When it comes to pro wrestling, it’s always fun for fans to debate on all different kinds of topics. One that I like to discuss with other fans is the “what ifs” of wrestling-thinking about the things that could have been, and what might be different today had they actually occurred. While fans like to discuss the what ifs, it’s a pretty safe assumption that “What if (insert name) had become world champion?” usually ranks at the top of the discussion topics list.
I know I’ve personally had this discussion with other fans numerous times in my life, and I always find it interesting to see who other fans consider to be the best “uncrowned pro wrestling champions“. So, without further adieu, here is my list of guys who could have or should have been world champion, but for whatever reason, never quite made it. Skills in the ring were not always taken into consideration for this list (although it does play a factor on several occasions).
Like many before him, Andrew “Test” Martin was pegged as a can’t miss prospect, and with good reason. Although Test was far from great in the ring, he was honestly one of the best big man wrestlers of the era. His moves were crisp, he was very agile, and actually had one of the better all-around movesets for a guy his size. It didn’t hurt that Bret Hart helped train him, either. He was never the best speaker, but if put with the right mouthpiece like a Paul Heyman or a Jim Cornette, he had a chance to be something special. However, for whatever reason, it never happened. Test never made it past the mid-card, despite always seemingly on the cusp of a main event push. Honestly, I think a lot of it had to do with his name. “Test” doesn’t exactly scream marketability.
When you combine it with his lack of speaking skills or a snappy catchphrase, Test never seemed to quite get over with the crowd. After being released by WWE, it appeared things might turn around. He showed up in TNA, now going by the name Andrew “The Punisher” Martin. So, he now had a killer nickname, a fresh plate of opponents, and a company that absolutely loves pushing wrestlers fired by WWE. To some, it seemed like Martin might finally catch that big break. However, he was released after just a few appearances due to TNA being investigated by U.S. Congress in regards to its athletes using drugs. Unfortunately for Martin, he was always huge and was very likely on some form of performance enhancing drug at the time. Sadly, Martin died in 2009 at only 33 years old, and the world never got to see if he would ever live up to his potential.
9. Sean O’Haire
From the moment I saw O’Haire, I had this feeling he was going to be a major star. He had the look and the right intensity, as well as incredible agility for a big man. Not only that, he had a background in mixed martial arts, giving him credibility. It’s no secret that pro wrestling has a love affair with legitimate bad asses, and O’Haire definitely fit the bill. Although he debuted in WCW at a time when the company was on its death bed, things were looking up. As Eric Bischoff was looking to be buying WCW and completely overhauling it, Sean O’Haire was set to be a big part of the newly revamped company, with rumors stating that he would be crowned the first world champion under the new regime. Before that could happen though, WCW was bought by Vince McMahon for practically nothing, putting the kibosh on the plans for O’Haire. However, his contract was included in the deal McMahon picked up, so all was not lost. After a few appearances on WWF television during the miserably failed Invasion angle, O’Haire was taken off TV for fine tuning.
When he came back a year-and-a-half or so later, O’Haire was repackaged with a very awesome gimmick. He was basically playing devil’s advocate, encouraging fans to not only continue living their lives of sin, but to also be open about their sinful behavior because they were going to do things they wanted anyway. He parlayed this into segments with then-WWE talent like Brian Kendrick and Dawn Marie, encouraging them to do things like streaking and flashing the crowd in order to get noticed. He ended every promo with the now-infamous catchphrase, “I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.” Everything was in place, and he even was briefly paired with legend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper to give him an extra rub. Not a bad idea, as Piper was a phenomenal heel back in the day and could still cut a killer promo. However, one incredibly lame feud with Mr. America later, and it was all over. O’Haire floundered in the mid-card before being released with barely a whimper. One has to wonder who O’Haire pissed off to see such promise get shut down in short order. His wrestling career never recovered, and he has since gone into kickboxing and MMA, seeing little to no success in either.
