In wrestling, winning a title is supposed to mean something. True, it’s not as big a deal as it once was. Today, belts are passed around without much of a long-term plan for the person winning it. Up to the early 2000s, so many belts were made out to be massive deals and were quite important in measuring where a wrestler was as far as their standing in the company. Indeed, many fans felt the Intercontinental title was more worthy than the WWE belt for enlivening the mid-card. However, the constant “hot-shotting” of titles in WWE, TNA and other promotions has weakened some of those belts a lot. It’s still made out to be something big but nowadays, winning a title isn’t as important as it once was. Still, it’s a good way to give a rising star the rub and NXT has made their belts mean a lot.
Sadly, it turns out winning a title can often backfire on a wrestler. The reign itself can be a flop with fans not taking to them by booking or presentation. The worker themselves can be a bad pick never right for a title run. Sometimes, a promising worker gets the belt too soon or in the wrong circumstances and can never live up to that potential again. It can actually go back to the old territory days of a few NWA guys not right for that title run. Here are 20 times winning a title actually hurt a wrestler’s career to show not everyone benefits getting a belt around their waist.
20 Sgt Slaughter - WWE Champion
To be fair to Vince McMahon, when the idea of Slaughter being a turncoat began, few honestly believed it would become a sensitive issue. By the time real world problems began, Slaughter had been built up as a huge heel and Vince thought giving him the title would be a good idea. That ignored how Hogan/Warrior II would have been a far bigger money match. Slaughter was pretty much set from the start to lose to Hogan at 'Mania so fans weren’t behind him at all.
It was a bad run and Slaughter never really recovered from it. His “I want my country back” face turn didn’t work out and he was pretty much over in the ring after that. Slaughter may appreciate how he was WWE Champion but it did hurt his momentum a lot.
19 Heidenreich - WWE Tag Team Titles
Heidenreich had a good look but couldn’t connect to fans with stuff like his bizarre poetry and threatening people. In 2005, he showed up to help Animal against MNM despite no connection between them. Animal recruited Heidenreich for a brand new L.O.D. to win the tag titles. They tried to be a real team with Heidenreich given the spiked shoulder pads and makeup. Fans hated this, feeling it disgraced the memory of Hawk. They never backed the team as they lost the belts back to MNM after a couple of months. Heidenreich sunk lower and lower until being released and his tag title run was a huge albatross he could never overcome for his WWE run.
18 Dean Douglas - Intercontinental Championship
Shane Douglas has never been known for his humility. However, fans do have to agree he got a pretty bad deal in WWE. Even a WWE book noted his run as Dean Douglas being a total flop. The problem was Douglas clashing with the Kliq and how that affected his standing in the company. Douglas was to win the IC belt off of Shawn Michaels but Michaels got into his infamous bar brawl and had to give the title up. Douglas was then forced to defend the belt against Razor Ramon who won it, so Douglas’ entire reign was fifteen minutes. To no shock, Douglas threw a fit over that and bolted WWE fast. His ECW run was better but holding the IC title just showcases how much of a failure Douglas was in the company.
17 Rob Van Dam - WWE Championship
For years, WWE fans had been begging the company to let Rob Van Dam hold the title. A great worker in his prime, RVD was sensational with his high flying and his laid-back attitude winning over fans nicely. In WWE, he came up short for the World title with fans demanding a bigger rise. In 2006, RVD finally got his chance, winning both the WWE title and the newly created ECW belt.
It should have been a huge deal but just weeks later, RVD got into a major personal hassle. He thus had to drop both belts. It was obvious he regressed badly and lost respect of fans for blowing his long-awaited main event run. It shows how RVD was always his own worst enemy even at a golden opportunity.
16 Marc Mero - Intercontinental Championship
In WCW, Marc Mero was saddled with the gimmick of Johnny B. Badd, an ultra-flamboyant guy in boas. Thanks to his good ring skills, Mero got over well and earned a few reigns as TV champion. WWE thought he would be good and gave Mero a huge contract for a run as “Wildman” Marc. However, without the Badd persona, Mero wasn’t as good with fans. WWE tried more as Mero won the vacant IC title in a tournament. Yet he just wasn’t winning over fans and ended up losing the belt in a month to Triple H.
Mero slumped badly after that, his “boxer” makeover not doing well and his biggest contribution was wife Rena, who became Sable. Aside from giving Triple H his first WWE gold, Mero’s title run is hardly historic.
15 The Mountie - Intercontinental Championship
Jacques Rougeau was a long-time veteran worker for WWE as a tag team star. In 1991, he was remade into The Mountie, a nutty heel dressed like, well a mountie. It was initially just a comedy bit and not meant to be anything serious. In early 1992, when Bret Hart got into a contract dispute, he was forced to drop the belt to The Mountie at a house show. Bret agreed only on the condition WWE put out the story he was fighting the flu. The Mountie held the belt less than three days before losing it to Roddy Piper at the Royal Rumble. He went back to jobber status for a while before winning the tag titles as one half of The Quebecers. But at a time when the IC title was a serious deal, having the Mountie hold it for a quick reign didn’t help him stand out.
