Eleven men into this list and we finally get to the first two-time WWE champion… barely. Though Batista had previously enjoyed several runs with the World Heavyweight Championship, it wasn’t until 2009 that he got his first taste of the WWE title. Having been drafted to the Raw brand shortly after Wrestlemania XXV, Batista quickly established himself as the number one contender to Randy Orton’s title. After a non-finish at Judgment Day (which saw Orton slap the referee to deliberately get himself disqualified to retain the belt), a rematch was booked for the inaugural Extreme Rules pay per view, inside the confines of a steel cage. Despite not being able to match Orton’s quickness and agility, Batista won the day through raw power when he caught Orton with the Batista Bomb. Big Dave was the new champion… right up until the next night’s Raw, when he was forced to vacate the title due to an injury sustained the night before. I know, Batista suffering an injury during a match? Who would have thought?
The Animal managed to redeem himself somewhat in early 2010. Following a highly successful heel turn, Batista got himself in Vince McMahon’s good graces by attacking McMahon’s hated enemy Bret Hart. In return, McMahon secretly offered Batista a shot at the WWE title, which Batista exercised to challenge John Cena mere moments after Cena had won the belt in a gruelling thirty minute Elimination Chamber match.
In the following weeks, Batista and Cena engaged in a complex game of cat and mouse, in which the Animal invariably seemed to end up with the upper hand. Nevertheless, Cena claimed to see a chink in the champion’s armour; Cena claimed that Batista feared him, and his actions were those of a desperate man. Cena got his rematch for the title in the penultimate match at Wrestlemania XXVI. Though Batista initially dominated his opponent, Cena managed to turn the tide and eventually forced Batista to submit to the STF to regain his championship; miraculously, Batista somehow managed to tap out without suffering a major hand or wrist injury.
29) Buddy Rogers
In the beginning of 1963, “The Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers was the reigning NWA World Heavyweight Champion, having defeated Pat O’Connor for the strap in front of a record-breaking crowd of over 38,000 die-hard fans. Though Rogers was a consistent draw and a talented performer, his status as the NWA’s top dog was highly controversial with wrestlers and promoters alike. Not only did Rogers have a reputation for taking advantage of his opponents in the ring, he was also firmly controlled by Vince McMahon Sr. and Toots Mondt’s Capital Wrestling Corporation, who monopolized Rogers’ dates and kept him from appearing at other NWA promotions’ key shows. Eventually, the decision was made to take the belt off of Rogers; to ensure that the Nature Boy didn’t decide to go into business for himself, NWA fixture Lou Thesz was chosen to be Rogers’ successor, as Thesz was both a trusted figure within the industry and could legitimately wrestle circles around anyone who decided to give him a hard time.
Rogers pulled out of the first two planned matches against Thesz, leading NWA president Sam Muschnik to threaten to donate to charity the $25,000 deposit Rogers had put down when he won the belt. Faced with the possibility of losing such a hefty chunk of change, Rogers became much easier to work with. On January 23rd, in the great city of Toronto, Thesz defeated Rogers for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in a single fall match; a match that would turn out to be arguably the most important in all of professional wrestling history.
In protest of their top draw being removed as champion, McMahon and Mondt immediately withdrew Capital Wrestling from the NWA, re-launching weeks later as the newly rebranded World Wide Wrestling Federation. Newly named WWWF president Willie Gilzenberg soon made the official announcement that although a match involving Rogers had taken place in Canada, due to the single-fall stipulation (unusual in an era of best two-of-three fall title matches) the WWWF wasn’t recognizing it as a championship match; as such, Rogers was declared the inaugural WWWF Champion.
Rogers reign as WWWF champ was cut short just one month later when he was defeated by McMahon and Mondt’s new golden boy, Bruno Sammartino. The circumstances behind Rogers’ loss are mired in controversy to this day. Rogers claimed right up until his death that he had suffered a heart attack shortly before the match was set to take place, and Mondt had all but dragged him out of a hospital bed to face Sammartino. On the other hand, Sammartino flat out denies that there was anything wrong with Rogers, alleging that Rogers simply didn’t want to lose the title and refused to work a proper match, using his later claims of physical infirmity to cover for his disappointing showing. Whatever the case, Rogers lasted just a scant forty-eight seconds against Sammartino before the WWWF championship slipped from his grasp, never to be regained. It was an inauspicious end to the first title reign in the WWWF’s history, though perhaps fitting foreshadowing to the controversies that would surround the title in decades to come.
28) Sycho Sid
Few wrestlers can boast a career as uneven as that of Sid Eudy (better known as Sid Vicious, Sycho Sid, Sid Justice or of course, Lord Humongous). Sid’s career has been defined by dizzying highs and embarrassing lows, ill-timed injuries, aborted angles and the occasional squeegee or scissors related assault. Though nearly all wrestlers have their ups and downs, few can boast that in the span of just over half a decade they went from the main event of Wrestlemania to a feuding with Henry O. Godwinn, and back again.
