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Cageside Countdown: The 20 Worst World Champions Ever (Part 1)

Another countdown so big, it needs two parts.

Here's a hard truth to swallow: while every wrestler has the potential to be a world champion if they really, really, really put their heart into it, not everyone is cut out to be world champion. In most every sport where championships are earned in the field of play and are hard-fought and won; in wrestling, championships are earned not just in the ring, but behind the scenes, and they can change on a promoter's whim in an instant.

Being a world champion means a major wrestling company has decided you're good enough to trust with their good name and reputation. That's a pretty big responsibility. But what is done during that period ultimately decides whether it was worth it. While there have been many, many, many good champions in the business, there have also been many, many, many bad ones.

Sometimes a champion has a bad run because of bad booking, making them look less deserving of the honor they had achieved. Sometimes an injury or other outside circumstance can cut a planned long championship run short. And sometimes, well... the man or woman holding it just plain sucks in the ring. Or behind the scenes. Or both.

But who is the worst world champion ever?

Earlier this week, we put the question to you, and holy shit you guys, you've responded overwhelmingly. A record number of comments in the nomination thread, with about 50 nominees cracking the ten rec barrier. We have quite the opinion on bad champions, don't we? Before we bring you the worst of the worst, here are...

11 honorable mentions. Or dishonorable considering the topic.

1. A late addition to the list, Matt Hardy's TNA world title win at Bound for Glory should have been a feel-good story; after all, he won the title with family and friends...and probably not many more people than that watching. But just two days later, the ex-champion Ethan Carter III files and injunction and Matt is forced to vacate the title, with a new champion to be determined in a FIFA World Cup-style tournament, where corruption will surely be rampant. And Matt will probably not win.

2. Stan Stasiak is known for two things: fathering waste of talent Shawn "Meat" Stasiak, and ending the nearly three-year reign of Pedro Morales as WWWF Champion. Ok, yeah, Stan "The Man" had a pretty sterling resume, but he's known for basically being the bridge from Morales to Bruno Sammartino, holding the WWWF Championship for just nine days.

3. Eric Young's unlikely rise to becoming the TNA World Heavyweight Champion would have made for a hell of a story...if WWE hadn't done it first. Wrestling fans saw right through TNA's plan of copying Daniel Bryan's Cinderella story. Almost no one bought into Eric Young as TNA world champion, especially since he was also the #2 storyline in the company behind the Dixie Carter-MVP squabble. Sounds a lot like the spring of 2014 in WWE now that I think about it.

4. For the first six months of his WWF run, Yokozuna was booked like a killer. He rampaged through a depleted company to become WWF Champion at Wrestlemania IX...and didn't even leave the champion, losing the title just two minutes later to Hulk Hogan. Though he did get it back two months later, he was a stopgap for the next man in line, Bret Hart. And the way Yokozuna lost it the second time was most humiliating.

5. Say what you will about Hogan's sudden WWF title win in 1993; at least he defeated the champion to win the title. You can't say that for Triple H's World Heavyweight Championship revival run. He was handed the title by Eric Bischoff, then proceeded to have a deathgrip on the championship, holding it for 80% of the time from its rebirth to Wrestlemania XX. Around that time, he got a lot of influence behind the scenes, meaning a lot of people got the shovel and dirt treatment on his watch.

6. When your world champion is getting death threats, you probably decided on a bad champion. Needing to get out of the disappointing Ultimate Warrior run, the WWF decided on a stop-gap solution instead of waiting for Wrestlemania VII and a possible Warrior-Hogan II. That solution: former GI Joe star turned American turncoat Sgt. Slaughter. The gamble of banking on the Gulf War backfired in so many ways, it affected WWF business for years to come.

7. If it's an Internet wrestling site, we must talk bad about one John Cena. Many argue his decade on top has been a detriment to the WWE. But seriously, he does have a few clunkers in his 15 world title runs: he has a one-night run in February 2010, losing it just moments after he won an elimination chamber match. His three-week run following Wrestlemania 25. His two and a half week run after the Summer of Punk. His surprising half-year long run in 2006. But the two most people give out about are his first WWE Championship run, which drew the ire of the Internet after he beat Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and Christian in succession in the summer of 2005, and his 12 and a half month run in 2006 and 2007 that was only ended by injury. Think about it. If it weren't for a botched hiptoss, Cena's run could have gone to 400 days. Maybe even 500. I don't think the IWC would have recovered.

