Championships in wrestling have been important but not quite as iconic as one might think. While the NWA had its World title, many of the old regional territories had their separate championships pushed hard as well. Tag team belts were around too but it was mostly titles like “North American” and some secondary titles, even stuff for belts on Mid-Atlantic, Missouri and Western States Heritage while TV titles were quite common. It took the rise of WWE and Jim Crockett to push bigger belts although territories were smart enough to know that having a secondary title around was important too. It’s carried over the years, titles meant to give guys a push and mean a lot. Sadly, that seems to have faltered badly.
Today, a title doesn’t mean quite as much thanks to how promoters enjoy hot-shotting them around and reigns not as much impact as they once had. It also doesn’t help that too often, promoters will give the title to someone before they’re really ready or someone who’s not a good fit at all. It can be publicity, misjudgment or just bad timing but these are title runs that never worked out right. It’s easy to look at WWE, WCW and TNA alone but there are slews of titles from various territories over the decades to count, not to mention international as well. It’s not a new problem at all, throughout wrestling history there have been terrible title reigns and folks who should never have been given the belt and did damage to both them and the championship. It’s tough to pick as there are no doubt plenty of bad guys in the “old days” whose issues aren’t as documented not to mention the indies but the big ones do pop up a lot more. Here are 25 of the worst champions in wrestling history and how much their reigns were terrible for both them and their title.
25 Rob Van Dam - TNA World Champion
A terrific talent, Van Dam was often undone by a combination of bad booking and his own ego issues (see how he ruined his WWE run in 2006 with an arrest). He debuted in TNA to a huge deal and they gave away him beating A.J. Styles for the World title on Impact to little build. The big issue was that RVD had put in his contract he could only work a certain number of dates and within six months, had used them all, forcing TNA to pay him more. So they did an angle of him attacked by Abyss in a bit notable for how much fake blood was on him to vacate the title and yet he was back in no time. RVD didn’t help matters by allying with former ECW guys and constantly putting down the younger talent over guys from the Attitude era and would declare that Jeff Hardy was the only other guy in the company worth anything with fans. He would have a later forgettable run as X Division champion and if anything, his TNA tenure shows that RVD just wasn’t right for a World title run and the issues keeping him on top.
24 Debra - WWE Women's Champion
Complain about today’s Divas if you wish, but they’re still doing better than they were with WWE in the late ‘90s. Sable had won the newly reactivated Women’s title as she faced off against Debra in an Evening Gown match. Given her lack of actual in-ring experience, former beauty queen Debra was easily outmatched and stripped. However, Shawn Michaels declared that because she looked so good, he was giving her the belt. Yep, the Women’s title was decided solely on looks, as terrible an idea as you can imagine. Debra’s “defenses” were bad to say the least before she finally lost the belt to Ivory and few things sum up WWE’s bad attitude to ladies than this.
23 Michael Hayes - WCW U.S. Champion
There’s no denying that Michael Hayes is one of the most charismatic wrestlers ever, handsome, talented and killer on the mic. The brutal truth is that while good, Hayes wasn’t the best in singles work, there’s a reason he was more famous hanging out with the Freebirds. That was proven best in 1989 when he faced Lex Luger for the U.S. title and, with help from Terry Gordy, Hayes won the belt. It was a sudden turn but it was short as Crockett quickly realized Hayes wasn’t that stellar as a singles champion with fans not really buying him in the role and thus after just two weeks, he dropped the title back to Luger. Amazing as he can be, Hayes was far better suited for teams then in singles work to show his true stuff off.
22 Rocky Maivia - Intercontinental Champion
One wonders what the wrestling world (and Hollywood) might be like today if not for this. From the start, WWE pushed the hell out of Rocky Maivia as the “Blue Chipper,” the next big babyface star, smiling constantly as he went at it in the ring. On a special RAW, he upset HHH for the IC title and was pushed even more as the mega-hot champion. And the fans hated it to the extreme, leading to constant chants of “Die Rocky Die” and “Rocky Sucks!” Realizing it wasn’t working, WWE had him drop the title to Owen Hart. But he used those feelings when he returned to turn heel, become The Rock and the rest is history. So at the time, a terrible run as champion but laid the seeds for one of the greatest stars in history.
21 Ron Simmons - WCW World Champion
Simmons was a good worker, power wrestler with skill and had some heat with fans in WCW. Thus, it looked like a good idea to give him the World title in 1992 although many suspect it was simply so boss Bill Watts could curtail accusations of being a racist by crowning the first black World champion. Sadly, the heat died as fans loved seeing Ron chase the belt but cooled once he had it as his promos were stiff and his ring work rough too. It didn’t help that old-school Watts refused to give him that many deserving challengers with Simmons defending the belt at Halloween Havoc against The Barbarian (Leading to a classic list in “Pro Wrestling Illustrated” of reasons WWE was better than WCW with three of the 10 being “The Barbarian a World title contender?”).