14 Zack Ryder - U.S. Championship
You really have to feel for Zack Ryder. A good worker, he began winning fans over with his “Long Island Z” persona and online videos. That led to more cheers although it was obvious WWE didn’t want him getting over on his own terms. Eventually, they couldn’t ignore the fan reactions and thus Ryder won the US title. It looked to be a great move to make him rise up even more. Instead, just weeks later, he lost the belt and was subject to one of the worst burials of a worker in recent times.
A one-day IC title reign was just as bad as it was clear WWE didn’t trust Ryder as his own star. It’s more the fault of the company but there’s no denying that the US title win illustrated how poor Ryder’s treatment by the company has been.
13 Sheamus - WWE Championship
It's hard to believe Sheamus has been with the WWE for about 10 years and this year will be the 10-year mark where Sheamus was unexpectedly crowned WWE Champion. While winning a WWE Championship less than a year into a main roster debut is normally seen as an honor, other guys who have done it (Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle) were over before they were given the title.
In a classic case of hot-shotting a wrestler to the top, Sheamus won in a fluky way over John Cena in a tables match. For years, fans then had trouble accepting Sheamus as a credible main event talent. Had Sheamus's push been slower and more organic, he likely could've had a much better world title reign down the road.
12 Bray Wyatt - WWE Championship
This is rather sad. Bray Wyatt had taken off wonderfully in NXT with his leadership of a cult and his amazing promos clicking with fans. He was a hit on the main roster with fans wanting him to hold the title but he kept coming up short against John Cena. Thus, it was a pleasant surprise at Elimination Chamber 2017 when Wyatt ended up winning the WWE title. It was accepted well by fans with hopes he’d truly take off as the heel champion.
However, it turned out Wyatt was just a placeholder for Randy Orton, of all people, to regain the title at 'Mania. Wyatt has regressed badly since, including the ridiculous “Sister Abigail” gimmick and is just not the same. It’s a real shame that winning the WWE title ended up marring Wyatt’s time in the company.
11 Ryback - Intercontinental Championship
From day one, WWE was obviously pushing Ryback as the next Goldberg. It was there in his look and build, built up in a winning streak and a tough finisher. It was so blatant a copy, it’s no wonder fans grew tired of him. His attempts to win the WWE title came up short and exposed him as a subpar worker. WWE was still trying and thought having him hold the IC title would be a good step. Sadly, he won it in what may be the worst Elimination Chamber match of all time.
Injuries actually prevented him from defending the belt too often and he barely had any bouts before losing it to Kevin Owens after three months. This led to Ryback’s slump down the card before his departure from the company.
10 Prince Iaukea - WCW Television Championship
WCW was well known for copying WWE a lot, even when they were on top of the ratings game. In early 1997, Rocky Maivia pulled off an unexpected upset over Triple H to win the IC title. WCW decided to emulate that the best they could. TV champion William Regal had been in a feud with Ultimo Dragon and set up for a big PPV match. Regal figured a Nitro battle with Prince Iaukea was just a warm-up battle. Instead, thanks to a distracted Regal, Iaukea rolled him up to win the belt. It was a surprise as the guy just wasn’t that good in the role. Indeed, as soon as Rocky lost the IC belt, Prince likewise dropped the TV title. He just bounced around the cruiserweight division and a forgettable “The Artist Formerly Known As” character as holding the TV belt did little to make Prince a star.
9 Ezekiel Jackson - Intercontinental Championship
You can see why he got pushed in WWE. Ezekiel Jackson was what Vince loves in a worker: big, beefy, muscular build and an imposing look. He was pushed hard as the last ECW Champion before the brand was shut down and then moved to the main roster. Jackson won the IC title and it was clear WWE was ready to push him more. Too bad it was evident the man had little in-ring skills and no skills on the mic. Even WWE recognized it as Jackson lost the title to Cody Rhodes less than two months later. That title reign seemed to expose his weaknesses as he slumped down the card in forgettable feuds before being released. Thus, being given the belt was a major reason Jackson never worked out as a star.
8 Jillian Hall - Divas Championship
Originally, a manager for JBL, Jillian Hall’s gimmick was a ridiculous “mole” on her cheek. That ended up being “eaten” by the Boogeyman. That led to her new gimmick of being a would-be singing star despite having the worst singing voice on the planet. It actually got her over but her in-ring work wasn’t that well received. She did end up winning the Divas title in a huge upset. But literally two minutes later, she was set up against a returning Melina and lost the belt to her. Jillian was then used for squash matches and the occasional battle royal before being released. This quickie title reign just marred her entire push and showed that as a wrestler, she made a good bad singer.
