A simple understanding of numbers is enough for anyone to know that not everyone in wrestling can win a world championship.
With only one or two world championships in play at any one time in a promotion, and anywhere between 20 to 100 times that many eligible wrestlers vying for it, it’s pretty clear why some superstars can go through their entire career without ever holding the main gold and becoming the face of their respective workplace.
Note, the following ten names have never held a world title in ANY major promotion – so while Mr. Perfect would be an obvious choice for talents who have never won a WWE Championship, we recognise the late Curt Hennig’s monumental AWA World Heavyweight Championship win in 1987 as a major world championship victory.
Another name you might expect to see would be Rick Rude. Rude, of course, did hold the big gold belt when it was known as the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship, which originated as the NWA World Heavyweight Championship and was represented as a world championship in WCW – despite being arguably the secondary title at that time. Thus, Rude remains as an honorary mention on the list.
The criteria for the list also includes retirement, so no currently active wrestlers are represented due to them still having the ability to win a world championship before hanging up their boots.
No matter who you ask, you’ll get a different answer regarding the importance of titles in professional wrestling. One thing that’s for sure is that championships can be won and lost, but legacies last forever. However, here are ten names who probably should have held a world championship in their career, but didn’t get the opportunity.
It’s often said that he was “Goldberg before Goldberg.” Former NWA National Heavyweight Champion Nikita Koloff was one of the most dominant wrestlers on the planet in his prime, tussling with 16-time World Champion Ric Flair across many monumental main events – not least challenging for the NWA World Championship at The Great American Bash in 1985. Even after turning face, Koloff spent much of his time chasing Flair’s NWA World Title – only to lose out as a result of The Nature Boy’s afilliation with the Four Horsemen.
Starrcade ’86 saw Flair and The Russian Nightmare battle to a double disqualification, before controversially rejecting a major move to WWF in 1987, with the apparent reason being a mixture of feeling loyalty to NWA, where he’d undoubtedly become one of the company’s star attractions, and not wanting to start a new gimmick. It’s long been rumoured that run would have seen Koloff feud with The Immortal Hulk Hogan, but we’ll never know for sure if that would have been the case, not whether Koloff might have won the WWF Championship following his arrival.
Koloff was also a major star in WCW, but never quite in the World Championship picture, although a short AWA run in the twilight of his career may have excluded him from this list, the AWA World Heavyweight Championship remained around Larry Zbyszko’s waist throughout their rivalry.
The Russian Road Warrior may never have reached the very summit by holding a world title, but inductions into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and the NWA Hall of Fame has well and truly cemented Koloff’s legacy alongside ten other championship wins while wrestling in Jim Crockett Promotions.
Despite being a 30-year veteran and spending the best part of 20 of those years winning gold in WCW and WWE, William Regal never held a world title across either promotion. The former King of the Ring was renowned for being an incredible character outside the ring, but also the epitome of a “ring general” inside the ropes.
While 2020 saw the crowning of the first-ever British WWE Champion in Scotsman Drew McIntyre, an Englishman still hasn’t held the gold, with the only English World Champion thus far being Nick Aldis in NWA. Before McIntyre in WWE, Bad News Barrett would have arguably been another choice, and he just misses out on our list. Going slightly further back, William Regal was the quintessential British wrestler, and faced off against many multi-time world champions across his career. In WCW, Regal took on the likes of Sting, Lex Luger, and his now infamous match with WWE Hall of Famer Goldberg.
However, it was in WWE where Regal seemingly found his calling. From staying true to his immense technical style and knowing how to work a crowd, to his superb comedic timing and cutting intense promos – which has even led to no WarGames being complete without a Regal promo – the Blackpool-born star found himself winning the King of the Ring tournament in one of the most stacked eras talent-wise any talent could find themselves in. Perhaps the only reason Regal didn’t win the WWE World Championship was down to the fact that main event spots were usually taken up by the likes of The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H.
