15 WWE Champions Who Didn’t Deserve the Title

The WWE made some mistakes with these so-called champions...

Hulk Hogan
Photo: Paul Kane/Getty Images

Sometimes a WWE title run just doesn’t work. Maybe the wrestler wasn’t right for it. Maybe the wrestler was right but the writing was all wrong. Maybe the disastrous choice to make someone champion not only hurt the careers of others but also damaged the company as a whole.

We’re looking back at 15 WWE wrestlers who shouldn’t have been crowned world champions. Keep in mind, this list is broken down into specific title runs, so while it was copacetic to have Hulk Hogan wave the banner during the Hulkamania era, that doesn’t mean that it was always the best move to put him at the top of the food chain. Let’s have a look…

15. Sycho Sid (WWF Championship, second run)

When Shawn Michaels defeated Bret Hart for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania XII, the two made an agreement that they would have a rematch the following year. As time got closer and Michaels knew he was going to have to return the favor, he milked his knee problems and vacated the title, claiming that he “lost his smile.” A #1 contender four-man battle royal suddenly became a title match and Bret won. An excellent match, but not the most satisfying title win.

The Michaels situation really threw a wrench into WrestleMania XIII’s plans, and although Bret had won the title prior to the event, he shockingly lost it a day later to Sycho Sid to give the latter’s face vs. face match with the Undertaker some added pepper. The whole thing was very weird and unnecessary. Anyway, Sycho lost to the Undertaker and wasn’t around for much longer after that.

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14. Rey Mysterio (World Heavyweight Championship, first run)

Rey Mysterio is a legendary talent, and in a perfect world, he would have made for a wonderful world champion. Unfortunately, WWE just had no idea how to use him in that spot. With Eddie Guerrero’s death so fresh, Mysterio dedicated the 2006 Royal Rumble match to his memory, meaning he practically had to win or else it would be in poor taste. While there were plans to leave him out of the WrestleMania title match, he still got his spot anyway and defeated Kurt Angle and Randy Orton in a triple threat to win the belt.

In the months that followed, Mysterio was nothing more than a tiny punching bag. He was constantly being put into non-title matches against guys who would crush him with little problem. When the title was on the line, he would barely squeak out a win. When it came time for him to lose, he moved on to wrestling Chavo Guerrero for a while. Come on, man. Nobody deserves that.

13. Randy Orton (World Heavyweight Championship, second run)

WWE gave Alberto Del Rio a big push early on by having him win the 2011 Royal Rumble. He faced Edge at WrestleMania, only to lose. Edge retired shortly after that, which forced WWE to pivot to Christian vs. Del Rio for the vacated World Heavyweight Championship. Christian came out of it the winner and it was a well-deserved and heartfelt moment.

Then Randy Orton was moved to SmackDown and immediately beat Christian for the title to preserve the WWE status quo. As this was pre-taped, fans were angry before the whole thing even aired. Orton and Christian tried to play damage control on social media, but what was done was done. Any hope of a face title run for Christian was dashed as he lost a series of rematches, turned heel, won the belt briefly via technicality, and then dropped it yet again.

12. Bobby Lashley (ECW Championship)

Let’s get one thing straight: Bobby Lashley is fantastic. He would go on to do great work as champion in TNA and his later WWE career. But as ECW Champion, Lashley was just unfortunate. I think the hate for ECW December to Dismember is overblown, but Lashley’s spot as the increasingly predictable new champion in a match featuring Rob Van Dam, CM Punk, and the last-minute switching out of Sabu was just poison to the crowd. He represented the show that got Paul Heyman ousted from WWE for a good while.

Lashley just did not fit in with the brand and his feuds felt like a completely separate part of the show. After feuding with Vince and Umaga, Lashley got drafted to Raw, which forced him to vacate the brand-specific championship. Lashley was gone shortly after anyway, so the whole push as ECW’s top guy felt incredibly pointless.

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11. John Cena (WWE Championship, ninth run)

Rey Mysterio’s World Heavyweight Championship run is known for being badly booked, but his very brief WWE Championship run was just tragic. At Money in the Bank 2011, John Cena lost the WWE Championship to CM Punk, who proceeded to run off into the night as his contract ended. Vince was going to fire Cena for his failure, but in the meantime decided to throw together a one-night tournament to crown a new champion. Mysterio vs. Miz was the final, but the show was running long, so they saved it for the following week. Instead, they did a segment where Cena wasn’t fired after all.