8. Arn Anderson
Anderson never had the greatest look when it comes to marketability, but he had every other tool an aspiring wrestler could hope for. He was a technical wizard in the ring whose moves were as smooth as butter and cut some of the most beautiful, eloquent promos you’ve ever heard in your life. A lot of people have said a lack of charisma held him back. I disagree. Anderson was actually highly charismatic, just not in the typical sense one normally thinks. Being flashy is not the only way a wrestler can be charismatic. Anderson was had a very quiet charisma. He didn’t need to yell and scream to get his point across; rather, he would cut very low-toned, intelligent promos telling his opponents exactly what he would do to them and how he’d do it.
He would then go out to the ring and proceed to wrestle circles around nearly the entire roster, regardless of the promotion he was working for. Anderson could have been a phenomenal world champion, especially during the 80’s when many fans still clamored for his classic style of wrestling. However, he instead was almost exclusively a tag team wrestler and seemed happy sticking to being Ric Flair’s number one guy. That’s all well and good, but I still like to think that, had he been given a chance at least once to run with the NWA world title, he could have been a phenomenal champion.
7. Davey Boy Smith
I don’t think I really need to explain this one. Smith got his start as a tag team wrestler, but when forced to go single, Smith made the very smooth transition into singles wrestling. He was muscular, handsome, charismatic, and trained in what many consider to be the most successful wrestling school in history, the Hart Family Dungeon. As a result of his training, he was not only a power wrestler, but a much better technical wrestler than the average big man, allowing him to work with a variety of opponents. After taking a couple years off from the WWF, he returned to the company in 1994 and seemed to be on the verge of finally breaking into the upper echelon, as he had never quite made it in the past. After a heel turn a year later, he was closer than ever to finally being world champion, as he was immediately thrown into a feud with then WWF Champion Diesel. He came up short in the feud (although, had the WWF put the belt on him during the feud, they might have had a better year.
Diesel’s run as champion nearly bankrupt the company, as no one was paying to see him wrestle), but continued to stay in the main event. Although he should have won the belt then, and did in fact defeat Diesel on PPV (albeit via DQ), he was given another chance at the end of the year as real-life brother-in-law Bret Hart was now WWF Champion, setting up a rematch from their Summerslam classic 3 years before. Bret won the match, and that was the last time Smith got close to the WWF title for many years. He stayed in the main event scene for the most part, but title matches were few and far between. He was given one more chance a few years later in 1999-2000, but by that time, Smith was a shell of his former self as years of substance abuse-both recreational and performance-enhancing-had completely destroyed him physically. Vince McMahon couldn’t risk putting the belt on someone with such obvious drug problems, and two years later, he was found dead of a steroid-related heart attack.
6. Owen Hart
I’m not going to go into too many details on this one, as thinking of Owen still makes me sad to this very day. Needless to say, Owen was the youngest of the famed Hart family and, in terms of ability, second to only brother Bret. Owen was unbelievable in the ring, charismatic as holy hell and funny to boot. During his 1994 feud with then-WWF Champion Bret, Owen always came up short, but just barely. In every title match he had with Bret, he nearly won the belt on countless occasions, but Bret always proved to be the better man on that night.
After the classic feud, for whatever reason, Owen completely drifted away from the title picture and never really bounced back. He still had a great career, but it always felt like the WWF had missed the boat on giving Owen a chance at carrying the company. I’d like to think that, had he lived longer, he maybe would have gotten that chance. Owen died tragically in a stunt gone horribly wrong in Kansas City, MO in 1999. He was just 34 years old.
5. Nikita Koloff
At first, a championship run for Nikita Koloff seemed impossible. He was one-third of group known as the Russians, along with former WWF Champion Ivan Koloff and Kruscher Kruschev (Barry Darsow). While they were a great team, it can be very difficult for some tag team wrestlers to break out on their own and become singles stars. Plus, the fact that a heel Russian wrestler has rarely ever gotten over as a main event star doesn’t help. At one point, however, Koloff managed to break away from the team, become a U.S.-loving face and actually caught on with the crowd pretty heavily. He feuded with practically every major star of the day, having great matches with the likes of Sting, Big Van Vader and Lex Luger, and always seemed like he was just a hair or two away from finally becoming world champion.
