20 Legends Who Never Won a World Title
How would “Austin 3:16” be remembered if “Stone Cold” Steve Austin didn’t win a World Title to back it up? Would anyone want to play The Game if Triple H had failed to realize any of his 13 World Championship reigns? Could John Cena earn anyone’s loyalty or respect if “The Champ” was never … well, champ?
Celebrating a competitor’s World Championship wins may seem obvious when paying homage to the legends of the squared circle, but it isn’t mandatory. A select few grapplers still manage to earn themselves an all-world reputation – even WWE Hall of Fame status – despite never hearing their name prefixed with the title of WWE Champion, World Heavyweight Champion or the similar distinctions in WCW, ECW or AWA.
It may seem difficult to forge a storied career in sports-entertainment without winning a few World Titles along the way, but it’s not impossible. Take a look at these 20 battle-tested ring veterans who won the hearts and minds of the WWE Universe without ever winning championship gold on a global scale.
As the brawn behind one of the most feared and respected wrestling stables of all time, Arn Anderson established himself as the heart and soul of the Four Horsemen. Anderson, who coined the name of the WWE Hall of Fame faction, came to be known as The Enforcer of the foursome and frequently crushed anyone who dared to question his capabilities in the squared circle.
“Double A” certainly experienced his share of success in tag team competition, having won the World Tag Team Championship as part of the Brain Busters as well as the WCW World Tag Team Titles on five different occasions. His five WCW World Television Championship wins proved he was a force in singles competition, but that success somehow never translated to a WWE Title or World Heavyweight Title during his career.
Davey Boy Smith was more than just a British expat who achieved transatlantic ring success. The promising competitor from the United Kingdom honed his unparalleled strength and grappling skills in “The Dungeon” under the tutelage of WWE Hall of Famer Stu Hart, en route to becoming one-half of the talented tag team known as The British Bulldogs.
Then Smith took his career to the next level by going it alone in singles competition. Adopting the moniker from his tag team past, The British Bulldog went on to win the Intercontinental Championship before 80,355 countrymen in London’s Wembley Stadium, in the SummerSlam 1992 main event against his brother-in-law, Bret “Hit Man” Hart. He later became the first European Champion in WWE history, but never translated his success into a World Title win.
Chief Jay Strongbow
Few Superstars, past or present, could win the hearts and minds of the WWE Universe as consistently as Chief Jay Strongbow did during his storied career. The “Chief” could take a licking from the best of them before Strongbow, with the roar of the crowd egging him on, would go on the warpath by unleashing a flurry of feared maneuvers, including his signature sleeper hold and Tomahawk Chop.
The “Chief,” who competed in five different decades, experienced his greatest share of success in tag team competition, having won the World Tag Team Championship on four different occasions. He also made his mark in singles action as the master of the Indian Strap Match, most notably against Greg “The Hammer” Valentine in 1979 after Valentine infamously broke the Native American grappler’s leg with the Figure-Four Leglock. Those efforts never relayed into a World Title win for Strongbow, but it did find him a place in the inaugural WWE Hall of Fame class in 1994.
The hardcore devotees of ECW called him “The Shooter” for his technical expertise in the ring. WCW fans called him “The Iceman” for his cold and calculated approach to every challenge. And the WWE Universe knew him simply as Dean Malenko, one of the most talented cruiserweight combatants to ever set foot in the squared circle.
Malenko, whose vast grappling expertise earned him the nickname of “The Man of 1,000 Holds,” never met an opponent he couldn’t disarm with a counter move or painful maneuver. That includes Chris Jericho, who once incurred The Iceman’s wrath after declaring himself as “The Master of 1,004 Holds.” Malenko came away with championship gold in ECW, WCW and WWE, but he retired in 2001 before ever truly getting a chance to display his World Title credentials for all to see.
George “The Animal” Steele
George “The Animal” Steele established himself as an untamed and unabashed wild man in the ring, but the chaotic character happily let his actions speak for the few mumbled words he ever uttered. Though his opponents came to fear the hairy competitor with a taste for chewing up turnbuckle covers, Steele reinforced their concerns with his powerful arsenal of moves, including his signature Flying Hammerlock.
