Welcome to the first edition of COURTESY TITLE—a two-part general breakdown of what may become an ongoing series revolving around the idea of calling attention to wrestlers who were unable to win certain championships.
The phrase “courtesy title” is used when awarding someone an honorary moniker of sorts. As a play on that, the purpose of this series is going to be awarding someone an honorary championship in the sense that they should have won a particular title, but didn’t, yet since they proved their worth, let’s tip our hats to them.
Why do this now? Well, with Clash of Champions on the horizon, it got me thinking about the lineage of certain titles and how each champion, for as short or long of a reign as they have the belts, can always call themselves a former champion and have that clout.
For this first part, I had a particular target in mind: superstars who never won a world title during their WWE careers, but in retrospect, probably should have.
As this is a “general breakdown”, I don’t want to get bogged down in too many details. Those can be expanded in further editions diving deeper into fantasy booking scenarios, how their title reigns could have went down, who they might have dropped the belts to and won them from and so on.
Without further ado, let’s start tossing out some names, in no particular order:
Rowdy Roddy Piper
MAN was Piper a staple. Had Hogan not had a multi-year title reign, Piper definitely would have been one of the champions during that era.
Something that I’ll echo several times on this list is that some of the older wrestlers could be considered guarantees to have won the world title had there been a brand split.
Having the Raw and SmackDown distinctions has allowed WWE to double the amount of world champions it would normally have because there are simply two titles to compete for. Some people who likely never would have become champion were able to have at least one run with the belt because there are twice as many opportunities to reach that goal.
Christian, Mark Henry, Jinder Mahal and plenty others might not have been champion (and several people wouldn’t have won the title as many times), so we can assume Piper would have been a guaranteed champion at least one time had there been two titles in his era. There’s no way there would have consistently been people that WWE prioritized over Piper when there’s twice as many shoes to fill, and you can tell because of how the Intercontinental Championship was, in many ways, the alternative to another world title.
Keep that in mind going forward while scrolling down this list.
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase
Technically speaking, you can argue that Ted DiBiase did win the WWF Championship. He bought it from Andre the Giant, who had won it from Hulk Hogan. DiBiase even defended the title on some live events, but his reign isn’t recognized.
With the amount of heat DiBiase got, the importance of his heel character at the top of the division and the popularity of the gimmick, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be retroactively considered a true title reign. What’s the harm, right?
At least his lack of a world title led to the creation of the Million Dollar Championship, which is one of the most unique and cool looking belts out there.
Legend has it Vader was supposed to be the one to dethrone Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series 1996 instead of Sid, but SummerSlam ruined that. Supposedly, HBK was so frustrated (visibly, mind you) at the match that it derailed plans to keep the feud going.
For all we know, Vader would have won the world title at In Your House: It’s Time in December that year, anyway. However, injuries prevented him from being featured on the card, so the subtitle makes no sense.
Given his size and strength along with his track record in WCW, you’d think Vader would have been a guaranteed WWE champion. He was a credible threat to everyone and could believably take the title from anyone, including even The Undertaker. He just didn’t seem to fully fit in the WWE mold and within no time, was already out of the company.
With the brand split, I think his odds shoot up drastically, and he would have been SmackDown’s champion.
Even without a brand split, Razor Ramon arguably should have had a run with the world title. It just happened to be that the exact time he would have been champion coincides with WWE’s push of Diesel.
Back in 1995, Big Daddy Cool was the pet project who won the belt in November 1994 and held it until November 1995, just shy of one year by a week. He destroyed Bob Backlund to win it, who had beaten Bret Hart, and ultimately lost it to Bret, creating a circle before moving on to Shawn Michaels.
Had Diesel been injured in a more drastic way that prevented him from keeping the title during that year-long period, I think Ramon would have been one of the four primary options (along with Hart, Michaels and Undertaker) that WWE would have experimented with. After all, he was super popular, a great performer, tenured and part of the Kliq and had influence. He even left the company partially because he felt he wasn’t ever going to be “the guy” and opted to take the WCW money. That might not have happened if Scott Hall was a former world champion by beating Diesel or winning the belt from a vacated position in 1995.
With a brand split? Forget about it. He would have been a multi-time world champion. Look at how often the guy won the Intercontinental Championship and was relied upon to be the secondary champion in the company. There’s no doubt he would have held the secondary world title several times between 1993 and 1996, at the very least.
Goldust is a tricky one. He was one of the more featured characters in 1995 and 1996, but he quickly derailed into some terrible gimmicks, like The Artist Formerly Known as Goldust.
Going with the brand split IC title direction, though, you’d have to assume he would be in the running to have won a world title. He did hold that intercontinental belt 3 times over the course of 3 years.
The first of those spawned from a feud with Razor Ramon. In this fantasy world of a brand split with Ramon as champion of belt #2, who’s to say Goldust wouldn’t have won the world title from him instead of the midcard belt? Then again, that might have been premature and WWE could have had him as intercontinental champion by feuding with someone else, as you have to assume other guys would have been bumped up the card to compensate for that second midcard title, too. Maybe we’d be talking about the great feud between Goldust and 1-2-3 Kid over the Intercontinental Championship, instead (a belt Sean Waltman should have won, but that’s a story for another article).