8. When Michael Elgin won the Ring of Honor World Championship, it struck to many as an odd decision by management. Just as odd: he dropped the title just two and a half months later, which is hardly standard operating procedure for the now-Baltimore based independent. Allegedly, Elgin butted heads with management and expressed his desire to play baseball, causing the company to pull the plug on Elgin as the face of ROH. Or other nickname as I prefer but will not say.

9. At least Elgin's trajectory to the world title seemed like a natural one. John "Bradshaw" Layfield's rise to world title glory: not so much. At best a career mid-carder and solid tag team wrestler, JBL changed his gimmick from beer-drinking, ass-kicking mercenary for hire to cowardly businessman following Wrestlemania XX and within two months of the change was WWE Champion. The decision was a business killer, as revenue and attendance dropped to levels not seen since the Diesel era in the mid-1990s. And let's be honest: Paul Heyman was right: JBL only got that run because Triple H didn't want to work Tuesdays.

10. The Bellas are a much contentious topic when it comes to title reigns. Nikki's 10-month run that ended last month caused much controversy and head-scratching. Probably not nearly as much as Brie Bella's 10-week run back in 2011. You don't even remember that run, do you? I can't blame you. Brie may have simply gotten the title on the strength of...well, it's her turn with the belt now, everyone decent has had it. For the record, her ten-week run ended at the hands of someone else who will appear in this countdown.

11. When you kill dead the hottest feud in the company with your world title reign for the sole purpose of making sure fans don't cheer for who they want to, you're a bad champion. Case in point: Alberto Del Rio's totally unnecessary WWE Championship runs (plural) in 2011. Shoehorned into the CM Punk-John Cena feud, Del Rio's two reigns in 2011 were the E's attempt to make the second-generation wrestler that not a lot of people cared about a main eventer before he was ready. Plus it forced us to watch CM Punk lose to Triple H. That's a crime worse than murder. (Actually, it is not. But you get where I'm getting at.)

Bad champions they are all, but they are not the worst ever. Wait, Eddie Mac. If not them, who? Well, I'm glad you asked. Here they are...

The 20 worst world champions in wrestling history.

(as voted by you, the Cagesiders. So this is your fault if you don't agree with the list.)

20. Debra.

The WWE Womens Championship has some pretty spectacular history. Trish Stratus. Lita. Wendi Richter. Mickie James. Beth Phoenix. Alundra Blayze. Bull Nakano. Debra McMichael.

One of these names is not like the others.

On May 10, 1999, Debra was the designated challenger for the WWF Womens Championship against Sable. In an evening gown match. An evening gown match that Debra lost. So how did she end up with the women's title? Wikipedia, take it away.

Sable had defeated Debra in the match but Commissioner Shawn Michaels stated that Debra was the winner because she had lost her dress and awarded the championship to her.

Don't look at me like that. That's exactly how it happened. It's right there in the video. But in reality, it was a stopgap move, as Sable had become quite the headache behind the scenes. Sable soon left the WWF altogether, leaving Debra as a placeholder champion. A spot she would hold by the way for an entire month. Fans didn't let this fly in 1999; I can only imagine if WWE tried something like this in 2015.

19. Stephanie McMahon.

Well, we didn't have to wait long to find out now, did we?  I think fans would actually warm up to a brief Stephanie McMahon title reign in 2015. Maybe. In 2000... not so much.

From the company that brought you Shane McMahon, European Champion and Vince McMahon, WWF Champion comes Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, WWF Womens Champion. On March 28, 2000, Stephanie with help from her McMahon-Helmsley Regime buddies, defeated Jacqueline, who was, you know, a pretty damn competent wrestler, for the title. She held it for nearly five agonizing months, defending it just twice.

Steph back then was basically just a step above Sable in terms of wrestling level in that she actually was willing to take bumps. If her last name wasn't McMahon, she probably wouldn't have been anywhere near the title, much less held it for five months. It kinda made us long for the days of Sable.

