Hogan. Sammartino. Cena. Swagger. Swagger? Yeah, Swagger.
Yes, wrestling is predetermined. No, holding a title doesn’t mean you’re actually the best at anything. Still, it’s an important prop in separating the best from the wannabes and serving as a barometer of where Vince McMahon’s head is at when it comes to the wrestling product. When John Cena gets the world heavyweight title, it’s usually an indication ratings are falling and he’s panicking whereas when somebody like a Dean Ambrose or Kevin Owens is allowed to hold the top title means he’s willing to try some new things and see what sticks to the wall.
Ambrose and Owens both seem like good choices, but sometimes what Vince hurls at the wall doesn’t stick. It slides down the wall and collects on the floor, becoming a putrid mess and leaving fans scratching their heads why it ever seemed like a good idea in the first place. The WWE has returned to the pre-Attitude Era days of letting champion generally hold onto titles for a while. This does two things: It allows the holder to look like a genuine champion and it gives the title some meaning.
Still, titles, be it the tag team titles, women’s championship or even some of the NXT belts have all had holders that in retrospect seem like mistakes. It’s usually because the person was not champion material at the time or as time went on, they never became championship material. It’s nice they gave Jack Swagger the chance to run with the World Championship early in his career, but the guy can’t get beyond pay-per-view pre-show match status all of these years later. His title reign wasn’t crippling to the company and isn’t entirely embarrassing, but that can’t be said of every champion the WWE has had. We could list 50, but instead here are 16 glaring examples of the worst people who held a WWE title.
18 Vince McMahon
There’s a rule that is broken by almost every booker in wrestling history: Don’t put the belt on yourself. Kevin Nash, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, even Vince Russo have broken this rule during their booking tenures in WCW. In WWE, however, Vince wasn’t a wrestler for most of his career, but even when he decided to try his hand in the ring, he seemed like too smart a businessman to put his company’s title around his waist. Unfortunately, once he started playing wrestling, Vince wanted to play champion and for a week in September 1999, Vince captured the WWE’s top title at a taping of Smackdown, giving it up a week later without getting pinned. Bookers who put belts on themselves often claim they are just middlemen transitional champions, existing only to keep other wrestlers looking strong. That’s lazy. Bookers should never hold titles and owners should never, ever, ever hold titles. Sometimes, the lure of the gold is just too much.
17 Santino Marella
Sometimes, you just never know how a wrestler is going to click with an audience. In one of the all-time gaffes, The Honky Tonk Man was turned heel shortly after arriving in the WWE. It worked out well for him as he went on to be the longest tenured Intercontinental Champion up to that point. Santino Marella was given the title much more quickly than The Honky Tonk Man and it didn’t take long for the audience to decide he was more comedy act than viable champion. Between his Mr. Socko-like cobra schtick, a run as female wrestler Santina Marella and a puppy-dog like love story with Emma, Santino was always entertaining but should never be able to claim he was an IC champion for 77 days. His was an example of why the WWE should never put any title onto a wrestler when they are brand new to the company. Yes, it’s a prop, but it’s an important prop and if a wrestler doesn’t deliver as expected, it just makes a shiny prop a little more tarnished.
15 Kerry “The Texas Tornado” Von Erich
Most fans are familiar with the tragic story of the Von Erich wrestling family. For those who aren’t, the Cliff’s Notes version is that a wrestling family dynasty and its legacy was destroyed as four out of six wrestling brothers committed suicide and another died under disputed circumstances on a tour of Japan. Perhaps the most tragic is the story of Kerry Von Erich, who went by The Texas Tornado during his brief run in the WWE. Although he wasn’t there long, he did capture the Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect. By this point, he was already in the throes of a painkiller addiction and wrestling with a prosthetic foot. Like most Von Erich stories, there are different versions of how Kerry lost the foot, but all involve drugs. His greatest claim to fame was a very brief reign as the NWA World Champion, beating Ric Flair, but losing a few weeks later. He was a shell of that guy during his WWE run almost a decade later, and never should have been put in a position to hold the company’s second most important title.
