same run as the best in the world that guys like Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin enjoyed. If you’re looking for the worst Rock championship run, however, that honor would have to go to his 2013 title reign. The Rock ended CM Punk’s historic title reign for no other reason but to set-up a rematch of his “Once in a Lifetime” encounter with John Cena. That match didn’t need to happen, it didn’t need the title on the line, and The Rock’s run with that title amounted to nothing.
14 Chris Jericho - 2001-02
Wait, Chris Jericho’s 2001 run? Isn’t that the title run that started with him beating The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night to become the first Undisputed Champion? Yes. Yes it was. As great as that moment was (and it was pretty great), few people at the time believed that Jericho was about to become as big of a WWE star as either of those two. As soon as Jericho was forced into an awkward angle with Stephanie McMahon, it became obvious that Jericho’s title reign was a placeholder until Triple H returned. Jericho did what he could by having great matches and cutting good promos, but the lingering inevitability of his defeat turned what should have been a defining reign into a forgettable run.
13 Roman Reigns - 2015-16
People are tired of hearing about what a failure Roman Reigns is. It’s a song that’s been sung for a few years now, and it’s not fair to the man himself. Roman has done everything that’s been asked of him and he’s even managed to put on some great matches along the way. The real failure is how he’s been booked. For instance, consider Roman Reign’s 2015 WWE Championship run that lasted 41 days. Why did this even happen? Roman should have been screwed out of the title at Survivor Series and won it back at WrestleMania 32. Having him make a meaningless run with the title in between just took all of the sizzle out of what should have been his career-defining WrestleMania moment.
12 Sheamus - 2015
Speaking of meaningless title reigns, here’s the guy that Roman beat for the title in 2015. While it didn’t make much sense for Roman Reigns to win the title in 2015, it made absolutely no sense for Sheamus to take the belt and hold it for a mere 22 days that same year. What makes this all that much worse is the fact that Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank opportunity to win this belt, which seemed to confirm that he was given the briefcase without anyone having an idea what to do with it. This is a perfect case of a transitional champion made even more superfluous by the fact that nobody wanted Sheamus to be anywhere near the belt in the first place.
11 Batista - 2010
Batista was mostly a World Heavyweight Champion throughout his career. In fact, he only held the WWE Championship twice. The first time was in 2009 when he won it from Randy Orton in a steel cage match. He was forced to vacate the belt after tearing his bicep shortly thereafter. His second run was somehow even more pathetic. Just a few weeks before WrestleMania, Batista (who was a member of SmackDown at that time) beat Raw champion John Cena in an impromptu match at Elimination Chamber for…well, no good reason.
Batista then switched to Raw to drop the belt to Cena about a month later at WrestleMania XXVI. This match didn’t need the belt to be good and it certainly didn’t need Batista looking like a fool just so Cena could overcome the odds yet again.
10 Edge - 2009
Where do you start with this one? Well, let’s go back to November 23rd, 2008. That was the night when Edge filled in for an injured (in-storyline) Jeff Hardy in a triple threat match for the WWE Championship featuring Triple H and Vladimir Kozlov. This ended Triple H’s 210 days run as champion. That part was okay. Where things got weird is when Edge dropped the belt just 21 days later in a triple threat match against Jeff Hardy and Triple H. Then, for some reason, in 2009, Edge won the belt at the Royal Rumble and held it for another 21 days before losing to Triple H. Being a transitional champion once is one thing, but being a transitional champion twice in the space of just a couple of months? Who did Edge piss off?
9 CM Punk - 2011
This is the first, and most famous, in what we’ll refer to as the “2011 Trilogy of Champion Errors.” It starts with CM Punk’s win at Money in the Bank 2011 over John Cena. It was an incredible moment that ranks among the very best moments in wrestling history. After that, everything started to go wrong. While WWE could have started an incredible storyline that saw CM Punk taunt WWE and his replacement champion endlessly while waving the belt in front of everyone’s faces. Instead, we got a couple of CM Punk cameos at conventions followed by his triumphant WWE return less than a month later. It can’t be considered the very worst title reign of the 2000s due to the fact it started off so well, but in terms of missed potential, this was awful.
8 Hulk Hogan - 2002
Just about everyone was surprised to see the reaction that Hulk Hogan got at WrestleMania X8, including Hogan himself. The Canadian crowd in attendance that night completely flipped the script by anointing Hogan as the babyface in a match against The Rock. WWE decided that Hulk Hogan was popular again and decided to give him a run with the belt. That’s not necessarily the worst thing ever, but it came at the expense of Triple H who was forced to drop the belt just a month after his huge WrestleMania win.
Maybe the WWE thought that Hogan was as big as ever again because that’s the only reason they could have ever justified having the still very popular Triple H drop the belt to him in a meaningless encounter. Hogan’s time with the belt was eventless, pointless, and all-together awful.