Though he haunted the likes of Miss Elizabeth and helped promising competitors like Ricky “The Steamboat” along the way, Steele never seized championship gold during his heated rivalries with former WWE Champions like Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan. Steele stepped away from the squared circle without a single World Title win, but the totality of his career made him WWE Hall of Fame worthy as a member of the Class of 1995.
Though it seems peculiar that a Superstar who embraced gold as part of his look never seized WWE’s most precious metal, peculiar is just the way that Goldust likes it. The Bizarre One mystified opponents with his eccentric personality as well as his golden face paint and gold tights – and he certainly did nothing to dissuade his foes’ confusion and fears when he prepared for battle.
Though Goldust left his rivals wondering what the mysterious competitor would do next, the man behind the outrageous outfit, Dustin Runnels, embraced a hardcore pedigree that he inherited as a member of the legendary Rhodes family. That extreme legacy helped Goldust earn tag team championship gold in WCW and WWE, as well as Intercontinental and U.S. Title wins, but it never led the strange Superstar to seize a World Title during his accomplished career.
Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
How did Greg Valentine earn “The Hammer” as a nickname? In the heat of battle, the scrapper from Seattle liked to drape a foe over the ropes and drop the hammer down by wailing on his weary opponent with a series of brutal forearm smashes. And that was just the tip of the iceberg in describing the devious depths that Valentine would sink to in search of victory.
“The Hammer” left all options on the table to defeat an opponent, even if it meant unprecedented attacks like breaking Wahoo McDaniel’s leg or suplexing Pedro Morales onto an exposed concrete floor. It worked, providing Valentine countless title victories in the NWA and WWE, including the fifth-longest Intercontinental Championship reign in WWE history. Although Valentine’s dirty deeds never led him down a path to winning a World Title, they did ultimately lead to his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
Honky Tonk Man
He was not blond, 6-foot-5, chiseled or even a hero of the WWE Universe. Nevertheless, the notorious Honky Tonk Man stands, to this day, as one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time – holding that title for an astonishing 64 weeks in a single reign. With the devious “Colonel” Jimmy Hart in his corner, the Elvis-like Superstar caught absolutely everybody by surprise when he defeated Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat for that championship gold. He then used any means necessary to keep that title around his waist, against tough opponents like Randy “Macho Man” Savage and George “The Animal” Steele.
Although the Intercontinental Championship has been known to propel many a Superstar into contention for the World Title, Honky never seemed able to take that next step. Maybe that was because he took so much pride in the prize he had rather than the prize he could conceivably get. But, in any event, the reality that such a survivor never took the ultimate accolade leaves many a WWE fan wondering “What if?”
Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Jake “The Snake” Roberts’ list of formidable adversaries through the years included the likes of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, The Honky Tonk Man, Andre the Giant, The Undertaker and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. His breathtaking resume also included the creation of the infamous DDT finisher. Armed with this ruthless weapon, he carried with him a dark persona – not to mention some pretty scary members of the serpentine suborder – that would instill fear in the hearts of many an opponent.
Yet, in spite of everything the intense competitor had going for him, he never held a World Title, or any other major title for that matter. This stands as positive proof that championship gold alone does not make a legacy.
Jesse "The Body" Ventura
"Win if you can. Lose if you must. But always cheat!" was the personal mantra of Jesse “The Body” Ventura, a bodybuilding bully from Minnesota who never missed an opportunity to tout his own talents. Even though blood clots cut Ventura’s sports-entertainment career short in 1984, the WWE Universe did not escape the self-centered Superstar’s personal musings as “The Body” moved from the ring to the announcer’s table as a regular commentator on WWE programming.
