It seems these days that anybody that comes through the WWE wins a title of some kind to test how it sits with the crowd. Between the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Intercontinental Championship, United States Championship and Tag Team titles, there are plenty of opportunities for any superstar to get gold around their waist.
It was much harder years ago when the titles were limited, and most commonly reserved for the top faces of the company. Of the current WWE roster, there are only a few that haven’t won any sort of title (Adam Rose, Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt are the most notable). Even Zack Ryder has a United States Championship to his name despite being a jobber these days.
There have been some much bigger names that have had long careers with the WWE and never won a single main event or midcard title. Many of these wrestlers still ended up in the company’s Hall of Fame, but they probably would have appreciated just one title run, even if it was brief.
So which wrestlers have had notable careers, but never won a WWE title of any kind? Here are 15 men that got all the way up to main event status at one point in their careers, but were never awarded with a title for their crowd drawing ways.
15 Bad News Brown
Bad News Brown (real name Allen Coage) came to the WWE after a solid career in Judo. During the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Coage won the bronze medal in the heavyweight division, and two golds at the 1967 and 1975 Pan American Games. Coage had a brief stint in the WWWF before going to Stampede Wrestling for six years. Coage returned, this time to Vince McMahon's empire, as Bad News Brown and played a tweener character. Coage never won a title in his stint with the WWE, but he had enough titles in independent promotions and Judo competitions to satisfy his career.
14 Buddy Rose
“Playboy” Buddy Rose (real name Paul R. Perschmann) was raised in Las Vegas, Nevada but moved to become trained by Verne Gagne and Billy Robinson. Perschmann became popular while in the Pacific Northwest when he was involved in a feud with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The pair ended up with the WWE, but Rose would never win a title with the company. During his prime, Rose competed in main events at house shows against Bob Backlund for the WWE World Heavyweight title, but never won the gold.
13 George Steele
The 6-foot-1, 280 pound George “The Animal” Steele was supposed to be a football player, but a knee injury while at Michigan State University cut his career short. Steele moved back home to the Detroit area and became a masked professional wrestler on the independent circuit when Bruno Sammartino spotted him while in Pittsburgh. Steele got a contract with the WWE and became a top level monster heel quickly. Steele has since been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame (back in 1995), but never had a title with the company despite many years of being a top level performer. Steele retired in 1988 due to Crohn’s Disease.
12 Bob Orton
Bob Orton, Jr. is better known these days as the father of WWE Superstar Randy Orton, but he was a big name in his own right for quite some time. Orton started his wrestling career with the NWA, and quickly moved to the World Wrestling Federation in 1981, where he stayed until 1987. Orton had many memorable feuds, but never achieved the same success that his son has in terms of accomplishments. Orton wrestled on the independent circuit throughout most of the 1990s and early 2000s, and was finally inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.
11 Ernie Ladd
Professional wrestling has a love affair with former football players, and “The Big Cat” Ernie Ladd is no exception. Ladd was a star player at Grambling University, and was drafted in the fourth round by the Chicago Bears in the 1961 NFL Draft, but ended up playing for the AFL’s San Diego Chargers, where he was a four time All-Star. Ladd left for pro wrestling full time after only doing it in the offseason, because it paid more. In the late 1960s, Ladd was a big time face, but had a great heel run in the 1970s. Ladd won more than a dozen independent titles, but the only title he has in the WWE is that of a Hall of Fame member that was inducted in 1995.
10 Junkyard Dog
Another former football player, Sylvester Ritter (The Junkyard Dog) was a two-time honorable mention All-American at Fayetteville State University. For a couple of years, the JYD was with some of the big names in the Universal Wrestling Federation before moving on to the WWE in 1984. JYD got over with the crowd right away, bringing children into the ring to dance around with him. JYD had some memorable feuds, but left before he could get a title shot to the WCW in 1988. JYD wouldn’t be back with the WWE, retiring from wrestling in 1993 and passing away at the age of 45 in a car accident in 1998. He is, however, a WWE Hall of Famer in the 2004 class.
9 Jim Duggan
“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan might have a Legends contract with the WWE, but he doesn’t have a single title to his name from the company. Duggan played a babyface patriot in his time with the WWE, even winning the first ever Royal Rumble match back in 1988. Duggan lost a lot of momentum in the early 1990s, and disappeared to WCW where he quickly became the United States Champion. Duggan has made many appearances since then with the WWE, and was elected into the Hall of Fame back in 2011. His trademark “HOOOOO” still gets over with the crowd.
