Pro Wrestling

13 World Title Reigns That Should Never Have Happened Source:

The list of World Champions is short and very exclusive, containing some of the greatest performers in professional wrestling history. But there have been World Champions that, for many reasons, simply didn’t work out. Maybe they weren’t seen as deserving, maybe the booking of their title reign was a disaster, maybe they simply weren’t who the fans wanted to see as champion. But whatever the case, there have been several World title reigns that probably would have been better for the history of pro wrestling if they’d never even happened at all.

13. Vince McMahon (1999), Vince Russo (2000), and David Arquette (2000)

We figured we would get these three out of the way quickly, and move on to reigns that weren’t complete business-exposing jokes. Three World title wins, all by non-wrestlers, and the one in the best shape when he won the title was probably the one who was also nearly a senior citizen at the time in Vince McMahon (although, had Sting won the title against Seth Rollins at Night of Champions in 2015, he would have been older than Vince was when he won). Honestly, as much crap as WCW gets for David Arquette winning the WCW World title, at least he lost it in the ring (and in a ridiculously dangerous triple cage match, at that). Both McMahon and Russo vacated the belt after winning it, meaning that nobody ever defeated them for it. All three were terrible decisions by the respective companies, and were widely mocked. And yet, years later, Vince McMahon would also win the ECW Championship, just to prove that nobody learned anything from these debacles (which, coincidentally, officially marked the end of that belt being treated as if it were a legitimate World title by WWE). Source:

12. The Big Show (2002)

So, Brock Lesnar was spending his rookie year dominating everything in his path, winning King of the Ring, bear-hugging Hulk Hogan into submission, and destroying The Rock at SummerSlam to become the youngest WWE Champion in history (at the time). Then, to everyone’s horror, after a couple of brutal PPV matches with The Undertaker that further established him as the greatest force in WWE, he suffered a rib injury might have forced him to miss some time. Even though the injury wasn’t bad enough to keep him from wrestling, WWE made a snap decision to take the title off of Brock and put it on his opponent at Survivor Series, who happened to be The Big Show, who accomplished this feat thanks to Brock’s manager, Paul Heyman, turning on him. Which would have been fine (although still not really that desirable), if the plan was to have Brock immediately come back and destroy Show in revenge, taking back the title in the process. Instead, Show only held the title for a few weeks before dropping it to Kurt Angle, as part of a clever plot that made absolutely no sense, but mostly was intended to set up Brock-Angle in a few months at WrestleMania. Oh, and Brock ended up only being out of action a couple of weeks, and probably didn’t need to lose the belt in the first place. Source:

11. Sheamus (2015)

Due to a sudden injury to WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins at an overseas live event, a tournament was quickly created that culminated at Survivor Series, where Roman Reigns (who had been expected to win the title from Rollins in the first place) emerged victorious. However, because fan sentiment was violently against the supposed babyface Reigns, WWE decided to screw him out of the title and hopefully garner him some sympathy in the process. They did this by having Sheamus cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase immediately after Reigns’ victory, stealing away the title. In the weeks that followed, Sheamus (and his cronies in the newly-formed League of Nations stable) were repeatedly destroyed by Reigns, who eventually regained the title a few weeks later, as everyone knew he would. Sheamus, who had already been a questionable call to win the Money in the Bank briefcase due to his lack of direction, was made to look borderline incompetent during his brief reign as champion, and it was revealed that he’d earned the thankless job because WWE figured that his character was so unlikable that there was a good chance that WWE fans might actually cheer for Reigns over him. Source:

