You know, typically it’s tough being a fan of Toronto sporting franchises.
Granted, the Blue Jays overachieved the past couple of years and made it to the ALCS, but their inevitable losses to the Royals and Indians still kind of stung.
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs made the playoffs for the first time in forever on the back of Auston Matthews and then promptly lost in the first round to the Bruins. And the poor Raptors just can’t beat LeBron James … well, pretty much ever.
Luckily, I personally am a fan of the Vancouver Canucks, where there’s little chance of disappointment because that would require them to be competitive in the first place.
And while real sports have had their share of choke artists, mostly from Toronto as of late, our so-called sport of pro wrestling also boasts some of the biggest chokers, whether for real reasons or storyline reasons. So here then are five people who tried really hard to grab that brass ring, and just failed miserably at it.
5. Roman Reigns
The man who is setting new standards for coughing up the big matches, the Big Dog, the Juggernaut … he goes by many names. Predominantly, he’s known as “The guy who loses to Brock Lesnar.”
Obviously we know the story with him, since Vince McMahon has been personally trying to make him into the next John Cena for the past four years, but here’s the thing: John Cena was pretty much always made to look good in his matches, and rarely lost the big one. In fact, he beat Big Show at WrestleMania 20, in his first shot at the U.S. Championship, at his first WrestleMania! The next year, at WrestleMania 21, he won the WWE Championship for the first time, in his first shot at that.
Now let’s compare with our boy, the Big Dog.
Reigns’ first shot at a singles championship was for the WWE title at WrestleMania 31, where he wrestled Brock Lesnar … and managed to get pinned by Seth Rollins to lose. This followed months of building him up, including a very ill-fated Royal Rumble win in January of that year and then getting endorsed by Daniel Bryan as the top guy. Shoving someone down the throats of the fans is bad enough, but to do it and then not even follow through with having him win the title? That’s just trolling.
Roman might have been the victim of Lesnar playing contract renegotiation games there, but then Rollins sustained an injury and Roman won the tournament for the vacated WWE title in November — and then he got cashed in on again, this time by Sheamus immediately after the match, giving him a title reign of about a minute total.
After winning it back on TV in December, he was forced to put it up for grabs in the Royal Rumble in a move that was supposed to make us sympathize with him for being held down by the Authority. He made it all the way to the end of the match and choked again, losing to Triple H. Of course, after another two years of building him up as the savior of the company and the guy who shows up every night, he got another shot at Brock Lesnar and blew that one, and then one more shot at the Greatest Royal Rumble and managed to cost himself that match as well.
I mean, the formula for guys like John Cena and Hulk Hogan was pretty simple: Face the bad guy, take some punishment for five minutes, make the comeback and prevail for America.
At this point I don’t think anyone knows just what they’re going for with Roman any more.
4. Kerry Von Erich
Off to a totally different era now, but in a similar fashion, in that Kerry was supposed to be the guy that no one could screw up and yet everyone somehow did. Like Reigns, Kerry was the good-looking, ultra-cool athletic babyface who was promoted as the future of the sport, and yet Kerry’s signature move was coughing up the big one.
Granted, his father Fritz Von Erich lobbied hard to the NWA to let Kerry be the World heavyweight champion, but Kerry — and all the Von Erich kids in general — were so unreliable and drugged out that it was never going to happen. So it became something of an art form for the bookers in Texas to build up Kerry challenging the World champion week after week on the TV show, which would inevitably lead to a huge stadium show where he would challenge for the title. Since he didn’t want to leave Texas and the NWA didn’t want him as the champion, they’d have to come up with some wacky new idea for Ric Flair to keep the title without weakening Kerry in his home territory. Luckily, that was kind of Flair’s specialty back in the ’80s.
In fact, one of the most famous matches in history saw Kerry getting a Cage Match against Flair, with his friend Michael Hayes as referee just to avoid any shenanigans, only for Hayes to turn on him and cost him the title in the match where he couldn’t possibly lose. On the bright side, it ignited business in Dallas and made Kerry a bigger star than ever, but the title always eluded him.
Finally, the death of brother David resulted in one last title shot for Kerry, and given the huge crowd and possibility of riot if he lost this time, finally the NWA agreed to let him be the champion — although only for about a week, because they didn’t trust Kerry as champion and didn’t want the belt to end up being left in an airline carry-on compartment by accident or something.
Kerry ended up being the champion of his family’s own World Class promotion after that, but once Fritz decided to work with Verne Gagne and the AWA for a cross-promotional extravaganza that was supposed to make everyone into national stars … well, poor Kerry got to be the sacrificial lamb again. This time he was screwed out of the newly unified World title by Jerry Lawler, losing on a ridiculous technicality due to blood loss while clearly having the match won. He had some success, but he’s mostly remembered for the times he didn’t achieve his goals, and that makes him a choker in my books.
3. Chris Jericho
I mean, I love Jericho. We all love Jericho. But aside from the one time he actually pulled out the big win — you know, the one he hasn’t shut up about since 2001 — he hasn’t exactly been a guy who can be counted on to win when it comes to the big stage. Sure, he’s won a bunch of Intercontinental titles, but so has the Miz, so that’s not exactly a high bar to hurdle.