8 Harley Race
Harley Race was a big name when he was with the WWE and won multiple titles, but they were all with non-WWE branded companies. In the NWA, Race was the World Champion eight times, which has been converged multiple times into what is now the United States Championship. Race didn’t come into the WWE until 1986 where he was involved with another list member, Junkyard Dog, at Wrestlemania III. Race also took on top guys Hulk Hogan and Jim Duggan, and even won the King of the Ring in 1986. Race was elected into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004 and is still considered a legend by the company.
7 Paul Orndorff
Don’t be surprised to see yet another former football player on the list. Orndorff was a star running back at the University of Tampa, and was then drafted by the New Orleans Saints, but never played in the NFL. Orndorff turned his attention to wrestling, where passing a physical wasn’t as hard. In 1983, Orndorff signed with the WWE and was put together with Roddy Piper, getting into a big time feud with Hulk Hogan. Orndorff retired partly in 1988, and his spot as Bobby “The Brain” Heenan’s client was replaced by Rick Rude. Orndorff never took home gold despite having the best feud of 1986, and he was elected into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.
6 Jimmy Snuka
“Superfly” Jimmy Snuka started to make the high flying style of professional wrestling what it is today. Snuka came into the WWE in 1982, and had what was awarded as the Match of the Year in a steel cage against Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden. Despite being massively popular with the fans, Snuka never won a title, even during his second run with the company from 1989 to 1992. Like many of the others on the list, Snuka was still honored with a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996.
5 Jerry “The King” Lawler
Jerry “The King” Lawler is still a legend in the regional promotions down south, especially in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. Lawler had a famous feud with comedian Andy Kaufman, which made the King a household name. Lawler joined up with the WWE as an announcer, but still made a lot of appearances in the ring. Lawler is still working with the WWE as a commentator, but never had enough gas in the tank to get involved in a wrestling feud that would win him a title. Lawler is still a 35 time AWA Heavyweight Champion and a 2007 WWE Hall of Famer, though.
4 Bam Bam Bigelow
Bam Bam Bigelow as a nearly 400 pound wrestler dubbed as “The Beast from the East”. Bigelow had a short stint in Memphis in the regional market before being signed by the WWE in 1987. He made a huge debut where heel managers all were fighting each other to offer their services, but Bigelow had a face turn instead. It seemed like Bigelow would get a title shot after being a part of Hulk Hogan’s Survivor Series team, but it wasn’t in the cards. Bigelow left and then came back after winning a tag title and hardcore title with the WCW. Bigelow is not in the WWE Hall of Fame, and he passed away from a drug overdose in 2007 at the age of 45.
Unlike many of the other wrestlers on this list, Vader is still in fighting shape and trying to offer his services as a wrestler to this day. He does have the ‘former football player’ gimmick in common with others, playing as an offensive lineman with the University of Colorado before retiring due to leg injuries. Vader made a name for himself in New Japan Pro Wrestling and WCW before finally reaching the WWF in 1996. Vader feuded with future legends Shawn MIchaels and the Undertaker before leaving after just a couple of years. Vader was a three time World Heavyweight Champion with WCW, but never won a title with the WWE.
2 Dusty Rhodes
The late Dusty Rhodes is considered as a legend in the WWE, and he has two sons that are still working with the company. However, all of the titles that Dusty won in his career came before he joined the WWE. Rhodes had a long career with the NWA and Jim Crockett Promotions, and didn’t reach the WWE until 1989 when he was put into a feud with Randy Savage, who was fresh off of his King of the Ring win. Rhodes only lasted with the WWE as a wrestler for less than two years before he and his son (who would later become Goldust) took off to join WCW. Rhodes would join the creative team for WWE in 2005, where he worked until his death in June of 2015.
1 Jake Roberts
You are probably trying to think back through Jake Roberts’s eight years in the WWE right now and trying to figure out some sort of title that he won. It’s strange that a big name that was around for so long never won a title, but it’s true. After debuting with the WWE in 1986, Roberts quickly became a top heel with the assistance from his snake, Damien. Many of the notable feuds of the late 1980s involved Jake Roberts, but none of the title matches that Roberts had ended in a victory for him. The man that (possibly by accident) invented the DDT was elected into the WWE Hall of Fame last year.
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