While his regular ego trips could be grating on rivals and fans alike, Ventura’s toughness was never in question. The outspoken grappler proudly served as a Navy Underwater Demolition Team frogman which was later merged with the Navy SEAL Team before ever setting foot in the squared circle. Though it was an injury that prematurely brought his tenure in the ring to a close, Ventura, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, still managed to display the swagger and confidence of a World Champion by becoming a leader in the political arena in the 1990s by serving as Mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn., and later as governor of his home state.
He was graceful on the gridiron during his college days, but the WWE Universe remembers Sylvester Ritter best for his accomplishments as the incomparable Junkyard Dog. JYD, as he came to be known, could give as good as he got from an opponent and packed a wallop with an arsenal of moves that was highlighted by “Thump” – the one-word nickname for his powerful powerslam finishing maneuver.
After paying his dues under the guidance of Stu Hart and others, Junkyard Dog finally made himself into a household name by attaining success first in the Mid-South Wrestling territory and later in WWE, which included a victorious effort in the inaugural WrestleMania. Despite never adding a World Heavyweight Championship to his resume, JYD collected enough championship gold during his career to merit his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
When Shawn Michaels’ Sweet Chin Music put Marty Jannetty through a plate glass window in "The Barber Shop" more than 20 years ago, it was a watershed moment in WWE history as it officially put a spotlight on the The Showstopper’s WWE Hall of Fame career. What gets lost in recalling HBK’s infamous superkick is that his former tag team partner was no slouch in the squared circle, either.
With The Rockers ceasing to exist, Jannetty took his high-flying tactics into singles competition as a solo Superstar. He managed to let his championship pedigree shine through, winning the Intercontinental Championship as well as the World Tag Team Titles that The Rockers never won during their time together in WWE. He soon left to make a name for himself in WCW and ECW and later reconciled with Michaels in 2005, but the WWE Universe will always wonder if a World Champion was within Jannetty if Michaels stayed by his side in "The Barber Shop" that fateful day in 1991.
As an up-and-coming competitor in the 1980s, Terry Allen benefitted both from his undeniable talent and his passing resemblance to actor Tom Selleck. Eventually, he combined those valuable attributes into one dynamic threat that gave birth to the legend of Magnum TA – as in Selleck’s “Magnum, P.I.” and Allen’s initials.
Unfortunately, a tragic car accident in 1986 left Allen partially paralyzed and abruptly halted the meteoric rise of the two-time United States Champion and the man many believed would be “the next Ric Flair.” Though the accident signaled the end to Magnum TA’s promising career, it wasn’t the end of his heroic story as Allen, who was warned that he may never walk again, displayed a resiliency befitting a World Champion by successfully regaining that very ability.
“Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
When it comes to the top Superstars in squared circle history, any comprehensive list would have to include “The Million Dollar Man.” Ted DiBiase used his affluence and tremendous skill to thrust himself into the limelight time and time again. He engaged in fierce feuds with everyone from Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage, to Dusty Rhodes and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. He was just as powerful outside the ring, playing an instrumental role in the WWE introduction of both The Undertaker and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
Of all of the processions and accolades that DiBiase wanted to accumulate, however, the WWE Title was top of the list. Although he never achieved this lofty goal, he came close on several occasions. This included the infamous moment when he paid Andre the Giant to win the title for him – an action involving a twin referee swap that was eventually overruled by then-WWE President Jack Tunney – and when he reached the finals of the subsequent tournament to crown a new WWE Champion at WrestleMania IV. While the wealthy Superstar would go on to create the Million Dollar Title and stir things up for years to come, the WWE Championship is something that would always allude him.
“Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff
Paul Orndorff had everything going for him in his pursuit of the championship gold, including an incredible physique, an outspoken persona and unwavering confidence. It also didn’t hurt that he always aligned himself with those on a fast track to success – including future WWE Hall of Famers “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Cowboy” Bob Orton and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. This is the sort of positioning that helped make him a key player in the tag team main event in the very first WrestleMania.
