wrestling / Columns

The Contentious Ten 07.20.09: The Top Ten Worst WWE Champions

July 20, 2009 | Posted by John Peters

First I want to say thanks to everyone who took the time to comment. I really appreciate all of the feedback, because it makes me a better writer. With over 140 comments last week, I’m unable to respond to them all, so this week I’m debuting my Top Ten Comments. Now please keep in mind that the comments chosen are picked because they were smart criticisms, got the point I was trying to make, were petulant to a fault, or just made me laugh. Keep in mind that I didn’t really spend a lot of time thinking about the order of these.

10. So John Cena is a better “WWF/E Champion” than Taker, HBK and HHH in the history of the business ?
Two words for YA
Posted By: Epic Failure For John Peters (Guest) on July 12, 2009 at 11:56 PM

Yes! My first “Epic Fail!” Now I’m officially a 411 writer!

9. I don’t really like Cena, but he moves merch like hell and, as you pointed out, has logged an awful lot of time as Champ. I probably would have put him lower, but he still would have been on the list.
It will be interesting though, to see how we look back on Cena’s run in 10-20 years from now.
Posted By: Hawkeye (Guest) on July 13, 2009 at 12:35 AM

I think that the 10-20 year time frame is a good perspective. Cena is the Hulk Hogan of today. Ten years from now all the kids that loved Cena but outgrew him might just suddenly return with a renaissance of the Attitude Era.

8. One more thing…for those who are getting pissy about Cena being on the list…just the fact that he held the title for 380 days in an era where it bounces around like a stoned cheerleader at a frat party should count for something, even if just from a kayfabe perspective.
Posted By: MissyNEVERWearssocksWithShoes (Guest) on July 13, 2009 at 03:42 AM

I’ll be talking more about the kayfabe perspective a bit later, but this commenter hit the nail on the head of the argument I was trying to make.

7. You say 2 of HBK’s 3 “lackluster” title reigns brought him down on your list, while you call BOTH of Savages’ titles reigns “very successful”. You call his second reign successful? He had ONE title defense on PPV and HE LOST!!! Via countout to Warrior, but still he LOST. I love Savage, but I certainly wouldnt call his second reign VERY successful. On the other hand, you look at HBK and the WWF at the time of his reigns. Who was in the WWF at those times that he didn’t beat? Diesel, Bulldog, Owen, Vader, Sid, Bret, Undertaker, Yoko. The only guy he didn’t beat was Austin. Though HBK’s second reign may have been short, how can you PENALIZE a guy for winning the title more than once even IF one of those reigns were short. By that rationale, you should consider Ahmed Johnson a better intercontinental champion than Shawn Michaels because HBK’s second and third reign were forfeited. And we all know that isn’t true. Or maybe Ken Shamrock a better IC champ than Razor Ramon because Razor’s third reign was very short. Come on. Even if a guy has a short, less than stellar reign as champion – that should only ADD to his legacy since he was able to get the title once again and prove he is the best. Not to mention that you have BOB BACKLUND on your list. Talk about one of the WORST and SHORTEST title reigns in history, this guy has to take the cake. If by your scoring model, the worse a title reign is the lower the overall score is, then Bob Backlund doesn’t even make Honorable Mention. His first reign would be all but nullified after his horrible second reign. Hogan’s fourth reign, too, lasted, what, 4 days? Now I’m not saying Hogan or Backlund or Savage shouldn’t be on the list, but you can’t dock HBK (or anyone for that matter) for having a “poor” multiple reign. If that was their only reign (ala Slaughter, Sid) ok that’s fine, but to penalize a guy for taking THAT belt more than once is ridiculous, and also does not ring consistent throughout your article. I know this is your first article, but please God do a little more thinking before posting anything else like this again. To make matters worse, you start out by trying to push this article as something more than an opinion piece while it’s laden with inconsistencies and inequalities. Poor first effort.
Posted By: Guest (Guest) on July 13, 2009 at 09:21 PM

This particular “Guest” actually sent me an email too, in which I gave him a more detailed reply. While you could read that I penalized Michaels for two short reigns, the fact of the matter is I didn’t. I penalized him for how he handled himself as champion during his second and third title reigns. I did not assign a point value to each title reign and then take an average, I looked at each wrestler’s collective time with the belt and then rendered a verdict. That’s also why Hogan’s, Backlund’s, Hart’s and Rock’s pathetically short reigns don’t weight them down much, because their work as champion as a whole remains great. Also, I thought I was pretty clear that Top Ten Columns ARE opinion pieces, I just tried to make a bit of a case that I really thought about the placement of the wrestlers on the list.

