There is nothing more prestigious than a World Championship. To paraphrase the great Super Shredder, also known as Kevin Nash, the only things real in the wrestling business are your first World Championship and going in the Hall of Fame.
Whilst all the different promotions can boast their own World Championships, in history one has stood tall above the rest. The WWE Championship, and the many names it has taken over the years, is the gold standard (sorry Shelton) in wrestling championships.
If you are the WWE Champion and aren’t named Jinder Mahal, you are at the top of your field. You are the top star in the biggest company in the world and get all the fame and fortune that accompanies it. 54 men have been recognised as the WWE Champion, from Buddy Rogers all the way through to Bobby Lashley.
However, sometimes even the best wrestlers see the title elude them. With such an exclusive club of wrestlers to win the famous belt, there have been a number of talented individuals who fell by the wayside and never reached the top of the mountain.
While the WWE has had other World Championship titles in it’s company, this list will only include wrestlers who failed to win specifically the WWE Championship. If a wrestler has only won the World Heavyweight or Universal Championship, then they are eligible to go on this list.
Wrestlers who have never wrestled in the WWE (or never had notable runs in the company) are not eligable to be included – otherwise, this list would be full of Japanese legends and wrestlers from before the WWE was even created.
Best Wrestlers To Never Win The WWE Championship
10. Dolph Ziggler
One of the biggest missed opportunities in recent years in WWE has to be Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler is a former World Champion in WWE but never manage to win the WWE Championship.
It was not without lack of trying. Ziggler was one of the best in-ring talents in WWE in the early 2000s. He mixed fast paced, hard hitting offence with excellent selling which earned him comparison’s to the legendary Mr Perfect.
Ziggler captured the World Heavyweight Championship twice in WWE, with his second victory being one of the best in history. He held the Money in the Bank contract for almost a year before cashing in on Alberto Del Rio on the night after Wrestlemania 29. The pop from the crowd was one of the biggest of all time as his music hit, and he was joined by AJ Lee and Big E as he swaggered to the ring and won his second World Heavyweight Championship in WWE.
However WWE never intended to push Dolph Ziggler. Vince McMahon never saw anything really in the former amateur wrestler, despite him being one of the most popular men on the roster. McMahon famously said after deciding Ziggler was going to win the Championship: “We are not pushing Dolph”.
Despite being a fan favourite, Ziggler never became a main eventer in WWE. His big cash in was ruined by a concussion weeks later, and his incredible performance at the 2015 Survivor Series failed to be capitalised upon. It later came out his role as the sole survivor in the match that saw the debut of The Icon Sting was actually meant for Roman Reigns, not Ziggler. Reigns was injured at the time and Dolph Ziggler was merely a placeholder.
He slowly slipped down the card and has never ascended to those heights again. He’s one of the biggest missed opportunities in WWE and one of the best wrestlers to never win the WWE Championship.
Now into his 40s and locked into a new-long term deal with WWE, it become increasingly unlikely that Cesaro will ever win a World Championship in his career.
It’s a sad case of WWE refusing to push a talent simply because Vince McMahon doesn’t understand what makes him great. He even called him out specifically as someone who was not connecting with the crowd at the same time that fans across the country held up “Cesaro Section” signs and chanted him name across arenas.
After he won the inaugural Andre the Giant Battle Royale at Wrestlemania 30, fans thought Cesaro was destined for the greatness. The next night, he was joined by his new manager Paul Heyman and fans started getting excited for his eventual world title run.
However, Heyman just spent all his time with Cesaro talking about how Brock Lesnar ended the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania 30. Multiple times a promo for months.
It completely ruined Cesaro’s momentum and killed any chance of him winning the WWE Championship, despite him being one of, if not the best, workers in WWE, maybe ever.
8. Scott Hall
Looking back at this list, one name I was sure had to be wrong was Scott Hall. Despite being part of one of the most influential groups in wrestling, with one of the best characters in wrestling, and having some of the best matches at the time, Scott Hall never won the WWE Championship.
And no, it’s not a technicality. Razor Ramon, his WWE alter-ego, also never tasted World Championship gold. He famously defeated Shawn Michaels in the first ladder match at Wrestlemania X, but was only awarded the Intercontinental Championship for his efforts.
Even in WCW, where the NWO ruled over promotion, he never won a World Championship. While fellow teammates like Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, The Giant and Scott Steiner all won the coveted championship, alcohol issues and unselfishness stopped Hall from ever ascending to the top of the promotion.
7. Chris Benoit
Whilst he did become a World Champion in WWE, sadly Chris Benoit never won the coveted WWE Championship.
The Canadian wrestler was one of the best wrestlers in the world during his time, showcasing his skills in Canada, Japan and eventually in the United States for ECW, WCW and WWE. His matches in NJPW (as Pegasus Kid) against Eddie Guerrero (as Black Tiger) drew particular praise from across the globe and are still incredible to watch to this day.
Chris Benoit became WCW Heavyweight Champion and World Heavyweight Champion in his career. His greatest achievement had to be the 2004 Royal Rumble victory, where he outlasted 29 other men after starting from the number 1 spot to became the second man to win the Royal Rumble match from number one.
(The other man was Shawn Michaels, who was one of nine wrestlers who won multiple Royal Rumble matches)
Despite a long career in WWE where he main evented Wrestlemania, he never won the WWE Championship. Benoit may be the best in-ring talent to never win the coveted belt, although he may have been slightly let down by his promo skills, which were nowhere near the elite level he showed in the ring.
