Top 10 Pro Wrestlers That Never Won a World Title
Professional wrestling is a funny business. Many talented and popular wrestlers never get the opportunity to carry a federation’s banner as a world heavyweight champion. As a result, many hall-of-famers–current and future–miss out on holding the most prized possession in all of the game, a big gold belt that signifies he is, as Ric Flair would put it, “the man” in his company. So in honor of WWE Monday Night Raw coming to the Cajundome next week, I present to you my list of the top 10 pro wrestlers that never won a world heavyweight championship.
For the purposes of this list, I am recognizing all of the major North American (WWE, NWA, WCW, ECW, AAA, and EMLL) and Japanese (New Japan’s IWGP and All-Japan’s Triple Crown) world heavyweight titles.
10. Jake Roberts
The innovator of the DDT is without question the best ring psychologist in wrestling history. He held multiple regional championships (including the Louisiana and North American Championships in Mid-South Wrestling) before making his way to greater fame in the WWF and WCW. His personal problems have been well-documented, and they are probably the biggest reason for Roberts never getting a push to the world title in any major company. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t, because he could have been one of the best heel champions in history.
Interesting facts: (1) Roberts is the son of Grizzly Smith. (2) Roberts accidentally invented the DDT. He had “The Grappler” Len Denton in a front facelock when he tripped on Denton’s boot and fell back.
9. Scott Hall
He is one of the best big wrestlers ever to enter the squared circle. He held numerous tag team championships in the AWA and WCW and numerous singles championships, including the WWF Intercontinental Championship and the WCW United States and Television Championships. Hall could have been a world champion, but he is partly responsible for this not happening. According to Hall’s website, Verne Gagne was going to book Hall to win the AWA World Title, but he left the company for NWA/WCW before this could happen. Later in his career, his personal demons kept WCW’s bookers from giving him a run with the big gold belt. Too bad, because he easily could have made a great heel champion.
Interesting fact: Hall’s ladder match with Shawn Michaels at WRESTLEMANIA X was the first WWF match to receive a 5-star rating from Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
8. Roddy Piper
He was one of the most animated wrestlers in history, and he certainly knew how to work a crowd. Early in his career, he could make people hate him with ease. Later on, he became one of the best loved people in the sport. His wrestling ability was outstanding, and his ring psychology was second-to-none. He is one of the few men to have held both the NWA United States and the WWF Intercontinental Championships. So why didn’t he ever win the big one? Simple answer: Hulkamania.
Interesting Fact: Piper is a distant cousin to the Hart family of wrestlers.
7. Tully Blanchard
Blanchard held every major championship in Jim Crockett Promotions with the exception of the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Just like his long-time tag-team partner and fellow Horseman Arn Anderson, Blanchard was stuck in the shadow Ric Flair. That, along with some personal issues, kept promoters from giving Blanchard a run with the top title.
Interesting fact: Blanchard played football for West Texas State University alongside Tito Santana and Ted Dibiase.
6. Magnum T. A.
Terry Allen had the looks, the strength, and the wrestling skills to be a world heavyweight champion. In fact, Jim Crockett was grooming him to be his company’s next great champion. That was before a car crash prematurely ended Allen’s career. To this day, many old-school wrestling fans ask themselves what could have been if Magnum T. A. had stayed healthy and won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
Interesting fact: Magnum T. A. won his first major title in 1983, the Mid-South North American Championship, from Butch Reed in Shreveport.
5. Nikita Koloff
Koloff was an outstanding ring technician that never got the chance he deserved. That’s the price he had to pay for being stuck in a Soviet strongman gimmick. Even after his face turn, neither WCW nor the AWA saw fit to put their main championship around his waist.
Interesting fact: Koloff was a high school classmate of, among others, wrestlers Curt Hennig, Barry Darsow, and the man at #3 on this list.