6. Titles used to mean something back then. They were the best perfomers, usually the most reliable backstage, AND the biggest draws. You had to be a perfomer back then and credible to be champ. Not just get pops and sell merch. You had to have the ability to make others look good.
Post-Hogan i’d say Bret and Cena for number of title reigns and length as opposed to Austin and Rocky who had are mega media stars but never had LONG “This is the champ mofo” type of reins Bret Hart did and Cena does.
When Bret hart was on a show, the whole fucking show stopped you know this was that top guy in the company. Now compare that to Jericho’s reigns or even Edge’s. To me world champs gotta be the best guy OVERALL in the company. Not guys like Jeff Hardy….
Posted By: MacDollarz. (Guest) on July 13, 2009 at 12:52 AM

I agree with you, titles did mean more back then, and you layout the attributes that make a good champion quite well. I’m not sure what you mean by performer (entertainer, wrestler, or both) but you clearly understood the point I was driving toward.

5. Seriously, in a column where you show such knowledge of the business how the fuck could you put John Cena in the same class as The Rock, Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Randy Savage, etc.
Has he had great matches? Yes.
Has the E forced people to buy into him? Yes. But putting him over HBK, The UnderTaker, Trips, and Kurt fuckin’ Angle is insulting. Cena’s contributions to pro wrestling are no where near those of the 4 in your “Honorable Mentions.”
Other than that, great column my man!
Posted By: Alex Mattis (Guest) on July 12, 2009 at 11:30 PM

I would agree with you 100% if I had written a column on the greatest WWE Superstars, or the greatest “wrestlers,” but the column was about the greatest WWE Champions. I think Angle is a great wrestler, but he was a placeholder champion. I love the Undertaker, but he too was largely a placeholder champion. Michaels had one good (not great) run with the belt, and Triple H had a lot of runs with the belt but he’s only had one short run (his third) that I would classify as career defining. These guys are all great “wrestlers” but were only good champions.

4. What a joke to rank people that were semi-relevant 30 years ago to the more talented champions of recent years. Nobody alive today remembers Randy Savage or Bruno Sammertino. Hulk Hogan can’t even wrestle and I never even heard of Bob Backlund.
Here’s the most epic, most unbiased all-time Top Ten greatest champions in this thread so far:
10 CM Punk
9 Eddie Guerrero
8 Stone Cold
7 Undertaker
5 Batista
4 Orton
3 Edge
2 Cena
Posted By: Jake (Guest) on July 13, 2009 at 04:45 AM

While a lot of other people already took shots at poor Jake, I’m not above admitting his comment made me laugh. CM Punk? If I tally up his time with the WWE Title he doesn’t even make the list of worst champions, because he’s never been WWE Champ. Eddie Guerrero? Batista? Orton? Edge? I’m sorry but none of these guys were/are great WWE Champions. Edge and Orton have a shot at someday being great if Edge can hold the title longer than two months, and Orton gets a chance to not look like a lucky coward. I don’t think Batista has much of a chance though, he’s likely to tear a bicep lifting the belt. If you were going to criticize me, you should have at least pulled up a list of WWE Champions. Or were you being sarcastic?

3. There were a few that specifically questioned Sammartino’s number one spot, but I’m lumping them together:

His lengthy title reign aside, can you really call bruno the best when he only really toured the northeast and not the country and then world as champion? How many defenses has he had out of the northeastern region during those thousands of days as champion? I feel like taking the title to the next level automatically makes you a better champion…as does the amount of money you draw as champion……inflation included bruno doesnt hold up.
Posted By: Guest#0973 (Guest) on July 13, 2009 at 10:42 AM

Bruno was a champ at a time when there was a lack of options. The number two guy was Pedro freaking Martinez. Hogan was champ when Savage, Steamboat, Dibiase, Perfect, etc., were in the company. Austin was top dog over Rock, Taker, Foley, Angle, and HHH. Bruno should be no higher than third.
Posted By: Guest#7389 (Guest) on July 13, 2009 at 10:42 AM

You both made a good case against Bruno. But Guest#2585 basically wrote the response I would give:

Adjusted for inflation, you do realize Bruno headlining MSG like a hundred or so times is as big a feat as most modern Wrestlemanias? WWE has trouble selling out MSG today let alone in the ’60s and ’70s when wrestling was still a regional act. The later Shea Stadium match against Larry Zbyszko was one of the biggest drawing shows in wrestling’s history until it became commonplace for wrestling supercards to draw around 30,000 in the late ’90s. Bruno wasn’t on top for so long because of a lack of options. He was on top for so long because people continued to pay to see him wrestle. Same as with Hogan. There wasn’t really a number two guy because there was no need for one. The 90s was the era that added multiple guys at the top of the card which is why so many are used to it now.

I would add that the idea that Bruno was a champion at a time when there were a lack of options is kind of an uninformed statement. There were plenty of options, the most obvious being staying a part of the NWA and having Lou Thesz be your champion. Bruno was known world wide, even had got an audience with the Pope! Bruno was such a draw and so over with the fans that he allowed Capitol Wrestling to split from the NWA in the first place. In other words, without Bruno there would have been no WWWF, no promotion to take national in the 80s and no WWE. McMahon Sr. didn’t like taking risks, but Bruno was a sure thing.

