So people feel Roman Reigns doesn’t deserve his championship match at WrestleMania against Brock Lesnar, despite the legally binding contract that is winning the Royal Rumble. But this isn’t the first time the WWE has accelerated a wrestler’s path to the main event, or even thrown a bone to a long-time mid-carder that had no business being in a match that had the title graphic “WWE Championship” before the bell rang. To be fair though this list will only concentrate on those undeserved number one contenders that were given pay-per-view title shots, or else it’d be filled with every wrestler Bret Hart faced in 1992, or almost every other superstar Hulk Hogan defeated on Saturday Night’s Main Event.
10. John Cena vs. R-Truth – Capitol Punishment
What easily could’ve been a feud centered on street cred and rapping ability, was instead based on R-Truth acting even dumber than usual, by claiming that he was seeing invisible children who might or might not have been part of an elaborate conspiracy to hold Truth down. What makes this match even sadder, is the fact that this was the pay-per-view before the infamous pipe bomb incident, and before CM Punk beat John Cena at next month’s Money in the Bank. WWE seriously invested time in a Truth/Cena feud before considering CM Punk a viable candidate. Granted, R-Truth was a former NWA Champion, but that was TNA’s version of the belt 10 years after it stopped mattering as a world title.
9. Bret Hart vs. The Patriot – In Your House: Ground Zero
During Bret Hart’s anti-American stance towards the end of his WWE career, The Patriot was brought in to defend America’s honor against this Canadian foreign menace. He was the best wrestler for the job, but at the wrong place and time. He was a caricature of the All-American wrestler without being meta about it. At this point, the fans had already found a more relevant-to-the-time patriotic hero in Steve Austin, who had been momentarily sidelined. Instead of letting Vader step in and have some good matches with Bret Hart, the WWE instead went with Del Wilkes. The Patriot quickly found himself in the title picture after a fluke win against Bret Hart and then went on to lose against him at this pay-per-view. And this wasn’t even the end of the feud. All this match did was set up next month’s tag team flag match between Bret Hart and The British Bulldog against Vader and The Patriot.
8. Big Show vs. Big Boss Man – Armageddon ’99
I can’t believe Big Show was WWE Champion during his Giant Silva days. This was the big blow off match that had been hilariously built up by Boss Man dragging the Big Show’s dead daddy’s coffin all over town, and outing him as a bastard. So for those keeping count, Big Show’s been crying on WWE TV pretty much since he debuted. This wasn’t the Big Boss Man’s first time in the main event picture, he and Akeem both feuded with The Mega Powers, but that never actually led to a pay-per-view singles match for the WWE Title against “Macho Man” Randy Savage. What made Boss Man’s title shot even more incredulous was that he actually beat The Rock to become number one contender. The match was over in like, five minutes, when Big Show just decided to chokeslam Boss Man and win. The most memorable part of the match was Big Show actually doing a kip-up.
7. Brock Lesnar vs. Hardcore Holly – Royal Rumble ’04
If the WWE was a government office, then Holly’s shot would’ve made sense in terms of gradually moving up the pay scale based on years of service and little else. This train of thought definitely makes sense when you apply it to JBL’s run as WWE Champion. The backstory was good: Lesnar legit broke Holly’s neck, and it was time for some payback. But given that Holly hadn’t really beaten anybody to prove himself worthy, this was really a grudge match in which one of the participants happened to be the WWE Champion at the time. I’m not even sure why they bothered making it a “championship” match. If Holly was truly out for revenge he wouldn’t have cared for the title, much like we didn’t care for him being in a match for the WWE Championship.
6. Diesel vs. King Mabel – SummerSlam ’95
No offense to Nelson Frazier, Jr. (RIP), but the only thing that could top Mabel shitting on the credibility of the King of the Ring by winning it, was to headline SummerSlam along with Diesel for the WWE Title. The only good thing about King Mabel’s run was dubbing Mo, Sir Mo. That’s it. It’s not like he adopted an accent like King Bookah. Pairing him with Diesel only made matters worse, as Diesel only looked good in the ring when he was against Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels. Although props to Diesel for taking a straight up sit-down splash on his lower back from Mabel. Shit looked painful. While there was no way he was going to get Mabel in the Jackknife powerbomb, Diesel did deliver a clothesline/ forearm smash thing from the second rope to put Mabel away. It was similar to his “friend” Lawrence Taylor’s finisher when he beat Bam Bam Bigelow at WrestleMania XI. Sadly, LT’s looked way better. There was also a weird run-in from Lex Luger in which he tried to help Diesel, but Diesel just punched him out of the ring. How did Luger respond? Eight days later he showed up on Nitro.
