It takes a lot of hard work to become a champion in pro wrestling. A strong combination of in-ring skills, the ability to make the crowd love or hate you, and having the confidence of the promotions writing staff allows for a person or tag team to take the next step towards wrestling immortality. Yet for every Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, Ric Flair, and Sting, there are just as many champions which leave fans scratching their heads, wondering “why did they make him the champion?” Sometimes it is nepotism (#4 and #5), other times it is to get publicity (#2 and #6), while other times there is no real reason (many of these). Whatever the reason is, it causes the fans to not take the promotion, and its championships, as seriously because the promotion is not taking its own championships seriously. Without that believability, the title suffers as fans tend to not see it as a valuable commodity worth fighting over, something WCW witnessed when their booking team decided to play hot potato with the World Heavyweight Title.
So with that in mind, this list is designed to look at those who, for various reasons, found themselves winning a title of some kind and what impact they may have had in the wrestling world because of it. Also, as with many outlets in pop culture, wrestling has no shortage of guilty pleasure moments for fans to look back on and chuckle at, so here’s hoping that you can read through this list and remember back to when these people held a championship, the whole time thinking “why were they ever a champion?” Also, feel free to comment at the bottom and let me know if you think any other champions should be included on this list.
20 Bart Gunn (Brawl For All Winner)
Most agree that the Brawl For All tournament was a huge dud for the WWE, who was trying to compete with the toughman competitions and UFC, which were gaining in popularity at the time. The tournament showcased how pro wrestlers may not be the best guys to have an actual fistfight with no plan of how the match would play out. Many of the wrestlers were legitimately injured and the guy everyone expected to win, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, was knocked out in the second round of the tournament by the eventual winner, Bart Gunn. It was expected that Gunn would get a huge push from winning the tournament, but in their infinite wisdom, the WWE decided to pit a sluggish fighter in Gunn against hard hitting Super Heavyweight Butterbean at WrestleMania XV. The end result seemed obvious (except to those in charge of matchmaking), as Gunn was knocked out in thirty-seven seconds and his push was effectively dead.
19 Virgil (Million Dollar Champion)
Seeing various titles slip through his fingers on numerous times and feeling that he could make the best belt that money could buy, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase created the solid gold and diamond encrusted Million Dollar Belt. He would eventually defend the belt on a couple occasions but would eventually lose it to his former bodyguard and lifelong jobber, Virgil. In an attempt to try and make a star out of Virgil, he was given a run with the belt, but would ultimately lose it back to DiBiase. Despite the short reign, Virgil still uses it as a selling point when trying to sell autographs and 8 x 10 images of himself to empty lines of people, as shown on the hilarious site lonelyvirgil.net. The site was created by a staff member of the Opie & Anthony radio show, Sam Roberts, after Virgil had tried to swindle him by signing his replica Million Dollar belt against his wishes.
18 John Cena & The Miz (WWE Tag Champions)
During his feud with the The Corre, John Cena was also battling with The Miz, who was doing his best to get the better of his foe. Both were forced to work together and face the Tag Champions, Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater. Cena and The Miz actually worked pretty well as a team in the match, despite the known animosity between them. The two would eventually pick up the win, but Nexus leader Wade Barrett demanded that the team get their rematch right then and there. The rematch was started and it appeared that Cena and Miz would retain as Cena had Slater up for the Attitude Adjustment, but The Miz, out of jealousy, ran up behind him and hit him with the Skull Crushing Finale, allowing Slater to get the pin and get the titles back. The match just diminished the value of the already undervalued Tag Titles by playing hot potato between two teams, just to push forward two storylines. It would have been better if the second ending had occurred in the first match or if Cena and Miz would defend the titles a bit while being unwilling partners.
17 David Flair & Crowbar (WCW Tag Champions)
In the last year of WCW’s life, there were a couple tournaments held to declare champions for the vacant Heavyweight Title and Tag Team Titles, both of which left a bad taste in the mouths of fans for a variety of reasons. The latter tournament for the Tag Titles was interesting as there were some decent teams involved including Kevin Nash & Scott Steiner and The Mamalukes, but for some reason it was decided that the worst team in the tournament, David Flair & Crowbar, would win the whole thing. Flair did not have the skills in the ring to make him seem like a viable champion and Crowbar was not much better. Worse is the fact that they beat the best team in the tournament, Nash & Steiner, to win the titles, which just made the fans that much more upset.
16 Rey Mysterio (WWE Champion)
Before you get upset and run to the comments section to complain, this slide refers to Rey’s last run with the WWE Championship. After CM Punk had beaten John Cena for the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank and then left the WWE, an eight man tournament was held to determine who the new champion would be. Mysterio ended up winning the whole thing by beating The Miz in the finals, giving him his first WWE Championship reign. It would be short lived as John Cena would come out to congratulate him, as well as challenge him on the spot to a title match. Rey would agree and end up losing the belt, thus giving him a less than one day title run just so that Cena could have the belt and push forward his storyline with Punk.
