It’s a fact that it was a lot more difficult in the 1980’s and early-mid 90’s to become World Heavyweight Champion in the WWF. These days, especially with two World Titles to contend for, it seems as if you only have to ensure you’re on the roster for long enough and you’ll get given the opportunity to have a run with the belt. It’s certainly the case that some of the varied superstars to have lifted the belt in the last decade wouldn’t have got anywhere near the belt twenty to thirty years ago.
So here’s my top five guys who could be described as the “nearly men” of the WW(F)E. Whether they could have been World Champions back in the day or would almost have certainly lifted one of the World Title belts if they’d been in their prime today, these are five men who could have been, in my opinion, great world champions.
“ROWDY” RODDY PIPER
Piper himself would admit that he was never the greatest in-ring worker. But if there’s one man who could talk a crowd into an arena, it was the Hot Rod. Some will argue that Piper was the very definition of a wrestler who didn’t “need” the World Title but as incendiary as he was in his role just imagine the heat he could have got if he’d opposed Hulk Hogan in 1983-85 and actually cheated his way to the title. Imagine if Piper had got that win over Hogan and Hogan had to chase his way back to the title. I know there’s a perfectly reasonable argument that the Hulkamania era was doing great business anyway but you can’t tell me that WrestleMania II wouldn’t have been off the charts with Hogan vs Piper as a main event, with Piper as defending champion, rather than Hogan vs King Kong Bundy.
“MILLION DOLLAR MAN” TED DIBIASE
Ted DiBiase was the original pick to win the World Title Tournament held at WrestleMania IV. In many ways you can’t argue against the decision to put the belt on Macho Man Randy Savage as he did great business as champion and his heel turn on Hulk Hogan led to even bigger business (Hogan received the first ever $1,000,000 + pay-cheque for their match at WrestleMania V). And yet DiBiase’s character was an ideal fit for the WWF of the 1980’s and rather than trying to re-heat Hogan vs Andre, imagine what could have been achieved if DiBiase had used the “Hebner referee switch” for his own ends to beat Hogan rather than using it for Andre to beat Hogan. I’m sure lots of fans would have paid to see him get his comeuppance, be it by Hogan or Savage. (I don’t consider that his brief reign as Champion when Andre handed him the belt counts as a “proper” title reign).
Curt Hennig is a little different to the two previous choices in that I’m not sure if Hennig was ever the “right” choice to lift the World Title back in the era he was at his peak. After all a house show run opposite Hogan did disappointing business and he wasn’t your typical WWF guy at the time. Yet there is little doubt that a man as talented and charismatic as Mr. Perfect would have been a certainty to lift the World Title in the “modern” era. As well as being able to work stellar matches with many varied styles of opponent, Perfect also had the entertainment intangibles off to a tee. He’s certainly a match for the early 21st Century champions like Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit. (I’m aware that Hennig was AWA World Champion, but I’m talking specifically about those who never lifted the WW(F)E title).
“RAVISHING” RICK RUDE
He carried The Ultimate Warrior to some of his best ever matches (most notably at SummerSlam 1989) and in an era today where every top babyface not named John Cena can be beaten clean on occasions and show weakness, Rude would have made an excellent World Champion. He had the chiselled look, the bad-ass demeanour and as I say he had a tremendous talent in the ring. As a confident heel World Champion, always managing to sneak a victory through various shenanigans, he could have been gold in the early 1990’s. It’s sad that his run with WCW’s “Big Gold Belt” was as good as it got for Rude.
BAM BAM BIGELOW
A big man who could work a good match with almost everyone, I’d like to think that in this era, Bam Bam would be a great world champion and not be turned into a dancing hippo like Brodus Clay. But in all seriousness, Bigelow was one of the best super-heavyweight workers of all time and was equally adept as a monster heel and as a babyface. He had the respect of his peers for his in-ring skills and could certainly have been used as the “big guy” opponent for any number of World Champions over the years. Bigelow probably wouldn’t have been “THE” man at any point, but as a heel cheating his way to the title only for the babyface hero to gain revenge a couple of months later and regain the belt he could have been a wonderful choice.
You may agree with these choices or you may not. They are not meant to be a definitive list. And hey, if you disagree, feel free to comment on who you think would have made the grade instead.
– By Matthew Roberts