Let’s face it: Some wrestlers—and their title reigns—just don’t get the credit they deserve.
Maybe the company wasn’t fully behind them and their runs; maybe fans just didn’t want to accept it.
Whatever the reasons, let's me make an attempt to rectify things somewhat. In terms of just how unfairly maligned they are—as well as the amount of sheer entertainment they provided—here are the five most under-appreciated WWE title reigns ever.
Kurt Angle’s first-ever WWE title reign went some way to proving that the former Olympic gold medalist could hang in the big time.
Indeed, Angle managed to triumph over shoddy booking—in which he was often made to look inept and out-of-his-league—to churn out one great wrestling performance after another. His bout with The Rock at No Way Out was, in particular, absolutely fantastic.
After his title run, there was no doubt that Angle was one of the very best wrestlers in the world.
John Cena’s longest WWE title reign to date—he held the belt for over a year—doesn’t seem to get the credit it deserves. Oh, sure, Cena still had the same awful merchandise and told the same corny jokes, but as a wrestler? He was at his very best—as his great matches against the likes of Umaga, Edge and Randy Orton attest to.
Hey, this was a guy who managed to churn out a watchable bout with Kevin Federline on Raw. Now that is an accomplishment.
OK, so Ultimate Warrior never became the Hogan-level star that Vince McMahon and the company hoped he would be after he won the WWE Championship in 1990.
But credit to the star: He came far closer than most ever did. It's not really fair to call him a flop.
His not-too-bad match with Hogan at WrestleMania VI—in which he won the title clean with a Warrior Splash—was very memorable, most notably for its emotional ending when a tearful Hulk passed the torch to his younger foe.
Warrior’s post-WrestleMania title feuds with Sergeant Slaughter, Ted DiBiase and Rock Rude were perfectly fine entertainment too.
Not bad for a guy who couldn’t really wrestle and cut largely incoherent promos.
Don’t tell CM Punk, but The Miz’s 200-day title reign was actually crammed with memorable moments and great matches and was one of the highlights of an otherwise patchy 2011 for WWE.
Thanks to his past in reality television, he also had far more appeal to the mainstream than most champions do.
Who can forget that scowling little girl looking positively murderous after Miz cashed in the Money in the Bank on Randy Orton and snatched the championship?
Or what about his fantastic bout with Jerry Lawler at the Elimination Chamber—arguably Lawler’s last truly great match? And his superb appearance on Conan O’Brien's show remains one of the best wrestler/talk show segments ever.
It’s easy for fans to trash Steve Austin’s 2001 WWE Championship reign.
“They turned Austin heel too soon.” “It was bad for business.” “People weren’t ready to boo Austin.”
These are all perfectly valid points.
But what most people don’t remember is just how great—and refreshing—Austin’s heel act really was. After spending so long stuck as a beer-drinking redneck, the star was finally allowed to show off just how phenomenally versatile a performer he is.
Playing the part of the insecure, highly paranoid crazy man, the star was a revelation. In backstage segments with Vince McMahon, Rob Van Dam and Kurt Angle, he demonstrated out-of-this-world comedic timing and ability. Come on; watch these clips and tell me you can’t laugh at the absurdity of Austin trying to console McMahon by singing a few tunes.
It may not have had the same commercial appeal as his babyface work in the '90s, but from a critical stand-point, this was one of Austin's best title runs ever.