Four WCW World Television Title wins, four WWE European Championship reigns, two WWE Intercontinental Championship victories alongside five Hardcore Championship reigns and four World Tag Team Championship reigns make William Regal one of the most decorated performers never to hold the biggest belt in a promotion – and his legacy lives on as the Englishman ushers in the new generation as NXT General Manager and WWE’s Director of Talent Development and Head of Global Recruiting.
While Mr. Perfect doesn’t make the list, Mr. Wonderful most definitely does. Paul Orndorff held a World Championship in AWF, but the promotion only ran from 1994-1996 and thus would be hard-pushed to be named as a major promotion.
A former NWA National Heavyweight Champion and WCW World Television Champion, Mr. Wonderful was far from decorated – but an iconic rivalry with Hulk Hogan saw Orndorff come close to the WWF Championship on several occasions during his five-year spell with the company.
Orndorff was actually one of Hogan’s first challengers when Hulkamania was lightly jogging to gain traction before fully running wild, and Mr. Wonderful was arguably a major catalyst in the latter happening having main evented against Hulkster only one month after his debut. Orndorff dropped down the card and start building momentum before a rendezvous with Hulk Hogan, teaming with Roddy Piper to take on The Immortal and Mr. T in one of the most iconic WrestleMania matches of all time.
The Hall of Famer’s rivalry with Hulk Hogan seemingly had the pair tethered together, so much so that the Hulkster even played a major role in Orndorff’s face turn as the pair formed a tag team thereafter before he also teamed with Bruno Sammartino. Orndorff ended up back in a rivalry with Hogan which saw The Big Event in Toronto – in front of 76,000 fans – as Orndorff used Hogan’s Real American theme, and the pair were on a collision course towards a Steel Cage Match on Saturday Night’s Main Event IX. While that match ended in a dead heat when both men exited the cage at the same time, an instant restart meant Hogan picked up the win. The rivalry, though, is notably one of the biggest in WWE history.
Despite teaming with, and competing against, some of the biggest stars in the history of professional wrestling, Orndorff’s main event status was never capped off with the WWF World Championship. However, Mr. Wonderful is a WWE Hall of Famer, as well as being in the Cauliflower Alley Club, and the NWA Hall of Fame and aforementioned George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. However, the fact that he never won any gold at all in WWE will remain a mystery.
Magnum TA is undoubtedly one of the most tragic names on the list, with his in-ring career ending prematurely after a car accident forced him into retirement.
The American Heartthrob had an incredible story from the start, being named after Andre The Giant suggested he combines “Magnum” from lookalike Tom Selleck’s Magnum PI with the initials of his real name. Magnum TA signed with NWA in 1984, but only wrestled in the company for two years, which included winning the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship and successfully defending at Great American Bash against Kamala early on. Magnum TA also challenged Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in a 30-minute encounter, but suffered defeat to The Nature Boy before losing the US Title shortly after to Tully Blanchard in a famous I Quit Match at Starrcade ’85.
In 1986, Magnum TA and the aforementioned Nikita Koloff were on a collision course, but was stripped of the title before it was confirmed as the prize of a best of seven series between he and the Russian Road Warrior. The latter won the tie breaker in one of The American Heartthrob’s final matches.
In October, 1986, Magnum TA lost control of his Porsche while driving in the rain and crashed in North Carolina, only a couple of miles from his home. Initially, it was thought that the injuries were so severe, Magnum TA may never walk again and that he was only alive due to his physical condition. The two-time NWA United States Heavyweight Championship seemed to be destined for the NWA Championship in Jim Crocket Promotions up until the incident. Due to paralysis which lasted months, Magnum TA was forced into retirement and sadly the potential for an incredible career was taken from him.
Sadly, Magnum TA isn’t the only world-class wrestler on the list whose wrestling career ended in tragedy with Owen Hart losing his life after an incident which happened mid-show. At Over The Edge ’99, Owen Hart was preparing to challenge The Godfather as the affable Blue Blazer when he fell to his death.
While Hart’s untimely death came ahead of an Intercontinental Championship match – and the legendary star held many titles throughout his career – many feel Owen should have had at least one run with the World Championship. Owen Hart had held the Intercontinental Championship on two occasions, the European Championship once, and won the Tag Team Championships on several occasions – as well as being a tournament specialist with the 1994 King of the Ring. That being one of three knockout tournaments The King of Harts had won.