Ok, not really.

18. The Miz.

I mentioned earlier that while anyone in theory could be a world champion if they put their mind to it, in reality, not everyone can nor should be a world champion. Case in point, one Michael Mizanin. Don't get me wrong: he had a red-hot heel run in 2010. Know who else had a red-hot heel run in 2010? CM Punk, who was stuck on Smackdown, and the night of Miz's Money in the Bank cash-in and subsequent world title win, in the commentary table.

Miz at no point looked like a legitimate world champion, or at least one who could be the legitimate top heel. His big feuds as champion were with a 61-year old Jerry Lawler and John Cena, and you know how a John Cena feud ends. And he was the third wheel in a John Cena-The Rock feud. After his disappointing performance at Wrestlemania XXVII, the E rightly pulled the plug and shunted him back to the midcard, where he's been ever since. And...sorry, Miz fans, that's where he belongs.

17. Jeff Jarrett.

You may know him as the man that "broke 6,000 guitars and never drew a dime". Sorry, that's one of my favorite lines in the history of anything.

The son of a promoter, Jeff Jarrett has in his best days been a solid hand. Someone that can give a decent to good match, but not quite good enough to carry a promotion. This is something Vince McMahon realized, as he topped out as Intercontinental Champion in the WWF. Six times. Though he never main evented, that's a pretty damn good career.

For Jeff Jarrett, it wasn't enough. In late 1999, Jarrett followed his buddy Vince Russo to WCW (at a time when the flow of talent went the other way), and was immediately thrust into the main event. It took a few months, but Jarrett would win his first world title in April 2000. A championship he would lose just a week later. He'd go on to win the title three more times over the next six weeks. Think about that: all of Jarrett's world title wins in WCW (four of them) came within a span of two months. Total length of reigns: 58 days. That alone would give him bad champion status.

But he took it to another level when he founded TNA in 2002. You thought Triple H's reign of terror was bad? Jeff Jarrett was much, much worse. He would hold TNA's top prize, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for 1,006 of the first 1,460 days of TNA's existence, including a nearly full year run in 2004 and 2005. That's nearly 70%. A fresh from the WWF Raven, Ron "The Truth" Killings, AJ Styles, Monty Brown, and Chris Harris were among those that got the Jarrett shovel, but perhaps most offensive was Rhino, who won three matches in one night to win the TNA world title, only to lose it just days before their Spike TV debut because "he wasn't big enough a star to carry the promotion to the new show". Black pot: hey black kettle. Jarrett's a career midcarder who thought way too highly of his place in the wrestling world and brought a company (and a lot of talents) down with it.

And he's working on a second.

16. Brock Lesnar's IWGP Heavyweight Championship run.

For those of you who thought Brock just went away after he quit WWF and washed out in the NFL (and I was once upon a time one of those people), well consider the following a history lesson.

After quitting WWE, Brock appeared at a New Japan Pro Wrestling show, and WWE didn't like this a whole lot, considering his contract prohibited him from working with any other wrestling company until June 2010. WWE sues Brock, Brock sues WWE, the two sides eventually settle in 2006, allowing Brock to work anywhere he wanted. So Brock went to New Japan. And it was during the era of Inoki-ism, that crazy era in the early and mid-aughts that brought the company down. I'll let Cagesider Dave Walsh take it from here.

The Zero-One split had happened, wrestlers were testing themselves in MMA left and right to try to appease Inoki and the product itself was stale. After Yuji Nagata's epic, history 10-defense IWGP run happened the title was literally tossed around from one person to the next in an attempt to find a star — ANY STAR — and nobody fit the bill. The year 2004 alone saw the title swap between Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Kensuke Sasaki, Bob Sapp, Kaz Fujita, back to Sasaki and then back to Tenzan. Oh yeah, and Sapp never lost the belt, he vacated it because he lost a fight in K-1 and never came back. That could make him the worst champion, but Brock Lesnar holds a special place on this list.