WCW was already rough under Watts but Simmons as the champion did nothing to help business and as Watts was shown the door, Simmons lost the belt to Vader and what should have been a historic reign instead turned into a massive disappointment.
20 Rey Mysterio - World Heavyweight Champion
Let’s make this clear; Mysterio is one of the greatest luchadores of all time, a fantastic athlete and amazing in the ring. But World Champion was just not a fit for him, he only got the push for WWE to capitalize on the emotions of Eddie Guerrero’s death and not even hiding it. Having a guy barely five and a half feet and 170 pounds soaking wet carrying the company is not a good idea in any way and while Rey was great, he just wasn’t cut out for this spot against much larger workers. The brutal truth is that there’s a reason it’s called a “heavyweight” title and for all his amazing skill, Rey wasn’t cut out for that role in the least.
19 Mr. Saito - AWA World Champion
The year 1989 saw the AWA take a massive downfall as talent were leaving in droves, crowds were dwindling and the Team Challenge Series was a disaster. Larry Zybszko was the champion simply because he was Verne Gagne’s son-in-law and the title made to be a joke. Sgt. Slaughter was still there and a big enough name to hold the belt but instead, in early 1990, Verne had Zybsko drop the title to veteran Mr. Saito in Japan. This was totally the wrong move to win back fans, Saito had no standing in the U.S., couldn’t cut a real promo and just came off incredibly bad. He only lasted two months before Zybsko won the belt back and was pretty much the final nail in the coffin of the AWA and how Gagne had truly lost his way.
18 Ronnie Garvin - NWA World Champion
A true victim of timing and misjudgment, Garvin was mostly a mid-card guy among the many faces challenging Ric Flair for the NWA World title in 1987. Jim Crockett decided to have a plan for Flair to drop the belt in September and regain it at Starrcade and Garvin was chosen to be the guy believable enough to beat Flair then look like a chump by dropping it at the biggest show of the year two months later. In a good cage match, Garvin won the title but while fans liked the chase, they quickly cooled to him as champion. Worse, every major heel in the company refused to lay down for what was obviously a lame duck titleholder and thus they announced Garvin was breaking the 30-day rule by taking a “sabbatical” to train for the rematch against Flair. Thus, Flair was cheered as a hero for fighting it out while Garvin was seen ducking guys so Flair won to a big pop and Garvin’s career never recovered.
17 Junkyard Dog - USWA Champion
Even at the height of his incredible popularity in the 1980s, the Junkyard Dog was recognized as a terrible worker who had to be put in short squash matches and used his charisma to hide his flaws. By 1992, the Dog was older and slowed by long-time drug use despite his attempts to slim down. After a brief turn in WCW, he was signed onto the Memphis-based USWA which still promoted itself as a “World” title despite how it was second-rate. JYD was booked to win the title off of Eddie Gilbert with hopes he would be a great winner for the fans. Sadly, having the champion be blown up within five minutes of a match was not a good thing and JYD’s drug issues were still causing problems with blown spots and the fans not turning out as expected. After only a month, he dropped the title to Butch Reed, a sad case of a once great star fallen to a sad decline.
16 Abyss - X Division Champion
From the start, the X Division put TNA on the map, fans loving this mix of young and fast wrestlers engaging in fantastic battles like Ultimate X and others and made it look great. But in 2011, TNA was in more turmoil with Hogan and Bischoff running things and thought the Division needed more “spark.” Thus, Abyss, 6’8 and 350 pounds, won the title and renamed it the Extreme Championship, a slap in the face of the division and the fans. Thankfully, TNA actually realized it was going badly and had him drop the belt just a month and a half later but the very idea of them having this heavyweight in their standout athletic division was yet another case of the horrible 2011 TNA had and why this company keeps shooting itself in the foot so often.
15 Chyna - Intercontinental Champion
Once upon a time, the Intercontinental Championship was one of the most important in all of professional wrestling, held by major workers. Sadly, 1999 saw a decline in the prestige with quick reigns to the likes of Road Dogg, Billy Gunn and others not deserving. The worst was to come when Jeff Jarrett made it clear he was jumping to WCW and threatening to take the belt with him unless he got a huge payday. Thus, in his final night, Jarrett defended against Chyna in a “Good Housekeeping” match where he was humiliated before finally being pinned. It was made to be a historic moment of Chyna getting the gold but the fact was that a woman holding the IC belt wasn’t something that could work long-term. The title became a gimmick for Chyna and nothing like the prestigious championship it should have been, sad to see the gold tarnished.