15 Abyss (X-Division Champion)
The X-Division Championship is responsible for some of the most high flying and classic matches in TNA history, with wrestlers like A.J. Styles, Chris Sabin, and Petey Williams being former champions. So it was a real head scratcher when TNA decided to put the belt on Abyss, who really wasn't that great a wrestler. It also did not help that he would lay waste to all of the established and rising talent within the division week in and week out. Abyss would eventually lose the belt to Brian Kendrick and the weight limit would eventually be repealed several times.
14 Eric Young (TNA World Champion)
Now this is not a condemnation of Eric Young as the top champion in TNA, as he did an admirable job and deserved the chance to run at the top. What made his run terrible was the circumstances around it, as many feel there is an asterisk next to his record because TNA was clearly trying to replicate the success of what the WWE was doing with Daniel Bryan. There were instances that fans found way too similar, as sometimes even the same lines were used by wrestlers during Young’s run. It is unfortunate because Young had definitely put in the time and effort to deserve being the top champion, but because of the circumstances leading up to it and what happened after, that is all his run will be remembered for.
13 Godfather’s Ho (WWE Hardcore Championship)
During the Attitude Era, the WWE created a Hardcore division to give fighters lower down on the card something to do if they were not involved a bigger storyline, as well as a way to gain viewers who had come to enjoy the style made popular in ECW. Eventually a rule was created in the division that the title was to be defended 24/7, meaning the champion could be defending the belt anywhere as long as there was a referee present. This led to some pretty funny moments as longtime champion Crash Holly would hire the Acolyte Protection Agency to protect him, just so he could get a couple hours of sleep. Yet it got to be too much when one of the Godfather’s Hos, seeing an opportunity, pinned Crash Holly and became the Hardcore Champion. Thankfully, it was brief as she would lose it that same night. It was a wonder that the WWE did not have a referee win the belt by knocking out the champion and doing their own three count.
12 Ron Simmons (World Heavyweight Champion)
While it was a very good idea to have the first African American World Heavyweight Champion, it can be said that Ron Simmons’ run as the champ was anything but a success. First, many did not see Simmons as a viable challenger to Vader for the title, as Simmons had been in the midcard in various tag teams for most of his WCW run. Second, many saw Bill Watts’ decision to put the belt on Simmons as damage control after Watts had said some unflattering things about African Americans in a recent magazine interview. Finally, Simmons never got the best challengers for his belt and a champion is only as strong as his competition. Eventually Vader would win the title back and end the Simmons experiment.
11 Vince McMahon (WWF and ECW Champion)
If there is one thing that we can say about Eric Bischoff, it’s this: he was never cocky enough to make himself a champion. Vince McMahon on the other hand, did it twice. The first time was on one of the first episodes of SmackDown, when McMahon was pitted against champion Triple H with the belt up for grabs. There would be interference on both sides and ultimately a bloodied McMahon would come out on top with the belt around his waist. Then a few years later, McMahon would find himself in a feud with ECW Champion Bobby Lashley. McMahon would soon beat his larger foe and be in control of the ECW Championship. If there was ever a moment when ECW was more dead than Mr. Ed, it was when the owner of the WWE came down to the ring in a do-rag with the ECW belt around his waist.
10 Dolph Ziggler (World Heavyweight Champion)
Dolph Ziggler seems to always get the short end of the stick in regards to climbing to the top of the ranks. Before he would cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase and beat Alberto Del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship to a huge pop from the post-Wrestlemania Raw crowd, he had one previous run with the title. Unfortunately, he only received that title by being in a storyline relationship with SmackDown GM Vickie Guerrero, who would just announce him as the champion after Edge had been stripped of the belt. The title reign would be less than twenty minutes as Edge came out and received an instant shot at the belt, ultimately winning the belt back, but leaving Ziggler as a recognized former World Champion despite never beating anyone for the belt.
9 Gillberg (Light Heavyweight Champion)
In an attempt to get the samesuccess with smaller wrestlers as WCW was having with its Cruiserweight division, the WWE made the Lightheavyweight Championship. With great wrestlers in the division like Taka Michinoku, Christian, X-Pac, and others, the division seemed to be on the right track in bringing fast paced matches to the WWE fans. Yet for some reason, the WWE decided to put the belt on a parody character in Gilberg, a tiny wrestler even by Light Heavyweight standards, who came to the ring through sparklers and did a haphazard impersonation of WCW’s Goldberg. The joke was funny the first couple times, but to have a guy with little skill in the ring be the longest running champion in the division, just to stick it to WCW, was pitiful.
