The history of the WWE Championship dates back to the 1960s when WWE was known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) – later shortened to the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) – later renamed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
The very first man to hold the prestigious title was the late Buddy Rogers – the original “Nature Boy” (yes, that's right, Ric Flair is not the original Natch). Since the days of Buddy Rogers' championship reign, forty-three other men have had the privilege of calling themselves WWE Champion.
The belt itself has seen a number of changes over the years – many different styles were adapted to better suit the era in which it was being represented. The belt has even been customized to fit the personalities of certain superstars such as a smoking skull design for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, a Brahma bull look for The Rock, and a hip-hop-clad version for John Cena.
Aside from those three men, the WWE Championship has been held by some of the greatest superstars of all time: Bruno Sammartino (who holds the record for longest title reign at 2803 days), Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk – just to name a few.
However, despite the certain greatness of certain individuals, there are those who have been lost in the mix or overlooked or overshadowed. Therefore, never receiving their own run as the WWE Champion. There are many who have captured the big gold in NWA, AWA, or WCW but the crown jewel of the wrestling industry is the WWE Championship.
The current holder of the title, Brock Lesnar, is also the youngest man to have ever won the championship at the age of twenty-five back in 2002. The oldest man to have ever won the gold is none other than Vince McMahon himself, at fifty-four-years of age (not the greatest moment for the title). John Cena has won the championship more times than any other man in history with an unprecedented twelve title victories – but these are all facts about actual champions and we're not here to focus of those superstars. This list will consists of the greatest men who have never worn the gold, but who have wrestled in the WWE.
These are the top 20 superstars who never won the WWE Championship:
Christian first made a name for himself in WWE as one half of Edge and Christian – one of the best tag teams of their generation and of all time. Once his partnership with Edge was dissolved, the pair moved in separate directions. Edge eventually rose up the ranks and managed to put together an amazing career as a singles competitor, despite the fact that he was forced into early retirement. Christian, on the other hand, spent a great deal of his time in WWE as a mid-card performer, capturing the Intercontinental, Hardcore, and European Championships. It took a long time but following the retirement of his best friend and former partner Edge, the WWE was ready to give Christian a chance at the top of the card (soft of) when he became a two-time World Heavyweight Champion – a great accolade for a great, hard-working superstar but it just doesn't equate to being the WWE Champion.
19 William Regal
You would be hard-pressed to find a superstar who is more technically-sound in the ring than William Regal. The man from across the pound fits into that category that is rather difficult to come by these days; Regal is a wrestler not an entertainer. Although he has provided a number of entertaining moments in the past acting as Commissioner or General Manager, the true forte of William Regal is on display inside of the ring. Realistically, a long-term run as WWE Champion would never have happened for William Regal but perhaps something along the lines of one title defense would have been a nice change of pace in WWE, no matter how minimal.
Performing under his real name in WCW, Ron Simmons would make history by becoming the first ever African-American World Heavyweight Champion. In WWE, Simmons became known as Faarooq – a militant-type leader of The Nation of Domination. While NOD was ground-breaking at the time, his greatest success in WWE came during his tag-team years when Faarooq, along with his partner Bradshaw, formed The Acolytes/APA. The team were as dominant as any other – big and mean and always ready for a fight but while Bradshaw would move on to a WWE Championship reign of his own, that opportunity never arose for Faarooq.
I have discussed Vader a couple of times on previous lists, but I must once again re-visit his tenure in WWE … Vader had all the fixings to be a big-time main event star and WWE Champion but it would seem as though the timing wasn't right. You see, Vader joined the WWE in early 1996 – a time when The Kliq was running the show and Shawn Michaels was the top-guy in the company. Vader feuded with Michaels over the WWE Championship which provided some interesting wrestling considering the size differential and contrasting in-ring work. Nevertheless, Vader would never gain the WWE Championship.