The search for NJPW's new ace was over and it was clear; BLOCKU LESUNAHH. He came in like a wrecking ball (pre-Miley so fuck off) and destroyed everyone in his path in what were pathetic, listless, unimaginative and passionless squash matches. Brock was even calling the F5 the "Verdict" at the time to honor the court's decision to release him from his WWE contract and allow him to work outside. Brock had no desire to be in wrestling but Inoki was throwing so much money at him that he felt like he had no other real choice but to take the money at the time. So Brock became champion.

Somehow there were title defenses, but then Brock had visa problems. Those visa problems meant he couldn't go to Japan to work. For some reason (Inoki, most likely) he refused to turn the belt over. For the first time in history New Japan's International World Grand Prix title was not in their control — AT ALL. Lesnar would defend that title, but it was in Inoki's IGF ring. All of this while Brock was preparing to make the jump to MMA. That belt found its way home to New Japan a full two years later when [Shinsuke] Nakamura defeated [Kurt] Angle for it, but that did more to dilute and ruin the title than perhaps any other title reign in modern history has done to a world championship of that caliber.

All of this because Brock Lesnar was mad, looking for easy paydays and looking to leave wrestling.

Just a gut feeling: if Brock were to do it over, he'd probably have this part of his life back. But hey, the check cleared, right?

15. Hulk Hogan's WCW world title runs.

Hulk Hogan had bad world title reigns? You don't say! But seriously, it seemed that every Hogan world title reign in the 1990s had at least some degree of blemish or controversy. We'll focus on his WCW runs here.

  • His first world title might have legitimized WCW as an international promotion, but he was often not around during his 469-day run (the longest in the championship's history) due to other commitments or "other commitments". Oh, and he only dropped the title on a disqualification loss.
  • Twice, Hulk Hogan runs preceded one-day Macho Man Randy Savage runs. Twice. Both times, Savage beat the hot babyface of the moment, then did the end around and beat Savage for the belt without beating the hot babyface of the moment. That's some serious creative control BS.
  • He has another run where he held it for 500 of 505 days from August 1996 to Starrcade in December 1997. In between, a five-day Lex Luger run that might as well not exist.
  • But perhaps his magnum opus in terms of the WCW title and creative control was the infamous Fingerpoke of Doom. Hogan disappears for six weeks, returns in street clothes, pokes Kevin Nash, wins world title, basically pissing on its legacy for the sake of his own.

Hogan's insatiable thirst to be on top in WCW created a culture that ultimately brought the company down. And mind you, WCW probably knew this when they put pen to paper. I mean, did they pay attention to even recent history?

14. Hulk Hogan's 1993 WWF Championship run.

If they did, they would realize just how much Hulk Hogan loved his "creative control" and being on top, even if he didn't deserve it. Case in point: 1993. The WWF was still reeling from the initial wave of the steroid scandal (not realizing the worst was yet to come). About a year and a half earlier, Hogan, not quite realizing that being honest and contrite would probably get the public to forgive sooner than later, went on The Arsenio Hall Show and lied through his teeth about his use of performance-enhancing drugs.

It didn't matter to McMahon: WWF revenue was taking a nose dive and he needed someone to pull it back from the abyss. That someone would be Hulk Hogan. He returned just in time for Wrestlemania IX and his bout, a tag title match with he and Brutus Beefcake against Money Inc., was promoted over the WWF Championship match between Bret Hart and Yokozuna. We probably should have seen what was coming next. Hogan and Beefcake celebrate despite losing by disqualification, then an hour later, Yokozuna, who defeated Hart for the WWF title, loses to Hogan in 22 seconds, at the time the fastest championship match in WWF history. Hogan's the WWF Champion for the fifth time.

Though most don't like the idea of the Hulkster being champion, a "unique opportunity" was in place: the face of the previous era could pass the torch to the face of the new one.

Except that's not what happened.

Hogan doesn't show up for work. Not once. Basically a few pre-taped interviews, probably done over a one- or two-day period. That's the extent of his appearances as champion. He never once appeared in front of a live crowd. At least not in the States. But there he was in Japan, calling the WWF title a toy. Hogan also thought that Bret Hart was too small to draw, brother, so he nixes the planned Hogan-Hart dream match for Summerslam, instead jobbing the belt back to Yokozuna at King of the Ring.