8 Ezekiel Jackson (ECW Champion)
After a couple years of mediocre ratings and fan backlash for a watered down product, the WWE decided to end its version of ECW on SyFy in favor of starting NXT. It was decided that long running ECW Champion Christian would defend his belt in the final match of the promotion against Ezekiel Jackson. Common sense would dictate that the reigning champion would win the final match in the promotion and retain the belt, especially in the case of Christian, who was incredibly over at the time. Yet the WWE had Jackson pull out the victory and be the last reigning ECW Champion as the show was cancelled, making his winning the belt completely useless as he would never defend the belt.
7 Norman Smiley (WCW Hardcore Champion)
After seeing the success of hardcore matches in ECW and the WWE, WCW eventually joined the fray with its own hardcore division. This was fine in theory, as they had hired numerous wrestlers from both of its rivals including the Sandman, Mikey Whipwreck, Terry Funk, and others. Yet, for whatever reason, they decided that the face of their hardcore division should be vanilla midcarder Norman Smiley. Smiley had not been in any real feud of note and was basically put in the division for the same reason other wrestlers were, so creative would have something for him to do. He would develop a sort of following as he comically tried to shed his nice guy image in favor of a hardcore wrestler, but to have him hold the belt over guys like Sandman is really preposterous.
6 Pacman Jones (TNA Tag Champion w/ Ron Killings)
Another interesting ploy for publicity as TNA contracted Adam “Pacman” Jones from the NFL to join Ron Killings in his match with Kurt Angle and Sting. Unfortunately, Jones was unable to actually compete in the ring as he was currently contracted with the Tennessee Titans. Yet despite this, the duo was somehow able to win the TNA Tag Titles with Killings doing all the ring work with Jones standing on the ring apron before Consequences Creed was added to the team in order for Jones to work in a more managerial role.
5 Judy Bagwell (WCW Tag Champion w/ Rick Steiner)
This one is a head scratcher to say the least. I will never understand why promoters think that it is a great idea to have a wrestler’s momma follow them to the ring, whether it is Shelton Benjamin or Buff Bagwell. In Bagwell’s case, his mom somehow became a big part in various storylines involving her son and would eventually team up with Rick Steiner as WCW Tag Team Titles after his original partner Kenny Kaos was injured. Just think of that right there, that team being listed as champions alongside the Road Warriors, the Brain Busters, and Harlem Heat.
4 Stephanie McMahon (Women’s Champion)
Nepotism knows no bounds in professional wrestling, just look at any promotion and you will find some instance where a promoter or booker pushed a family member to the moon despite them not being ready (Dusty Rhodes with his son Dustin in WCW) or having no in-ring talent at all (“Cowboy” Bill Watts with his son Erik in WCW). Yet Vince McMahon outdid them by having his daughter Stephanie win the Women’s Championship in 2000. This would have been fine if, you know, Stephanie could actually wrestle back then, but for the majority of her reign she just stood behind her husband Triple H and mugged for the camera while having the belt draped over her shoulder. When she did have matches, they mostly involved her retaining the belt through interference from someone in her faction.
3 Hornswoggle (WWE Cruiserweight)
Take a second and look at the following names and tell me which one is not like the other.
If you guessed Hornswoggle, you are correct! In their infinite wisdom, the WWE decided to give the belt that was the impetus for so many classic Cruiserweight battles, to a Leprechaun impersonator. What is worse is that Hornswoggle was the last Cruiserweight Champion in the WWE, which completely sullies the image of great high flyers and technical masters fighting in the squared circle.
2 David Arquette (WCW Champion)
Done as a way to get some much needed publicity for a dying promotion, the decision was made to give actor, and star of the box office dud Ready to Rumble, David Arquette one of the most prestigious honors in all of wrestling, a World Heavyweight Championship. Even though the belt had lost some of its luster in the prior year to Arquette winning, it is still a shame to see his name in the record books alongside greats like Ric Flair, Sting, and Hulk Hogan. To be fair to Arquette, he did fight the move to give him the belt as he being a wrestling fan himself, he realized how hated the idea would be. He would also donate all of the money he made wrestling to the families of the recently deceased Brian Pillman and Owen Hart, alongside Darren Drozdov who had been recently paralyzed after an in-ring accident.
1 Vince Russo (WCW Champion)
Now while Arquette’s title reign could be seen as a ploy for publicity, WCW head writer Vince Russo’s title win can only be seen as a play to the man’s ego. After writing himself into being the number one contender for the WCW Championship, Russo would take on champion Booker T inside a cage in front of Russo’s hometown crowd. Unfortunately, the announcement of Russo fighting in a cage for the biggest belt in the company only amounted to around two hundred more tickets being sold for the show, according to The Death of WCW. What’s worse is that the win was a fluke since just as Booker T was about to leave the cage and win, Goldberg speared Russo through the side of the cage to the outside giving Russo the belt, a point to which Goldberg and Booker didn’t seem to mind as they just shrugged and walked to the back. Russo would vacate the title a week later, meaning that he was technically an undefeated champion, though the real reason was thought to be the number of concussions the man had received over the last year, hence him always wearing a football helmet to the ring.