4: Dean Malenko
“Understated” is the word that best describes Malenko. Most casual fans would probably use “boring.” He rarely spoke on microphone, but he let his ring work do the talking. This very well could be the reason why he was never allowed the shot to be a world heavyweight champion. He was involved on some of the best matches in ECW history against future stablemate Eddie Guerrero, and WCW gave him a push as Cruiserweight and United States Heavyweight Champion, but he never got a chance to win the big one. He ended his active career in the then-WWF with a ladies’ man gimmick and retired in 2001.
Interesting fact: Malenko was ranked as the number-1 wrestler in the world by Pro Wrestling Illustrated in its 1997 PWI 500. Malenko is still the only wrestler never to have won a world championship to earn that honor.
3. Rick Rude
The self-proclaimed sexiest man alive was one of wrestling’s best talkers. When he took control of the microphone, he put the crowd in the palm of his hand and manipulated the masses like puppets. His taunts of the “sleazy city dwellers” and “sweathogs” and passes at the “sexy ladies” in the stands made Rude the most villified wrestler of the late 80′s. What’s more is that he combined mat-based wrestling, strong-man ability, ring psychology, and brawling (on occasion) to become one of the best all-around wrestlers of the last 25 years. If you still have doubt about how good he was, watch any of his matches against the Ultimate Warrior. I dare you to find anyone else that could make the Warrior look that good in the ring.
Interesting fact: While wrestling in WCCW, Rude’s manager was Percy Pringle (real name: William Moody). Many of you younger wrestling fans know Mr. Pringle as Paul Bearer, the long-time manager of the Undertaker, among others.
Author’s Note: This is one I debated for a long time. Why? Not because he isn’t deserving to be on the list, but because he held two belts that were promoted as world titles. Rude held the top championship in World Class Championship Wrestling (the Texas American Championship) when that organization withdrew from the NWA on February 18, 1986. WCCW changed its name to the World Class Wrestling Association and named Rude the first WCWA World Heavyweight Champion. Despite this, the title was still considered to be a regional championship. As a result, many wrestling historians and Pro Wrestling Illustrated have never regarded this title as a world championship.
Rude’s second “world title” run came when he beat Ric Flair for the Big Gold Belt at Fall Brawl 1993. There was one small problem. WCW no longer held the rights to the championship the belt represented–the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. WCW withdrew from the NWA on September 1, 1993–some 18 days before Rude won the belt. The belt would be renamed the WCW International World Heavyweight Championship, but it was nothing more than a secondary championship to the original WCW World Heavyweight Championship. As a result, Rude’s three runs with the belt are not considered world title runs by PWI or WWE. Wrestling fans and historians are still debating the issue.
2. Arn Anderson
“The Enforcer” Arn Anderson should have been a world champion. However, when you are put in the Four Horsemen alongside the likes of Ric Flair and Lex Luger, there isn’t much room for another big name superstar. Anderson is probably the best talker in the history of the business and is arguably the best technical big man in the history of the sport. However, wrestling in the “Nature Boy’s” shadow for most of his career didn’t help. Even during his run with the WWF in 1989 and 1990, he was pigeonholed as a tag team specialist. It’s a shame that the master of the spinebuster never got the push he deserved.
Interesting Fact: Anderson unintentionally coined the Four Horsemen name when he compared the stable to the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse during an interview segment. The name stuck.
1. Ted DiBiase
Ted DiBiase is arguably the most gifted wrestler of his generation. He had excellent microphone skills. He was an accomplished mat wrestler. He could brawl with the meanest and toughest men in the ring. Most importantly, he could make a crowd love him and hate him on command. So why did he never get a shot at being world champion? It’s a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. When he was wrestling in Mid-South and Jim Crockett Promotions, Ric Flair was carrying the NWA banner. After he jumped to the WWF, Hulkamania was still running wild, leaving little room for the “Million Dollar Man.” Sure, he did receive significant pushes in both federations, but the closest he ever came to winning a world title was when he reached the finals of the WWF championship tournament at Wrestlemania IV. Six years later, DiBiase would retire from active competition without ever being called world heavyweight champion.
Interesting fact: Dibiase used a loaded glove during his time in Mid-South Wrestling. He named the glove “Maggie.”