Pro Wrestling Since 1997


Column: Top Ten WWE Champions of All Time



Wrestling Soap Box: Top Ten WWE Champions of All Time

The WWE championship is the holy grail of professional wrestling. It’s the belt that every aspiring, and current, wrestler dreams of holding. Having this honor bestowed upon you means you are the best  that this business has to offer which in turn produced some of the most memorable feuds. Today, I will rank the top ten WWE champions of all time.

To say this list was hard to compile would be a huge understatement. 42 wrestlers over a 50 year time span made for several list changes. The thing to remember is that all lists of this type are subjective. You do the best you can with a criteria that makes sense to you.

For example, Money is extremely important, but being a big draw doesn’t define a wrestler. Iron Man 3 made over four hundred million dollars at the box office but it’s not going to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Without further ado, let’s get started.


10. Bob Backlund: There is more to Bob Backlund’s story than the crazy presidential candidate with lunacy filled rhetoric. Backlund was a wrestlers wrestler who held the WWF title from 1978 to 1983 with two unrecognized interruptions in-between. This clean cut all American’s NCAA championship pedigree made him a longtime fan favorite. His list of successful title defenses boasts a who’s who of Hall of Famers including Don Muraco, Jimmy Snuka, Peter Mavia, Greg Valentine and Sgt. Slaughter. Champion vs. Champion matches were a hallmark of Backlund’s reign as he wrestled for the AWA, NWF and NWA world titles. Everyone knows about the controversy surrounding end of his title run when his manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel while he was trapped in the Iron Sheik’s Camel Clutch. Backlund left the WWE shortly thereafter and would not return until 1992. The company was a much different place by then and Backlund was a man out of time which caused him to get lost in the shuffle. Fortunes turned in 1994 when he defeated Bret Hart to win his second WWF title. While he lost it three days later to Diesel, him winning the belt eleven years after his first reign ended is another example of his great accomplishments that may never be duplicated.


9. Macho Man Randy Savage: Perhaps no one had a tougher act to follow than the Macho Man Randy Savage. Being the first babyface to hold the title after Hulk Hogan came with a lot of pressure. Would business drop or would Macho Madness hold its own? Savage was phenomenal as either a babyface or heel. The Mega Powers explosion is arguably the greatest storyline the WWE has ever produced. Savage’s intense performance made it click. His match with Ric Flair at WrestleMania VIII was an emotional classic. You truly believed Savage wanted to kill him. Savage was an elite performer no matter where he was on the card and putting the WWF title on him validated his worth.


8. CM Punk: In an era where wrestlers lose titles as quickly as they win them, CM Punk made the WWE title mean something again. Often times, in all forms of entertainment, the most talented guy doesn’t get the gig. Over the course of 434 days, Punk showed that talent still trumps all in the right circumstances. One of the unique things about his run as champion is that we got the best of both worlds. As a babyface, he was a fighting champion who took on all comers while as a heel, he was a spineless weasel who could justify any course of despicable action. While these scenarios are nothing new, Punk did it with a style that made the world take notice of the Chicago-made superstar.


7. Triple H: When I think of certain periods of time in professional wrestling, the year 2000 belonged to Triple H. His second run as WWF champion proved he was the best wrestler in the industry. No one could touch him. Some will scoff at his resume due to his marriage partner, but look at his body of work before he said “I Do.” His matches with Mick Foley, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin cemented his place as a perennial main event player. The eight times he held the WWE title produced great moments. Whether he was champion or challenger, the WWE title was always the apple of Triple H’s eye which augmented the importance of being champion.


6. John Cena: While hardcore fans just want him gone, there is no denying that currently, John Cena is the WWE. Even though he is not the most mechanically refined wrestler, he is very good at telling a story in the ring which is what sells tickets. Cena, more than most, can go with the flow and makes the best of every situation. ECW One Night Stand in 2006 was a perfect example of Cena giving everyone what they wanted. Diehards wanted his head, while loyal members of Cenation stuck to the ideals of hustle, loyalty and respect. The hostile environment inside the Hammerstein Ballroom was the orchestra and Cena played them like a fiddle by simply being himself. Cena doesn’t consistently earn five snowflakes from a newsletter. That doesn’t matter because there is a lot to be said for someone who brings smiles to children all over the world. Kids absolutely love this guy. Without that element, the business of WWE wouldn’t be as well off as it is today.