Instead, look at his record after winning the first-ever Undisputed WWF title in 2001, where he was made to look like a putz by Stephanie McMahon for weeks and then dropped the title to Triple H in a nothing match that was completely overshadowed by the Rock-Hogan main event at WrestleMania 18. Or going back two years before that, where he gained a bunch of momentum and challenged WWF champion Triple H at the height of the McMahon-Helmsley dominance, only to have his victory overturned on a technicality.
In fact, his record at WrestleMania is pretty weak, including losses to Christian — which also included getting dumped by Trish Stratus and losing a bet worth a toonie — and Shawn Michaels (early in his comeback when he was still rusty) and getting punched out by Mickey Rourke. Most humiliating was the loss to Fandango a couple of years ago, the guy who is now half of a team of Fashion Police that give out tickets during their matches. How do you lose to that guy?
Because he’s a choker, that’s how.
2. Barry Windham
Barry falls into kind of the same category as Kerry Von Erich for me in some ways: Famous wrestling father (Blackjack Mulligan), insanely high expectations and pedigree along with a tag of “Future World champion,” great hair. Not really as good looking as Kerry, but the girls in the southern states seemed to like him well enough.
He should have been a whole lot more, especially since he got a lot of shots at the World title over the years. From Hail Mary title shots as a rookie where he managed to hang with Ric Flair before losing, to state-of-the-art, 90-minute masterpieces in 1987 with Flair where he seemed like a can’t miss championship contender (but never won it), he just couldn’t get over the hump and win the big one.
He even managed to lose a title shot at the lowly UWF World title at Starrcade ’87 because he was too much of a wuss to pin Steve Williams after hitting him in the groin! You think Shinsuke Nakamura would pass that chance up? That’s half of Shinsuke’s game plan right now!
Eventually he just gave up and joined the Four Horsemen instead, winning the U.S. title in one of the worst tournaments in history and seemingly becoming a can’t-miss, World championship main-eventer again as a bad guy, but then the WWF came calling and he just quietly faded away and never lived up to what he should have been in 1989.
Even when Ric Flair left the promotion in 1991 and Windham got a title shot against Lex Luger at the infamous Great American Bash ’91, he couldn’t get the job done there, losing to a piledriver and not even getting a proper rematch later. Eventually he did get the NWA World title in 1993, long after his body had started to fall apart, but it was a fake organization by that time, and he immediately lost the belt to his old foe Ric Flair anyway.
He could have been great, but he just wasn’t.
1. Lex Luger
Well of course we have to end with Lex, the patron saint of blowing the big one. The man who made choking such an art form that he became a verb unto himself. Example: “Oh my god, they Lex Luger’d Roman at WrestleMania!”
Luger, much like Barry Windham, was a guy from the ’80s who was supposed to be the next Hulk Hogan and the next Ric Flair, all rolled into one baby oil-covered body and topped off with a glorious mullet. If tanning was a championship sport — which I’m assuming it’s not, but stranger things have headlined on ESPN — then he’d have been World champion by the time he was 21.
Although he was off to a strong start after leaving the Four Horsemen and drew big money as a challenger to Ric Flair, he’ll forever be associated with the stench of choking. First at Great American Bash ’88, where he challenged Flair for the first time on PPV, seemingly had the match won, and then ran into the Maryland State Athletic Commission, who stopped the match due to a trickle of blood.
This would have been no problem to recover from, but then he lost again in the rematch at Starrcade ’88, cleanly this time. Then again at WrestleWar ’90 and then managed to somehow win a cage match at Capital Combat ’90 but only by DQ, so again didn’t win the title. Then he finally was scheduled to have his big win over Flair at Great American Bash ’91 and Flair actually left the company rather than drop the title to Lex.
Ah, but you’d think that things might be better for Luger if he went to the WWF himself, where Vince McMahon would surely go crazy for someone who looked like him? Nope! Once McMahon decided that Luger was going to be the next Hulk Hogan, the first and easiest step was to have him beat Yokozuna for the WWF title at SummerSlam ’93 after a month-long promotional campaign that amounted to the biggest push in the history of the company.
And then he won … by countout. Everyone celebrated in the ring like a bunch of geeks anyway, because the decision had been made to delay his big win until WrestleMania 10 instead. After failing to win the title in his first match, all his momentum was gone and he stumbled through months of feuds with guys like evil Finnish environmentalist Ludvig Borga and then managed to lose again to Yokozuna once he finally got his shot at WrestleMania. In fairness, it was due to referee Mr. Perfect turning on him, but then Perfect left the company and Luger couldn’t even finish THAT fight!
Finally, in 1995, Luger was put together as a tag team with the British Bulldog in a last-ditch effort to make him a huge star, dubbed “The Allied Powers.” The tag team champions were Owen Hart … and Yokozuna. One guess how that went for Luger.
Spoiler: He choked.
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