2. This column has no business at 411! It is well-reasoned, opinionated–but not for the sake of being controversial–every choice has logical support. It is overwhelmingly grammatically correct. It is supported by evidence. You didn’t use expletives either, reflecting a mature writing skill.
This is my favorite column ever at 411.
Posted By: BDC (Guest) on July 13, 2009 at 03:58 PM

Hey, I’m not above exploiting a compliment! But, come on, 411 is filled with great writers, if it wasn’t why would it be such a great site (I’m still thrilled to be writing for it)!

1. I don’t believe most of the readers here understand the purpose of this column, which is to list wrestlers as champions, not as overall performers. Yes, HBK and UT were very good performers, but for the most part, their championship reigns were non-distinct, either in terms of quality (UT, Rock) or in terms of drawing power (HBK). All of the wrestlers listed in the top 10 list have been important champions in their own right. That is why I don’t have much of a beef with Cena’s inclusion, as he is a draw (whether the ICW likes it or not). The only major complaint is that Hogan should be # 1. More than anybody else today, Hogan has defined modern wrestling. Along with Vince’s promotional skills, Hogan established the WWF as a national promotion, and became the viable top guy to have for network, cable and PPV television exposure.
Posted By: Michael L (Guest) on July 13, 2009 at 12:11 PM

Thank you, you really understood what I was doing with this column, and you obviously explained it better than I did last week. I see your point about Hogan, but I would contest that Hogan wouldn’t have had a chance to define modern wrestling if Sammartino hadn’t laid such a strong foundation for the promotion. Likewise Austin wouldn’t have been as big of a success if the Attitude era hadn’t had a pool of now grown up former fans (read Hogan fans) to pull back into the fold.

By the way, do you guys like the feedback section at the beginning, or should I put it at the end?

It seems that I wasn’t very clear last week. Some of you got what I was trying to do, but others didn’t really understand the perspective of my analysis. When I analyze something like the greatest WWE Champions, I analyze from four positions: kayfabe, smart-mark, what I call the “educated” smart-mark, and my personal fandom. I put the most weight of my analysis on kayfabe (about 60%). This means that I look at the wrestler’s championship run(s) as though wrestling is a real competitive sport.

If you think about it (and I’m not trying to be demeaning, I obviously love pro-wrestling) wresting is a pseudo-sport involving performers pretending to beat each other up over a prop called a championship belt. I’m not saying that what they do isn’t dangerous, painful or even “real,” or that, for a wrestler, winning the title isn’t a big deal. What I am saying though is because wrestling is a performance, and the values of the championship belts are an extension of the performance, it makes the most sense to examine the successfulness of the champions within the confines of the performance (kayfabe).

For everyone that griped about Cena’s placement/inclusion on last week’s list, I invite you to take a step back and look at it from a kayfabe perspective. If you look at wrestling like it is real, and you see this guy (Cena) rack up win, after win, after win and he holds the belt for longer than anyone else has in the last 20 years, how can you not rank him as one of the greatest WWE Champions ever? I’m not, as one comment put it rather amusingly a “Cena dick rider,” I find his matches dull, and I really hate the whole thing where Cena gets beat-up for fifteen minutes and then “amazingly” comes back to win. However, his ability to put on a convincing fake fight while defending a prop is irrelevant, because from a kayfabe perspective he’s winning his matches and is the most dominant champion in 20 years. Recognizing this is part of being what I call an “educated” smart-mark (more on that later).

You can’t take something that’s fake and apply real values to the fake aspects. Therefore, you can’t look at the quality of John Cena’s title runs (which are fake) say he’s a crappy worker (a real, but subjective value) and then say because John Cena is a crappy worker he was a crappy champion. The two things are not contingent upon the other. Cena’s crappiness as a “wrestler” has nothing, not a thing, to do with his success as champion. However, you can take real aspects of something that’s real (or at least rumored to be) and apply real values to it. For example, the fact that Shawn Michaels faked or at the very least played up a knee injury to avoid doing the job back to Bret Hart is something that is real and reflects poorly on his record as WWF Champion. Things like ratings, sellouts, and merchandise sales are all real things that reflect the real aspects of a champion’s drawing power.

From a kayfabe perspective Michaels had one good run as champion and two weak runs. From a smart-mark perspective (which equates to about 20% of my analysis), the guy whined and cried about losing the belt, first to Mankind (if that rumor can be believed) and then to Vader (if that rumor can be believed, which the “It’s Time” PPV seems to confirm) so he lost to Sid. Then he exaggerated a knee injury to avoid dropping the belt to Hart at WM 13. Then, as the rumor has it Taker supposedly had to threaten him at WM 14 to do the right thing or have hell to pay. When you look at it from this perspective he’s an awful champion! But, he put on awesome matches and was an excellent champion in the sense that he could, and still can, work a better match than just about anyone. That’s why he comes in at number 12 on my list, if it weren’t for that he’d probably rank lower!