6. Jake Roberts
Despite there being a plan for a huge Hulk Hogan vs Jake Roberts match planned, WWE never pulled the trigger on Jake the Snake and he retired from wrestling having never become a WWE Champion.
Very few commanded the crowd on the microphone like Jake Roberts. His quiet, gravelly voice demanded the crowd stayed quiet and listened to every one of his menacing words. He also invented the DDT, one of the most vicious and dangerous moves of it’s day.
He also brought to the ring his pet snake, Damian. Damian would be brought out in a brown sack, and would be unleashed on Roberts opponents after the match. He most famously but into the arm of Randy Savage, causing his arm to gush blood and made for some horrifying television.
Unfortunately, for all Jake Roberts talent in the ring, it was outside the ring that cost him his shot at the WWE Champion. Alcohol and drug issues stemming from a childhood riddled with abuse caused his downfall, although he is now living better and works as a manager for Lance Archer in All Elite Wrestling.
5. Christian Cage
Christian won World Championship in both WWE and TNA, but never managed to capture the WWE Championship.
One of the most talented wrestlers in the company, he won almost every other championship in WWE, even the ECW Championship. However, reports that Vince McMahon “Hated his face” was one of the reasons he may never have won the championship.
More likely than not, Vince McMahon just never saw him as a top guy. His best chance to win the Championship was against John Cena in 2005. Cena was the WWE Champion and biggest star in WWE. WWE certainly weren’t going to make him lose the belt at that time as they tried to build him into their own Hulk Hogan.
4. Owen Hart
The King of Hart’s was tragically taken from the world at Over the Edge 1999, when his harness for a stunt entrance broke and he fell to his death, aged just 34.
Arguably yet to hit his prime, Owen Hart is remembered as one of the great workers in wrestling who’s fast paced and technical style was years ahead of it’s time. His matches against brother Bret Hart are still lauded as some of the greatest matches of all time, even to this day.
Numerous wrestlers, including WWE star Kevin Owens, have admitted being incredibly influenced by the youngest Hart Brother. Owen Hart had the talent to become one of the all time greats in wrestling, but never got the main event push in the WWE before his untimely death.
Had WWE’s negligence not caused the death of Owen Hart, then he could have enjoyed a number of five star matches in the WWF Attitude Era, against other top workers like Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and more. He is certainly one of the best in-ring workers to never win the WWE Championship.
Despite his incredible career in WCW and NJPW, it was never quite Vader time in the WWE. The monster made a huge name for himself in NJPW, squashing legendary Japanese wrestler Antonio Inoki in debut match, causing literal riots.
In WCW, he was a former WCW Champion who brought terror and violence wherever he went. Few could make his combination of strength and speed, and he seemed a sure fire WWE Champion once he made his way to New York.
He most infamously faced Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship, but lost the match due to classic Heart Break Kid whining and backstage politics, and never really recovered his momentum after that.
His worst moment, and the one that killed the legends WWE career, came after his loss to Kane at King of the Ring 1998. After the match he was interviewed, and said the famous line which made everyone, including himself, lose faith in Big Van Vader.
“I ain’t nothing but a piece of shit. A BIG FAT piece of shit”.
For a man who terrorised every opponent he faced wherever he went, to be treated so poorly in WWE was disgusting. He is one of the biggest what-ifs in WWE history, and one of the biggest stars across the world to never win the WWE Championship.
2. Arn Anderson
“The Enforcer” Arn Anderson is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. He was the man behind the name of “The Four Horseman”, a multi-time TV and Tag Team champion who was known as the master of the dread Spine Buster.
However, when your the enforcer for one of the all-time greats like Ric Flair, the opportunity to become World Champion just doesn’t come along. He was saddled by being stuck with 16 time Champion Ric Flair, and was rarely given the opportunity to battle for the WWE, WCW or NWA Championship during his time as an active wrestler.
Anderson was forced to retire in 1997, aged just 39 as extensive injuries cut his career short. With many wrestlers wrestling well into their 50s, there was a hope that if he could continue wrestling, he could have won a world championship somewhere.
1. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Hearing the fact that Roddy Piper never won the WWE Championship will make you do another take. As one of the biggest stars in wrestling history and one of the greatest heels of all time, surely the “Hot Rod” lifted wrestling’s greatest prize?
Despite being Canadian (and one of the best Canadian wrestlers of all time), he portrayed a tough talking, sadistic Scotsman who loved a fight and loved cheating to win even more. What made him legendary was his skills on the mic, with his ability to turn a phrase making him one of the most must-see wrestlers of all time.
Piper created the “Piper’s Pit”, a talk show on WWE TV where he would invite wrestlers on to talk to them, insult them and even bash them over the head with a coconut. This innovate show earned Piper a lot of TV time, and mixed with his mic skills and in-ring ability made him an instant main event star in the WWE.
However, Roddy Piper never won the WWE Championship. The reasons for this were not always so obvious, but in recent years one possible explanation has come out. Piper refused to lose to Hulk Hogan and the Hulkster famously never pinned his rival. Piper wanted to protect his spot in the company and knew that once you lose to Hulk Hogan, your grasp on the main event quickly loosened.
It was a smart move, but cost him his WWE Championship. Vince McMahon saw that Piper was too selfish to put over Hulk Hogan, and did not trust him enough to put over the next champion should he give him a reign with the WWE Championship.
Luckily, the career of Roddy Piper was so great that the lack of WWE Championship is an insignificant footnote in the pages of one of the greatest wrestlers the WWE has ever seen.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.