Pro wrestling is scripted. This much we all know. So why do winning WWE Championships mean so much to the performers who have passed through the company at one time or another? The answer is simple: it’s a status symbol. It’s having your talent and ability recognized by those in charge. When a WWE Superstar goes on a talk show or does a radio interview, one thing you’ll always hear when the host introduces him (or her) is, “Please welcome my next guest, the former two-time WWE Champion, so and so!” The crowd cheers and those who aren’t wrestling fans become aware with one quick sentence that this particular athlete is someone who was at the top of their craft.
The following is a list I have compiled of wrestlers who never won the WWE Championship. They may have won World Championships in other promotions, or even secondary WWE titles such as the Intercontinental Championship or the Tag-Team Championship, but never the “big one.” Before we get started, let me point out that while we are strictly talking about the WWE Championship, things can get confusing when factoring in the World Heavyweight Championship. If a guy never held the WWE Championship, but did hold the World Heavyweight Championship when it became an official WWE title, they will not be included in this list. For example, Booker T never actually held the WWE Championship, but that’s because he was battling for the World Heavyweight Championship so often. Bill Goldberg never won the WWE Championship, but he won the World Heavyweight Championship in WWE. Christian is anther guy who falls under this category. We are going to take a look at guys who never won the big one, of any kind, while working in WWE specifically. Let’s take a look at the list.
#15. Jesse Ventura
Jesse Ventura is a former governor of Minnesota, a WWE Hall Of Famer, a semi-famous movie star and one of the most influential color-commentators in the history of professional wrestling. The last thing anyone is bringing up when introducing Ventura on a talk show is the amount of titles he has obtained throughout his career as an active in-ring competitor. However it is still surprising that Ventura never won a title in WWE. He held AWA tag-team titles and had several shots at the WWWF Champion Bob Backlund during Backlund’s lengthy title reign, but Ventura never held WWE gold. Pretty surprising.
#14. Harley Race
Before Ric Flair was the 16-time World Heavyweight Champion, Harley Race was an eight-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion. His reign as an eight-time champion, especially when the NWA title was considered the big title in pro wrestling, was as touted and respected as Flair’s multiple reigns. Regardless of that, Race never won the big one in WWE. In 1986, Harley Race did win the second ever “King Of The Ring” for the promotion, and would take that victory and parlay it into a full-blown “King of Wrestling” gimmick, referring to himself as “King” Harley Race. While Race was past his prime by the time he landed in New York, and was basically there for a paycheck, it is still surprising that someone who accomplished so much in the NWA, accomplished so little in WWE.
#13. Dusty Rhodes
“The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was one of the biggest stars in his day, and was among Vince McMahon’s fiercest rivals. He was often the man calling the shots behind-the-scenes in NWA, and later WCW, as the main competitor for McMahon’s WWE. By the time Rhodes wound up in WWE, he was ribbed by being forced to wear polka dots, and was given Sapphire as a valet. Rhodes, having been a proud NWA World Heavyweight Champion prior to working for McMahon, never actually held a title of any kind for the promotion. Rhodes feuded for the WWWF title with “Superstar” Billy Graham on a few different occasions, but never achieved championship-level success in New York.
#12. Lex Luger
Lex Luger was groomed for a while as the next babyface U.S. “hero” type of character by Vince McMahon during his WWE run. He came into the company off of a deal with McMahon’s failed World Bodybuilding Federation and first portrayed a heel as “The Narcissist” Lex Luger. After playing that gimmick for a while, McMahon began grooming Luger as basically his new Hulk Hogan. Fans of the 1990s will certainly remember the “Lex Express” tour that was designed to get Luger over as the company’s top babyface. By the time WrestleMania rolled around that year, WWE went with Bret “The Hitman” Hart as the top babyface and WWE Champion instead of Luger. Luger held several titles in WCW, but never earned gold in WWE. The reason Luger comes in higher than some of the legends previously on this list is because of the fact that he was specifically groomed to become WWE Champion, yet the company never pulled the trigger.
#11. Jerry Lawler
Wrestling legend often refers to Jerry “The King” Lawler as the wrestler who has held more titles than any other. If you look up his title history you will see so many various championships from a number of different promotions. However, one major promotion is missing: WWE. Lawler may have held numerous world championships, but he never earned a title in McMahon’s promotion. Lawler would go on to become a legendary WWE color commentator and member of the WWE Hall Of Fame, but not a former champion of any kind for the promotion.
#10. Mr. Perfect
Curt Hennig has held the AWA World Heavyweight Title and tag-team titles. He held titles in WCW. While he is a former WWE Intercontinental Champion and member of the WWE Hall Of Fame, he never won the big one. There was a time when WWE was gearing up for a major run between Hulk Hogan and Mr. Perfect for the WWE Championship, and the two did have several matches, mostly at house shows, they never did go with the feud in a full-blown manner. Perfect stole the WWE Championship from Hogan and ruined it, but never actually won the belt. He had a nearly “perfect” career, but it’s missing one milestone: a run as WWE Champion.
#9. Rick Rude
“Ravishing” Rick Rude held a number of titles in his career, including several runs with various types of NWA and WCW titles, and one reign as a WWE Intercontinental Champion. He never, however, won the big one. WCW ran with Rude for a period as their top champion, but McMahon never did. There was a time when Rude would have been a perfect heel world champion in WWE, but the company never went with it. He ended up as a major WWE enemy late in his career when he held the distinction as the only guy to appear on both RAW and Nitro during the heated “Monday Night Wars.” Rude, who appeared on a taped edition of RAW as a member of D-Generation X one night also appeared on WCW Nitro as a member of the New World Order after going back on a verbal agreement made with WWE and turning up on their top competitor’s live show.