However, awesome matches may make an awesome wrestler (and Michaels is an awesome wrestler), but they don’t necessitate an awesome champion. This is what I call the “educated” smart-mark position. I know I may be treading on thin ice here, but a smart-mark is still a mark. In fact, I would say that some are even bigger marks than little kids, because some are so sure that they know what makes a “good wrestler” good that they fail to see that there is really no such thing as a “good pro-wrestler.” There are wrestlers who are good entertainers (Hulk Hogan, John Cena), who perform very convincingly (Bret Hart, Chris Benoit), or who are really willing to put their bodies on the line (Jeff Hardy, Shawn Michaels), but they are all still pretending to fight. Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be a “good” actor but he still made tons of money, and in that sense he’s a good actor, he’s just good in a different way than say, Anthony Hopkins is “good.” Being an “educated” smart-mark means being aware of your own fandom and removing that from the equation to find a more objective viewpoint. I find Cena boring, and Michaels thrilling, but I have to remove my own biases in order to come to the best conclusion. This is the measure to which I hold my analysis of fictional things like greatest champions.

I’m sorry for the length but the way I look at it is complicated. I hope it made sense!

Winning a world title doesn’t automatically make a wrestler a success. For every Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin there is a Sgt. Slaughter or a Kane. This week I look at the wrestlers that made it to the top of the promotion but made such a little impact, or such a negative impact as WWE Champion (please understand that I’m only looking at their quality as WWE Champion, not their entire careers) that their runs with the belt should, by in large, be considered failures. By the way, I’m counting down to the worst. For your consideration, I present…

The Top Ten Worst WWE Champions

Dishonorable Mentions

Antonio Inoki

Although WWE doesn’t recognize Inoki’s victory over Backlund it’s a well know fact that he had a WWF Title reign when the WWF was on tour in Japan. Inoki would lose the belt back to Backlund six days later. Whether the title was “held up” after the match isn’t important here, because Inoki never got another shot at it. It should seem like Inoki should be on this list, but it’s hard to fault him for a promotional title change that according to WWE doesn’t really exist, so he gets a pass. Last week I provided a link to Backlund’s disputed victory over Inoki, here’s the match where Inoki won the belt: Backlund vs Inoki (phantom title change)

Andre The Giant

For all intents and purposes Andre the Giant should be considered the worst WWF Champion. He won the in highly controversial fashion and then surrendered immediately to Ted DiBiase. He was champion for less than two minutes and forfeited the title! However, like Inoki, it’s hard to fault Andre on this one. Andre gets an incomplete more than he gets a failing grade. His title reign wasn’t really even a title reign, but a plot device. It doesn’t seem right to count it.


Just like Inoki and Andre, Batista never really got a chance to be WWE Champion. He won the belt from Randy Orton in a steel cage match, but had, prior to the match, sustained a bicep tear. WWE booked him to win the match anyway and had Orton and his crew beat him down the next night on Raw. Batista was forced to vacate the title the next day. Once again, it’s hard to call Batista a bad WWE Champion, because his title reign was effectively over before it even started.

Please note, that obviously I’m giving all three of these former champions a pass (this is me trying to remove myself from my biases against these three). If I had to make a list where I ranked every WWE Champion Andre would be on the bottom, Batista would be in the bottom four, and Inoki wouldn’t make it past number six. However, I think that all three of their title reigns are simply too irrelevant to make them an interesting part of this week’s column.

“Sycho” Sid

Is it “Sycho Sid” or “Psycho Sid?” Although he has two title reigns to his credit, Sid, while popular, was a pretty awful WWF Champion. He won the belt from Shawn Michaels just so Michaels could win it back at the Royal Rumble in San Antonio. He won it a second time because Michaels flaked out of the rematch he was supposed to have with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13. The WWF decided to go with Sid vs. Undertaker as the main event. The result was one of the worst main events in WrestleMania history (I’d say worst, but Triple H vs. Randy Orton gives it a run for its money). However, as the Champion Sid had his moments including several successful defenses against Bret Hart, the first at In Your House: It’s Time, and a steel cage match on Raw shortly before WrestleMania 13.


“The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff

There has been no one in the history of professional wrestling who has gotten more mileage out of a three week title reign than Ivan Koloff. Koloff entered the WWWF in 1969 and quickly became one of Bruno Sammartino’s many opponents. “The Italian Strongman” was practically unbeatable and Koloff lost many matches to him in the ensuing years. Then, on one fateful night, January 18, 1971 at Madison Square Garden, Koloff caught Sammartino with a boot as he charged the corner, body slammed him, quickly climbed the turnbuckles and crushed him with a near 300 pound knee drop. The referee counted to three and, just like that, Sammartino’s near eight-year title reign had come to an end at the hands of Ivan Koloff. In his book, Sammartino states that he thought he had lost his hearing during the match because the crowd was stunned silent; a few minutes later the fans started breaking down in loud sobs of grief.

