No one ever said being a world champion in professional wrestling would be easy. Sure, the winners are always scripted by the writing team. That doesn’t mean the wrestler selected to hold a major championship is going to be successful in that role. Not everyone is destined to be a main event superstar. Unfortunately, there have been some poor choices in world champions throughout professional wrestling history.
Sometimes, it’s not that a wrestler did anything wrong. You could have all of the talent in the world and be considered by your peers and some fans as deserving of being called world champion. But other factors will often come into play. How well was the win scripted? Did the storyline work in a way that fans can accept?
At the same time, some wrestlers might fall into a complacent state of mind after they have finally climbed to the top of the mountain. It’s almost as if they have forgotten that winning a world title is just the first part in becoming a legend in professional wrestling. Continuing that momentum can almost be just as difficult as winning in the first place.
The following are the top 15 wrestlers who failed as world champions. Because we are focusing on wrestlers, some of wrestling’s worst world champions may not be on this list. That means that people like David Arquette and Vince Russo who were not really professional wrestlers when they won the World Heavyweight Championship in WCW will not be on this list.
15 15. Chavo Guerrero
There are a lot of reasons wrestling fans don’t like bringing up WWE’s resurrection of ECW. While the first few years with One Night Stand were great, it quickly went from nostalgia to a glorified developmental brand. The ECW World Championship went to a few wrestlers who wouldn’t have otherwise won a world title – including Chavo Guerrero.
14 14. Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose certainly got the backing of the WWE Universe over the last year. They have pushed for him to become a top contender, which led to him eventually winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at this year’s Money in the Bank. However, there are a lot of factors that led to Ambrose not having the best reign as WWE World Champion.
13 13. Diesel
Before he made the jump to WCW with Scott Hall, Kevin Nash competed in the WWE by the name of Diesel. He developed as a top talent after serving as Shawn Michaels’ bodyguard in the early 1990s. However, in 1994, the WWE decided to have Diesel get the pin over Bob Backlund in only eight seconds during a live event at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, his first matches as champion were not very good.
12 12. Magnus
TNA Wrestling has had its share of failures when it comes to talents. One that might have been a surprise was making Magnus the TNA World Heavyweight Champion in 2013. The United Kingdom wrestler certainly had the right look at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, along with in-ring skills to match. While his win over Jeff Hardy should have been a big moment, it was overshadowed by the fact he was joining Dixie Carter’s heel faction.
11 11. Diamond Dallas Page
After initially working in professional wrestling as a manager and commentator, Diamond Dallas Page had a run as a main event superstar in the 1990s with WCW. He was considered a fan favorite among the WCW crowd, but he just didn’t have the proper personality to be a heel holding the WCW World Heavyweight Champion. This was considered one of the reasons that WCW Nitro’s television ratings fell during DDP’s run as champion.
10 10. Rob Van Dam
After several years as a mid-card superstar both in WWE and ECW, Rob Van Dam was set to finally receive the main event push that wrestling fans felt was long overdue. At the 2006 One Night Stand pay-per-view, Rob Van Dam would defeat John Cena for the WWE Championship. We were able to look past him receiving help from Edge because the moment after the match was worth it.
9 9. John “Bradshaw” Layfield
During the WWE’s Ruthless Aggression era, John “Bradshaw” Layfield quickly made the transition from a member of the A.P.A. into a rich investor from Texas. It was a lame gimmick that the WWE still put the WWE Championship over. He was booked as the top heel on SmackDown during the original brand split. It might have been fine if he was able to win most of his matches without assistance.
8 8. The Miz
No one can deny that The Miz made a successful run in the WWE by starting at the literal bottom of WWE television and rising to the top of the mountain. The former host of the 2006 WWE Diva Search was able to get past some awkward gimmicks before finally showing his true abilities as a main event heel. Fans hated him, but he was the right man to win the WWE Championship in November 2010.
7 7. Kane
If there was ever someone who never got the proper treatment as a world champion, it would be Kane. Despite constantly moving from demon to corporate gimmicks repeatedly in the last few years, Kane has been a consistently dependable superstar in the WWE locker room since he debuted as Kane nearly 20 years ago. Kane would win his first WWE Championship over Steve Austin in a first blood match, only to lose the belt in less than 24 hours back to Austin.
6 6. Roman Reigns
The fans within the WWE Universe are an interesting bunch. If there’s someone they don’t like, they will be vocal. The WWE continued to attempt to push Roman Reigns as the next generation’s main event superstar, but the fans would not let it go without a fight. Since 2015, Reigns has won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship three times and none of them were remembered in a positive light.
5 5. Sheamus
While the WWE felt that Sheamus was a great talent on their roster, he was never able to work out when given the main event pushes. When he first defeated John Cena for the WWE Championship at the 2009 TLC pay-per-view, it looked more like an accident that led to Sheamus winning the tables match. The creative direction also doomed Sheamus being considered a credible champion.
4 4. Big Show
One has to give credit to Paul Wright for having had such a lengthy career in professional wrestling, but as a world champion, he really didn’t have the success that other big men had. For several years, you knew what to expect from a match involving The Big Show. His move set was limited and he wasn’t very exciting to watch in the ring. However, promoters still wanted to put him in the main event.
3 3. Jack Swagger
This isn’t a matter of whether Jack Swagger was a good professional wrestler. If anything, his athleticism and amateur background are enough to make him one of the best mid-card talents in the WWE. However, when he won the World Heavyweight Championship after cashing in Money in the Bank in 2010, he didn’t really have the personality to match his in-ring abilities.
2 2. Jeff Jarrett
While he was definitely a staple of WWE’s mid-card during the Attitude Era, Jeff Jarrett really doesn’t deserve the honor of being a 10-time world heavyweight champion in professional wrestling. Yet, he won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship four times in the later years of the company’s existence. If it wasn’t for Vince Russo and David Arquette, he would have been the worst WCW champion of all-time.
1 1. The Great Khali
The Great Khali is likely the top choice for the worst world champion in recent history. An argument can be made for him being one of the worst in all of professional wrestling. It’s one thing for someone to be booked strongly for being the largest man on the roster, but The Great Khali just never panned out as a good wrestling -- not even average.
His move set was extremely limited. His movements overall were about as slow as a broken down car from the 1960s and he sold about as much as that car would in a used car lot. Yet the WWE put the World Heavyweight Championship around his waist in 2007. The Great Khali just didn’t have the skills to even pass as a contending wrestler.
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