Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work gains success. Greatness will come. -Dwayne Johnson
As a continuation of my previous article, where I talked about current Superstars who have yet to win a championship (found here), today we will look at Hall Of Fame Superstars who never won a WWE Championship. To clarify, each name had lengthy runs with the company. The list will not include big names who either never worked for WWE, were involved in cross-promotional events, or had brief stints before leaving the promotion.
I originally had twelve names for this list, but I’m not up for detailing two of them for different reasons:
Sting – Often cited as the most popular wrestler to never work for WWE, he finally made his shocking debut in 2014. Most will remember his loss to Triple H at WrestleMania 31. Sting never got the chance to win anything in WWE because of how long it took him to get there, and the unfortunate incident with Seth Rollins almost ending his career. He spent five years with the company, but WWE did little with him. It took nothing away from the fact he is a 12-time World Champion.
Jimmy Snuka – The controversial wrestler was one of the biggest names in the world before his decline in the WWF. For more about why that is, you can read up on my Dark Side of the Ring review here: Dark Side of the Ring — “Jimmy Snuka & The Death of Nancy Argentino”
#1. Dusty Rhodes
One of the most beloved stars in wrestling was monumental in his later years for WWE’s NXT brand. So many men & women have nothing but the sweetest things to say about Dusty, and WWE continues to remember his legacy with the annual Dusty Tag Team Classic. Not long before his retirement, The American Dream sported polka dots during his WWF tenure.
The former NWA World Heavyweight Champion, along with Sapphire, represented the common man & woman, a mid-card act which didn’t garner them any title opportunities. They are remembered for their intergender tag team match with Randy Savage & Sherri Martel at WrestleMania. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, Dusty packed his bags in 1991 and went back to WCW to become a booker. Regardless of his lackluster run in the WWF, The American Dream will always be remembered as one of the most charismatic and loved superstars in wrestling history.
The only title shots he ever had in WWE was back in 1977, when he unsuccessfully challenged “Superstar” Billy Graham twice for the WWWF Heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden. One of them was a “Texas Deathmatch”.
#2. George “The Animal” Steele”
He may always be a “what if?” in wrestling. What if he had won the WWWF World title in the 60s and 70s? And what about beating Randy Savage for the Intercontinental title? George Steele was one of the most prolific and enigmatic heels the World Wrestling Federation had. Everyone loved to hate him, and you can see why. Today’s audiences wouldn’t accept such hair growth on a wrestler, but back then it was a gimmick to parade him around like an animal. His unpredictability and strength scared kids and parents alike, and we’ll never know his true potential.
He fought Bruno Sammartino countless times, only to come up short every time. His last World title match was against Bob Backlund, making him one of only a few to challenge two of the longest reigning champions in company history. Most will remember his feud with Randy Savage & Miss Elizabeth though, and standing by Ricky Steamboat’s side at WrestleMania II. He made a name for himself through by being different and putting in years of hard work.
#3. Hillbilly Jim
Despite not being as popular as most on this list, Hillbilly Jim is adored by his peers and the company’s higher ups. They have always made sure he is remembered, despite having always played a fun mid-card act who did nothing serious. He’s also one of the rare wrestlers who got in to the Hall of Fame without achieving a single title in his entire career; even outside WWE.
From what I can find, he only had two title matches. The first came in 1985, when he & Uncle Elmer challenged Greg Valentine & Brutus Beefcake for the tag team titles. In 1988, he challenged Honky Tonk Man for the Intercontinental title. If there is anyone who epitomizes recognition without accomplishment, it’s Hillbilly Jim.
#4. Jake “The Snake” Roberts
How is it possible that one of the most popular stars to lace up a pair of boots, never won a single WWE Championship? It’s because Jake Roberts was all gimmick. He didn’t need titles to get over, although he may have got over more so had WWE let him. As we know, that probably wouldn’t have made good business sense, seeing as he was an unreliable alcoholic.
It makes you wonder how the wrestling landscape would have changed if stars like Jake Roberts & Scott Hall were clean enough to take their opportunities. He challenged for the IC title a few times, against Randy Savage, Honky Tonk Man and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. The only time he fought for the WWF Championship was during the 1992 Royal Rumble, but so did 29 others.
#5. Jerry “The King” Lawler
Jerry Lawler has self booked himself in Memphis Championship Wrestling for decades, which contributed to his 58 reigns as the Southern Heavyweight Champion. His other list of titles is extensive, so much so that I don’t want to list them here. Let’s just say it’s enough to fill a royal treasury.
Many fans of today won’t remember the wrestler. Lawler has become so synonymous with commentary, that we often forget he had a lengthy run in the mid-90s as a wrestler in the WWF. He didn’t get any title shots, but he was never useful in that way. His greatest asset was getting people to hate him so much, that it made fans want to see someone shut him up. So he spent much of his time getting others over. And more recently, we may remember his feud with The Miz and getting two shots at the WWE Championship. That’s as close as he ever got to winning a title in a promotion he has worked in for almost three decades.