Although “Mr. Wonderful” never held a World Title, he may very well have come the closest of any of the superstars that didn’t. In a classic Steel Cage Match against WWE Champion Hulk Hogan on Saturday Night’s Main Event in the late '80s, Orndorff and The Hulkster both climbed over the cage on separate sides, touching the floor at presumably the exact same time. If Orndorff had been able to touch down just one second sooner, Hulkamania may have been cut short right then and there.
Though any member of the Anoa'i family gets immediate ring credibility from the WWE Universe, Rikishi still managed to step out of the imposing shadows of his family heritage with his smooth moves in the squared circle. Dance moves, that is.
Rikishi’s affiliation with the street savvy duo known as Too Cool gave the Samoan Superstar a softer side that made him more relatable to fans from around the world. He’d humiliate an opponent with his signature Stink Face and finish them off with a Rikishi Driver – and then cavort in celebration on the ring apron. Though the success Rikishi attained never saw him claim a World Title, it did allow the imposing competitor to set a good example for his sons, The Usos, to follow in proving what it means to be a member of the Anoa’i family.
“Rowdy” Roddy Piper
While WWE Hall of Famer Roddy Piper is now one of the most respected entertainers in squared circle history, in the height of the golden age of the ’80s he was just plain “Rowdy.” The ultra-controversial creator of “Piper’s Pit” did everything in WWE from blasting Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka with a coconut, to standing toe-to-toe with the likes of Andre the Giant, to waging war against iconic WWE Champion Hulk Hogan. In fact, he stood as the first true adversary of Hulkamania, driving the whole world into an angry frenzy as he served as the explosive catalyst to the inaugural WrestleMania.
While he could draw the ire of the WWE Universe like no other and showed little fear in the face of the “Immortal” champion, the rebellious Superstar never quite captured the WWE or WCW Title from him.
Say hello to the bad guy! AWA and WCW supporters were well acquainted with Scott Hall before the skyscraping Superstar made his WWE debut in 1992, yet even they couldn’t have anticipated what would happen upon the introduction of his Razor Ramon persona to the WWE Universe. The 6-foot-7 brawler went face to face with a who’s who of WWE dignitaries including Bret “Hit Man” Hart, Shawn Michaels and “Macho Man” Randy Savage – and regularly came out on top.
Yet Hall’s most lasting contribution to sports-entertainment wouldn’t come until he aligned with Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan as the founders of the infamous New World Order in WCW. The renegade faction took no prisoners en route to winning championship gold, yet their poisonous influence on WCW and later WWE never expanded enough to see Hall win a World Title during his career.
Following in the footsteps of Native American ring warriors including Chief Jay Strongbow and Wahoo McDaniel, Tatanka went on the war path against the competition following his WWE debut in 1992 and experienced an undefeated streak that lasted more than a year. All good things eventually come to an end, but the close of Tatanka’s undefeated streak seemed to take the wind out of the tenacious Superstar’s sails.
Title opportunities didn’t elude Tatanka, as he found himself vying for the Intercontinental Championship and World Tag Team Titles. Yet those opportunities never materialized into championship gold for the descendant of the Lumbee Native American tribe. He never capitalized on a World Title opportunity during his WWE career, but his undefeated streak set the bar for rookie Superstars looking to make their presence known to the WWE Universe.
The ring general from Blackpool, England, has never been known as one to back down from a battle of wits or a competitive clash. William Regal honed his many skills in squared circles around the world and successfully translated that into a formidable presence in WCW and later WWE at the turn of the century. His past experience includes administrative roles such as WWE Commissioner as well as General Manager of Raw and later NXT, but his results in the ring leave little doubt about the British Superstar’s capabilities.
Regal’s career includes many title wins such as the Intercontinental Championship, the World Tag Team Championship and the WCW World Television Championship. Some argue that those accomplishments pale in comparison to the crowning achievement of a career spanning thirty-plus years: winning the 2008 King of the Ring tournament. Despite never topping off his body of work with a World Heavyweight Title win, Regal still continues to make his mark on the next generation of WWE Superstars as NXT’s color commentator and a veteran who is always willing to share his unparalleled wealth of knowledge with young Superstars and Divas who want to learn.