16 Owen Hart
The tragic story of Owen Hart and his fall from the rafters at Over the Edge 1999 was a heartbreaking and humbling moment for the wrestling world. Hart was only thirty-four-years-old when he died – a terrible end to a tremendous life. Owen, of course, was a proud member of the legendary Hart family and with his older brother Bret working for WCW at the time, there was no telling where his WWE career could have gone – perhaps somewhere down the line there was a WWE Championship in his future. We will sadly never know.
Yes, I realize that Goldberg spent all of one year in the WWE, but his inclusion on this list is necessary due to the sheer impact of his arrival. Bill Goldberg was the hottest thing to ever come out of WCW and when word began to spread that he had signed a contract with WWE, speculation began to burn like wildfire concerning where he would stand in the company. While Goldberg did manage to win the World Heavyweight Championship, he was never afforded a shot at the WWE Championship (I know, I know … Goldberg was on Raw and the WWE Championship was exclusive to SmackDown). When Goldberg decided to leave WWE after a year, many fans were left disappointed. Goldberg as the WWE Champion would have been great. but I suppose those WCW guys were only qualified to win the big gold belt that came over from the company (well, they did give Rey Mysterio the WWE Championship one time – a run that lasted only a few hours).
14 "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan
The inaugural Royal Rumble match in 1988 was won by “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. However, this was before the Rumble winner received a shot at the WWE Championship. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, considered to be one of the most patriot gimmicks in professional wrestling, would go on to become a WWE legend and eventual member of the Hall of Fame. Even though Jim Duggan was beloved by the fans during his time in WWE, he was never able to reach that main-event stage and capture a WWE Championship – as a matter of fact, Duggan never won any championship in the WWE.
13 British Bulldog
The “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith can be remembered best as a prominent member of The Hart Foundation, as well as one half of The British Bulldogs – a captivating tag-team where Smith teamed along side the Dynamite Kid. His greatest match took place at SummerSlam 1992 in his home country of England at Wembley Stadium, where he challenged his brother-in-law, Bret Hart, for the WWE Intercontinental Championship in the main event. In what was a fantastic match, Smith would pick up the victory in front of his fellow countrymen. Smith would never attain anything higher than the IC Championship. Although he did challenge for the WWE title of a number of occasions, he was never able to win the gold.
12 "Ravishing" Rick Rude
“Ravishing” Rick Rude was known for his chiseled physique and unwavering confidence. The self-proclaimed “Sexiest Man Alive” was quick to let the fans know what he thought about them and their own physical appearance. Rude played a strong heel character in WWE, but is yet another case of mid-card misconception. While capturing the Intercontinental Championship and being aligned with Bobby Heenan were certainly highlights in the career of Rude, there was no WWE Championship to add to his list of accomplishments.
11 Bam Bam Bigelow
Bam Bam Bigelow was one of the most unique characters in the wrestling world. Bigelow was almost four-hundred pounds and sported a flaming head tattoo. Despite his size, Bigelow could move in the ring like a man much smaller – his agility was natural and his talents were vast. Bigelow would main event WrestleMania XI in a match against former NFL linebacker Lawrence Taylor. This would be the only time that Bigelow participated in the WrestleMania main event – a match that wasn't for any kind of championship. Bam Bam Bigelow would have made an exciting WWE Champion if the company would have just given him a chance with the strap.
10 "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka
“Superfly” Jimmy Snuka is in large part responsible for introducing the high-flying style of wrestling to the WWE audience. Snuka became the first ever ECW World Heavyweight Champion on April 25th, 1992 – definitely a significant date for fans of the hardcore haven once known as Extreme Championship Wrestling. Jimmy Snuka had a well-accomplished WWE career and has since been inducted into the Hall of Fame. However, Snuka is another one of those past greats who was never awarded the WWE Championship.
9 Jerry "The King" Lawler
Many fans of the WWE may simply know Jerry “The King”Lawler as a color commentator and occasional in-ring performer, but he is so much more than that. Lawler began his wrestling career down South in the '70s where he took the Southern territory by storm. In 1992, Lawler joined the WWE at the announce table but was still a semi-active wrestler, having his most famous WWE feud with Bret Hart. Lawler held an astonishing 168 championships throughout his career but never the WWE Championship. Sure, when Lawler first joined the WWE he was already north of forty, but a quick championship run before being designated to the announce team would have suited The King well.