#6. Jesse “Body” Ventura
Continuing the trend of wrestler turned announcer, most fans remember Jesse Ventura for his witty and brutal commentary with Gorilla Monsoon & Vince McMahon. Before his retirement from the squared circle, Jesse dressed up like “Superstar” Billy Graham and rocked a cocky demeanor. He was only active for a few years in the WWF, but picked up some great wins and rarely lost.
Some of those losses were in World title matches against Bob Backlund, as Ventura reeled from his popularity coming off of his time with Adrian Adonis as the “East-West Connection”. As a good buddy of Hulk Hogan, he might have been able to call in a favor, but blood clots found in his lungs ensured he would never reach the heights that could have been.
#7. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
I had to double check this, because I wasn’t sure if he had won the Intercontinental title at some point. Jim Duggan, despite being one of the most absurdly patriotic and adored babyfaces in the history of WWE, never picked up a championship. His biggest prize was winning the inaugural Royal Rumble, which is something at least.
What is ironic, is that Duggan’s three biggest title matches ended with him being victorious, but not becoming champion. He won by DQ against IC Champion Honky Tonk Man at WrestleFest ’88. And then in 1989, he won by count-out against IC Champion Rick Rude. The biggest kicker was him winning by DQ against WWF Champion Sgt. Slaughter in 1991. At least he had his Royal Rumble win, which no one can take away.
#8. Junkyard Dog
You might say Booker T, but I say Junkyard Dog was the most popular African-American wrestler in the WWE. His star power made him World Championship material, but his rise came at the end of Bob Backlund’s time and the rise of Hulkamania. If you were to look back at footage between 1984-1988, there is no denying how over he was. The fans couldn’t get enough of JYD, yet he never got title opportunities. At least, that’s what I can find. If you know otherwise, please let me know.
His gimmick wouldn’t fly today. PC culture would be all over an African-American chained up with a collar and acting like a dog. Mr. Sylvester Ritter made it his own, and the fans didn’t see any parallels to anything offensive. They saw a man determined to entertain his followers, and there’s nothing bad we can say about him. He broke the mold. JYD proved you could get the unrelenting adulation from the crowd as an African-American dog. When you think about it subjectively, that’s pretty damn amazing.
#9. “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff
Another who suffered during the Hulkamania era was Paul Orndorff. With his incredibly chiseled physique, he made his debut on the same night Hulk Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik to claim his first WWF title. He was quickly moved up the card to challenge Hogan, but over the years he was unsuccessful at least half a dozen times. Orndorff also challenged the IC Champion Tito Santana unsuccessfully. WWE often credits him as main eventing the first WrestleMania along with Roddy Piper against the team of Hogan & Mr. T.
It’s kind of sad that’s all Mr. Wonderful could muster, because he showed much more potential after leaving the company. WCW made him their Television Champion, and later tag team champion two times with Paul Roma. He also had an IWGP Heavyweight title match against The Great Muta at WCW Slamboree ’95. Regardless of what he didn’t win in WWE, the company remembers him fondly as one of the most hated heels of the 80s.
#10. Torrie Wilson
By now, I hope that you have figured out this is not a list of Hall of Famers I wish had won titles. Because like I said in the last piece, not everyone can be championship material, and Torrie Wilson is a prime example of that. She’s definitely Playboy material, but sticking a title on her would be laughable. As Torrie said during her Hall Of Fame speech, she knew why she was there. It was a different time, when eye candy for the horny generation was the order of business. A perfectly normal week saw two hot ladies stripping on worldwide television, or ripping each other’s clothes off in a bra & panties match.
Torrie was a product of the time, and I don’t think anyone played it better. She wasn’t much of a wrestler, but I could reel off a few former champions who were worse. Torrie wasn’t terrible and kept things simple, because no one bought a ticket to see her wrestling ability. From what I can find, she had one title match against Melina, which was a Bra & Panties match at Great American Bash ‘05.
It was empowering to go from modeling to something she had no experience with, to make a name for herself in a male-dominated business. Torrie was the best at looking good, and still looks amazing today at 45-years-old. I don’t think any woman could reach the Hall Of Fame like Torrie did ever again. Her friend Stacy Keibler will probably join her someday, but no one from this generation of women’s wrestling will ever become HOF worthy by doing what they did. It’s not the way the world works anymore. And it’s for the better.
The key thing we can take from the WWE Hall Of Fame is that a superstar doesn’t need accolades to be worthy. Of course, some inductions will always be questionable, but others aren’t despite clear underachieving. What’s important is creating moments, getting over with the fans, and being respected by peers and management. The last one is pretty big, because WWE is exceptionally biased with who and how they induct. If it were a true wrestling Hall Of Fame, it wouldn’t have taken til 2016 to induct Lou Thesz. They would have done everything in their power to give him a proper induction too.
As evidenced here, a career is what you make of it. A championship doesn’t make a superstar, it’s a superstar who makes a championship. And sometimes, it’s the superstar who makes a career. There is definitely luck involved, but you need to get over with fans too. And while I have listed 10 (technically 12) here, there are a few more I didn’t. Can you guess any other Hall Of Fame Superstars who could’ve been included? Please let us know in the comments. And with that said, cheers for taking the time to read this. Thank you.