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 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.
While he wasn’t a terrible wrestler, there wasn’t anything special about Guerrero winning the title. It also didn’t last very long as he would eventually lose the ECW Championship to Kane at WrestleMania XXIV in one of the shortest championship matches in wrestling history. Guerrero should have been treated better, but he was never really world championship material. His victory over CM Punk for the ECW Championship began the gradual decline of the title’s prestige.
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.
Part of it is how the WWE booked him poorly in the months leading up to the big win. He had lost a number of main event feuds that made him feel more like a filler rather than contender. His character seems more in line with names like Roddy Piper and Brian Pillman. Neither were considered a top guy, but were critical in being antagonists. That’s the best fit for Ambrose in the WWE.
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.
The bouts with Backlund were lacking, which is why they barely made it to television. While he did have some good matches with Bret Hart and Michaels, he wasn’t a very big draw as the WWE Champion at the time. Some might have felt that as Diesel, it just wasn’t the right time to become the champion in a roster filled with a lot more established talents on the WWE roster.
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.
Someone who should have really been the main focus as the world champion wasn’t even the biggest villain in the company. He was the benefactor from various forms of interference that decreased fans’ opinion of him as a legitimate champion. The reign would end at the hands of Eric Young and Magnus would find himself on the mid-card of TNA again.
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.
The creative direction at the time also didn’t help. There were many who hated how WCW had DDP lose the title to Sting in a 1999 episode of Nitro, only to win it back later that night. He also had a three-day reign as WCW World Heavyweight Champion end when the WCW team decided to have David Arquette win the title. DDP’s time as world champion was considered a failure because of how he was booked as a champion.
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.
The win also allowed him to be named the first ECW Champion as WWE opened up a third touring brand with ECW’s name and legacy. Unfortunately, a drug possession charge and arrest within a month of winning both titles certainly impacted his standing as a main event star in WWE. He dropped both belts within a week, served a suspension and returned to the mid-card. This was a case of him blowing his chances of being a main event mainstay up in smoke.
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.
It’s one thing for a heel to get some help once in a while, but it felt like JBL had to have some luck in his title defenses. A good example was being chokeslammed through the ring in a barbed wire steel cage match against Big Show. Because he went under the ring to escape, he was the winner. There’s some truth to Paul Heyman’s shoot promo at One Night Stand 2005 when he said JBL was only champion because Triple H didn’t want to work on Tuesdays.
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.
He had a good run as the top champion that even included a WrestleMania win over John Cena, but fans had a hard time accepting him as a true champion. When someone needs help defeating the semi-retired Jerry Lawler, one has a right to question your abilities as a world champion. The Miz would then make a fall to mid-card mediocrity, but he’s done well as the current Intercontinental Champion. Hopefully, the WWE writers don’t drop his momentum.
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.
Going over the three-month run as the ECW Champion – because that barely counted as a world title in WWE – he cashed in the Money in the Bank opportunity against Rey Mysterio to win the World Heavyweight Championship. But what hurt his run was how they needed him to receive help from Paul Bearer and The Nexus to retain the title. Does a seven-foot-tall spawn of hell really need help to win matches?
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.
While the WWE wanted him to be a face in the company, fans treated him as a heel. Sure, he was still improving in the ring, but the fans felt like he wasn’t ready for the spotlight. In their eyes, he wasn’t the best wrestler in the WWE. No one can really blame Reigns since he was only doing his job as a company guy. Maybe he can earn the fans’ respect in a few years.
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.
While he was a larger athlete who loved a good fight, he often seemed scared of confrontations with the likes of The Nexus. He also had a win over Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXVIII after only 18 seconds. Sheamus should have been better booked into winning championships, but WWE’s creative team failed him multiple times. It is really a big reason why he may never escape his current stint on the mid-card.
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.
He won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship after his 1996 debut and would win five more world championships between his time in WCW and WWE – six if you count the ECW World Championship under the WWE banner. While he’s struggled in recent years and has never been a strong champion, he still does deserve some credit for his overall contributions to the business.
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.
Swagger also didn’t have the promo skills one would expect from a world champion. It also didn’t help that Swagger had one of the worst win-loss records during his reign of any WWE world champion. He did have a chance to redeem himself with the Real American angle in a feud with Alberto Del Rio in 2013, but DUI and drug possession charges killed that opportunity quickly.
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.
The only reason he won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship six times was because it was defended within TNA Wrestling – his creation. Jarrett is slightly entertaining, but it’s hard to really put him on a main event pedestal. If anything, fans felt him being placed in a championship picture was forced. He never really got over as a world title contender with the crowd.
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.