The 10 Worst Champions in Professional Wrestling History
In theory, wrestling championships are meant to be treated like a special prize that a wrestler can only win if they stand out from the pack in some way. Whether it's a connection with (or heat with) the fans, drawing power, or some other intangible, getting a title usually means the promoter sees something in you that they think will be good for business. Unfortunately, sometimes those promoters turn out to be wrong...very wrong.
There have been many instances in which the best laid plans of promoters have blown up in their faces due to a miscalculated title change. Let's explore some of the most infamously bad champions in history, and see whether each was due to backstage politics, bad storytelling, the wrestlers themselves just sucking way worse than anyone realized, or that the promoters who handed these people titles were just smoking something real good.
Just real quick before we start, I'm not going to include people like Vinco Russo, David Arquette, or Vince McMahon on the list. It goes without saying that they were not to be treated as proper champions, and this feature is about people that the bookers honestly believed in as legitimate titleholders (for some unfathomable reason).
#10: The Renegade (WCW World Television Champion, 1995)
Aside from the fact that he was green as grass, didn't have much talent to begin with, and was a poor copy of the Ultimate Warrior (who wasn't much of a worker himself), Renegade was crammed down our throats from day one as the latest in a long line of Hulk Hogan flunkies. When he was booked to beat Arn Anderson, one of the most respected wrestlers ever, to win the WCW TV Title, you might as well have hung a target on the guy so the fans knew where to throw their trash.
The fans hated Renegade, partly because he stunk, but mostly because the “ultimate surprise” promos Hulk Hogan had done to hype his debut made them expect the real Ultimate Warrior instead of a cheap knockoff. WCW kept pushing him for months before finally deciding to cut their losses and have him lose the TV Title to Diamond Dallas Page.
WCW, apparently realizing how badly the Renegade experiment had gone, pulled back on him immediately and stuck him in a tag team with Joe Gomez for the remainder of his WCW run. The last notable thing he did while working there was to get destroyed by the real Ultimate Warrior when he came to WCW in 1998.
#9: The Nasty Boys (WWF Tag Team Title, 1991/WCW World Tag Team Title 1993-95)
To this day, I just don't get why these two got the world tag titles in not one, but both national wrestling companies. They were sloppy wrestlers who had a bad habit of hurting practically everyone they wrestled with errant shots, were barely passable as wrestlers, and their most well-known spot was rubbing their opponents' faces in their armpits.
It's not like either company didn't have better teams to choose from. The Nasty Boys won the WWF Tag Team Title when the division was populated by the Hart Foundation, the Rockers, Power & Glory, the Legion of Doom, Demolition, and the Natural Disasters. In WCW, they stood at the top of a heap that included Harlem Heat, the Blue Bloods, Pretty Wonderful, Kevin Sullivan & Cactus Jack, and even once had a successful title defense against Sting & Road Warrior Hawk.
I always look at the Nasty Boys as the tag team equivalent of the ugly person you wake up next to on Sunday morning as realization of what you did the night before sets in. The less said about them, the better.
#8: Hacksaw Jim Duggan (WCW United States Champion, 1994)
After pursuing him for months, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat finally defeated "Stunning" Steve Austin for the US Title at the Clash of the Champions in August of 1994. A rematch was set for Fall Brawl 1994 and, given how good the previous matches had been, nobody was complaining about getting to see it one more time.
Unfortunately, Steamboat suffered what ended up being a career ending back injury in the match where he won the US Title, and wouldn't be able to work at Fall Brawl. He took a bump over the top rope that he had taken a million times, but something went wrong this one time and, while he was able to finish the match, the injury turned out to be bad enough that Steamboat was forced to call it a career.
Steamboat showed up at Fall Brawl to forfeit the match and hand the US Title back to Austin, who gleefully snatched the belt out of Steamboat's hands. Austin thought his night was over, but WCW Commissioner Nick Bockwinkel rained on Austin's parade by announcing that he would be defending the US Title against a suitable replacement.
That suitable replacement turned out to be Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who had followed Hulk Hogan to WCW and had been there for all of maybe a month. Austin tried to run, but was forced to face Duggan and was pinned in mere seconds, crowning Duggan as the new US Champion.
Fans who had spent months watching all their homegrown stars systematically replaced with Hogan's pals were not happy with that finish and refused to accept Duggan. Austin had been well on his way to the top prior to the Duggan match, but was completely brushed aside in favor of yet another Hogan lackey.
It's not like Duggan was setting the world on fire himself, for that matter. The rematches with Austin were terrible, and then he moved on to a match with Vader at Starrcade. Longtime WCW fans were terrified that Duggan would go over Vader as well, but mercifully, Vader defeated Duggan to win the US Title in that match...then went on to spend all of 1995 getting destroyed by Hulk Hogan himself before being fired after a locker room fight.
#7: Debra McMichael (WWF Women's Champion, 1999)
Debra became the Women's Champion for exactly two reasons. The first was that the previous champion, Sable, had become such a pain in the ass that the WWF realized she wasn't worth the stress and decided to get rid of her. They also weren't sure she'd do business on the way out, and concocted a setup to get the title off of Sable without her even realizing what had happened until it was too late.