5. Shawn Michaels: HBK represented the best of both worlds. Not only was he charismatic on the microphone, but he could get it done in the ring. In my opinion, Michaels is the greatest pure athlete to hold the WWF title. He is also the most controversial. The Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII showed how great wrestling matches can be when the storyline is as simple as who is the best. His match with Mankind at Mind Games was a surprise hit that is heavily revered to this day. While his second reign ended as quickly as it began, his third and final turn with the strap became a test run for what became the Attitude Era. It’s a shame Michaels couldn’t take part in the company’s most prosperous period. Nevertheless, his role as champion can’t be denied because Shawn proved that professional wrestling was ready to follow in the cultural shift of the times.


4. Bret Hart: The thing that separates Bret Hart’s title reign from everyone else is that no one saw it coming. Hart was tearing it up as the intercontinental champion but another silver medal at the podium would be a moot point. The WWF needed to change their image from the muscle bound caricatures to performers with athletic merit. Some say he lucked into the championship due to the steroid scandal, but controversy creates opportunity. Hart was the perfect choice as he brought a respect and realism that was worthy of leading the charge. With Bret at the helm, the formula changed. Instead of using a wrestling match to get over a story line, the match itself became the story. I liken Bret Hart to Denzel Washington. He’s not always a massive box office draw, but he always turns in a critically acclaimed performance that speaks for itself.


3. Bruno Smartino: I was not alive during Bruno Smartino’s era. He is one of only two champions on this list that was booked by Vince McMahon Sr which is vastly different than being booked by the current incarnation of McMahon. After doing a lot of research, it is my estimation that Bruno not only defined his era, he was his era. People who bought tickets didn’t say they were going to see wrestling. They said, “I’m going to watch Bruno at the Garden.” Samartino carried himself with a class and professionalism that made him the real deal in the eyes of fans and celebrities all over the world. That is fame and respect you buy or manufacture. Samrtino held the title twice with the first reign beginning in 1963 and ending in 1971. The second went from 1973 to 1977. I think it’s safe to say that his impressive record will never be broken.


2. Stone Cold Steve Austin: In 1998, those who mocked wrestling years earlier suddenly found their eyes glued to their television. Wrestling was cool again and it was all thanks to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Of course, WWF flourished but WCW and ECW reaped some of the benefits too because people couldn’t get enough wrestling. Austin 3:16 T-Shirts were everywhere and people flipping the bird was as common as breathing. While his feud with Vince McMahon put it over the top, it all came back to one thing. The WWF title. He never had a lengthy babyface reign with the title, but that didn’t matter. Fans loved Austin as champion and they loved his chase for the gold even more. You could have put the title on a broom stick and people would pay in droves to see it broken in half with a Stone Cold Stunner. Also, how could anyone forget the “Smoking Skull Belt” that was a hallmark of Austin’s title reign?


1. Hulk Hogan: Hulkamania is ingrained in the fabric of pop culture and the WWF title was at the center of it all. For a long time, Hogan held the record for the most WWF titles held with five. However, in 2002, he had a career renaissance that earned him his sixth and final WWE championship. No one in the history of professional wrestling has had more legendary nights than Hulk Hogan. Piper, Warrior, Savage, Rock, the list goes on and on. These matches aren’t just great wrestling matches, but moments that will live on for generations to come. That faithful night in the Pontiac Silverdome against Andre the Giant is the biggest and most important WWF title match in history. No other match has come close.


I want to hear from you! Make yourselves be heard in the comment section below and tell us who you believe are the greatest WWE title holders of all time.

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10 Responses

  1. RJ ACE says:

    The Rock should be on the list somewhere. I know it’s opinion based and there are no right or wrong answers in this regard especially since it’s a scripted sport. I just don’t see how the Rock isn’t on the list when he headlined 3 different Wrestlemanias as the defending champion in 3 different decades. He’s the biggest crossover star in wrestling history and I’d put him ahead of half the guys on this list.

  2. Bob Who? says:

    The Bob Backlund era was considered a “down period” in wrestling, according to any wrestling historian (including Bill Apter). He wasn’t as chiseled as Bruno, wasn’t as charismatic as Buddy Rogers or Superstar Billy Graham, and wasn’t as talented as the guys he was squaring off against. Yes, he held the title for 5 years – but those last two years were marred with boos, a controversial match with Greg valentine (look that up), and the Howdy Doody character which you know him as now.

    Bottom line, he’s not a great champion because he just didn’t have it. He didn’t even main event the biggest WWF event at the time “Showdown at Shea.”

