10 Saddest World Title Reigns In Wrestling History

Sometimes, becoming champion is bittersweet. These times, it was just bitter.

Daniel Bryan WWE Champion

Winning a World Championship is supposed to be a career highlight, a glorious high point that vindicates years and years of pain, hard work, and dedication. For Shawn Michaels, it was a "boyhood dream"; for Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, it represented a sea change in the way that WWE (and its mainstream fans) treated independent wrestling.

It's supposed to be deeply transformative moment that forever changes the way fans perceive a performer - when a superstar becomes a legend. That's often what's supposed to happen, anyway, but not everyone is so lucky.

Maybe the wrestler spent years or even decades working toward capturing that top prize, and then they lost it immediately. Maybe they had a reign that wasn't embarrassingly short, but was marked by weak booking and unmemorable matches. Maybe the performer cracked under the pressure, or maybe the title proved to be a harsh lens, illuminating failings that would never have been an issue if he had flown under the radar.

In any case, the career woes suffered by these ten superstars serve as a sobering reminder that making it to the top of the mountain isn't always everything it's cracked up to be.

10. Tommy Rich

Daniel Bryan WWE Champion
Pro Wrestling Illustrated

'Wildfire' Tommy Rich was the prototypical early '80s white meat babyface, perfectly positioned to challenge the Terry Funks and Harley Races of that era's NWA. He was popular enough, but he was no Dusty Rhodes, no Magnum T.A., no Barry Windham, and not even the babyface version of Ric Flair. He was a particularly successful version of Your Hometown Hero that took the reigning NWA champ to a time limit draw at the armory, but not really suited for the gold himself.

Nevertheless, on 27 April 1981, Wildfire dethroned perennial champion Harley Race to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in Augusta, GA. After an illustrious reign lasting all of four days, Rich lost the title back to Race in Marietta, GA. That's right, Rich couldn't even make it out of state with the title intact.

Evidently, Rich's blink-and-miss-it reign was designed to boost flagging gates within the Georgia territory, over which booker Jim Barnett was trying to consolidate control. So, like, the lowest-possible-stakes version of Giant Baba winning the belt on a tour of Japan.

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Long-time fan (scholar?) of professional wrestling, kaiju films and comparative mythology. Aspiring two-fisted adventurer.