After only three weeks of cheap count-out victory title defenses, Koloff lost the belt to Pedro Morales. However, that’s almost a moot point. Koloff’s impact as a champion didn’t stem from how long he was champion, or how good he was as a champion, but from the man he defeated for the WWWF Championship. While it would be several years before people would start referring to Sammartino as the “Living Legend,” he truly was already legendary. After eight years of countless victories no one thought Koloff had a chance to beat Bruno, and when he did it was shocking, and makes Koloff a significant and relevant WWWF Champion, even if his reign was pretty awful.


The Iron Sheik

Before the Iron Sheik became somewhat of a YouTube folk hero he was a serious competitor in the WWF. When he first entered the WWF as Hossein Arab in 1979 he immediately was thrust into a main event feud with WWF Champion Bob Backlund and lost several matches to the him before leaving the promotion only after a year. He returned as the Iron Sheik in 1983 and rekindled his feud with Backlund. Christmas, if he celebrated it, came a day late for the Iron Sheik. On December 26th he won his first and only WWF Title from Bob Backlund when Backlund’s manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel as Backlund was locked in the Iron Sheik’s Camel Clutch. The Iron Sheik defended the belt for four weeks but was soundly defeated by Hulk Hogan on January 23rd. Hogan’s win officially kicked off Hulkamania and the new, national direction of the WWF.

Some might question why a four week WWE Title reign ranks so high on a list of the worst WWE Champions. The reasoning is almost identical to the reasoning behind Koloff’s ranking: significance. While there have been a lot of transitional champions in WWE history the Iron Sheik transitioned the belt from the biggest star at the time, five year champion Bob Backlund to perhaps the biggest star of all time, Hulk Hogan. Just the fact that he played a key role in ending and starting two of the most significant title reigns in the history of the promotion is enough to keep him from the bottom of the list.


The Big Show

Paul White has many attributes that should make him a great champion. He is a giant of a man, is extremely athletic and agile for his size, and has enough charisma to be more than just a one-dimensional monster. For whatever reason though, as The Big Show, he has found little success transferring all of that talent to a successful WWE Title run, despite the fact that he is the only man on this list to have held that title more than once. Big Show’s first WWF Title reign may very well have been a matter of circumstance. The scheduled main event for the 1999 Survivor Series was Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Steve Austin, but prior to the match Austin was struck by a car in a hit and run attack. Austin was replaced by The Big Show who, somewhat surprisingly, won the match. Naturally, Triple H wanted a rematch, but he had some unfinished business with Vince McMahon, and The Big Show was embroiled in a deeply personal feud with the Big Boss Man who had revealed the Show was a bastard and dragged his father’s casket all around the graveyard from the back of a car. The Big Show destroyed Boss Man at Armageddon but just after the new-year Triple H, now in charge of the WWF thanks to his marriage to Stephanie McMahon, gave himself a rematch, which he won.

Outside of the occasional match, The Big Show remained out of the WWE Title picture for several years. It wasn’t until 2002 that he would make history at the Survivor Series yet again. This time he defeated an injured Brock Lesnar when Paul Heyman turned on the WWE Champion. The Big Show’s second WWE Title reign was even shorter than his first, lasting less than a month before he lost the belt to Kurt Angle. While The Big Show captured several other titles since his loss to Angle, he has yet to earn his third WWE Title.

The Big Show ranks lower than Koloff and the Iron Sheik despite the fact that his shortest title reign was actually longer than either of their single title reigns. This is because both Koloff and the Iron Sheik acted as significant transitional champions, meaning they defeated great champions and lost to other great champions. The Big Show on the other hand seemed to get his first title reign to justify his presence in the WWF and won and lost the belt from and to Triple H. His second title reign was purely transitional, but neither made much of an impact on WWE history. The fact that he’s held the title more than once keeps him from dropping lower on the list.


Jeff Hardy

Unquestionably, Jeff Hardy’s rise to the top of World Wrestling Entertainment made for a compelling and exciting storyline. However, I don’t believe that there has been a WWE Champion that has done less during a more than a month long title reign than Jeff Hardy. Hardy, along with his brother Matt became a huge tag team star in the early part of this decade, but it wasn’t until the brand extension split them up that Jeff really started to make a name for himself as a singles star. Hardy showed much promise, but a number of personal and drug related problems led to his release. Then, after spending several years in TNA, Hardy made a triumphant return to WWE. His popularity continued to grow and it looked like a main event level run was in his future, when his drug problem derailed him once again. After returning from his 2008 suspension Hardy worked his way back up the card and into a main event program with Triple H. On the day of the Survivor Series, where he was scheduled to fight Triple H and Vladimir Kozlov for the WWE Title, WWE.com announced that he had been found unconscious in a hotel stairwell. His absence in the title match allowed Edge to return and steal a victory. The next month Hardy got his shot at Edge and Triple H in another triple threat match. After years of hard work Hardy finally accomplished his goal and captured the WWE Title.