After bounding in and out of the main event and upper mid card positions in the WWF, WCW and the United States Wrestling Association for several years, Sid’s big break came in the second half of 1996. Having recently returned from injury to team up with Shawn Michaels and Ahmed Johnson at In Your House: International Incident, Sid defeated Vader to become the number one contender to the WWF title, held by Sid’s friend and ally Michaels. The two men faced off in a match at Survivor Series 1996, with Michaels’ mentor Jose Lothario cheering on the champ from ringside. During the match, Sid turned on the Heart Break Kid by hitting both him and Lothario with a television camera, eventually pinning Michaels with a brutal Powerbomb to capture the WWF championship.
Though Sid’s actions were clearly those of a heel, his betray was met with a huge babyface pop; unfortunately, the shine of sid as the champion quickly began to wear off, as the WWF fell deeper into a massive slump that had already been wearing away at the company’s ratings and attendance figures for some time. By the time Michaels got his rematch at the 1997 Royal Rumble, the WWF couldn’t even get a sell out crowd in front in Michaels’ own home town; in order to fill the arena, the WWF was forced to give away thousands of free tickets, and the show garnered the lowest buy rate in Royal Rumble history. The end of the match saw Michaels overcoming Sid’s physically dominant style, pinning the big man with Sweet Chin Music to regain the WWF Championship.
Considering the lacklustre nature of Sid’s two month title reign, it seemed unlikely that he would be getting another shot at the big time anytime soon. Fate works in mysterious ways though, as just weeks later, Michaels threw everything out of whack when he “Lost His Smile”, forcing the WWF to shuffle their plans for the upcoming Wrestlemania XIII. A four way elimination match was booked wherein Bret Hart won the vacant WWF championship. A day later on Monday Night Raw, Bret was forced to defend the belt against Sycho Sid. Thanks to some liberal interference from Hart’s hated rival Stone Cold Steve Austin, Sid managed to walk away with his second WWF title. He was quickly paired with the Undertaker for his Wrestlemania title defence. At the big event, thanks to some payback interference from the vengeful Hart, Sid became just another name on the Phenom’s Wrestlemania streak checklist. Lucky for Sid, not that many people saw his big loss- as with the Royal Rumble two months before, Wrestlemania XIII was a tremendous flop, going down as the least-watched Wrestlemania of all time.
With two lame duck championships to his name, at a time when the WWF wasn’t drawing money or viewers, it seems unlikely that Sid will ever see his way to a third WWF title run, but mark his words, he will main event Wrestlemania again. What, you don’t think he can do it?
27) The Big Show
When Paul Wight debuted in the WWF in early 1999 it looked as though he had a bright future ahead of him, as he was immediately plugged into the main angle at the time, the ongoing war between Vince McMahon and Steve Austin. By the fall though, Wight (by then known as The Big Show) found himself in midcard purgatory, embroiled in go-nowhere feud with the Big Boss Man, best remembered for the Boss Man’s antics at Show’s father’s funeral. At Survivor Series, Big Show faced off Team Boss Man in a four-on-one elimination match (a result of Show attacking his own would-be teammates before the event). Despite being outnumbered, Show dominated the match, eliminating the Boss Man’s three cronies one after another in less than a minute, before chasing the Boss Man out of the ring for a count out victory.
That same show was set to feature a Triple Threat main event, with Steve Austin and the Rock challenging Triple H for the WWF championship. Shortly before the match though, Austin was struck by a speeding car in the arena parking lot leaving him too injured to compete (as part of a storyline to give Austin time off to recuperate from several nagging injuries). Due to his dominant performance in his earlier match, the Big Show was chosen to replace Austin in the main event. During the title match, the Big Show and the Rock each had the title won at several points, but would inevitably find themselves stymied by an unconscious referee or interference from Triple H’s D-Generation X cronies. In the end, Vince McMahon came out to even the odds by blasting Triple H in the head with the title belt, allowing Big Show to put him away with a Chokeslam to become the new WWF Champion.
Despite McMahon’s well-known affinity for hulking behemoths, the Big Show was booked as a less than credible champion. His feud with the Big Boss Man dragged on to one final pay-per-view, Armageddon 1999. Big Show scored the decisive win with a Chokeslam, but the title match was a laughable three-minute affair, greatly overshadowed by Armageddon‘s real main event, a half-hour long No Holds Barred match between McMahon and his hated son-in-law Triple H. Just weeks later, on the first Raw is War of 2000, Trips defeated the Big Show to regain his WWF title.
After a rocky couple of years, Big Show got another chance to rise to the top. As a new arrival to the Smackdown brand, he immediately became the top contender to Brock Lensar’s WWE championship. Though Lesnar had presented as an unstoppable juggernaut of destruction since the very moment he first showed his disturbingly childish face on WWF television, the story leading into Survivor Series 2002 was that he might have finally found his kryptonite in the Big Show. Though Lesnar maintained a supreme confidence in his own abilities, his manager Paul Heyman seemed less sold on the matter; at Survivor Series Heyman betrayed Lesnar, siding with the Big Show and practically gift-wrapping the WWE championship for his new giant client.