#8. Jimmy Snuka
“Superfly” Jimmy Snuka is one of those wrestlers that non-wrestling fans somehow know the name of. He resonated with fans for a number of reasons, including his freakish physique and ability to be a high-flier when there were very few of them in U.S. wrestling. Snuka was technically the first ever ECW World Champion and is a member of the WWE Hall Of Fame. He became infamous to modern wrestling fans as the guy who Roddy Piper hit with a coconut on an infamous edition of “Piper’s Pit,” as well as the guy who inspired Mick Foley when he came off of the top of a steel cage and crashed onto Don Muraco in Madison Square Garden. He’s a member of the famous Samoan wrestling clan and was a notorious party animal in his day, however Snuka never won a title of any kind in WWE. It seems crazy considering the level of fame and infamy he has achieved, but facts are facts.
#7. Ricky Steamboat
Ricky Steamboat is considered by many to be the best clean-cut babyface pro wrestling has ever seen. He was in one-half of one of the greatest matches of all-time with “Macho Man” Randy Savage at WrestleMania III, as the two stole the show from one of the most legendary showdowns in history between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant. His series of matches in NWA and WCW with “Nature Boy” Ric Flair are considered as good as it gets in the world of professional wrestling. He was given to top prize by the Atlanta-based number two wrestling company in the U.S., and had a run as the WWE Intercontinental Champion, but he too never held the big one in WWE.
#6. Scott Hall
Scott Hall was the man who started the biggest shake-up in modern wrestling history. His return to WCW in 1996 sparked the beginning of the nWo faction, which many could argue revolutionized pro wrestling and truly ignited the beginning of the Monday Night War between WWE and WCW. He had a run as WCW Champion that was quickly forgotten, and four separate times carried the WWE Intercontinental Championship. Despite being one of the top stars in WWE throughout the mid-1990s, Hall was never given a chance to carry the company. He always played second-fiddle to someone, whether it was his “Kliq” buddies Shawn Michaels or Diesel, or Bret Hart, Hall was always the guy right under the top stars in every major promotion he worked for.
Vader had a run as the WCW World Heavyweight Champion and was a mega-star with multiple world-title runs in Japan. His wild brawls in WCW both on-camera (Mick Foley) and off-camera (Paul Orndorff) were the stuff of legend. He actually had a pretty big run in WWE, but despite being a large guy who could actually work, especially in the land of giants, he was never given the ball to run with. Vader would seem like the epitome of what McMahon would want out of a world champion, especially in the 1990s, but he for one reason or another, he was never given that opportunity.
#4. Mark Henry
For the longest time, the only pro wrestling title Mark Henry could brag about holding was the WWE European Championship. That is insane considering the amount of time he has spent working as a WWE Superstar. In an era where title reigns aren’t that long, and the amount of times a title will switch hands from one wrestler to another is quite frequent, it seems surprising that Henry hasn’t been given the chance to have a run with the WWE Championship. He was considered one of the biggest underachievers for the longest time, having all the tools to be a top guy but never capitalizing on them. Later in his career, WWE finally gave Henry a run as World Heavyweight Champion, and allowed him to run as the top guy in their relaunch of ECW for a while, but they have never given him the opportunity to be the WWE Champion.
#3. Jake Roberts
Many will claim Jake “The Snake” Roberts should be at the top of this list. While that is a very fair argument, I personally feel that Roberts did himself no favors with the way he conducted his personal life. It’s crazy to think that being one of the top wrestlers for over a decade, a household name when there were only a handful, never resulted in a major championship reign. Roberts never held a title of any kind in WCW or WWE. That’s insane when you think about it, but again, sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. Jake Roberts may be the truest example of that cliche’.
#2. Ted DiBiase
There was a time when “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase would have been the perfect heel for either Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage to chase-down for the WWE Championship. DiBiase, who is a former three-time WWE Tag-Team Champion, never held a major singles title for the promotion. The company ended up creating his own title, “The Million Dollar Belt.” It was one of the coolest looking titles anyone had ever seen, but it didn’t really carry with it a ton of prestige. No one fought to become the first ever champion, as DiBiase simply bought it after he failed to win the real WWE Championship. Had the title stayed around until today, it might be a cool distinction for DiBiase to be known as the first eer Million Dollar Champion, however after a few years, they simply got rid of it, so it ultimately means nothing from a historical point of view.
#1. Roddy Piper
When “Rowdy” Roddy Piper finally won the WWE Intercontinental Championship from The Mountie in 1992, it put an end to an unbelievable steak. Piper had gone several years in WWE without winning a title of any kind. In fact, until 2006 when Piper and Ric Flair won the tag-team titles, it was Piper’s only title reign in WWE. The Piper-Flair reign as tag-team champions was never taken seriously by anyone, however, and his I-C reign was almost a consolation prize given to Piper at what many thought was going to be the end of his career. Neither reign lasted long at all, and both have quickly been forgotten. Next to Hulk Hogan, Piper was one of the biggest stars in the early expansion of McMahon’s WWE, but you would never know that by looking at title section of the history books. The fact that Roddy Piper can’t call himself a former WWE Champion seems absolutely ludicrous to me.
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