14 Rico and Rikishi
It’s time for another mismatched transitional tag team that makes 1-2-3 Kid and Marty Jannetty look like a well-oiled machine. As Fatu, the man who became known as Rikishi had a solid in-ring career in mainly tag team situations, most notably as one of the Headshrinkers. After some time off, he returned much heavier with bleached blond hair and a pair of tights that rode up too much in the back. They tried serious stories with him, like running Steve Austin over with a car, but between the stinkface finishers and dancing with Too Cool, he wasn’t exactly a comedy worker, but he wasn’t a top-tier guy. Rico was a hairdresser. That’s it. In one of the last horrible occupation gimmicks, we were treated to a male hairdresser who gave off a slight homosexual vibe, but by this point homosexual characters weren’t immediately bad guys, so that part of the act was never played up. It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely duo capturing tag team gold, but this strange pairing were champions for 16 days in 2002, having won the straps at the Judgment Day pay-per-view. If you happen to catch the match on the WWE Network, you may be left with the same question as us: So why’d they do that?
13 The Mountie
“I'm the Mountie! I'm Handsome! I'm Brave! I'm Strong! I'm the Mountie! And I enforce the Law! You can try to run! But you can never hide! The Mountie always gets his man!” Jacques Rougeau, known as a bland tag team wrestler with his equally bland brother, appeared on WWE television one week dressed in a Royal Canadian Mountie outfit. Instead of being bland, he was just ridiculous, as the lyrics to his theme song indicate. Like every heel of the late 1980s/early ‘90s, he not only had a profession, he had a prop. In Rougeau’s case, it was an electric cattle prod. It may have made more sense for a cowboy or farmer character to have, but hey, maybe that’s the way WWE thought they got their men. The Mountie was entertaining, and was the definition of transitional champion, holding the Intercontinental Championship just long enough to pass it on to Roddy Piper.
12 Marty Jannetty
There’s a wrestling T-shirt that’s been sold for over a decade now that simply reads “I’m the Shawn, You’re the Marty.” It’s the male equivalent of the 1970s “I’m the Mary, You’re the Rhoda” T-shirt which asserts in any well-known duo, there’s a superstar and there’s a supporting star. First as the Midnight Rockers in the AWA and later just The Rockers in WWE, there’s no debating who the superstar and who the supporting star was in that team. When the company needed to turn Michaels heel and send him off on his own, Jannetty took the beatdown, being thrown through a legitimate glass window on the Barber Shop interview segment and then disappeared from WWE for a while to take care of some personal problems. When he returned, Shawn Michaels was the Intercontinental Champion. Perhaps Vince McMahon thought a clean and sober Jannetty could compete on the level of Michaels, so the Heartbreak Kid dropped the IC belt to his former tag team champion. That stupid mistake was rectified three weeks later and aside from a forgettable run in a new Rockers-like tag team with Al Snow, Jannetty faded into wrestling obscurity.
11 Marc Mero
Was it the smartest or most destructive thing for Marc Mero’s career when he brought his wife Rena to Titan Towers in Connecticut when he was signing his contract to join the company. Vince took one look at Rena and saw more dollar signs than he knew “The Wildman” or “Marvelous Marc” or the one-time “Johnny B. Badd” was ever going to make him. Rena morphed into Sable and the rest is history. Mero came in like a rocket, capturing the Intercontinental Title shortly after his debut, but he just couldn’t get the fans on his side. Seeing this, Vince converted Mero into a heel, but the fans could have cared less than either. They just wanted to see Sable. Real life marital issues surfaced and between the two, McMahon backed Sable, who went on to become Mrs. Brock Lesnar years later. There was nothing inherently wrong with Mero, but the pedestal he was placed on when he arrived was completely misplaced upon further review. The Intercontinental Title was supposed to be a tool for him, but he ended up a tool holding it.