They had Sable defeat Debra in an evening gown match on an episode of Monday Night Raw, which is normally accomplished by being the first to tear all your opponent's clothes off. But Shawn Michaels, who was the WWF Commissioner at the time, decided that the winner ought to be the woman who had the MOST clothes removed. He declared Debra the new champion, and Sable didn't appear on Raw again for four years.
While Sable could at least get by in the ring, Debra had no in-ring training, which brings us to the second reason she got the Women's Title: she had no problem taking her clothes off at the drop of a hat. She never got totally naked, but had no problem at all appearing in skimpy bikini-style outfits, and since T&A was such a big part of the WWF product at the time, she got the nod as the featured lady for about a month before being defeated by the far more capable Ivory.
#6: Chyna (WWF Intercontinental Champion, 1999-2000)
Chyna broke some pretty major ground by becoming the first woman to ever win a men's title in the WWF. That accomplishment is notable, but also omits the reality that she was very limited in the ring and defeated some of the best wrestlers in the business during her time in the Intercontinental Title picture.
Her first Intercontinental Title reign came at the expense of Jeff Jarrett, whom she defeated in a Good Housekeeping Match in 1999. In case you're wondering what a Good Housekeeping match is, it's your standard no DQ/weapons are legal match, except the weapons supplied were all common household items like ironing boards and dish racks.
Overlooking the fact that Chyna hit Jarrett with a guitar (which I don't see being used to clean many kitchens or bathrooms) to win the match, she did make history by becoming the first female Intercontinental Champion. The problem was that she wasn't up to the level of work that holding that title typically entailed, so the WWF decided to gimmick up her title reign to make up for her in-ring shortcomings.
Her main feud during this time was against Chris Jericho who, predictably, had a problem with a woman holding the legendary Intercontinental Title. In fact, he was so certain he could easily defeat Chyna that he promised to get a sex change if she beat him. It was painful enough watching him forced to carry Chyna to a halfway-watchable match that they thankfully forgot about that promise when he ended up losing.
Jericho did beat Chyna in the rematch and won the Intercontinental Title, but they had a third match a few weeks later on Smackdown that ended in a double pin. Rather than do something rational, Chyna was shoehorned back into the Intercontinental Title by making them co-champions who would both defend the Intercontinental Title separately, but would also both lose the title if one of them were defeated.
It was a unique approach that I actually thought was pretty clever, but Jericho eventually won another rematch to claim sole ownership of the Intercontinental Title. The title was back in the hands of great workers like Jericho, Chris Benoit, and Kurt Angle for several months, but would up back around Chyna's waist for a week later that year when she defeated Val Venis in a mixed tag match.
Rather than another extended reign, this one was just used as a part of her ongoing storyline with Eddie Guerrero, who defeated her a week later and saved us from more Good Housekeeping and Sex Change matches.
#5: Mideon (WWF European Champion, 1999)
The WWF European Title always seemed like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. It was basically created for the British Bulldog to carry around for the benefit of his fans back home, but after that it struggled to maintain its relevance given that it was never presented as the same elite prize the Intercontinental Title was.
After two years of often being forgotten about for months at a time, the title was retired by Shane McMahon after his successful defense against X-Pac at Wrestlemania 15. Shane's title reign was a joke in and of itself since he was obviously not a wrestler and relied on massive amounts of interference to avoid being killed by X-Pac, so nobody was really shedding many tears that the European Title was going away.
However, the title returned only months later when Mideon, the absolute lowest-level member of Shane's Corporate Ministry, found the belt in Shane's bag. Mideon literally just decided that he was the new European Champion, and began defending the title in all his matches.
As absurd as Mideon's title “win” was, WCW actually copied the idea about a year later when Hacksaw Jim Duggan (yep, him again) found the inactive WCW TV Title belt in the trash and declared himself the new champion. Years later, the Urban Wrestling Federation would top both Mideon and Duggan by having Slymm win the UWF Street King Title by killing former champion Rasche Brown in a drive-by and stealing the belt from his corpse. I never cease to be amazed by the far reaching effects of Vince Russo's booking.
#4: Lenny Lane (WCW Cruiserweight Champion, 1999)
If you don't know the name Lenny Lane, it's because there's really not much to say about him other than his infamous Cruiserweight Title reign. He had spent most of his career as an enhancement guy in WCW, but was always one of the “elite” jobbers who would get some offense in before going down in defeat.
WCW rewarded him for his years of service by giving him the Cruiserweight Title in 1999, but that reign was over almost before it started thanks to Turner Standards and Practices. Lenny and his sidekick, Lodi, had been repackaged as, to put it bluntly, a flamingly gay tag team called the West Hollywood Blonds. Think along the lines of Billy and Chuck, but WAY more overt.
Lenny defeated Rey Mysterio to win the Cruiserweight Title on an episode of Thunder and defended it for about a month before GLAAD protested the gimmick and Turner Broadcasting forced WCW to pull it from TV. Lenny never even got to lose the title in the ring, Psicosis just appeared on TV with the title one week with the explanation that he had defeated Lenny in a house show match (which never actually happened).