Sorry, the video is the best I could find.

Hardy’s victory was met with much fanfare and celebration, but things quickly began to unravel. He earned dubious disqualification and count-out victories against Vladimir Kozlov and The Big Show in non-title matches, and tagged with his brother. Then in the three weeks leading up to the Royal Rumble he was involved in a hit and run car accident, a pyrotechnic mishap, and while recuperating an at home interview. His match with Edge at the Royal Rumble ended up being his first and last televised title defense. Ultimately, it was his brother Matt’s betrayal that cost him the WWE Title, but Hardy technically could have just been stripped of the belt for not defending it within thirty days of winning it. Although it’s only been a few months, Hardy’s title reign has seemingly already shrunk in significance and importance. It’s difficult to blame Hardy for being booked so ineffectively, however, it’s hard not to think that he was given the WWE Title (due to its being book ended by two Edge title reigns) just for the sake of giving him a short, uneventful, and for the most part, meaningless title run. Of course, unlike so many others on the list, he could always get another shot with the WWE Title and make his way off this list.


Sergeant Slaughter

While the WWE has been home to a significant number of controversial characters, there has been no WWE Champion that has appealed to the lowest common denominator more than Sgt. Slaughter. For years Slaughter was a pro-American patriot who wrestled against anti-American wrestlers like the Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, but when he returned to the WWF during the summer of 1990 he started criticizing Americans for having become soft and weak, and stated praising Saddam Hussein. It wasn’t long until Slaughter started showing up dressed in full Iraqi military regalia and aligned himself with a manager by the name of General Adnan. The audience vehemently hated Slaughter to the point of sending him hate mail, refusing him service at restaurants, and even threatening his life, but that didn’t stop the WWF from pushing him. Despite not racking up a tremendous winning record Slaughter was named the number one contender for the Ultimate Warrior’s WWF Championship, and the match took place at the 1991 Royal Rumble. The Warrior dominated Slaughter, but thanks to interference from Sensational Sherri and the “Macho King” Randy Savage (whom Warrior had snubbed prior to the match) Slaughter was able pick up the victory and the WWF Championship.

After winning the belt Slaughter set up his “new rules,” which basically consisted of him getting himself counted out or disqualified anytime a match didn’t look to be going his way. It soon became obvious that it would take “The Real American” Hulk Hogan to put an end to Slaughter’s reign of terror. During the build up to their showdown at WrestleMania VII Vince McMahon asked Slaughter to burn an American flag. To his credit, Slaughter refused, and burned a Hulk Hogan shirt instead. Predictably, Hogan overcame the odds and won the WWF Title for a third time, ending Slaughter’s controversial title reign.

Sgt. Slaughter’s title reign was a bad idea on so many levels. While other wrestlers like Koloff and the Iron Sheik had played upon American xenophobia, no actual wars were being fought against those characters’ countries. Slaughter, on the other hand, was playing a traitor who won the WWF Title just days after the Gulf War officially started. This took his character and the angle from tacky and ill-advised to tasteless. Despite this, the WWF went ahead with their symbolic battle between America and Iraq, but a funny thing happened on the way to WrestleMania; the war ended. Now the angle was nearly irrelevant as well. Couple all of this with the fact that the WWF may have been playing games with Slaughter’s life, and the fact that the angle turned off so many people that they had to move WrestleMania from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, to the Sports Center just to fill it up, and you’ve got one hell of a bad title reign. The only thing that keeps Slaughter from the bottom five is that from a kayfabe perspective his reign lasted longer than two months and that he somehow made it work and his character survived the angle.

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Rob Van Dam

I know I’m going to catch hell for this one, but hear me out. There may have been no WWE Title run more disappointing than Rob Van Dam’s. Van Dam entered the WWE in the middle of the WCW/ECW invasion angle, and immediately he showed main event level promise, however, his push was grossly mishandled. For years Van Dam languished in the mid-card, crappy tag teams, and half hearted main event pushes. Then, he returned from a significant knee injury and earned a spot in, and won the WrestleMania 22 Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Van Dam made it clear that he would be cashing in his guaranteed title shot against the WWE Champion John Cena at ECW’s One Night Stand pay per view. Cena entered the Hammerstein Ballroom to one of the most hostile crowds in WWE history. After an intense match that saw Edge get involved and Paul Heyman act as the referee Rob Van Dam had his hand raised as the new WWE Champion. Paul Heyman promised that the WWE Title would be rechristened the new ECW Title, but Van Dam decided to defend both championships.