The next week had Mysterio beat Miz in the opening match. As he celebrated backstage, he was told that he would be defending against a fresh Cena in the main event later that night, which Cena of course won. It made no sense other than that they really wanted to fast track Cena vs. Punk II for SummerSlam. Cena looked like a total bully and nobody on the show called him out on it. They easily could have stretched things out by doing Cena vs. Mysterio at SummerSlam and using that aftermath for Punk’s shocking return, but the company was just flailing with that storyline.

10. Kane (WWF Championship)

In 1998, Kane came off as unstoppable and near invincible, able to shrug off having a wrench smashed into his head and only losing to the Undertaker after enduring three Tombstones in a row. Kane gunning for Steve Austin’s WWF Championship made for an exciting pairing, but not one where they had a strong finish in mind. It was a bout that neither wrestler was ready to lose and WWE overbooked it before doing an immediate course-correct.

At King of the Ring 1998, the two battled in a First Blood match. Odd choice for a masked wrestler, but okay. Kane won, becoming champion due to a technicality, not really befitting of someone with Kane’s gimmick. Kane then offered a rematch the following night and ate a clean loss from Austin to boost ratings. Kane was never quite the same after that and the whole thing felt like an anticlimax.

9. Jack Swagger (World Heavyweight Championship)

“The All-American American” seemed to have himself figured out at ECW, giving us a fun championship run there. But upon joining the main WWE roster, he did little to stand out before winning the Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania XXVI. Days later, after realizing that ambushing WWE Champion John Cena was a fool’s errand, he picked the bones of World Heavyweight Champion Chris Jericho and became SmackDown’s top heel.

Unfortunately, due to the success of Jericho’s heel turn, Swagger was forced to follow suit by losing his Biff Tannen goofiness and becoming more of a serious, suit-wearing type. He was never taken very seriously as a world champion, outside of getting a clean win over Randy Orton. He lost the belt and never came close to reaching his potential at WWE.

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8. The Great Khali (World Heavyweight Championship)

It was a rough situation and we kind of understand why it had to happen. In 2007, Edge vacated the World Heavyweight Championship due to injury. They held a battle royal to crown a new champion. Batista was the golden boy, but he was better presented as the guy chasing the title. Kane made some sense, but wasn’t a fresh choice. Finlay was also a contender, but maybe too odd to crown with the title. Instead, they went with the immobile giant who was still being treated as a nigh-unbeatable monster.

Unfortunately, Khali just wasn’t a very good character. He was more of a slightly-animate target for Batista to chase for a couple months. After losing, Khali quickly lost his mystique and soon became a comedy character who was treated as a major threat despite everyone knowing that he would never win a meaningful match ever again. Still, he would always be remembered for becoming a world champion due to the promotion’s sudden desperation.

7. The Miz (WWE Championship, second run)

Lovable doofus Otis won Money in the Bank, which was a great opportunity for him to truly break out. He then lost it to Miz, thanks to Otis’ tag partner Tucker betraying him. There was no follow-up to that and Tucker vanished from TV before being let go. After WWE Champion Drew McIntyre retained the title in an Elimination Chamber match and got ambushed by Bobby Lashley, Miz cashed in his briefcase and won in a way that had become old hat long before 2021.

Miz came out of it looking like one of the weakest champions ever as he proceeded to drop the title to Bobby Lashley a week later. Miz was nothing but a belt pillow, Otis’ career suffered, Tucker immediately fell into obscurity, and McIntyre’s status as a top guy faded away. Only Lashley came out of the situation with any shine.

6. Diesel (WWF Championship)

Kevin Nash is awesome and his Diesel persona was pretty rad, too. His face turn at Survivor Series 1994 and the sudden title win a few days later were exciting stuff. Too bad he spent the next year being shoved into a Hulk Hogan-shaped hole. Rather than be treated as a dangerous badass, Diesel was a smiling good guy with zero edge to him. This led to one of the weakest financial years in WWE history as people just did not care about Big Daddy Cool as the heroic champ.

It didn’t help that outside of Shawn Michaels and a couple bouts with Bret Hart, Diesel’s challenger pool wasn’t all that intriguing. This is why we had Diesel vs. King Mabel main-eventing SummerSlam. There’s even the infamous match at In Your House 4 where, after Diesel battled the British Bulldog and the show went off the air, Vince angrily threw off his headset and stormed off to the back due to how bad it was. The experiment was finally put to pasture and Nash found more success by turning into a chaotic heel before jumping to WCW.