Hart initially joined WWF after a successful spell in Japan in 1988, but wouldn’t instantly have the Hart name, competing as the Blue Blazer or Blue Angel, and a short stint was followed by a departure from WWF and, shortly thereafter, the Blue Blazer character. Hart ended up in NJPW and then WCW, before re-joining WWF in 1991. This time as Owen Hart.
As part of the New Foundation with Jim Neidhart, Owen was initially a tag team wrestler, before breaking out on a short singles run. Later, Owen became a more prominent ally of brother Bret where they would later work side-by-side in the Hart Foundation. Of course, Bret and Owen eventually collided, quite literally, and The Rocket tried to step out of his brother’s shadow for a brief spell before the pair reunited before an inevitable explosion which saw Owen turn heel and accuse Bret of holding him back leading to Owen Hart pinning his brother clean at WrestleMania X before The Hitman won the WWF Championship that very night. While a King of the Ring win shortly thereafter for Owen seemingly cemented The King of Harts as next in line to the WWF Title.
On May 23, 1999, tragedy struck as Owen Hart fell to his death during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event. Blue Blazer became somewhat of a parody superhero and the use of a “quick release” system saw Hart adopt a new entrance where he used a grapple line from the rafters, only to become entangled and set himself free to fall to the ring from a short height. Sadly, at Over The Edge, the stunt went wrong and Owen Hart fell from around 78 feet above the ring. While the show controversially continued, Hart died of his injuries that night at the age of 34 years old.
Hart’s legacy lives on as he’s widely considered one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time, but a world championship win was never to be for The King of Harts, who was taken from the world way too soon.
Where Owen Hart’s name is mentioned, The King of Harts’ brother-in law ‘The British Bulldog’ is rarely far behind. Davey Boy Smith will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2021, one year later than scheduled and arguably many, many years later than his career merited. There’s no question The British Bulldog’s career is Hall-of-Fame-worthy, but Smith is another man who didn’t win a world championship.
Smith, like Owen Hart was predominantly seen as a tag team wrestler in WWF, with the Bulldogs initially touring both WWF and All Japan, before exclusively joining WWF. Smith and Dynamite Kid feuded with The Hart Foundation among others, achieving tag team glory and holding the titles for nine months, while dominating the division in WWF before departing the company for Stampede and All Japan Pro Wrestling in a stint which saw British Bulldog recover from a serious car accident after being sent through the windshield of a car, hurtling 25 feet onto the pavement and needing 135 stitches as a result.
Following the recovery, Smith returned to WWF as a singles star and established himself as one of the company’s most favoured stars despite being confined to the midcard. WWF’s exposure in the UK saw The British Bulldog become the company’s flagship performer in Britain, and climbing the card by winning a 20-man Battle Royal in 1991 at Albert Hall, as well as being the first man in the 1992 Royal Rumble, to be eliminated by eventual winner Ric Flair.
An Intercontinental Championship run followed, with British Bulldog winning the title in a match that arguably might outweigh any world championship win – acquiring the gold in the main event of SummerSlam ’92 at Wembley Stadium in his home country of England in front of over 80,000 fans after a classic match with Bret Hart. The reign only lasted two months before Smith dropped the title and was subsequently released from WWF, with Bret Hart’s book suggesting that Smith and Ultimate Warrior had been receiving shipments of a growth hormone in England. Bulldog soon ended up in WCW, and aligned with Sting before wrestling World Heavyweight Champion Vader, but – like Owen Hart – Smith’s big title win was immediately reversed. Again, Bulldog was released from the company shortly thereafter as a result of legal issues following an alleged altercation at a bar.