Unlike with his first run, Big Show was treated with a new respect and seriousness as champion, as Heyman (who was also Smackdown’s head booker at the time) quietly transformed Show into the frighteningly powerful physical specimen he always should have been. Despite his newfound focus, Show’s second reign was even shorter than his first, as he was defeated at Armageddon just a month later by Kurt Angle, following interference by Lesnar.
Though it would be hard to argue that the Big Show made any kind of a lasting impact as champion, in the end, maybe that’s for the best. Like Andre the Giant before him, Show’s entire appeal as a potential draw is tied to his size and physicality. He doesn’t need the belt, and the belt doesn’t really do anything for him. With it having now been eight years since the last time as champion, the WWE seems to have come to the conclusion that the Big Show works best as a perennial contender, and a proving ground for up and coming wrestlers hungry to make a name for themselves.
26) The Ultimate Warrior
The year was 1990. After three years of babbling incoherently, running to the ring, shaking the ropes and having crappy matches, the Ultimate Warrior was inexplicably one of the most popular babyfaces in the WWF. Many saw him as Hulk Hogan’s logical successor as the top star in North America- which I suppose makes sense, because when it comes to having a great look and zero skill in the ring, Warrior out-Hulked the Hulkster. At Wrestlemania VI, the Man of a Thousand Tassels finally got his shot at Hogan’s championship, in a match billed as “The Ultimate Challenge”. Though the match was largely forgettable (to be kind), the finish was an important one- using his Warrior Splash, the Ultimate Warrior became one of the few men to ever score a clean fall on Hogan. It was a clear passing of the torch moment- or at least, it should have been, but of course Hogan is well known for snatching that torch right back again whenever it suits him to do so.
Once the cheering and festivities had died down, and Dan Lovranski had his fill of yelling at heartbroken children, the WWF was left with a tiny problem- as a wrestler, the Warrior was still the shits. To protect the champs many glaring weaknesses in the ring, the WWF paired him up with some of the finest workers of the era, most notably “Ravishing” Rick Rude and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, who helped to ensure that the Warrior’s reign didn’t turn into a complete unmitigated disaster. Eventually of course, the Warrior lost the title to Sergeant Slaughter at the 1991 Royal Rumble, and mercifully he proved to be far too unreliable and unstable for anyone outside of Spain to ever trust him with a championship again. Moving right along…
Over the years, WWE has seen many young stars go through meteoric rises, but not many can claim to have captured the WWE championship within six months of debuting in the company, or to have held the title twice within their first year. Ever since being brought up from WWE’s Florida Championship Wrestling farm league at the end of June 2009, Seamus has been a dominant force first on the ECW brand, then on Raw. For weeks on end, Sheamus obliterated everything in his path as he enjoyed a monster push based on his impressive physique and a strong work ethic… and the fact that he was Triple H’s workout partner didn’t exactly hurt Sheamus’ career aspirations either.
In November 2009, Raw guest host Jesse Ventura booked a “Break Through Battle Royal” to determine a new number one contender to the WWE title from a crop of hungry young stars who had never before held the title. Sheamus ended up winning the match, and at the contract signing later in the show he quickly asserted himself against champion John Cena by driving him through a table. Three weeks later, at the inaugural TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs pay per view, Sheamus and Cena faced off in a Tables match for the WWE title. After fifteen minutes of solid back and forth action, Cena seemed poised to win, setting Sheamus up for an Attitude Adjustment off the top rope. However, Sheamus slipped loose, and after a short struggle both men were send crashing down to Earth. Sheamus landed hard outside the ring, while Cena fell back into the ring, directly through a waiting table. Though it was seen by most as a fluke victory, Sheamus had none the less accomplished the impressive feat of capturing the WWE championship a mere 166 days after his debut.
Sheamus’ reputation as a fluke champion wasn’t helped by his subsequent defences against Cena and Randy Orton, matches which Sheamus lost via disqualification (which of course meant that he nonetheless retained the belt). At February 2010’s Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, Sheamus entered the chamber against five challengers, only to be eliminated by Triple H (in a match Cena would eventually go on to win). With Wrestlemania XXVI looming, Sheamus became sidetracked from the title hunt, instead engaging in a violent feud with Triple H that ended with Hunter being sidelined for over eight months (to date). Soon after though, Sheamus found himself back in title contention and at June’s Fatal Four-Way show he regained the WWE title from John Cena, courtesy of interference by the newly arrived Nexus. A month later at Money in the Bank, Sheamus retained the title in a cage match against Cena (again courtesy of the Nexus) before dropping the belt to Orton at Night of Champions in September.
Though Sheamus’s two title runs were both relatively short, both were solid reigns, and with his recent victory in the 2010 King of the Ring tournament, one would think he’d be set to remain a fixture in the WWE’s upper echelon for the foreseeable future. At least, that’s what we all thought until Kevin Dunn got a mad-on for him all of a sudden. But what the hell, Sheamus first showed up on ECW less than two years ago- maybe he’ll bounce back, and the WWE will once again be hit by his Irish Curse.