From Buddy Rogers to The Miz and everyone in between, there have been a slew of memorable WWE Champions. Bruno Sammartino held the title for nearly 3,000 days. However, several superstars, including Yokozuna, John Cena (cut short, sixth reign) and Andre The Giant held the title for a matter of minutes.
The best superstars haven't always been champions as you will see on this list. Likewise though, many of the all-time greats have held the title numerous times. Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker, Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, etc. are all in the annals of wrestling history.
Some of the most naturally gifted competitors that this business has ever seen will never get a chance to hold the title. At least they're still a part of history in their own ways. Not to spoil the list, but the phrase "naturally gifted" ought to give you a major hint at one of the top guys on this list if you watched during the early 1990s.
It always puzzles me how so many of the men that you will see on this list never held the biggest title in the company. While they all enjoyed a lot of success throughout their respective careers, the WWE Title eluded them. Some were thisclose to title glory only to have it ripped away from them. They're all appreciated on this list.
The WWE Champion ought to have the "total package." As we've seen in the past, many of them have had that and then some. However, there remains that distinct group of guys who had the same skill-set and "package" yet were denied.
Here are the top 16 wrestlers never to hold the WWE Championship.
Christian still has a chance to claim WWE gold, but likely never will. He's been smitten by Vince McMahon since coming back from TNA and has been forced to job and even hold the ECW Championship. Though the "old" ECW Title had great prestige, this was merely a slap in the face to Christian.
His long-time friend Edge has been a World Champion on about 10 occasions thus far and currently holds the title. A question on many wrestling minds is: when is Christian's time going to come? Or better yet, will Christian's time ever come?
Christian is easily one of the most talented competitors the WWE has today. People tend to forget about him since he's oftentimes been stuck in "mid-card purgatory."
His push looked to be coming before he skated away to TNA. Apparently, McMahon still hasn't forgotten about that. Christian Cage was very successful in TNA, even holding their World Title.
Rick Rude was one of the most underrated stars in WWE history and was an unsung pioneer of the Rock 'n Wrestling Era of the 1980s. He held the Intercontinental Championship once but never cracked into the main-event scene.
Rude was only with the company for a short time, but should've gotten a better push. The '80s was littered with main-event quality talent but unfortunately, Rude never broke through that ceiling.
He did however enjoy memorable feuds with The Ultimate Warrior and Jake "The Snake" Roberts among others.
Vader was one of the most athletic big men that the WWE has ever seen. At 350 pounds, Vader was very quick and used his size to constantly overpower opponents
Vader wrestled all over the world and had success everywhere he went. It was in WCW though where he enjoyed a World Title run in the early 1990s.
Many people do wonder though what may have happened if Vader had defeated Shawn Michaels at Summerslam 1996. After about 30 minutes of battling, Michaels defeated Vader to retain his title amidst his first, lengthy run as champion. Michaels highlighted that match with an incredible dive over the top rope.
Many say that William Regal is one of the most underrated superstars in history and rightfully so. Regal has never had any title reign in WCW or WWE but definitely deserved one.
He's trained so many wrestlers that we've come to know as stars, notably Daniel Bryan. Regal has most certainly paid his dues and then some, yet never got the break that he deserved like so many others. However, as pictured above, Regal was the King of the Ring a few years back as part of a push that he received.
Was it because he didn't have the uncanny ability to draw as champion? The answer is probably likely but this doesn't discount an outstanding career which has seen a lot of success.
Jake "The Snake" Roberts was another star of the 1980s that was lost in the spotlight of Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, etc. His iconic gimmick was memorable and included an assortment of snakes, namely Damien.
His matches were mostly mid-card but were quite entertaining. Roberts' patented DDT was a signature move of that time as he would then wrap Damien around his opponent.
Surprisingly, Roberts never won any type of championship during his time in the WWE. He certainly made an impact though and became a very popular commodity in the company.
Everyone remembers the British Bulldog and the Dynamite Kid as a popular tag-team during the 1980s. They were nicknamed The British Bulldogs and were a revolutionary duo. While both men enjoyed success together and individually, neither ever won the WWE Title.
Bulldog was a dominant, powerful performer for many years. Davey Boy Smith was known for his ability to utilize his strength on a nightly basis to overpower opponents. He was known for all power moves, including suplexes where he'd hold you up there for a very long time.
Bulldog enjoyed runs as European Champion and often competed and defeated men who eventually became WWE Champion. Somehow though, this raw talent always seemed to get lost amongst factions and never established himself fully as a singles competitor.
The Bulldog's shining moment would come against his brother-in-law Bret Hart at Summerslam 1992 in Wembley Stadium. It was there when Smith won the Intercontinental Championship over Hart.
This could change over the next few weeks as Jerry "The King" Lawler gets another crack at the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber. The Miz is the champion now, but for how long?
Lawler has won 163 titles throughout his illustrious career, but never the WWE Title as it remains elusive to him. On the November 29th edition on Monday Night RAW, he was mere inches away from the title before Michael Cole ended his dream.
"The King" has dutifully served as a WWE announcer for the past 19+ years or so and has been with many partners, including Jim Ross and Cole. Needless to say, "The King" surely isn't a "Cole Miner" at the moment.
Much of "The King's" tenure in the WWE has been behind the broadcast booth, but now, he's making his way to the ring more often. Is it a little too late for "The King" to claim WWE gold?