Smith returned to WWF and again made it to the final two of the Royal Rumble, only to lose to Shawn Michaels after only one of the Heartbreak Kid’s feet touched the floor. The pair later feuded for the world title, with the first match ending in a draw before Michaels retained in the rematch. While Smith went on to become the first ever WWF European Champion, he lost the title to a chorus of boos at One Night Only in the UK – again to Shawn Michaels – in British Bulldog’s only loss on British soil. Smith departed for WCW again shortly after as a result of the Montreal Screwjob. That stint was short-lived, and Smith returned to the WWF in 1999, but slowly departed from his original character. A feud with The Rock again saw The British Bulldog challenge for the WWE Championship, but unsuccessfully. Smith did enjoy one final reign with the WWF European Championship and two Hardcore Championship reigns before his retirement.
Razor Ramon / Scott Hall
A four-time Intercontinental Champion and soon-to-be two-time WWE Hall of Famer, Scott Hall – or Razor Ramon – has cemented his legacy in wrestling without ever needing to win a world championship.
Wrestling in NWA, AWA, WCW and NJPW, and trying out for the WWF, before circling back to WCW, Hall is one of the most well-travelled wrestlers in the history of the business. Eventually landing in WCW, Hall only spent one year with the company before joining WWF in 1992 and becoming the iconic Razor Ramon. The Scarface-inspired character debuted after weeks of vignettes, before quickly finding himself in the WWF Championship picture – interfering in a title match between Randy Savage and Ric Flair but actually making a beeline for Savage and helping The Nature Boy to win the gold.
Ramon quickly found himself back in the title picture, challenging WWF Champion Bret Hart after replacing the recently departed Ultimate Warrior. Razor Ramon, though, ended up submitting to The Hitman at the Royal Rumble before making his WrestleMania debut with a victory over Bob Backlund.
Razor Ramon followed up with a shock loss to The Kid (1-2-3 Kid, X-Pac) before being mocked by Ted DiBiase and defeating the Million Dollar Man in his final WWF match. The Bad Guy then entered the Intercontinental Championship picture, and won the title before going on a record-breaking streak which included a feud with the man who had vacated the title in Shawn Michaels. In somewhat of a title vs title feud, Ramon established himself as the undisputed champion when he won a critically-acclaimed Ladder Match at WrestleMania X. Ramon later lost the title to Diesel and won it back. Feuds with Jeff Jarrett left to Razor Ramon becoming the first-ever three-time Intercontinental Champion and subsequently the first four-time champion before losing the title to Goldust.
A lengthy run in WCW followed, but Scott Hall never achieved singles stardom as part of the nWo, instead being an integral cog in one of wrestling’s most dominant and iconic factions. Hall also had several stints in TNA between stints in WWE, and has since been inducted into the Hall of Fame. While his legacy overall is secured, and Razor Ramon is still regarded as one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time, it speaks volumes for the strength of roster – and the prestige of the Intercontinental Championship, that Razor Ramon never held the WWF Championship.
Everybody has a price – that much is true – but no matter how hard he tried, Ted DiBiase couldn’t trade green for gold. Undoubtedly one of the greatest heels in professional wrestling history, DiBiase has actually held the WWF Championship. The massive asterisk that always goes beside that fact, though, is that the Million Dollar Man didn’t win the title, he attempted to buy it, and that reign isn’t officially recognised by WWE.
DiBiase, Hulk Hogan’s first opponent inside the iconic Madison Square Garden, wrestled across NWA, All Japan Pro Wrestling before joining WWF and adopting the character that Vince McMahon created with the idea that the WWE CEO would use it himself if he could.
The Million Dollar Man was instantly established as a dominant heel, with speculation that his bodyguard Virgil’s name was adopted from Dusty Rhodes’ real name, and that DiBiase’s finisher was a shot at The American Dream too. Although that’s never been confirmed, DiBiase’s heelish tactics from the get-go made him one of wrestling’s greatest love-to-hate-them characters as he used his bottomless pockets to establish a position of power and to embarrass those around him. Although none of this actually took the form of a major in-ring angle.
