Vince McMahon’s company may not be the only game in town anymore, but don’t get it twisted: a world championship in WWE is still the top accolade in professional wrestling, irrefutable proof that you’ve clawed your way to the top of the mountain (well, nearly irrefutable: see Mahal, Jinder). Only 50 men have held the longest-running, richest prize in sports entertainment — the WWE Championship — in its 56 year existence. In the brand split eras, the World Heavyweight Championship and Universal Championship have served the same purpose. Whether it’s been represented by a winged eagle, a spinning jewel, the Big Gold Belt Ric Flair carried in the NWA, or a sensible, sustainable hemp strap, winning a world title in WWE has always been every Superstar’s ultimate goal.
Of course, not everyone who probably deserves it can claim the prize. Kofi Kingston’s eleven year odyssey may come to an end at WrestleMania if he can dethrone Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship. He may be the most deserving guy on the current roster to never win “the big one,” which got us thinking about past wrestlers who share the same dubious honor.
So in honor of #KofiMania, AiPT! presents the most talented, most popular, most deserving wrestlers in WWE history to never win the a world championship in WWE.
Ground rules: This only looks at the WWE Championship and all its incarnations (WWE World Championship, WWE World Heavyweight Championship, WWF Championship, etc.), the World Heavyweight Championship (the title modeled after WCW’s Big Gold Belt that existed from 2002-2013) and the Universal Championship (created in 2016 and currently held by Brock Lesnar).
Patrick Ross: The Kliq was comprised of some of the most important wrestlers in modern history. Come this April, every member — Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and X-Pac — will be Hall of Famers. While Pac just didn’t have the build of somebody who’d hold the world title in the ’90s, every other member spent some quality time with the then-WWF Championship. That is, except Scott Hall.
Hall, aka Razor Ramon, is probably the most underrated member of the Kliq. Ramon was massively popular at the birth of the “New Generation” era, and was built like a prototypical champion of the time. That line JBL always used to spout about how if you could build a sports-entertainer from the ground up, it’d look like Randy Orton? In 1994, you could say the same about Razor Ramon. Standing in at 6’7″, Ramon moved better than other guys of his size, had a killer moveset and finisher, and, as Vince McMahon would loudly proclaim on commentary during every one of his matches, he OOZED MACHISMO!
Unfortunately, The Bad Guy only had one opportunity at the WWF Championship in a losing effort to Bret Hart. He ended up becoming synonymous with the Intercontinental Title — certainly not a bad way to be remembered, but if the medium sized mang stayed with the company and kept himself clean, who knows how high his ceiling would have been. Word is he was part of a nice little angle down in WCW called the New World Order though, and ended up doing all right for himself, despite never running the big one in either WWF or WCW.
Nathaniel Muir: Whether you remember him as the Million Dollar Man, the leader of the Rat Pack, or the scrappy wrestler from Omaha, there was never any denying that Ted DiBiase was supremely talented.
Early in his career, DiBiase was pegged as a future world champion. He was a great fit for the NWA World title — he could talk, fight, and wrestle. Just as importantly, DiBiase could play the role of the plucky babyface or the villainous heel. In a time when the NWA champ would travel the territories and take on whoever the top person was, this was a priority. The World titleholder had to be someone who could convincingly play either part.
Not only did DiBiase never win the NWA belt, he also never held the UWF title (though he was the Mid-South North American Champion on numerous occasions). It was almost as if forces had conspired to ensure he would never win the big one.
This was most clear in the WWF. DiBiase’s iconic Million Dollar Man character would have been a multi time champion during the Attitude Era, and in 1988, DiBiase seemed like the right man to end Hulk Hogan’s epic title reign. Whether he was too small, not in the mold of a WWF champion of the time, or the victim of broken promises, it was not to be. DiBiase never even had the big one on one PPV blowoff against Hogan.
Ted DiBiase had a great career. He has won titles all over the world, was a favorite partner of Stan Hansen, and has one of the most recognizable laughs in the history of the sport. He may have never won the WWF World Title, but he was easily the best Million Dollar Champion of all time.