Unlike these days, we can all agree during The Attitude Era that the women’s belt was little more than a prop used to push whatever woman was highlighting her thong collection in the moment. The division was simply about sexuality, but one female wrestler turned the situation on its ear. Well, it wasn’t actually a woman. It was third-tier manager Harvey Wippleman (probably best know as the manager of Giant Gonzales) in drag. It was one of those situations where everybody except the referee and the heel commentator knew what was going on, but instead of being played for injustice, it was played for laughs. Wippleman dropped the title the next day, but this example just indicates how non-seriously the women’s belt was taken. If it’s all about money and treating the title like crap made them a lot of it, so be it, but money could also be made without giving a talentless wrestler the title. Hervina was funny, but in a title picture, funny is never good.
Carlito won the Intercontinental Title on his first night in the company. By the end of his run with the company a couple of years later, he was mostly used as a jobber to put over other wrestlers and had the reputation of someone who really didn’t have the passion for wrestling of his colleagues. If you could mix the best of Razor Ramon and Dean Ambrose, you’d get something close to Carlito...which sounds like the perfect recipe for a wrestler in the 21st Century, but it just didn’t work out in this case. The son of Puerto Rican legend Carlos Colon, maybe Carlito was too close to the business and being the son of the equivalent of Puerto Rico’s Babe Ruth made him a little jaded toward an entertainment medium others struggled in for years to be noticed. A lot of the gimmick was being a laid back, sanctimonious jerk, but when he said “I spit in the face of people who aren’t cool” he should have been looking in a mirror because the fact he can claim to be part of the IC Title’s history just isn’t cool.
8 Ezekiel Jackson
The 131st Intercontinental Title change in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment was at the Capitol Punishment pay-per-view from Washington, D.C., when Ezekiel Jackson defeated Wade Barrett and went on to a 51-day reign as champion. The only thing one is left to wonder in reading that statement is why the words “Ezekiel Jackson” are in it. Vince McMahon sees dollar signs with big guys and if there’s one thing people can say about Ezekiel Jackson is that he was a large man. He debuted as The Brian Kendrick’s bodyguard and ended up in WWE’s ECW brand, defeating Christian on the last show to officially hold the right to say he was ECW’s last champion. Yeah, we don’t like that, but we really don’t like the fact this flash-in-the-pan held the same title that helped build the careers of Randy Savage and Shawn Michaels. After missing a ton of time in the ring with injuries, WWE finally let Jackson out of his contract when they wisely came to the conclusion he was a bigger liability than they needed. He was last seen in Lucha Underground as Big Ryck and showed that he hadn’t picked up a lick of talent in the five years since he was seen on WWE television.
7 Bo Dallas
It’s fair to say NXT has exploded in the last two years. While there was a niche of fans who watched when the show was only streamed only, it had an influx of fans with the introduction of the WWE Network. Once Vince McMahon saw an arena full of people loving it at a San Jose, Calif., show two days before WrestleMania 31 (The Play Button) he put his full support Triple H’s baby. In the last two years we’ve seen indie juggernauts like Sami Zayn, Finn Balor and Samoa Joe capture the championship and rightfully so. Before most of the current audience was paying attention, Bo Dallas - yeah, the power of positivity guy who can’t get over with the crowd - held the NXT championship for 280 days in 2013 and early 2014. He briefly surfaced in WWE at the Royal Rumble but disappeared after to continue working on his character. The fact his father and brother work for the company has probably given Dallas some job security, but letting somebody keep their job does not mean they need gold around their waist.