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5. Goldberg (Universal Championship, second run)

Just prior to the pandemic, WWE had something going with the Fiend. While Bray Wyatt’s supernatural slasher villain alter ego was goofy and convoluted, the story was clear: The Fiend could not be stopped by conventional wrestling means. Instead, his opponents had to find some special Achilles heel to stop him. What that was would presumably be revealed when he defended the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania.

In the meantime, the Fiend had a special attraction match against Goldberg at the event Super ShowDown. Whether Goldberg didn’t want to lose or Vince McMahon saw dollar signs when thinking of Goldberg vs. Roman, the match ended with Goldberg beating the unearthly Fiend by…hitting some wrestling moves. The exact thing that wasn’t supposed to work. Then Roman skipped town on WrestleMania due to health risk issues and they just plugged in Braun Strowman to beat Goldberg instead. Nice hustle, everyone.

4. Vince McMahon (WWF Championship)

Mr. McMahon had two world title reigns. One of which was him as ECW Champion, which was at least entertaining in the way it tried to get people to care about Bobby Lashley kicking his ass. The other one, taking place in the Attitude Era, was just a strange one-off idea that seemed like nothing more than a pointless ratings stunt. Triple H was WWF Champion at the time and had a match with Vince. As Triple H was the heel and Vince was the face, it led to Steve Austin showing up to shock everyone by helping Vince as a huge middle finger to Triple H.

On the next show, Vince showed up with the belt around his waist and immediately vacated it. This set up a multi-man match won by Triple H anyway, so it did feel kind of pointless. At least it was meant to build up Triple H’s feud with Steve Austin and lead to a big triple threat at Survivor Series 1999 that didn’t happen due to Austin’s need to step down for surgery. Now it survives as a footnote of the era where we remember, “Oh, right. That was pretty dumb.”

3. Jeff Hardy (WWE Championship)

For a couple of years, it looked like Jeff Hardy was ready to ascend to the top. Sometimes WWE got cold feet. Sometimes Jeff screwed himself via getting suspended for wellness violations (i.e. the reason why he didn’t win the Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania XXIV). It didn’t help when Jeff started clashing with Triple H and rarely ever got to look like he was on the Game’s level. Finally, Jeff got the better of him and won the championship…by stealing a pin on Edge in a triple threat match. But whatever, we’re at the fireworks factory.

Jeff’s run as champion made Rey Mysterio look like Roman Reigns. Outside of a series of house show matches with Edge, all Jeff had going for him were matches against Vladimir Kozlov and Big Show where he failed to get any decisive wins. All the while, life-threatening disasters kept happening around him, which we would later find out were orchestrated by his jealous brother Matt. He spent the whole reign looking like an ineffectual mess. Jeff’s run ended at the very next PPV where he gave the championship back to Edge.

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2. Hulk Hogan (WWF Championship, fifth run)

WrestleMania IX is one of the most reviled WrestleManias ever and the impromptu final match is what people first remember about it. Hulk Hogan left for nearly a year, only coming back to help out his buddy Brutus Beefcake against Money Inc. A nice, if completely silly match on the PPV’s midcard. The real main event was champion Bret Hart taking on Royal Rumble winner and absolute monster Yokozuna. Hogan made it known that he wanted a shot at the winner. Fair enough.

Yokozuna won fairly quickly by cheating, causing Hogan to come out to save his all-of-the-sudden friend Bret. Yokozuna laid down an immediate challenge to Hogan and lost. Hogan was champion yet again and the company took a big step backwards. The idea of Hogan passing the torch to Bret at the following SummerSlam made all the sense in the world, but Hogan skipped out ASAP and just lost it back to Yokozuna at the next show. Bret was stuck in an endless feud with Jerry Lawler and it took a whole year for him to regain his momentum.

1. Jinder Mahal (WWE Championship)

As the story goes, WWE wanted to grab onto the supposedly huge Indian fanbase in time for a tour through the country. They took Jinder Mahal, a lower midcarder of Indian descent who lost all the time, drafted him onto SmackDown, and had him immediately gain a title shot against Randy Orton and win. With only a chiseled physique in his repertoire, Jinder proceeded to have the most cookie cutter title defenses that always ended with the same interference followed by his uninteresting finisher.

This went on for way too long, only coming to an end in the lead-up to Survivor Series. As Raw champion vs. SmackDown champion matches were the norm, the idea of Brock Lesnar vs. Jinder Mahal was too laughable to consider. Instead, Jinder dropped the belt to AJ Styles and fell into obscurity. This was before the Indian tour, where he instead took the role of Triple H’s doomed opponent.