8 Ted DiBiase
“The Million Dollar Man,” Ted DiBiase, attempted to buy the WWE Championship from Andre the Giant in 1988 when he defeated Hulk Hogan for the title. While Andre complied, the transaction was deemed invalid and the title vacated. Therefore, DiBiase is not recognized as a former WWE Champion. DiBiase who created his own title, The Million Dollar Championship, never officially won the WWE Championship though he had tried multiple times. The Million Dollar Man was a good heel gimmick that worked really well for a number of years and it's too bad that Ted DiBiase never had an official WWE Championship reign.
7 Booker T
Booker T was always known as one of the hardest working wrestlers around. His first big break in wrestling came as one half of Harlem Heat – a wicked and wild tag-team. In WCW, Booker T would become a five-time WCW Championship. In WWE, he became a one-time World Heavyweight Champion but never a WWE Champion. Booker T was another WCW guy who made his way over to the WWE when WCW went out of business – a guy who had proved himself time and time again, but was never given the glory of WWE Championship gold. What a shame.
6 Razor Ramon
I'm not sure how Scott Hall never received a WWE Championship run as Razor Ramon. He was good enough to take the title and certainly had the right friends within the company. Nevertheless, the Intercontinental Championship would be the highest WWE accolade for Razor Ramon, who worked his heel persona smoothly as a natural entertainer. Perhaps there were backstage plans to have Razor hold the championship at one point that fall through? Either way, Razor Ramon would have had an interesting run with the WWE Championship.
5 Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat
Ricky Steamboat wrestled all over the United Sates before signing with WWE in 1985 and becoming “The Dragon.” Steamboat is probably most famous for his battles with Ric Flair outside of the WWE but at WrestleMania III, Steamboat would have a classic match with Randy Savage over the WWE Intercontinental Championship – a match that has been widely regarded as the greatest IC Championship match in WWE history, as well as simply one of the greatest matches of all time. Although, Steamboat never won the WWE Championship, all the credentials were there for a run with the belt.
4 Mr. Perfect
Here we have another case of a great wrestler who was never afforded anything higher than the Intercontinental Championship, which seems to be a running theme in this article. Curt Hennig, known as Mr. Perfect in WWE, was a phenomenal in-ring performer. Now, Hennig is a former AWA World Heavyweight Champion which has been recognized by WWE as a World Championship reign, but that doesn't take away from the fact that such a gifted wrestler should have been the actual WWE Champion at least once in his career.
3 Jake "The Snake" Roberts
This guy was great at playing the bad guy. Jake “The Snake” Roberts is one of the best all-time heels the WWE has ever known. Everything worked with Roberts, from his cold and calculating demeanor to his intimidating presence (especially with snake in hand) to his psychological ring work. Jake Roberts participated in some high-profile feuds over the years with the likes of The Ultimate Warrior and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, but The Snake could never capture the main prize in WWE even though a lot of people thought he could.
2 "Rowdy" Roddy Piper
If Jake Roberts is great at playing the bad guy, then “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is beyond that. Piper is arguable the best heel in WWE history – an innovator of the whole “bad guy” image and influence of many great future heels to come. Roddy Piper was in the main event of the very first WrestleMania, when he teamed with Paul Orndorff to take on the team of Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. While Piper was clearly viewed as main-event caliber, he was never given a chance to represent the company as WWE Champion.
1 Harley Race
Harley Race did not spend a lengthy amount of time in WWE, but his short stint with the company was still memorable as he did mange to win the 1986 King of the Ring. Harley Race comes in at #1 on this list because he is an important part of wrestling history. Race is a former eight-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion and the first ever NWA United States Champion. Upon his arrival in WWE, Race was already a superstar. Harley Race was an influential figure in the world of professional wrestling for a very long time and is still cited to this day as having an impact on professional wrestlers. So, to wrap up this list: Harley Race is the greatest superstar who should have won the WWE Championship.
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