Paper Champions: The World Champions That Never Were


Brian Damage

For a wrestler being world champion is the pinnacle of their profession. Many were destined for the role and many more given the push to the top. There are others that were supposed to get the nod in various promotions but it never transpired for one reason or another. It is those superstars that are the focus of this piece.

We all know that pro wrestling is a scripted art form. That’s no longer a secret under lock and key. Bookers and/or creative writing teams decide who will be a champion and for how long. While there are very few wrestlers lucky enough to be chosen to become a world champion for a particular wrestling company…you might be surprised that there are some who were chosen and never became world champion.

Perhaps it was due to injury…perhaps it was foolish antics…or perhaps it was simply out of pride. There are those who almost became a champion…but didn’t for whatever reason. Some of these wrestlers eventually became a world champion in another promotion…at another time. Here are just a few who could’ve been …but never did. (At least not how originally planned.)

Bruno Sammartino (NWA World Champion)


Yes, perhaps the greatest WWF/E champion of all time was scheduled to defeat Lou Thesz for the NWA world title in 1965. All the promoters involved from the both the NWA and WWF agreed to the title switch…money that would exchange hands and that in the rematch…Thesz would regain the NWA strap. The problem…Thesz wasn’t on board with it. Not so much for losing the title to Bruno…but felt that the money wasn’t right for him. So Thesz walked away from the deal and Bruno never got the NWA world title.

Tom Zenk (AWA World Champion)


With business rapidly dying in the American Wrestling Association in 1989….a battle royal was booked with the winner becoming the new undisputed AWA world champion. While a battle royal was planned to crown a new world champion on camera..there was also a battle royal behind the scenes to who would actually win the belt.

While Verne Gagne wanted a veteran wrestler he could trust to become champion…his son Greg Gange wanted someone younger and more ‘hip’ to relate to the new generation of wrestling fans. Gagne pushed heavily for Tom Zenk to be that man and almost got his way…but in the end, it was Verne’s decision and he chose his son in law Larry Zbyszko to win the battle royal and become champion.

David Von Erich (NWA World Champion)


In 1984, the World Class territory in Texas was red hot. Even hotter, was one of its top stars…David Von Erich. With his promotion and son doing tremendous was only natural that father Fritz Von Erich would lobby hard for his boy to win the NWA title.

In January of ’84, the NWA board of directors agreed to putting the NWA title on David later that year. In February of 1984, while on a tour of Japan…David was found dead in his hotel room of an apparent heart attack. So in May of that year…in honor of David Von Erich…his brother Kerry would win the world title.

Nikita Koloff (NWA World Champion)


After his wife’s death from cancer, Nikita Koloff decided to walk away from pro wrestling, Despite several attempts from wrestling friends to get him to return…Nikita just didn’t have the desire. In one particular scenario, Ric Flair called Nikita and invited him over his house. After wining and dining poolside with Flair…the Nature Boy asked Nikita to come back to the company.

To sweeten the offer…Ric guaranteed Nikita the world heavyweight title if he returned. Nikita thought about it for awhile, but eventually turned down Ric’s offer to beat him for the title.

Muhammad Hassan (The World Heavyweight title)


There were big plans for the Muhammad Hassan character played by Mark Copani. Vince McMahon wanted Hassan to defeat Batista for the WWE’s version of the World heavyweight title. The problem was..the networks no longer wanted Hassan on their airwaves and forced McMahon’s hand and Copani was released from the company.

Lex Luger (WWF Champion)


The entire Lex Express gimmick was the WWF’s attempt to grow Lex Luger as a top babyface and eventually defeat Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 10. The problem was, fans just didn’t take to the character as the WWF had hoped and plans were scrapped.

There are rumors that Lex got drunk the night before Wrestlemania 10 and Vince quickly changed plans and punished Lex by not giving him the title. I say it is a rumor, because Lex Luger has vehemently denied it as never happening in interviews since.

Mr Kennedy (WWE Champion)


Mr Kennedy won the Money in the Bank briefcase at Wrestlemania 23. The original plan was to build Kennedy up as a main event player for a full year before cashing the contract in at Wrestlemania 24. The problem was, Kennedy suffered a serious injury to his triceps muscle and was forced to relinquish his opportunity to Edge.

Buddy Landel (NWA Champion)


The “Other Nature Boy” Buddy Landel was a red hot commodity for Jim Crockett Jr in 1985. There were big plans to make him the NWA world champion. An entire program was set up for the TV tapings to make Landel the number 1 contender for the belt. The problem was, the night before the tapings…Landel partied hard with booze, drugs and women. He wound up missing the taping the next day because he was so hungover. Jim Crockett was so angry he fired Landel taking away his chance at the NWA title.


5 thoughts on “Paper Champions: The World Champions That Never Were

  1. I was always surprised that a world title never went to people like Ted DiBiasi or on a larger scale than the WCCW title, Al Perez and Rick Rude.


  2. Pingback: This Week in Wrestling 2015 week 31 | Ring the Damn Bell

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