#3: David Flair (WCW United States Champion, 1999/WCW World Tag Team Champion, 2000)
David Flair not only should have never been a champion, he should have never been in the ring to begin with. Many second-generation wrestlers have gotten a bad rap for getting pushes that weren't commensurate with their talent level, but no matter how bad you thought Erik Watts, Greg Gagne, or any of the other usual suspects were, none of them had anything on David Flair, who was every bit as awful as his father (and later, younger sister) was great.
This wasn't a situation where people's expectations were too high because of his last name, either. David really showed no aptitude for the wrestling business and, even two years after his in-ring debut, could only perform the most basic of moves and was constantly screwing up his timing and placement, making his opponents look bad.
But this was WCW, so when Scott Steiner had to vacate the US Title due to injury, they decided that the best thing to do would be to throw it on a 19 year old kid who didn't know his ass from his elbow, then stick him out there on TV to get killed by challengers whose league he clearly wasn't within a time zone of, and have him retain week after week thanks to ridiculous amounts of interference.
This went on for over a month before he was finally defeated by Chris Benoit, but rather than take him off TV immediately and not bring him back until he got some decent training, they stuck him in a tag team with Crowbar and gave them the WCW World Tag Team Title. They lost it within weeks, but David kicked around WCW until the end, got a short spell in WWF developmental, and then spent some time in TNA before calling it quits and becoming a North Carolina State Trooper.
#2: The Mountie (WWF Intercontinental Champion, 1992)
The Mountie, portrayed by Jacques Rougeau, was a silly gimmick with over the top mannerisms, and stuff like his night in a New York City jail after losing a Jailhouse match at Summerslam 1991 didn't do much to help his credibility as a title contender. Despite that, he scored a clean win over Bret Hart to win the Intercontinental Title in early 1992, making an indelible mark on WWE history that will never be erased.
So how did a cartoon character like the Mountie end up beating Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Title? A couple of things were at play here, but mostly it was that Bret's contract was coming up, the WWF wanted to get the title off of him until the contract was sorted out, and the Mountie was lucky enough to be the guy Bret was feuding with at the time.
That's really all there was to it, so only days before their scheduled PPV match at Royal Rumble 1992, the Mountie reversed an inside cradle to defeat Bret in Springfield, Massachusetts. He went on to hold the title for a whopping two days before being defeated by Roddy Piper, who stepped in as Bret's substitute at the Royal Rumble and dusted the new champion in about five minutes.
#1: Rick Steiner & Buff Bagwell/Kenny Kaos/Judy Bagwell (WCW World Tag Team Champions, 1998)
Let me preface this by saying that the WCW World Tag Team Title was a mess in the late 90s, and was subjected to both lengthy periods of inactivity (usually due to Scott Hall's abrupt “vacations”) and bizarre lineage path (such as Sting and the Giant winning the title, then Sting defeating Giant in a singles match to claim the title and giving the other half to Kevin Nash). But nothing matched the sheer insanity of Rick Steiner's late-1998 title reign with no less than three different partners.
It all started when Rick was signed to face his brother Scott in a singles match at Halloween Havoc 1998, but the Giant (who was one half of the WCW World Tag Team Champions with Scott Hall) offered to team with Scott and defend the title against Rick and a partner of his choosing. Rick chose Buff Bagwell, who had been Scott's sidekick for a full year before a minor tiff caused them to “split up” the week before.
As any moron (except Rick Steiner, apparently) could have seen coming a mile away, Bagwell (who wasn't cleared to return to the ring yet after a nearly career-ending neck injury) turned on Rick and walked out, leaving him to face Scott and the Giant by himself. Rick overcame the odds to pin the Giant and win the title Scott didn't actually hold, then followed that up by beating Scott in the originally scheduled singles match immediately afterward.
Buff obviously wasn't going to be Rick's partner again even though he had a legal claim to half of the title (if not the medical clearance to accept it), so Rick chose Kenny Kaos, who had previously been one half of a prelim team called High Voltage, to replace Bagwell. Steiner and Kaos only defended the title for a few weeks before Kaos went down to a storyline injury caused by Scott and Bagwell. Rick and Kaos were supposed to defend the title against Scott and Bagwell soon after the attack, so what was Rick Steiner to do now that he was out another tag team partner?
If you said “get Bagwell's unathletic, 55 year old mother Judy to replace Kaos”, you win the grand prize! Though she thankfully never actually competed in a sanctioned match, she came out to the ring with Rick and slapped her son in the face, causing Buff and Scott to run to the back while Rick and Judy stood tall in the ring with the belts held high.
Some title lineages include Judy Bagwell as a former WCW World Tag Team Champion, others don't since she never actually wrestled an official match. It doesn't really matter in the end because Steiner himself soon went down to an injury and, two months later, the title was vacated. Just to illustrate how low the tag title was on WCW's priority list, it stayed vacant for another two months before a tournament was finally held to crown new champions who, thankfully, didn't include any women in their 50s.