Unfortunately (as is the case with many of the guys on this list), his career was cut short when, at Halloween Havoc ’92, he took an exceptionally stiff clothesline from Vader, resulting in a herniated disk in his neck. He also suffered a hernia as a result of trying to slam Vader in the same match. It’s hard to say where Koloff would have ended up had it not been for that injury, but I don’t think a world title run was ever out of the question.
4. Scott Hall
I think we all know the story of Scott Hall by this point. Needless to say, Hall was, without question, one of the most underrated wrestlers of the 90’s. Yes, he was a multi-time Intercontinental Champion and one of the founders of the nWo, but when discussing Hall, many seem to overlook his skills in the ring and focus solely on his persona. While he was always incredibly charismatic and could get over with crowds as a face or heel with no problem, a lot of people seem to fail to realize just how good he was in the ring. Hall was incredibly crisp in the ring and had a perfect understanding of ring psychology. Although he could be considered a “big man” (287 lbs. at his peak), he didn’t wrestle like one. He always had a nice blend of power moves, suplexes and takedowns, allowing him to work with a much larger variety of opponents. He had great matches with smaller wrestlers like Sean Waltman and Bret Hart, but could also wrestle big men as well. He got some excellent matches out of Kevin “Diesel” Nash, which only a handful of wrestlers have ever been able to do. After leaving WWF in 1996 and forming the aforementioned nWo with Nash and Hulk Hogan, they sky was the limit. The nWo quickly became the hottest act in wrestling, and Hall most definitely played a part in that as the workhorse of the group. In 1997, while still riding the nWo wave, Hall actually won the World War 3 battle royal, which, much like the Royal Rumble, guaranteed the winner a title match.
A lot of people forget this, mainly because, for some bizarre reason, Hall never once received that title match. In fact, after just a few weeks, the WCW commentators stopped mentioning the WW3 win altogether, making Hall’s big win completely and utterly pointless. Hall continued to be a main eventer, but aside from a terrible match with then-WCW World Champion Sting, never got higher than the U.S. title. Much like Davey Boy Smith, Hall’s antics outside of the ring were definitely his enemy in getting pushed higher, as he had a severe alcohol problem, one that still plagues him to this day. Unfortunately, he was never able to kick the habit while in WCW, nor during his return to the WWF, leading to his release. Hall’s potential always seemed limitless, yet he was his own worst enemy, resulting in him suffering both personally and professionally.
3. Magnum T.A.
Terry Allen’s case may be the saddest on this list, if for no other reason than he was so damn close to making it to the top. During the mid-80’s, there weren’t too many performers as good as Allen. He was a great ring technician, charismatic, had movie star quality looks, was a good talker and seemed to have a legitimate connection with fans as a blue-collar regular Joe who could seemingly beat any wrestler in the NWA on any given night (which he often times did). He had classic bouts with damn near everyone back in the day, including multi-time World Champion Ric Flair on numerous occasions. In 1986, Allen was on top of the world and poised to take the top spot in the NWA as he was gearing up to face World Champion Ric Flair for the title. Not only that, but Allen was actually scheduled to take the belt from Flair, with Flair himself believing that Allen should be his successor and the next major player in the company. Before that match could take place, Allen found himself in a horrendous car accident.
While Allen lived and is still alive to this day, the injuries sustained in the accident were so bad it forced him into immediate retirement with no hope of ever returning to the ring. While others on this always seemed to be on the cusp of winning the belt, Allen came closer than them all as the NWA began grooming him specifically to carry the company as its champion. Never has a wrestler been so close to reaching the top only to have his dreams snuffed out in an instant. What makes it even worse is the fact that the dream was taken away from Allen through no fault of his own.