6 Jeff Hardy
At the time, it made sense. The Hardy Boyz tag team was finished and something had to be done with the brothers. While the world tried to figure out what Matt Hardy Version 1.0 was supposed to mean, Jeff was racking up impressive victories and gaining new fans by the week. He took The Undertaker to the limit before losing and even got the public endorsement of The Dead Man. Much like Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels, it looked like Jeff Hardy was on his way to becoming another singles superstar who spent the first several years of his WWE career in a tag team. Looking back, though, it’s hard to believe that could have been the reality. After several losing battles with “his demons” Hardy and the WWE parted ways shortly before a drug bust found a bevy of illegal substances at Hardy’s home. This didn’t scare away TNA, where Hardy has been one of its top stars for the last decade. Still, TNA isn’t WWE and Jeff Hardy isn’t world championship material.
4 The Ascension
The Ascension’s story is similar to that of Bo Dallas. They held the NXT tag team championship for one day shy of a year before dropping the straps to the Lucha Dragons so they could be called up to the main roster. Once in the WWE, they looking like Demolition/Powers of Pain/Road Warriors fan boys and couldn’t connect with the crowd. A year later, the only time they are seen on television is to work squash matches. Why does the Ascension, or Bo Dallas or Adam Rose have a great reaction at Full Sail, but can’t translate to the WWE? They have gimmicks that play great in a small atmosphere. It’s easy to play to the back row when there are only 10 rows. At WrestleMania, the back row is almost a quarter mile away. Those fans need to feel the same connection the ones in the front row feel. Hopefully NXT bookers are catching on to this and will try to put titles on only those wrestlers who seem like they could make it in front of large crowds.
3 The 1-2-3 Kid and Marty Jannetty
Here’s an interesting tidbit of trivia. Marty Jannetty was a tag team champion, but his partner was never Shawn Michaels. The aging rocker and the scrawny up-and-coming star held the tag team titles for one week in January 1994. We all know 1-2-3 Kid went on to be X-Pac, Syxx in WCW and now simply goes by his real name, Sean Waltman. Later in his career, it wasn’t a joke for him to hold a title, but despite beating Razor Ramon the 1-2-3 Kid days were a stretch as a viable champion. Marty Jannetty always gave off a ditzy, go-with-the-flow vibe that was close to real life according to multiple wrestling books, including Shawn Michaels. He was very talented in the ring and could have developed into a good talker if he wanted. He just didn’t appear to care. When one person doesn’t care and the other doesn’t look physically imposing enough, putting the tag team championship around their waists isn’t the right thing to do.
Debra first entered the wrestling world as Debra McMichaels, wife of WCW commentator-turned-horrible wrestler Steve McMichaels. There was a divorce and she defected to WWE where the last name was dropped. The buxom blonde had no wrestling talent, but she was a buxom blonde and that was the only criteria for being a diva in The Attitude Era. Debra captured the divas title in dubious fashion. She was in an evening gown match with a heel Sable. The traditional rules said the woman to get her gown ripped off first was the loser, but Commissioner Shawn Michaels said the winner should be the one who got her gown ripped off first. Sure it was a travesty of justice, but it really only served for another segment to get bra nad panties on television. Debra went onto hold the title for 29 days. She finished her days in WWE as a valet to Jeff Jarrett.
1 The Hardcore Title Winners
Pete Gas, Viscera, Thrasher, Joey Abs, Gerald Brisco, Godfather’s Ho, Maven, Mighty Molly, Shawn Stasiak, Spike Dudley, Terri, Johnny Stamboli, etc...
The WWE Hardcore Championship was created by Vince McMahon and given to Mick Foley as a faux appreciation gift. A nod to the hardcore style that ECW popularized in the mid-to-late ’90s, the title was taken seriously at first and wrestlers like Raven and Rob Van Dam gave the title a real sense of legitimacy. When the WWE instituted the rule that the title was up for grabs 24/7, the title descended into a comedy prop. None of the people listed above should have held a title in the WWE ever, but their obituaries can all read they were hardcore champions. The title changed hands 240 times in four years, but considering Steve Blackman and the Big Boss Man combined held the title for a year, you can see title changes meant nothing. The record for changes in one day was 24. Yes, we laughed, but titles should be treated seriously and none of the people listed above should have ever been able to claim they were a champion during their WWE tenures.