Dozens of men have held the biggest prize in wrestling over the last fifty plus years. The greatest of all time have had that golden strap around their waist, and worn it with pride; however, this prestigious title hasn’t always belonged to the most deserving of wrestlers. From time to time, WWE creative get it bafflingly wrong, and hand their most valuable prize to grapplers who don’t even deserve to be in the same room as that title. And in my mind, one ‘champion’ stands out above, or in this case below, the rest as the worst of the worst. This isn’t about how bad their title reign was, or how long they held the belt, or even how good their championship defences were, this is all about how deserving they were to hold it in the first place. At least the likes of Jack Swagger and Sycho Sid initially showed signs of potential, yet it was painfully obvious to everyone except for Vinny Mac that this man shouldn’t have even been inside a wrestling ring, let alone reach the top of the mountain.
In 2006, I was an innocent little eleven year old boy sat watching Smackdown on a Saturday morning. My favourite wrestler, The Undertaker, was dominating as usual, when suddenly, an absolute behemoth of a man emerged from behind the curtain. I’d never seen anything like him before; he was gigantic, he was uglier than your mam, and he loomed over the Deadman as he stood toe-to-toe with him. Then, the complete unknown monster, later revealed to be The Great Khali, destroyed my all-time favourite, and I was left in utter shock.
Over the coming weeks, he continued his dominating ways, and even managed to gain a PPV victory over the iconic Undertaker with one of the worst finishing moves ever seen (which features on my list of the same subject). At the time, I was so amazed by his size and dominating victories against Taker that I didn’t realise just how bad he actually was in the ring, but eventually, as I watched more of his work, it became glaringly obvious how bad he was. The man could barely even move (something that’s kind of important for a wrestler), his strikes looked weaker than a newborn puppy’s kiss despite how gigantic his hands were, he couldn’t sell a cheeseburger to an American, and calling his moveset “limited” would be a compliment. In fact, his matches were just uncomfortable to watch, even for a young, wide-eyed fan like myself at the time. When an eleven year old boy knows you’re bad, you must be REALLY bad.
WWE clearly had so much invested in Khali, to the extent that they even gave him his own gimmick match. And this wasn’t just some variation on a pre-existing concept, they built a brand new structure just for him – the Punjabi Prison match. Once fans around the world saw those bamboo cages, we all knew that our darkest fears were inevitably going to come true; a Khali world title run was in the horizon. And on July 17th, 2007, the horror became a reality. The Great Khali was the World Heavyweight Champion.
Over the next two months, we saw some of the worst world title matches in history, as Khali clumsily defended his belt. Fans were bewildered as to why this gargantuan would ever even be in the conversation for a potential world champion, let alone win it and defend it. Eventually, after what felt like an eternity, Khali finally lost the belt to the relief of everyone watching at home. Vince had to finally admit his mistake, and take away the title from his biggest acquisition. However, that didn’t stop the Big Mac Daddy from keeping his precious giant in the main event scene for a couple of years before finally realising how little fans cared for him and how limited he was, and always had been.
Once his initial success ran dry, Khali slowly became less of a dominating force, and eventually evolved into a giant joke, but not as big of a joke as the fact WWE felt like he deserved the belt in the first place. As he somehow became less mobile, and lost his intimidating size, the final nail in the former World Heavyweight Champion’s career coffin was hammered in when he was named the Punjabi Playboy. He spent the remaining years of his big money contract jobbing out to everyone on the roster, being a comedy double-act with Hornswoggle that couldn’t get over in a million years, and he even got eliminated from the Royal Rumble match as a result of a kiss. Finally, on November 13th, 2014, he was released to the relief of every WWE fan around the world.
The biggest problem with Khali is that he represents everything that’s wrong with the old-school mindset that has denied many great talents the success they deserve for decades. Vince and co were clearly putting size over ability and experience; people who worked for years to hone their craft were denied championship opportunities, whilst a complete unknown was able to walk in, destroy a legend in convincing fashion, and become world champion in a matter of months simply because of his genetics. The Great Khali would never even enter most people’s minds as a viable candidate for world champion, yet Vince’s obsession with size blinded him from what Khali really was. His stubbornness and unwillingness to change poisoned the main event scene with the biggest mistake in WWE world title history. Let’s all just be thankful that this world-class error of a champion was only given one reign, and now, talented, deserving wrestlers such as Finn Balor, Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, and AJ Styles are allowed to hold the biggest gold in the company, regardless of their size or look. Sure, things still aren’t exactly perfect these days, but when you look back at the horrors that was the 2007 world title scene, it’s clear that we have thankfully come a long way in the past ten years.
Who do you think is the worst World Heavyweight Champion in WWE history? Tweet me your suggestions to @HairyWrestling or leave a comment below.