7 Kurt Angle - 2001
When you think of WWE in 2001, you tend to think of the invasion, Stone Cold Steve Austin’s heel turn, and maybe the crowning of an undisputed champion. What some people don’t remember is that Kurt Angle actually started the year as champion. Yes, Angle was in the middle of the classic cowardly heel champion run that was ended by the Rock a month before WrestleMania X-Seven. What’s even more forgettable is Angle’s championship run later that year.
For 15 whole days, Kurt Angle was WWE champion following his defeat of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Why did this happen? Well, it turns out the finish at Unforgiven 2001 was changed due to the 9/11 attacks. The WWE wanted a feel-good moment that involved the American hero Kurt Angle winning the title in his hometown of Pittsburgh. While the moment itself was great, the reign was very forgettable.
6 Triple H - 2007
When John Cena tore his pectoral tendon in 2007, he left a major void in WWE. Cena had been the champion for 380 days and, if you believe the rumors, he wasn’t expected to lose the belt any time soon. Since WWE was forced to take the belt from Cena, they decided to name a new champion at No Mercy 2007. Vince named Randy Orton champion for no reason. Shortly thereafter, Triple H beat Randy Orton on the same PPV. Triple H then beat Umaga on that same PPV. Triple H then lost to Randy Orton…on the same PPV.
Maybe this short run would have made sense if Triple H got some immediate revenge, but Randy Orton went on to hold the belt for over 200 days. All the while, he lived in the shadow of the night that the world needed to conspire against Triple H to get him to drop the belt.
5 Alberto Del Rio - 2011
The second entry in the previously mentioned “2011 Trilogy of Champion Errors” is Alberto Del Rio. Alberto was Money in the Bank champion at the time that John Cena and CM Punk were having their Summer of Punk angle. For a few weeks, Alberto teased taking the belt from Punk. Each time, he was smacked down. Eventually, as you might remember, Alberto took the belt from Punk by cashing in his Money in the Bank opportunity at SummerSlam. That was fine. What wasn’t fine is when John Cena beat Alberto Del Rio shortly thereafter and Alberto Del Rio then beat John Cena to become champion again.
You could say that WWE didn’t want CM Punk to beat Cena clean so they gave the belt back to Del Rio, but CM Punk had already beaten Cena twice. Besides, why have Del Rio lose the belt at all only to win it again?
4 Sheamus - 2009-10
Sheamus again? Of course. It might seem like we’re picking on poor Sheamus here, but that’s not the case. He’s a very good wrestler in certain situations and a pretty entertaining guy all around. There was a time, however, when WWE was way higher on Sheamus than they should have been. They felt he was going to be the next big thing and were so eager to prove it that they even had him beat John Cena for the WWE Championship. Well…kind of. See, Sheamus beat Cena in a very awkward tables match that really did nothing to get him over. He still held the belt for 70 days afterward, but you’ll be forgiven for not remembering that considering that he did nothing memorable during that time.
3 Rob Van Dam - 2006
Yes, that Rob Van Dam title run. This one is like the Chris Jericho title reign in that most people only remember the big moment of the title win itself. In this case, the moment was Van Dam beating John Cena at that incredible ECW One Night Stand PPV in 2006. Everyone remembers that win and with good reason. How many people can really name one thing that Rob Van Dam did after that while he was the champion, though? Don’t feel too bad if you can’t, because the truth of it is that Van Dam did nothing as champion. He held the belt for less than a month and was treated like a guy that WWE despised but somehow felt obligated to make the champion.
2 Rey Mysterio - 2011
The final in the “2011 Trilogy of Champion Errors” comes very close to taking the number one spot. For better or worse, we’re all familiar with the contributions of John Cena, CM Punk, and Alberto Del Rio during the Summer of Punk storyline. However, there was another player in that epic tale by the name of Rey Mysterio. Where does Rey Mysterio fit into all this? That’s a good question that doesn’t have a great answer. Rey won a tournament for the WWE Championship after CM Punk “left the company.” That same night, he lost the belt to John Cena. You might have thought that Rey’s previous run as World Heavyweight champion was bad, but that was nothing compared to this complete disaster of a half-a-night title run that has mercifully been lost to history.
1 The Big Show - 2002
Brock Lesnar’s 2002 debut was something special. Not only did Lesnar have a look that suggested he could suplex the world, but WWE were smart enough to book him as a nearly unstoppable force of nature. He tore through legends like Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and The Undertaker while barely breaking a sweat. WWE strapped a rocket to the man and were prepared to launch him into the stratosphere. Then Lesnar lost to The Big Show. Yes, The Big Show. For some reason, The Big Show was being built as the one man Lesnar could never beat despite the fact that Show had done nothing memorable since being in WWE. His championship run, which lasted less than a month, did nothing but help set up Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XIX.