7 Rey Mysterio - World Heavyweight Championship
Folks may complain about WWE pushing big guys so much. But the truth is, you need a somewhat big guy to be a world champion. Rey Mysterio was pushed hard in 2006 in memory of his good friend Eddie Guerrero. That included challenging Kurt Angle and Randy Orton for the World title at 'Mania. Rey won the match but having a champion barely five and a half feet tall and less than 200 pounds was not a smart move.
Rey was a great worker but just not right for the main event scene. His title reign just wasn’t that good and he actually lost momentum trying to make it on that level. He also got a run as WWE Champion that literally lasted two hours. It just didn’t do favors for Rey elevated to a slot he wasn’t suited for.
6 Kaitlyn - Divas Championship
Back when NXT was still a reality show for training workers, Kaitlyn was the winner of their all-female season. She had a good look but rather rough in the ring and showcased the classic “Divas” antics of the time. She did end up winning the Divas title off of Eve and her tenure was hardly filled with great action. She actually held the belt for 153 days but it wasn’t really anything notable. She finally lost it to AJ Lee who would pave the way for the women of WWE to be taken more seriously.
Kaitlyn slumped down the card, coming up short in rematches and finally leaving the company. She made a recent return but holding the Divas title did nothing to help Kaitlyn stand out in a worse time for women in the company.
5 Jack Swagger - World Heavyweight Championship
The issue was Jack Swagger wasn’t that he wasn’t a good performer. He was but better suited for the upper mid-card like The Miz is today. WWE, however, wanted Swagger in the main event. They pushed him as ECW champion and kept on pushing when he got on the main roster. He won Money in the Bank and then got the world title. His weaknesses in that slot were showcased as Swagger just couldn’t measure up as a main event star for fans and slumped a lot. It also added to his bad backstage attitude that didn’t win him friends. Swagger was amazingly going to have another world title run only for another personal problem nixed that. He’s out of WWE today and it’s clear how trying to elevate him so much just hurt Swagger’s drive.
4 Ron Simmons - WCW World Championship
Bill Watts had some good ideas for WCW with his tougher style and old-school booking. However, some of his ideas were way too “old school” to work for a '90s wrestling company. A key example is when Watts decided to make Ron Simmons WCW World champion. Simmons was popular and a good worker and the booking of him chosen to face Vader was well done. The problem was, fans loved seeing Simmons chase the belt but they cooled fast when he had to actually defend it.
It didn’t help that the best challengers Watts could give him were The Barbarian and some other jobbers. Simmons was not catching fire as champion and lost the belt back to Vader just before the end of the year. He slumped down the card majorly as the title win was a bad move that just hurt Simmons in WCW.
3 The Miz - WWE Championship
The Miz was given the WWE Championship at a really bad time. The Miz won it via Money in the Bank cash in late in 2010, which set up a WrestleMania match with John Cena. With The Rock involved in much of the buildup and the eventual match, Miz sorely looked out of place in the main event scene. Given that his match with Cena at WrestleMania XXVII was a dud, it led to WWE taking the title off Miz a month later and it took years for The Miz to gain credibility again. Ironically today, Miz would be far more deserving of a title push, but fans seemed to hold this lackluster run against him for years.
2 The Renegade - WCW Television Championship
Poor, poor Rick Wilson. In 1995, he thought he’d gotten the break of a lifetime by being made the Renegade in WCW. He had a major push up the card which included him beating Arn Anderson for the TV title. It’s not his fault his entire act was a huge lame copy of The Ultimate Warrior. Fans never took to it, turning on Wilson fast and the title win just made it worse. The boos were massive as Renegade was never accepted as anything but a total knock-off of the Warrior who was even worse in the ring. The title reign just added to that backlash and fans were happy when Renegade lost it to Diamond Dallas Page. The guy slumped down the card for a bad end as the title reign just made his entire act far worse for fans.
1 Ronnie Garvin - NWA Heavyweight Championship
In the 1980s, winning the NWA title should have been a great moment for a wrestler. For Ronnie Garvin, it was a disaster. Jim Crockett had been building up Starrcade ’87 as the company’s first major PPV. He thought it would be a big deal for Ric Flair to have the showcase by regaining the NWA world title. This meant having someone beat Flair for the belt only to lose it two months later. Even Dusty Rhodes didn’t want to go through that. Ronnie Garvin was chosen and beat Flair in a cage match in September. However, it was obvious Garvin was a lame-duck champion and no heel wanted to lose to him.
So, in a violation of the 30-day rule, Garvin was allowed to be on “sabbatical” to train for the rematch with Flair. The Chicago crowd turned on Garvin majorly as he lost the belt to Flair and never got near the level of a main eventer again.