However, when the first major storyline rivalry came along, it was a big one – as the Million Dollar Man announced a plan to buy the WWF World Heavyweight Championship from Hulk Hogan. When Hogan refused, DiBiase hired the help of Andre the Giant to win the title for him. Andre controversially won – thanks to Dave Hebner – before surrendering the championship to DiBiase. The Million Dollar Man even defended the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at house shows before WWF President Jack Tunney declared DiBiase was not the champion, and that Andre’s surrender of the title rendered it vacant. Thus Andre’s reign – albeit fleeting – was recognised, but DiBiase’s was not.
The Million Dollar Man went on to reach the finals of a tournament to crown the new WWF World Heavyweight Champion at WrestleMania VI, but lost to “Macho Man” Randy Savage with Hulk Hogan neutralising the threat of Andre The Giant. Having failed to capture the WWF Championship legitimately, DiBiase created his own title, the WWF Million Dollar Championship, which wasn’t recognised officially.
DiBiase continued to chase the official championship, losing out to Hulk Hogan, and then Ultimate Warrior after a then-record-length Royal Rumble appearance. The Million Dollar Championship remained a catalyst in DiBiase’s following feuds before losing it to his own bodyguard Virgil and shifting his focus to the tag team division as part of Money Inc.
Ted DiBiase truly leaves behind a million-dollar legacy that includes introducing Steve Austin to the WWF as the Ringmaster, but one integral part of that legacy is that much of the WWE Universe retrospectively realises that not making Ted DiBiase WWF Champion when he was at the height of his villainy may just have been a massively missed opportunity.
Jake “The Snake” Roberts
“Jake was such a strong character, such a strong persona, he never needed to be champion, he just needed to be Jake The Snake.”
Those were the words of Arn Anderson in a recent interview for Inside The Ropes while discussing why Roberts never held a championship, never mind THE championship. As detailed in his Wrestler Spotlight article in Issue 6 of Inside The Ropes Magazine, when looking at Roberts’ notable achievements, you could be forgiven for thinking one of the most iconic figures to ever step foot in the squared circle was rather ordinary – but that couldn’t be more wrong. The larger-than-life character of Jake Roberts established himself as one of the greatest in-ring performers and characters of all time despite never holding a championship in WWF, WCW or ECW during his time with each promotion. Although if he had to trade his snake Damien to carry said title, Roberts’ impact would have most definitely been diminished.
After debuting in WWF, Roberts instantly made his mark, emerging victorious over George Wells at WrestleMania II with the help of Damien before feuding with one of the greatest in-ring talents of all time in Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. An Intercontinental Championship feud followed shortly thereafter as Roberts went on to challenge Randy Savage – but the crowd cheered Roberts despite WWF trying to position him as a heel. The implications of that actually put the kibosh on a potential feud with then-WWF Champion Hulk Hogan, with the crowd chanting “DDT” as opposed to cheering for Hogan during a Snake Pit segment. Roberts instead found himself feuding with the likes of Honky Tonk Man, Ravishing Rick Rude and Andre The Giant.
Jake The Snake was instrumental in Ultimate Warrior’s rivalry with The Undertaker, which saw Roberts turn heel before feuding with Macho Man and Sid while working alongside The Deadman. The culmination of which was Roberts facing off against Undertaker at WrestleMania VIII before leaving the company and having a short run in WCW.
Even a spell in WCW and a return to WWF to be on the receiving end of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s iconic 3:16 promo wouldn’t permit a Jake Roberts championship reign, though, despite Roberts being a fan favourite throughout his career. Sadly, as Roberts unleashed a serpent on his opponents in the ring, addiction sunk its fangs into Roberts outside the ring before Roberts successfully battled cancer, and more recently COPD. At 65 years old, Roberts is still going strong in AEW as he looks to guide Lance Archer to more “tangible” achievements than he received as a wrestler, but Jake Roberts at least is probably the most iconic performer to never win a championship of any kind in WWE.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper
There aren’t many more recognisable wrestlers in history than ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper – with UFC legend Ronda Rousey even recently adopting and adapting the attire of the iconic Superstar for her short run in WWE. Roddy Piper transcended wrestling, appearing in an extensive list of television shows and movies, while remaining a constant inside the ropes too. The major enigma, though, is how Piper managed to navigate such an illustrious career without ever wearing a world championship over his sporran.