“Ravishing” Rick Rude
Jason Segarra: Now, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but if you don’t think that Rick Rude is the best “arrogant dickhead” heel in professional wrestling history, you are wrong. The man had it all, the body, the moveset, the slimy charisma that just gets under your skin, and most of all a confident air that made him the focus of attention wherever he was. Put him against anyone, he’s the heel. Even against sadistic career heels like Jake “the Snake” Roberts, Rude found a way to turn the crowd against him by airbrushing the dude’s wife’s face on the crotch of his trunks. As a handsome dastardly bastard who is more concerned with stealing your girl than stealing your title, and that may be why he never ascended to the top of the card.
Though he did have a fairly strong run with the Intercontinental Championship, Rude had only the faintest dalliances with the top of the card. There are plenty of rumors as to why (including a certain balding ‘maniac being afraid to mix it up with a “proper tough guy” like Rude), but the man never seemed to climb into the limelight. Over his three years with the Fed, the man only got one shot at the winged eagle belt (vs. Ultimate Warrior at SummerSlam 1990) but didn’t stick around long enough to get another shot. A jump to WCW would see him continue his run of strong midcard heelery, but sadly — even in the number two promotion in the country — the world heavyweight title would remain out of his grasp.
Rude was the total package: a good looking jerk who could rock a mic, was great in the ring, and could swing the crowd against him at will with a swing of his hips. He had all the potential in the world, but through a combination of his own attitude and backstage politics, he never quite made it to a major title in the WWF. In 2017, Rude was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, making him one of the few men to enter the HoF without a title with the smark crowd’s blessing.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Brian Clements: During the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” era of the WWF, no one exemplified what it meant to be a villain like “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. He not only created some of the most iconic moments in 1980s wrestling, he proved to be more than a match verbally and physically for anyone, including Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, Mr. T and Hulk Hogan. Piper main evented the first two WrestleManias against Hogan, helping build the Immortal One into a juggernaut who took the mainstream world by storm.
In the WWF, Piper was best known for his Piper’s Pit segments, his WrestleMania feud with Morton Downey Jr., and his brash, unapologetic promos. After his feud with Hogan, Piper was in and out of the Fed, becoming a fan favorite after a beatdown from Don Muraco, Adrian Adonis, and Cowboy Bob Orton. Despite several attempts to go back to his dastardly ways over the following decades, Piper remained a favorite until his death in 2015. In WWF/WWE, Piper won the Intercontinental Championship once, against The Mountie at the 1992 Royal Rumble, later losing the title to Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII, and the Tag Team Championships once, with Ric Flair in 2006 from The Spirit Squad.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper never ascended beyond mid-card championships in WWF, WCW, or various NWA territories, but was consistently a foil for main event players throughout his career. His almost preternatural gift of gab earned him acclaim the world over, both in the ring and in film. It also earned him his fair share of personal feuds over the years. Piper may have been one of the few people who never needed a championship to establish his credentials. His mouth and his fists did that in spades.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Patrick Ross: Jake “The Snake” Roberts spoke softly and carried a big
stick snake. In an era where every WWF interview was filled with off-the-wall imagery and lots of screaming, Roberts stood out by speaking methodically and with intent. He’s quoted as saying “If a man has enough power, he can speak softly and everyone will listen.”
Jake never won the world heavyweight title in the WWF (or any title for that matter), but he was perennially featured as one of the top bad guys in the promotion and is responsible for some of the most memorable moments of the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling era (Damien biting Macho Man, anyone?). Even as his career was winding down, he had a hand in creating the most iconic wrestling catchphrase of all time — “Austin 3:16 means I just whipped your ass” was a dig on Roberts, whose character had evolved to a born-again Christian by 1996 to mirror his real life.
Alcoholism and drug addiction took hold of Jake’s life for the better part of the 2000s and outcasted him from the WWE family. In 2012, friend Diamond Dallas Page invited Roberts to move in with him to start a rehabilitation program which ultimately, according to Roberts, saved his life, along with the life of fellow list-mate Scott Hall. Since then, Roberts has curbed his drug addiction, lost considerable weight, appeared on Raw, and has been welcomed back into the WWE family.
Jake The Snake may have never won a title in WWE, but in that era, he didn’t need one. He was a crucial member of the roster, and in 2014, took his rightful spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.
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