Amerigo Diehl and Brian Damage
Not every world champion can be looked at like Hulk Hogan or Ric Flair. Some world champions have seemingly flew low under the radar so to speak. Despite that, they had great careers holding a version of the world championship. Who are your top five underrated world champions of all time?
**For this list I am going to stick with the major promotions or territories
5. Ivan Koloff-
There are a couple of reasons as to why I put Koloff here. First, he ended the amazing 7 year title reign of Bruno Sammartino. Yes this was planned by Vince Sr, and Koloff would only serve as a transitional champion in order to hand it off to Pedro Morales, however it’s not like Koloff was the only top heel at the time. Vince Sr. must have had a great deal of confidence in Koloff to choose him as the one to end Bruno’s 7 year run. Furthermore, it was during the cold war, and tension was high. Choosing a heel from the then Soviet Union was a great move as Koloff could draw incredible heat from the crowd. For these reasons his short run as champion deserves more recognition.
4. Superstar Billy Graham –
The above mentioned formula of having a babyface champion taking on all heel comers and battling to retain the title was pretty much standard formula in the WWF from the early 60’s through the attitude era. With a few exceptions, heels were only transition champions, serving a couple of days to a few weeks at most. If you take a look at the championship reigns of Bruno, Morales, and Backlund you have a combined reign of nearly 20 years. If you combine the reigns of Koloff and Stasiak you get 9 days, BARELY over a week!!!!! Wedged in between a 3 year reign and a 6 year reign you have Superstar Billy Graham. Graham held the belt for just shy of 300 days, which was unheard of at the time. Hell, the above mentioned 2 guys only held it for 9 days. Yes, Graham is recognized more than Koloff or Stasiak, but considering the influence he has had over the last 45 years, he belongs on the Mount Rushmore of WWWF/WWF/WWE champions.
3. Big Van Vader-
Three WCW title runs and yet he hardly gets mentioned. Again I am beginning to think no one wants to recall anything wrestling related from the early 90’s, no matter what the promotion. That said, Vader was, and always will be the best super heavyweight in wrestling history. His mobility, attitude, and skill set (albeit rather stiff I am told) was unmatched by anyone his size.
2. Terry Funk-
Name a territory or major federation that Funk hasn’t either wrestled for , or held a championship, or both. It is pretty hard to do. Terry Funk’s impact on the world of pro wrestling simply cannot be overstated, nor can his reign as champion be overstated. Most remember his reign as NWA champion, however Funk held championships in a ton of different places over his long career.
1. Mad Dog Vachon-
If I said, I am thinking of a wrestler, who was a 5 time champion in a major federation, and his 6 reigns totaled almost 1100 days, many would guess, Hogan, or Flair, or Triple H, maybe Austin or John Cena. .Nope Mad Dog Vachon during his AWA run. That is pretty impressive considering for a while it seemed that the AWA championship was being held by either Vern Gagne or Nick Bockwinkle. Back in the height of the territory days, only the most beloved baby faces, yet Vachon was a vicious heel, who broke that mold even more so that Superstar Graham.
5 Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler
I loved Jerry Lawler’s run as the AWA world champion. He worked as both a face and a heel and had a great feud with Kerry Von Erich over the world title during the AWA’s dying days. To me, Lawler doesn’t nearly get enough talk as a former world champion.
4 ‘The Franchise’ Shane Douglas
Shane Douglas came at a critical time in ECW’s history. The promotion needed a lightning rod and they certainly got that and much more with Douglas as ECW world champion. His bitterness towards guys like Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels fueled Douglas to be a tremendous champion in the smaller waters of Extreme Championship Wrestling. In my view, probably the greatest ECW world champion of all time.
3. AJ Styles
Here is a guy that is loved and respected by so many within the pro wrestling industry. He is also a former NWA, TNA, IWGP and WWE champion. Despite all those impressive accolades, Styles isn’t looked upon as being a memorable, truly great world champion. A guy who could give a 5 star match any day of the week…Styles needs a bit more love as great champion.
2. Booker T
A six time world champion who had many good to great matches. He was a good world champion, but in my opinion, his very best run as a world champion came as his last. When he became ‘King’ Bookah his personality really came out and shined. Definitely a run that is overlooked and forgotten about, but overall, a great world champion.
1 Nick Bockwinkel
Bockwinkel is a four time AWA world champion and was a staple of that promotion for years. For some reason, Bockwinkel doesn’t nearly get the love ad respect as being a great world champion and is often overlooked. The man could wrestle, he could brawl and he could cut a great promo. He was truly one of the all time underrated greats.
You can read all previous Top Five pieces here.