14 Tommy Rich - NWA World Champion
Bad as Vince McMahon can be, the “good old days” territory promoters could make him look like a candidate for sainthood. Deciding who became NWA World Champion was less who could draw money and more who had the better political hold. That’s summed up best by how in 1981, Georgia promoter Jim Barnett engaged in a power struggle for the NWA board and to try and push it, he ensured that champion Harley Race would drop the belt to Tommy Rich. Only 22, Rich was still quite raw and while over in his territory, hardly the guy you’d want defending the biggest belt in wrestling on a regular basis. The rest of the NWA board agreed and thus Rich’s reign lasted only a week before Race regained the title in Japan. It actually cast a shadow over Rich’s career as he could never live up to that level again, especially after his brutal feud with Buzz Sawyer. So not only a rough choice at the time but becoming World Champion actually did huge damage to “Wildfire’s” career.
13 Lazer-Tron - World Jr. Heavyweight Champion
It’s always risky creating a wrestling character based on a fad and here’s exhibit A. Back in 1987, laser tag games were all the rage and so the NWA went ahead with Lazer-Tron, a character played by Hector Guerrero. His nutty silver outfit included a mask, bizarre red antenna and even a laser sensor on his chest. Holding the Jr. Heavyweight title (a precursor to the Cruiserweight belt), Guerrero wasn’t too bad but it was obvious how the whole thing was ridiculous (even for the late ‘80s), fans not getting into it at all and as the fad died, so did the need for Lazer-Tron and it would take a while for the smaller guys to take off in better outfits.
12 Black Bart - WCCW World Champion
In 1986, after years as one of the hottest territories around, World Class Championship Wrestling finally broke from the AWA to become their own separate promotion. It started well with Rick Rude dropping the World title to Chris Adams who looked to be rising as champion. However, Adams was convicted of a fight on an airplane and had to relinquish the title, just as WCCW were the victims of a massive talent raid with half their main roster jumping to the new UWF. So World Class announced that Adams had lost the belt in a fictional match in Los Angeles to long-time mid-carder Black Bart. Bart had no standing whatsoever as a champ, let alone a “World” one, a classic cowboy character with bad ring work. His reign wasn’t too long as he dropped the belt to Kevin Von Erich but it kick-started WCCW’s slide to its demise and this once-great promotion falling badly in record time.
11 Vince McMahon - ECW Champion
You can forgive Vince winning the WWF title in 1999 as it was his belt and he immediately gave it up without being a real “champion.” But his run as ECW Champion can’t be held to the same standards. Vince won the belt in a 3 on 1 match against Lashley and if ECW wasn’t already buried yet, this pushed it into the ground by a few hundred feet. He would be insufferable as the champ with bad matches and promos, bait and switch on how only he could be pinned in order for the title to change hands in multi-wrestler bouts and fans were changing the channel in droves. He finally dropped the title to Lashley but the damage was done as any credibility to ECW was finished and how Vince’s ego ends up doing a lot more harm than good.
10 Prince Iaukeau - WCW TV Champion
In February of 1997, Rocky Maivia upset HHH for the Intercontinental Championship. WCW decided to follow suit as on a live “Nitro,” Lord Steven Regal was beaten for the TV title by unknown Prince Iaukeau, another “ethnic” rookie getting a run with a belt. And just like with Rocky, the fans didn’t take to this new titleholder at all, bland on the mic and too small compared to his various opponents. He held the belt for just two months before losing it and his career tumbling with a brief return as “the Artist” but standing as a clear case of WCW emulating WWF in bad stuff.
9 Jim Duggan - WCW TV and U.S. Champion
One of the biggest criticisms about Hulk Hogan’s arrival in WCW was how he used his clout to bring in slews of his old buddies and pushed hard. Jim Duggan was among the biggest as at “Fall Brawl,” Ricky Steamboat was forced to relinquish the U.S. title to Steve Austin due to injury. Austin was then forced to defend it against Duggan and lost the belt in just 30 seconds. Duggan used his old “USA” motif but it just didn’t work as well with the WCW crowds and made the second-most important title in the company look poor. Later in 2000, Duggan, working as a janitor, found the old TV title in the garbage (literally) and decided to defend it which just made the belt look more ridiculous than usual. A decent guy but fans in WCW could never get behind his runs as a titleholder.
8 Eric Young, TNA TV, Knockouts Tag, World Champion
Now Eric Young is a funny guy and a good worker and has proven himself as a tag team and X Division champion. Sadly, too many of his runs with TNA title were horrible to say the least. First, his run as TV champion was just a total joke with video of him hunting down Scott Baio (yes, really) for a “match.” Then he and ODB were made the Knockouts Tag Team champions, obviously not fitting and the belts eventually retired. Worst was his run as World champion as TNA had him win the belt with zero build simply to cash in on the Daniel Bryan craze.