Razor Ramon was one one of the bigger stars of the early 1990s and the company really took a hit when he and Diesel left for WCW. They then became Scott Hall and Kevin Nash ("The Outsiders")
Nash left having been champion while Hall had never even gotten his chance to contend. That changed once they hit WCW as this package deal soon aligned themselves with Hulk Hogan and became the NWO, they grew and all became champions.
It was always puzzling why the WWE never put the strap on him. At that time, there weren't many guys to carry the company and a young Hall could've been a hot commodity.
After all, maybe he wasn't in the WWE long enough for them to give him a run and his time just never came as he left for WCW.
Hall was a very talented, competent wrestler that never won the WWE Title. There were so many things that he could do in the ring for a big man.
Owen Hart of the infamous Hart Dungeon was a very talented performer. Of all of the Harts, Owen was probably the most charismatic, lovable and hated.
Like many stars during that time, several from the Hart Foundation, Owen was oftentimes lost in the tag-team competition. His career as a singles star never blossomed the way it should have. However, he did enjoy time as the Intercontinental Champion and King of The Ring.
He was oh so close to defeating his older brother Bret at Summerslam 1994 for the WWE Championship in Chicago. With all of the Harts watching at ringside, the brothers certainly didn't disappoint.
Unfortunately, in May of 1999, "The King of Harts" fell fatally at Kansas City's Kemper Arena.
"Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff was another star of the 1980s that never won a title in the WWE at all. Orndorff had memorable feuds and matches, but none that culminated in title gold.
He was taken in the 12th Round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints but failed the physical and never played in the NFL.
Orndorff was literally a split second away from winning the WWE Title in a 1988 steel cage match against Hulk Hogan. Both men's feet touched the floor simultaneously and Orndorff again came up short in his bid for a title.
The term "Mr. Wonderful" was ironically coined by fellow heel "Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Here he is! The ultimate heel of the 1980s. One of the very best gimmicks of all-time and a wonderful symbol of greed, "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase. DiBiase diid in fact purchase the WWE Title from Andre The Giant, only to have it revoked by the WWE. It's true, "Everyboy's Got a Price for The Million Dollar Man."
The Million Dollar Championship Belt was exclusive to "The Million Dollar Man" though. His gimmick was characterized by his evil, yet epic, laugh. Additionally, he had his own personal man-servant Virgil by his side at all times.
DiBiase was mere seconds away from the title during the WrestleMania IV Tournament, but lost in the finals to "Macho Man" Randy Savage.
Throughout his WWE career, "The Million Dollar Man" was very successful, but the ultimate gold (perhaps one that money can't buy) seemed to elude him.
Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat revolutionized the way that people view the undersized competitor. He was groundbreaking in so many ways and was rather important to the business both then and now.
Steamboat eventually got his shot at glory in WCW but never won the big one in the WWE. He's since become an idol for current superstars like Chris Jericho and CM Punk.
At WrestleMania III, Steamboat and "Macho Man" Randy Savage competed in what many believe to be one of the greatest matches ever. They fought for about 15 minutes, with Steamboat coming out the eventual winner, claiming the Intercontinental Champion in the process.
"The King" Harley Race was perhaps best known for his days in the original NWA in the 1970s. By the time he arrived in the WWE, he was putting over younger guys vying for titles.
Race was a very cagey veteran in WWE and knew how to take an opponent out. Without a doubt, he's one of the most underrated wrestlers of all-time, never getting the appreciation that he rightfully deserved.
Race is only one of six men to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, WCW Hall of Fame, Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame.
"The Hot Rod" was one of the greatest villains in WWE history and also one of its bigger enigmas. "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's WWE career has spanned across four decades as he's become a must-see commodity in the wrestling world.
Piper never held onto the title but was a rather important figure in the main-event scene of the 1980s. He revolutionized the role of the "bad guy" and was very hated by fans.
This Scot hosted his own talk show segment called Piper's Pit. He was a crude interviewer and asked some pretty deep questions. Some of the segments on his show were among the most memorable television scenes in WWE history.
When you heard the bagpipes begin to play, you knew that that could only mean one thing. It was time to "chew bubblegum and kick ass."
"Mr. Perfect" truly was just that and much more. To say that anyone's perfect is a major complement and often isn't true. Judging not only by gimmick but sheer in-ring ability, Curt Hennig was perfect.
It remains remarkable to me and so many others as to why Hennig never won the title. For a heel, he had it all. Hennig possessed natural athletic ability and coupled it with charm and charisma.
From his classic vignettes, you could tell that he was a special athlete. Hennig was known to do certain things that were exclusive to him, such as spitting out his gum and batting it away in midair.
Today, Hennig's son, billed Michael McGillicutty competes on RAW with the New Nexus.
Hennig's being perfect was more than just an act, it was indeed true to life as well. "Mr. Perfect" was an incredible athlete naturally.
Who else could possibly top this list but "The Icon" Sting? Sting has never even set foot in a WWE ring yet but is one of the greatest of all-time. While in WCW, Sting was their top guy, winning six titles there. Additionally, he won another three in TNA.
Sting signing with WWE could be the biggest news in years. But is it really going to happen? Are these "2.21.11" promos merely a tease?
Even approaching 52, in the proper situation, Sting can still go. If he chooses to bring his talents to WWE, an obvious Undertaker showdown could be in the works. If not, then his legacy remains intact, but the questions will always linger.
Sting could've been an even bigger star than he already is had he jumped ship to the WWE years ago during the Invasion Era. That's a fact.