Nowadays, just about everyone gets a turn with the WWE title. Especially in the States, it doesn’t mean what it used to, but a number of wrestlers who fully deserved a title run back in the days of world championship prestige never got one. Before we dive into the list, it’s worth explicitly stating what we consider a “world” championship: The NWA World Heavyweight Title up until 1993, the WWE, AWA and WCW titles, the WWE’s version of the World Heavyweight Championship, any version of the ECW belt, All Japan’s Triple Crown and New Japan’s IWGP Championship. So in case you’re wondering where Curt Hennig, Bam Bam Bigelow or Vader are, that’s where…
1. “Ravishing” Rick Rude: Possibly the most controversial entry on this list, not because he didn’t have everything that makes a great wrestler (the look, the talk, the work in the ring), but because he held two “world” titles: The World Class title when it was rechristened a “World” championship and the strange “WCW International” belt, neither of which are considered world titles for this list. The Ravishing One enraged audiences in the ’80s and early ’90s before Sting ended his career with a botched dive.
2. Goldust: Goldust was pretty unmemorable under the moniker “The Natural” Dustin Rhodes. Sure, he could work in the ring, but where was the personality? Well, the personality emerged when he jumped ship to WWE and became the ambiguously sexually threatening Goldust. Rhodes allegedly once considered getting breast implants to make the character even weirder.
3. “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase: He held the title for a couple days as part of the angle leading up to WrestleMania IV. The WWE doesn’t count it and neither do we. Before he was “The Million Dollar Man,” Ted DiBiase was both the biggest hero and biggest villain in Mid-South Wrestling. He was considered to be a successor to Harley Race before even Ric Flair, but for reasons that are unclear, it never happened.
4. Owen Hart: There’s no telling how high Owen Hart would have risen if he had lived longer. Possibly a more interesting performer to watch than his brother Bret, Owen could do it all, from the mat to the floor to off the top turnbuckle. He was also great at played a spoiled brat you loved to hate. Sadly his life was cut short just as he was hitting his stride.
5. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper: Hulk Hogan needed a villain and Roddy Piper rose to the occasion. At the time, Hogan was the favorite of children but Piper was the favorite of adults. He’s also one of the few men Ric Flair considered on his level in terms of mic work. Piper never held a world title, but he did put a lot of asses in seats. His manic on-screen persona stood in marked contrast to his low-key everyday presence.
6. Arn Anderson: Arn Anderson is often remembered as a solid in-ring worker, but he also had a promo that made you feel like you were watching a real sport. While the black trunks and black boots “create a wrestler” look wasn’t exactly electrifying, Katsuyori Shibata is showing there’s a huge market for that in Japan, while the Revival are selling tons of gear as Double A clones stateside.
7. Kevin Von Erich: According to Kevin, the lone surviving Von Erich brother, he never wanted to be world champion of anything. He was happy as a regional champion for his father’s promotion and even then, he thought being the top guy was more hassle than it was worth. Still, it’s hard to deny that he had the trademark Von Erich charisma and in-ring abilities that would have made him an electrifying world champion in any promotion.
8. Jake “The Snake” Roberts: Jake Roberts is one of the few guys who could a convincing promo without raising his voice. The man was a wizard with a microphone in his hand and no move of the 1980s was a more convincing finisher than his DDT. It’s been a bummer for his fans to watch him go downhill, but every time he makes a comeback, we’re filled with hope.
9. Ken Shamrock: Ken Shamrock had an NWA title run long after it was relevant. But during his time in the WWE, he was Bret Hart’s hand-picked successor, though it never happened. His promos weren’t the best in the world, but he had so much charisma that it didn’t matter. Unfortunately, he never really got the hang of pulling his punches, so a lot of people didn’t want to work with him.
10. Wade Barrett: As we said in the intro, basically everyone gets a run with the title these days, but one man didn’t who really deserved it: Wade Barrett. He’s a legitimate bare knuckles champ with a great look and tons of charisma, and he can work magic with a microphone in his hand. He requested his release from the WWE and no one knows what his future holds, but a world title run is probably off the table.