2. “Dr. Death” Steve Williams
I almost didn’t include Doc on this list due to the fact that he was a 2-time UWF Champion and a Triple Crown Champion. However, like I said at the beginning, I’m not counting Japanese titles (and before I get hate mail, I have no beef with the Triple Crown. I think it’s a very important and prestigious championship, and happen to be a fan of puroresu on a whole). As for the UWF title, while a case could be made, the fact is that the UWF never truly caught on as a major mainstream promotion. Plus, Doc’s first reign as champion ended when the title was retired, while his second one was awarded (in the newly re-formed Herb Abrams-run UWF), with him being the first, last and only champion.
Now that that’s out of the way, there really is no reason why Doc never became a top champion in the U.S. I’ve never understood what it was that promoters felt held him back, because he had it all. Another legitimate tough guy with solid athletic credentials from OU, including being a standout collegiate wrestler. He wrestled in every major promotion in the U.S. during his career, but despite being perfect for the part, never really got the opportunity to be the top guy. When he was brought into the WWF in 1998, it seemed like things were going to change. He was hand-picked to be a part of the ill-fated “Brawl For All” tournament that year, a shoot-style tournament the WWF put on in order to see who in the company was the biggest legitimate badass on the roster. The idea was that Doc would enter the tournament and obliterate everyone. This would lead to a feud with WWF Champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, something that some wrestlers at the time could only dream about. Doc was excited and dying to work a title program with Austin, and it seemed like a can’t miss as no one in the tournament would be able to beat him. A solid idea in theory, as the tournament was full of guys that, although tough, should have easily had their asses handed to him by Doc, considered by many at the time to be the toughest man in wrestling. However, lifetime mid-carder Bart Gunn came from out of nowhere and, in 100% real fashion, knocked Doc out cold in the second round of the tournament, knocking him out of the tournament, injuring him and completely killing off the planned Austin feud in the process.
After Doc participated in a truly tasteless angle in WCW involving Ed Ferrara making fun of Doc’s real-life best friend Jim Ross (an Angle that Doc absolutely hated), he more or less disappeared from mainstream wrestling, never getting that chance at superstardom so many felt he rightly deserved. Sadly, we lost Doc in 2009 after a five-year battle with throat cancer. I had the pleasure of calling Doc a friend the last year-and-a-half of his life, and I miss him every day (I will be writing a column about this for CCB next month. Stay tuned).
And now, we finally come to the top of the list. DiBiase is, arguably, the king of the uncrowned champions. In the late 80’s, DiBiase was the top heel in the game, playing his role as smarmy, stuck-up millionaire to the hilt. Him shoving his wealth in everyone’s face was just one reason to hate him, however. A lot of fans hated him because he not only talked a big game, but could ALWAYS put his money where his mouth was in the ring. When it comes to technical wrestlers, there are very few that were as good as DiBiase was in his prime. He was a brilliant wrestler who could go toe-to-toe with anyone and everyone, often times carrying lesser opponents to the performances of their careers. As 1988 started and the gimmick had really caught fire, it appeared that him winning the WWF title was a plan set in stone. He was entered into the convoluted (and rather boring) WWF title tournament at Wrestlemania IV and, considering all of the heavyweights in the tournament (Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Bam Bam Bigelow, to name a few), he was somewhat of an underdog. However, he just kept winning and winning that night, making it all the way to the finals. In the finals, though, he was cut short by Savage, who got the pinfall and the title. While a rematch with Savage and potential title run seemed imminent, it never happened for who the hell knows what reasons.
Instead of getting the belt like he should have, DiBiase instead created the Million Dollar Championship, an unrecognized (and wholly meaningless) gold belt that, rather than get him over as the uncrowned champion like you would think, instead gave him the perception as a choke artist who simply bought a belt because he couldn’t actually win the big one. While I have nothing against Randy Savage whatsoever, I think the WWE would have been wise to put the belt on DiBiase and have Savage pursue him for the next few months. History has shown that a top heel champion who fans will pay to see get his comeuppance by the face challenger who has been chasing the belt for months does good business for everyone involved. I think that, for some bizarre reason, Vince was afraid to take a chance on DiBiase as his top man, and I think it was a big mistake.
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