5. Triple H vs. The Great Khali – SummerSlam ’08
Just as a heads up, this is the first of three Great Khali appearances on this list. But this one is particularly special because not only is it his third WWE Title shot on pay-per-view, but unlike the other two, this one took place on one of the WWE’s major shows: SummerSlam. Yes, in two years, Khali already had three pay-per-view title shots. By comparison, Cesaro has been with the WWE about three years and has never had a one-on-one, pay-per-view WWE Title match. And his pinky is more of a wrestler in every way shape or form than The Great Khali will ever be. Which was further validated by the “You can’t wrestle!” chants that rang out during the match. Even though I can’t believe it took three Khali championship matches for the crowd to finally get that chant going.
4. CM Punk vs. Ryback – Hell in a Cell ’12
How do you cover somebody’s flaws who’s thrown into a title picture way too early despite the crowd still reserving judgment whether or not they should support this guy or not? You make it a Hell in a Cell match with CM Punk, and add Paul Heyman in the background. Everything else should just fall in place. Despite the Goldberg comparisons thanks to his short-lived, uninteresting winning streak, Ryback lacked the actual organic momentum that propelled Goldberg to the top of the card. Throwing him in this type of match early on also cut any momentum he had going short because there was no way he was winning the title. Oh, and it’s probably one of the worst Hell in a Cell matches where the only major spot takes place after the match. Which is just a Shell Shock on the roof of the cage. Punk doesn’t even fall through the roof with his tooth sticking out of his nose or nothin’.
3. John Cena vs. The Great Khali – One Night Stand ’07
By this point, the One Night Stand pay-per-view had jumped the shark, despite the ECW brand still being a thing, this was now an all inclusive show. This was the unnecessary blow-off match between Khali and Cena considering Cena had just made Khali tap out a month earlier. So to make things fairer for the 7’4″ Khali, the rematch was an extreme rules one. But it being a hardcore match still didn’t hide all of Khali’s shortcomings. The crowd, for the most part, was pro Cena. You could barely make out any “Cena Sucks!” chants, but that can also be attributed to the fact that even the smarky fans can’t bring themselves to boo Cena when he’s up against the Great Khali. This of course ends with Cena overcoming the odds and FU-ing Khali off of a crane (not the very top) and onto a huge landing pad draped with a black tarp.
2. Triple H vs. Edge vs. Vladimir Kozlov – Survivor Series ’08
This started out as a one-on-one match between Kozlov and Triple H. Kozlov was supposed to be some sort of foreign Brock Lesnar, but was more like the second coming of Nikolai Volkoff. If you want any proof how much more WWE favors the bigger guys, consider that Kozlov, after having only been on WWE TV for like seven months, was given a title shot on one of the “big four” pay per views, which just happened to be his pay-per-view debut as well. Boring chants and rest holds were plentiful, as were the “We Want Hardy” chants, as in Jeff Hardy, obviously. Luckily, Edge was added to the match and awoke the crowd, as did Jeff’s interference, proving once again that the WWE has always had its finger on the pulse of what the fans want, by having the two actually over wrestlers play a minor part in this match. At least Edge won. Also, was this match No DQ?
1. John Cena vs. The Great Khali – Judgment Day ’07
His sole purpose in life was to be fed to John Cena. And that’s fine. It’s a long-standing wrestling trope for the babyface to eventually stop the giant monster heel. But seeing these matches take place during actual pay-per-views makes you long for the days of free Saturday Night Main Events. Where Hulk Hogan would usually dispose of these taller than average jabronies and kill some time before heading into pay-per-view quality feuds.
Is this list a bit Khali heavy? Yes. Do I have something personal against him? Maybe. Maybe not. Point is, the man was borderline useless in the ring. He moved slow and couldn’t do anything. He was Andre the Giant in his last years, but without the complicated medical conditions and weight that actually kept Andre from performing. Even in their first meeting, John Cena cleanly beats Khali by making him tap out. There’s no more definitive win than that. Yet, Khali was granted two more title shots after this and he actually became a world champion! Okay, maybe I do have something against The Great Khali.