Van Dam was a fighting champion and he participated in several title matches including his only pay per view title defense against Edge at Vengeance. It was widely speculated that Van Dam was scheduled to lose the WWE Title in a triple threat match against Cena and Edge at a special Saturday Night’s Main Event. However, two weeks before that event Van Dam and Sabu were pulled over; the officer found 18 grams of marijuana and some Vicodin pills and arrested both men. Van Dam left the WWE no choice but to pull the plug on his title runs. The triple threat match was moved up to the July 3rd Raw, just over three weeks since he had won the title, and Van Dam lost his WWE Title to Edge, and lost the ECW Title the next night to The Big Show and was then suspended for thirty days.

While I like Rob Van Dam (I stood in line for three hours to get his autograph) and I have no interest in sparking any sort of marijuana debate, I don’t think I can emphasize enough how stupid and potentially devastating to the WWE Van Dam’s actions were. Some of you might be tempted to point out that I’m going against the kayfabe perspective, but kayfabe is broken when the WWE Champion is mentioned on national news for being arrested for possession of marijuana. Fortunately WWE controlled the damage well by removing the titles from Van Dam and by temporarily removing Van Dam from the WWE. While it is likely that his run probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer, and that he probably still would have ended up on this list, his reign and potential as champion were cut short, all because Van Dam couldn’t wait to get to a safer place to toke up. Thanks to Van Dam’s irresponsibility his run at the top of the WWE was a one shot deal.


“The Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers

Buddy Rogers was an innovator, incredibly talented in the ring and on the microphone, and became the template off of which Ric Flair based most of his persona. He was also a great champion…in the NWA. His reign as WWWF Champion is a different story. As outlined in the previous article, Rogers’s NWA Title reign was a key part of the creation of the WWWF. By disputing Rogers’s loss to Lou Thesz, McMahon was able to promote Rogers as World Champion, but was able to have full control of the title. However, it became clear that the fans weren’t going to buy into a disputed World Championship for very long. So, after several months of promoting Rogers as the World Champion they officially declared him the first WWWF Champion.

Here is the match were Rogers won the NWA Title

Side note: The video below takes place in February of 1963, and features Rogers as the “World Champion” even though he had lost his NWA World Championship to Thesz a month earlier. The belt Rogers is wearing is probably his old NWA United States Championship belt, but it is also, or becomes, the original WWWF Championship Belt that was shaped like the United States. They call him a claimant to the World’s Championship indicating that the Chicago promotion didn’t recognize him as World Champion. It wasn’t until April that they started promoting him as WWWF Champion using the same belt. But I guess you could say he is the WWWF Champion in this match.

It’s hard to pin down the date that Rogers officially became the WWWF Champion. Pro Wrestling Illustrated says April 1st, 1963, WWE’s official history says April 29th, 1963 and The History of the WWE states that Rogers first appeared with the WWWF Title at an April 11th TV taping. What can be agreed on is that sometime in April the WWWF started recognizing that he was the WWWF Champion, and not the NWA Champion. At some point the story that Rogers had won the WWWF Championship in a tournament final against Antonino Rocca in Rio de Janeiro was added to give the creation of the WWWF Title more credibility. Regardless, just over a month after his first appearance with the WWWF Title, Rogers found himself in a match at Madison Square Garden with his biggest rival in the WWWF, Bruno Sammartino. Forty-eight seconds later, Sammartino was the new WWWF Champion.

Several controversies surround Rogers reign as WWWF Champion. Essentially Rogers became the first WWWF Champion by losing a match to Lou Thesz. He acted as the promotions World Champion for several months before becoming the official WWWF Champion (the span of time I’m assessing). Then there’s the whole fake tournament thing. Finally, Rogers supposedly suffered a heart attack at some point before his famous showdown with Sammartino. However, Sammartino claims that Rogers was lazy and scared, and made up the heart attack as an excuse to save some face. A quick glance at the History of the WWE website seems to corroborate Bruno’s story as Rogers wrestled just days before. Regardless, from it’s questionable beginning to it’s abrupt end, Rogers’s WWWF Champion run (if you count it as starting in April) is pretty pathetic and was an inauspicious start for the promotion’s top championship.



It’s not uncommon, that when Kane makes his way to the ring, or when he’s in the middle of a match, for the announcers to remind the fans that Kane is a former WWE Champion. However, the announcers usually and conveniently leave out how insignificant that reign was.