They didn’t even bother hiding it with Dixie openly saying Young’s beard was the reason he was chosen and making this comedy guy the headliner of the company was way too sudden to work and his run poor before dropping the belt. Given time and care, Young could have been a good champion but the decision by TNA to just give it to him out of nowhere damaged both him and the belt.
7 The Renegade - WCW TV Champion
It’s one of the biggest bait and switch moments in wrestling history. For months in 1995, Hulk Hogan was promising “the 'Ultimate' surprise,” making everyone think the Warrior was coming to WCW. At Uncensored, out came a man in makeup and tassels but obviously not the Warrior. WCW still pushed him hard as he beat Arn Anderson for the TV title, a surely low point for Arn’s career. WCW kept on giving him a huge push but the fans were not responding and the Renegade never had much of a shot building himself up. He dropped the belt to DDP in September and took a dive in the company before his sad end, a guy whose push basically wrecked his life.
6 Great Khali - World Heavyweight Champion
Vince McMahon has always had a thing for big guys, ignoring their flaws and nothing speaks to the bad part of that mentality than the Great Khali. Huge and imposing but a horrid worker with one bad match after another. But in 2007, with the World title vacated by Edge, Khali won a battle royal to become the champion, a move fans hated from the get-go. He was just a poor choice with his bad ring work and even WWE recognized it as he quickly lost the belt to Batista but those two months of being champion were a painful time for fans and why Khali never got over well.
5 Judy Bagwell - WCW Tag Team Champion
Only in WCW. When Buff Bagwell was the arrogant heel, Rick Steiner brought out his real-life mother Judy to run him down in a promo and even drag him out of the ring by the ear. When Rick won the tag titles, he declared Judy would be his partner so we had a 50-year-old woman with zero wrestling experience coming to the ring with the title belt around her waist. Just terrible all the way through, Judy seeming to enjoy herself but no one else was as it was yet another example of WCW insulting their fans.
4 Hornswoggle - WWE Cruiserweight Champion
The Cruiserweight title was once a highlight of “SmackDown” with terrific bouts that gave smaller guys some time to show off and entertain fans. It was still strong in 2007 when Chavo Guerrero defended it in a match against four other contenders. Due to strange circumstances, midget Hornswoggle was somehow made a contender in the match and when the other guys were fighting it out, Hornswoggle scaled the top rope to hit a “tadpole splash” on Jamie Noble and pin him for the title. A once great championship was now held by a guy barely four feet tall and his “defenses” involved antics out of a Looney Tunes cartoon. The title was soon retired and sad to see its end be so utterly wretched.
3 Vince Russo - WCW Champion
It was probably inevitable. By mid-2000, Vince Russo had convinced himself he was the more over guy in WCW, believing the folks on the Internet represented the majority of the base and hated him. Thus, it made sense to him to take this step as he fought Booker T in a cage match in his home town of Long Island. Goldberg interfered to spear Russo through the cage wall, giving Russo the title. Thankfully, he realized fast he couldn’t stay champion and gave it up after a week but the fact Russo made himself champion speaks volumes on why fans hate him so much.
2 Pacman Jones - TNA Tag Team Champion
Even by their own amazing standards, TNA’s push of Pacman Jones is one of the most insane in all of wrestling history. A man suspended from the NFL for his part in a shooting, the player who wasn’t even that good was signed by TNA before they bothered to realize that due to his NFL contract, Jones was barred from physically competing in the ring. By their “logic,” TNA had him partner with Ron Killings to win the tag team titles, which was really Killings doing all the wrestling and Jones hanging on the apron and not tagging in. A total waste, more so by how the media actually made TNA look like a step DOWN for Jones and the company more of a joke.
1 David Arquette - WCW Champion
The only real choice for the top pick. This was a bad idea when it was came up with and remains the worst now. To give WCW some free publicity off the terrible “Ready to Rumble” movie, Vince Russo decided to make David Arquette, an actor best known for his marriage to Courtney Cox, the World champion, winning it in a tag match to boot. The fans hated it from the very second it happened, it made wrestling as a whole look like a joke and the publicity just laughs at how dumb this was. Even Arquette knew it was a bad idea but had to go along with it, even “defending” it against Tank Abbot and others before giving it up in a bad match where he turned heel. Any credibility WCW had was flushed away with this and no surprise they went out of business in less than a year. The moment WCW passed the point of no return and Russo’s most infamous contribution to wrestling.