Piper arrived in WWF as an already established ring general, one of the best promos in the industry, and an all-round top villain and performer after a five-year stint in NWA having developed his character across several territories while wrestling the likes of Chavo Guerrero Sr, Gory Guerrero, Ric Flair and Sgt Slaughter, among others. Piper competed at the first ever Starrcade event against Greg ‘The Hammer’ Valentine in a Dog Collar Match that caused Piper to permanently lose 50–75% of his hearing – all before even reaching WWF.
Having wrestled a handful of matches for the company four years previous, Vince McMahon invited Piper to the company, but the Canadian with Scottish heritage insisted on serving out his contract with Jim Crockett, arriving in WWF in 1984. The aforementioned Starrcade injury meant Piper was initially used as a manager before wrestling full-time for WWF. Piper’s Pit utilised the Hall of Famer’s unmatched microphone skills, and became a catalyst for feuds with Jimmy Snuka and Bruno Sammartino, before a rivalry with The Immortal Hulk Hogan beckoned which saw Piper and Orndorff clash with Hogan and Mr. T – etching Rowdy’s name in the history books as one of the few talents to compete in the first-ever Starrcade and the first-ever WrestleMania.
Piper later recalled how a miscue meant he had to improvise to keep Mr. T busy and protect the actor’s lack of experience – which caused hostility between the pair that resulted in an on-screen feud culminating at WrestleMania II when Piper faced Mr. T in a boxing match. After a short hiatus, Piper returned as a face and feuded with Adrian Adonis, before a Hair vs Hair Match at WrestleMania III, which was seen as Piper’s retirement match to allow him to focus on acting, birthed Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake.
Much like many of the iconic stars on this list, Piper’s championship ceiling proved to be the Intercontinental Championship. Returning at WrestleMania V, after a two-year hiatus, Piper re-established his character before interfering in Rick Rude’s Intercontinental Championship defence against The Ultimate Warrior at SummerSlam, costing Rude the title to set up a lengthy rivalry which was followed by a very personal, controversial feud with Bad News Brown leading up to a WrestleMania VI clash.
Later that year, in 1991, Piper was involved in a motorcycle accident, but was still a staple of WWF programming. At the 1992 Royal Rumble, Piper won his first and only Intercontinental Championship when he defeated The Mountie – but the reign was short as Bret Hart became the new champion at WrestleMania VIII. Piper disappeared from the WWF, and his subsequent returns saw Piper mainly used as a catalyst in the rivalries of others until a 1996 WrestleMania clash dubbed the Hollywood Backlot Brawl against Goldust.
Even after departing for WCW, Piper wouldn’t find world championship success, despite defeating Hulk Hogan in a non-title match in the main event of Starrcade. That victory only earned Piper a title shot at SuperBrawl VII, where Piper lost. A short stint in the tag team division was followed by a hiatus, whereby Piper returned as the Commissioner of WCW, thus reducing his in-ring work and any chance of a championship. Although another opportunity at number one contendership did come via WarGames match at Fall Brawl, which was won by Diamond Dallas Page. Piper went on to win the United States Heavyweight Championship in 1999, in a reign which lasted two weeks. Arguably, one of Piper’s following feuds was bigger than any title, as he lost a match to Ric Flair in which the control of WCW hung in the balance before departing the company in 2000.
Subsequent returns to WWE saw Piper interfere in the Hulk Hogan vs Vince McMahon match at WrestleMania XIX and be inducted into the Hall of Fame on the same weekend he interviewed Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XXI in Piper’s Pit as part of a run of sporadic appearances in 2005 and 2006 that did see another title win – the World Tag Team Championships with Ric Flair – then a Royal Rumble appearance two years later.
Despite his career spanning five different decades, Piper’s grandest achievements and most memorable moments in wrestling didn’t come in the form of championship reigns and, much like the other nine names on this list, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper undoubtedly had a much more illustrious career than many, many wrestlers who have held world championships across their careers.
Are World Championships the be-all, end-all?
Championships can be won and lost, but legacies last forever.