10. Sergeant Slaughter (1991)

This title reign will live forever in infamy, due to the litany of bad ideas that led to it happening. It started when Vince McMahon, who had lost faith in current WWE Champion The Ultimate Warrior, decided he didn’t want to do another Warrior-Hogan match at WrestleMania (which probably would have still done decent business, despite Warrior’s failures as champion). Then the first Gulf War happened when Iraq invaded the country of Kuwait, triggering an armed response from Allied forces, including the United States, and McMahon decided to exploit the increased air of patriotism for his own profit. He did this by having Sergeant Slaughter turn heel and declare allegiance to Iraq, which basically saw his original character, which was such a part of American culture that he had an actual G.I. Joe action figure and cartoon movie, ruined as a result. Slaughter then won the WWE Championship from the Warrior at the Royal Rumble, thanks to interference from the Macho King, and the stage was set for the Iraqi sympathizer to get his just desserts at the hands of the Real American, Hulk Hogan. Unfortunately, the Gulf War lasted roughly three days, and everyone moved on long before WrestleMania. in addition, the aging Slaughter was in no real condition to have a good match, and Hogan’s drawing power was also on the decline. The result was bad all over, as WrestleMania was a disaster, and Slaughter was basically finished as a relevant Superstar. Source:

9. Dolph Ziggler (2011)

On Smackdown in 2011, Ziggler was really hitting his peak as a slimy heel, more or less openly flaunting that he was in a relationship with interim Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero (Teddy Long, the regular GM, had been taken out by a mysterious attacker) in order to get World title shots. Coincidentally, the World Champion at that point was Vickie Guerrero’s former husband and partner in crime, the Rated R Superstar, Edge. After Edge successfully defended his title against Ziggler at the Royal Rumble, Vickie banned the Spear for the re-match. Edge still used the move with the referee knocked out to win again, however, the next week on Smackdown, Vickie used her power to fire Edge, stripped him of the World title, and handed it to Dolph Ziggler. Fortunately, at that point, Teddy Long made his triumphant return, outed Ziggler as his assailant, and ordered another title match for later that evening, which Edge won. Ziggler was still credited with a title reign, however it lasted less than two hours and nobody outside of WWE historians considered it a legitimate reign. In fact, his quick, phantom title reign did a lot of damage to his momentum (it probably would have been better to stretch out his undeserved reign a few weeks before reversing everything), and he would not get another shot at a World title for nearly two years.

8. Alberto Del Rio (2011)

Also in 2011, over on Raw, Alberto Del Rio had the Money in the Bank briefcase, and many figured it would eventually lead to his first WWE Title, something he had clearly been earmarked for since he arrived in WWE. The only problem was, CM Punk was in the middle of an incredible run as WWE Champion, which had started with a shocking victory at Money in the Bank, where he defeated John Cena on Punk’s last night in the company and ran off with the belt, kicking off the Summer of Punk. But WWE, for whatever reason, decided that the best plan would be to have Punk, after beating Cena again at SummerSlam to become the undisputed WWE Champion (WWE had replaced Punk as champ during his absence), laid out by the returning Kevin Nash (who ended up failing his physical and being unable to compete…but only after the feud had already started), and then had Del Rio cash in his briefcase to win the WWE Title immediately afterwards. As a result of this and several other bad ideas that followed (somehow John Cena started up feuding with Del Rio instead of Punk, who ended up fighting, and losing to, Triple H once it was apparent that Nash couldn’t actually wrestle) basically sank the entire Summer of Punk angle and killed off what was looking like a rebound period for WWE. Eventually, WWE reversed course and had Punk defeat Del Rio at Survivor Series to re-claim the belt, but most of the magic was gone, and Del Rio’s reign was largely seen as a terrible decision. Source:

7. Randy Orton (2004)

In 2004, Randy Orton was acquiring quite a little cult following, due to being booked as an incredibly crafty heel who beat up WWE Legends and won most of his matches convincingly (and cleanly), including a feud with Mick Foley that led to some great matches between the two. Of course, this was always the plan, as Orton was seen as a future mega-star who would carry WWE into the future. Thus, he was given a clean win in the main event of SummerSlam 2004 to become World Heavyweight Champion (as a side effect, Orton became the youngest World Champion in history, taking the record from the recently departed Brock Lesnar, which was seen as a final “screw you” by WWE) and kick off his main event push, which was expected to culminate with him turning on his mentor in Evolution, Triple H, becoming the new leader, and defeating Triple H at WrestleMania 21 to cement himself as the biggest heel in WWE. But for some reason, Triple H instead booted Orton from Evolution, and then defeated him for the World title at the very next Pay Per View. Due to his character up to that point being a ridiculously slimy heel, Orton flopped badly as a face, forcing the cancellation of the WrestleMania 21 match. This was also the end of a two year period where Triple H had held the World title for nearly the entire time, cutting off the pushes of several popular wrestlers in the process, and fans were more than a little tired of him by that point. Even at the time, people suggested that it would have been better for Orton to never win the belt in the first place, especially when WWE ran a much better angle with Batista over the fall and winter that could have easily used Orton instead, and would have probably been just as successful as it was for Batista. Source:

6. Rey Mysterio (2011)

We mentioned briefly earlier about WWE replacing CM Punk as champion after Punk “left the company” in 2011 (obviously, he was under contract at the time, though every story told about the situations says he only re-signed just before his match with Cena at Money in the Bank) with the WWE Title in tow. WWE’s idea was to hold an eight-man tournament over two weeks for the new WWE title, which was won by Rey Mysterio in a shocking upset. That same night, John Cena (who had not been in the tournament, due to being fired briefly by Vince McMahon for failing to prevent Punk’s title win and dramatic exit) requested a shot at the title, and then defeated a tired Mysterio fairly easily, meaning that Rey’s underdog title victory ending up lasting mere hours and essentially resetting everything to what it had been before Money in the Bank. To make matters worse, Punk returned after that match and challenged Cena for SummerSlam, and Rey was quickly forgotten. The most damaging part of this was how quickly WWE burned through the tournament, Rey’s victory, his subsequent loss to Cena, and Punk’s shocking return, with the entire angle playing out over only two episodes of Raw. Many felt it would have been far better to stretch things out, with Mysterio-Cena headlining SummerSlam, delaying Punk’s return until that point, and in the process, allowing Rey to actually have a title reign worth talking about. Source:

5. Lex Luger (1997)

In the middle of 1997, the nWo was in full force and running roughshod over loyal WCW wrestlers. Sting was up in the rafters, preparing for what would be his climactic showdown with WCW Champion Hollywood Hogan at Starrcade in December. But in the meantime, WCW was getting absolutely destroyed at every turn, and it wasn’t even close. Perhaps in an effort to make it seem like WCW still had hope in the months before Sting came back, the decision was made to have Lex Luger actually defeat Hogan and win the WCW title on an August episode of Nitro. It was treated as a gigantic victory for WCW, and a stunning blow to the dominance of the nWo. The entire WCW roster celebrated with the new champion Luger as the show went off the air, with the announce team crowing that things were going to change for the better. And then Luger lost the title back to Hogan, five days later, at the Road Wild Pay Per View. That’s right, WCW had a World title change hands less than a week before a Pay Per View in order to set up the main event for that show. Whatever “bright spot” this had been was almost immediately wiped out, Luger was pushed aside and forgotten, and the nWo resumed their dominant position for the rest of the year, when Sting would finally descend to take care of things. Source:

4. Ronnie Garvin (1987)

Considered by many to be the ultimate “lame duck champion”, Garvin won the NWA World title from Ric Flair in 1987, mostly because nobody else in the company (Jim Crockett Promotions, which would become WCW) wanted it. Why would they turn down a chance to become World Champion, you might ask? Well, because everyone knew that the entire thing was only set up for Flair to win the title back two months later at Starrcade. The reasoning behind this whole mess was that Starrcade was airing on the same day as the very first WWF Survivor Series Pay Per View, and the belief was that a Flair title victory would allow JCP to take viewers away from the WWF show. Garvin was never seen as a legitimate threat to Flair’s position, and literally agreed to win the belt because he knew he’d never get another shot, and because all the true contenders didn’t want to be pawns in such an obvious scheme, fearing it would damage their characters to have such a short, uneventful reign. Garvin did lose the title back to Flair at Starrcade, but ultimately, the overall plan was a failure, as Survivor Series was a far more successful show. Indirectly, this competition between WWF and JCP would also lead to cable providers declaring that the promotions could no longer air Pay Per Views on the same night. Source:

3. Jack Swagger (2010)

It’s easy to feel some pity for Jack Swagger. Following his debut for the ECW brand in WWE as the All-American American, Swagger impressed many people with his brash character and decent wrestling skills, and managed to ride an early hot streak to the ECW Championship. Upon leaving the ECW brand, Swagger was still seen as a fairly highly-touted prospect, and while he wasn’t the consensus pick going into the Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania XXVI (that would have been Drew McIntyre, who was on a run as “The Chosen One” on Smackdown and expected to be heavily pushed), it wasn’t a huge shock when he came away with the briefcase. What was a surprise was Swagger cashing in the briefcase a week later on Smackdown, stealing the title from Chris Jericho and suddenly finding himself World Heavyweight Champion. And in their usual mistake, WWE began stripping away the entertaining parts of his character in favor of a more “serious” persona as World Champion. Also, they had him feud with The Big Show, whom Swagger couldn’t beat cleanly and instead got himself disqualified. Swagger was portrayed as such a weak champion (despite his entire character leading up to his reign being that of a superior wrestler) that it should come as no surprise that he meekly lost his title in a Fatal Four-Way match to Rey Mysterio, who Swagger hadn’t even been feuding with leading up to the show. After his mostly disastrous title reign, Swagger plummeted down the card, and he has remained there to this day. Source:

2. Brock Lesnar (2014)

Hey, we love Brock Lesnar, but the decision to put the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on him in 2014, with his contract limiting his appearances and leaving the company without a World title from mid-September until the Royal Rumble was questionable at best, and flat-out a terrible idea overall. For several weeks after Brock’s departure, WWE didn’t even mention the World title on television! In his absence, WWE attempted to fill the gap with John Cena trying to remove The Authority from power. This culminated in Sting’s return at Survivor Series to send Triple H and Stephanie packing…for a whole six weeks, as Seth Rollins would force Cena to re-instate them in December. So, not only was WWE without their top title for three months (and after the Rumble, Brock would once again disappear until the build for WrestleMania), the story that was meant to draw attention away from the fact that they had an absentee World Champion played out in absolutely ridiculous fashion and ended up being completely irrelevant. Oh, and as a side effect, the whole thing basically ruined Dolph Ziggler again, after he got some minor attention for scoring the winning pin at Survivor Series, only to see his good work undone, leaving Ziggler a forgotten man. Source:

1. Hulk Hogan (1993 and 2002)

One of the biggest stars in professional wrestling history, Hogan actually makes this list for two different occasions where putting the World title on him was a horrible mistake. The first time was at WrestleMania IX, when Hogan infamously ran in following Yokozuna’s WWF Championship victory over Bret Hart and won the title in an impromptu match, then refused to go along with the WWF’s booking plans and wouldn’t drop the title to Hart in a planned Pay Per View match. Wrestling fans, already pretty tired of Hogan by that point, revolted over his title victory, and the WWF finally decided that it was time to move on from the Hogan era for good. Hogan ended up losing the belt back to Yokozuna at the inaugural King of the Ring and actually left the company for WCW shortly afterwards. But that’s not the end of the story, as Hogan finally returned to WWE in 2002, after WCW folded. He was brought in as part of an invading nWo group (in a sad attempt to recapture the group’s glory days), but was received as a hero by the nostalgic crowd at WrestleMania X-8, during his match against The Rock. Hogan would immediately turn face, resume his old Hulkamania persona, and the decision was made to capitalize on his massive crowd reactions by putting the WWE Undisputed Championship on him at the very next Pay Per View. Unfortunately, Hogan’s act, while good for nostalgia, was terrible for business, as the aging Hulkster simply couldn’t perform in the ring, and the crowd quickly grew tired of his act. Hogan would drop the title to The Undertaker a month later, but not before WWE took a significant financial and ratings hit. Source:

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle

Stephen Randle is an avid wrestling and film fan. He's been writing about WWE, movies, and video games for Goliath since 2015.