Less than a year after the character’s debut and subsequent feud with his half-brother the Undertaker, Kane was thrust into a WWF Title program with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Vince McMahon desperately wanted to get the WWF Title off of Austin and set the easily bloodied champion against the masked monster, Kane, in a “First Blood” match. Austin was at a massive disadvantage because Kane’s body was literally covered from head to toe. Not only would it be hard for Austin to make him bleed, but it would be hard for the referee to see him bleed. To complicate matters further, Kane promised that he would win the WWF Title or he would set himself on fire. Despite the fire stipulation, few thought Kane would walk away with the belt. Nevertheless, after a wild match at the 1998 King of the Ring, that saw the lowering of the Hell in a Cell cage, Austin was busted wide open when the Undertaker (who had come out to attack the interfering Mankind) hit Austin with a chair. The referee saw the blood and Kane was crowned new WWF Champion. Kane’s reign would only last one day, as the next night on Raw, Austin challenged Kane’s masculinity and challenged him to a rematch. Against the guidance of Paul Bearer and Vince McMahon, Kane accepted the match and subsequently lost the title back to Austin. Although Kane has challenged for the WWE and World Heavyweight Titles several times and won the ECW Title, he has never managed to earn another run with the promotion’s top championship.

Sorry, this one is joined in progress.

One might think that Kane’s one-day title reign should put him at the bottom of the list, but for all intents and purposes Kane probably never should have won the belt in the first place. The WWF painted themselves into a corner when Kane promised to light himself on fire if he didn’t win, so he got a very short title reign because that was an easier promise for the WWF to keep. The fact that he lost the belt back to Austin the next night makes his run as WWF Champion even less relevant, because he wasn’t even a transitional champion. The reasons he doesn’t rank lower is because he didn’t really do anything specific to devalue the belt (at least he was a fighting champion), but mostly because he still wrestles for WWE and has been able to milk his one-day title reign for everything its been worth.


Stan “The Man” Stasiak

Stan “The Man” Stasiak was the victim and beneficiary of circumstance. During his third stint with the World Wide Wrestling Federation he was immersed in a feud with WWWF Champion Pedro Morales. Morales was a great champion, and quite popular, however, former champion, and the most popular wrestler of his day, Bruno Sammartino had recently returned from a long sabbatical. WWWF officials wanted to put the belt back on their biggest draw, but didn’t want to damage Morales, because he too was a top draw. As a result it was decided that the WWWF Title would be switched to Sammartino by way of a transitional champion.

As the legend goes, Stasiak was in the locker room before his match with Morales, and an official was going over the match with him. The official explained to him how Morales would back-suplex him into a pin, the referee would count to three, but he would roll his shoulder off the mat right after two. Confused, Stasiak, who hadn’t really been paying attention turned to him and asked, “You mean I win?” Stasiak did indeed win, but the victory was not announced to the crowd in fear of a riot. Nine days later Stasiak would drop the WWWF Title to Sammartino.

Sorry about the lousy footage.

Although there are men who have held the title for shorter periods of time than Stasiak, I would argue that he is the least relevant WWWF Champion in history. While most transitional champions transfer the title from one long-term champion to another, Stasiak’s loss moved the title back to the man who was champion before Morales, propelling the promotion back to the reliable standard instead of in a new direction. While Stasiak can’t be faulted for that decision, he was certainly a strange pick for champion. Stasiak was essentially a main event level jobber who traveled from territory to territory, putting other wrestlers over. A modern day equivalent would be transferring the WWE Title from Triple H to John Cena by way of Mike Knox. It just doesn’t make sense when there are numerous more qualified potential transitional champions. Stasiak just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but his championship reign was pathetic and very forgettable.


Vince McMahon

Of all the men ever to hold the WWE Championship, Vince McMahon is unquestionably the least qualified. At the time of his WWF Title victory McMahon was technically banned from the promotion having lost (by proxy of the Undertaker) an “End of an Era” match to Steve Austin. It just so happened that McMahon was at SmackDown to support his wife, who had been insulted by Triple H on Raw. Triple H, who was in a foul mood because he was being made to defend his title against an unknown opponent, talked Shane McMahon in to being the referee for the match. Then he goaded Vince McMahon into being his opponent by insulting his masculinity and his wife. The “match” if you can call it that, consisted of Triple H beating the hell out of Vince and then Shane, copious amounts of interference from Chyna, Linda McMahon, Gerald Briscoe and Pat Paterson, and a finish that saw Steve Austin run in and give Triple H the stunner resulting in McMahon winning the WWF Title. On Monday Night Raw Vince walked out with the WWF Title around his waist. Moments later he forfeited the WWF Title.

In theory Vince McMahon’s WWF Title reign doesn’t look much different from some of the dishonorable mentions. However there are several key differences. The first is that it cut the new badass heel champion, Triple H, the man who would win the vacant title, off at the knees by making him look weak and stupid. The second is McMahon simply forfeited the title and didn’t put anyone over in the process. Third and most importantly Vince is the promoter and main booker; putting the title on himself was a huge conflict of interest as he put himself above the rest of the talent. The worst part of it was McMahon’s title reign made it seem like anyone could be a world champion, and it paved the way for other World Champions like David Arquette and Vince Russo. McMahon takes the bottom spot because he should never have been champion, never defended the championship, his championship reign didn’t add anything significant to the storyline, and quite frankly he should have known better.

Did I Fail Epically? Got Comments? You Know You Do!


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