So Hogan basically twists a desperate McMahon's arm, killing any short- and long-term plans the company may have had, just so he could feed his own ego once more. He gets the WWF Championship for ten weeks and does absolutely nothing of significance with it. In the words of OSW Review's Jay Hunter, what a c***.

13. Seth Rollins.

An interesting case, as this reign is actually in progress. But many sure did have high hopes for it.

Unfortunately, he's been booked like anything but a world champion. At least a strong world champion. Or a heel world champion. Sure, there are the moments when he's dependent on others to retain (we see that with a lot of heel champions). But when you're a heel, you're expected to talk. A lot. Seth's not exactly a talker; he's a guy that does amazing flippy shit, which is something you probably shouldn't be doing as a heel. Crowds LOVE flippy shit. It never fails to please a crowd. EVER.

His most meaningful feuds since winning the world title have been with Randy Orton, John Cena, and Kane, three guys who were main eventing in the last decade. He's yet to significantly engage in the two men that he beat to win the world title.

TL;DR: His booking since he won the big prize has been atrocious, leading in part to television ratings being down year-to-year. He had world title talent, but he may have not been ready for the burden that came with it. You know, where Roman Reigns was a year ago. Under most any circumstance, his title reign would have had the plug pulled on it by now. But instead, they intend to see through this to the end, which for many fans, cannot come fast enough.

12. Vince McMahon's 1999 WWF Championship run.

In one of Vince Russo's final acts in creative, he came up with the idea of putting the WWF Champion on the company's boss. Because of course.

In September 1999, McMahon was feuding with Triple H, who was rising quickly as a top heel in the company. Hunter around this time rubbed everyone the wrong way, friend or foe. And that included La Familia McMahon, and you don't mess with La Familia McMahon. Despite being blooded and beaten nearly to death, with his wife Linda and Shane watching (and refereeing), Vince won the WWF Championship. At age 54. At a time when the company was emphasizing the youth of the WWF over WCW's old stogies.

Forget how hypocritical this is, this is the height of nepotism, putting the belt on yourself just because you run the place. This was hardly new, even in 1999; pretty sure many small-time independents did it. If anything came good of it, McMahon got off the championship train the first opportunity he got, vacating it less than a week later without defending it once...only to end up in Triple H's hands again. It made for a good story, but it might as well have never happened.

11. Jeff Hardy's first two TNA world title runs.

Ok, this must be said: Jeff Hardy is not cut out to be a heel. He's just not. As mentioned in the Seth Rollins part, as a heel, expectations change. Less flippy shit, more chatty chat. Like Rollins, Jeff doing flips and dives was his strong suit. Talking: not so much.

Upon winning the TNA world heavyweight championship in October 2010 and becoming one of the (background, because let's be honest, it was all about Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff) faces of Immortal, Hardy called himself "the antichrist of pro wrestling". Something I believe one Kevin Steen was using around this time. Aside from his incoherent promos, Hardy was on at least one occasion, ACTUALLY incoherent in the ring.

Many of you know of his infamous Victory Road 2011 match that basically put his main event push on hold for a year, but not nearly as many knew of what went down a few months earlier. He was reportedly in "no condition to perform" prior to his Final Resolution 2010 match with Matt Morgan was nearly sent home. Ultimately, he wasn't punished, much less reprimanded in any way, so basically TNA allowed their world champion to get away with performing drunk, high, or both as long as it was good for business. He would lose the title to Mr. Anderson at the next PPV, Genesis, only for Hardy to win it back a few weeks later. Not only was he not punished for his behavior, he might as well have been rewarded.

That's not good for business, and I'll tell you why. When you wrestle, you basically put another person's life in your hands. It's a dance, you see. I take care of you, you take care of me. When you're shitfaced, you're pretty much in no condition to operate machinery, much less put another person's life in your hands. Though he has won a world title since then, it's simply hard to trust Jeff Hardy as the face of a company because he's just so reckless. It's not if he will slip up again, it's when.


So I bet you're wondering who are the worst world champions of all time are, aren't you? Well, you'll have to wait a little longer. The top 10 comes your way Monday.

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