  3. dooman says:

    why is HHH on this list “era of asskissing”

  4. bill says:

    the rock sucks

  5. Adam C says:

    Interesting article for me i would base my list on who i have actually watched, or grown up watching, i wouldn’t base it on popular opinion so….
    1. Hulk Hogan
    – Ok he tends to devide a lot of people on the IWC but there is no question this man is the true icon/avatar of Pro Wrestling imo, everyone knows who he is, his trademarks and his matches with Andre, Warrior and Savage. They remember his WCW run he is the one and only imo, i loved watching Hogan as a kid and i do agree this man should be at the no#1 spot he is someone who has remained consistantly popular with sports entertainment for over 30 years and he is still going BROTHER!

    2. Bret Hart
    – To me like a few others he oozes what a Champion is, i dont remember a week going by when he wasn’t on TV as WWF Champion and making another title defence, he made the belt mean a lot in a time when it wasn’t popular to really be a fan of pro wrestling. He brought wrestling back as the focal point imo, and was a terrific champion.

    3. Shawn Michaels
    – To me in the “New Generation” of WWF there where two main players Bret and Shawn and when they fought together it was purely classic every time, despite the screw job and all that crap Shawn was an incredible preformer and Champion and he was always and still is a must watch star.

    4. Macho Man Randy Savage
    – Randy Savage to me was another one of those guys i couldn’t take my eyes off a really solid preformer, amazing on the microphone and a fantastic champion with a series of fueds to pick from.

    5. The Rock
    – The man who really brought wrestling back to the mainstream imo, once again i wasn’t a big fan of the guy however i do appreciate what he did for the WWF/E and did by returning he makes things exciting and generates a crowd reaction rivaled by very few.

    6. Kurt Angle
    – A bit like a few others on this list he is everything an all out and out champion should e the guy is a friggin’ Olympian after all, he had classic match after classic match and could pretty much carry anyone green enough to a solid match. Kinda wish he would return to WWE for a final run.

    7. Edge
    – always been a fan of this guy and regardless if he was heel/face WHC/WWE Champion he was a must watch wrestler and preformer imo. He generated incredible heat as his run as the Rated R Superstar and for me at least he is sorely missed from the ring.

    8. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
    – To me this guy was an awesome wrestler one of the best in the world and always to me portrayed what a great heel champion is meant to be, he just oozed confidence and brilliance in the ring and i guess you could argue his two title runs in WWE were not as impactful as his others in NWA/WCW but to me i remember them well.

    9. John Cena
    – i kinda hate to put this guy down, not a fan by any stretch of the imagination but as a Champion he reperesents the company well and does it all, and i mean everything possible to put that company in a positive light, put aside your hate for the guy as a pro wrestler because as an actual champion he defends the title when he has it regular and represents what it is to be a fighting champion… although… i wish he wasn’t ever Champion.

    10. The Ultimate Warrior
    – i know this one might seem a weird choice like Warrior? WTF but i remember as i child the excitement he brought the the ring, terrible wrestler not much of a better person outside of the ring but as a kid i thought he was exciting to watch… i guess thats why kids like Cena? maybe?

    that’s why people like Rogers and Bruno are not there although i do respect what they did for the business.

  6. LOL says:

    The Rock and The Undertaker definitely belong on that list!

  7. Sal says:

    Umm…. Yeah Rock Prob sould of been on that list and I Would pull off Bob backlund

  8. Toni says:

    I wouldn’t have put CM Punks reign on my list. His reign was long but the titles importance was devalued during most of it. Even with the title, Punk wasn’t in the main event and instead a championless Cena, that wasn’t in any title picture, was still main eventing ppv after ppv. The title didn’t really gain any main event/importance steam until the Cena/Rock for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania build up story line kicked in towards the end of Punks streak. Without Cena and the Rock the title and Punk would have stayed in the back drop of Cenas shadow until he rejoined the title picture.

  9. Stonz says:

    Backlund SHOULD be on the list. The article up there ^^ was well-written and thought out. I enjoyed reading it. Good job.

  10. Atlee Greene says:

    Thank you all for reading my column. You guys brought some great insight to the table on this discussion.

    @RJ ACE: I didn’t put The Rock on my list because I’ve always felt he wasn’t the strongest champion even though he is one of the biggest names in the history of the business.

    @Bob Who?: I understand your sentiment on the matter. Remember though, John Cena is the champion of this current “down period” and he deserves to be on list.

    @Adam C: I love your list. Edge would be in my top 15 for sure.

    @LOL: The Undertaker never had a good championship run. He never really needed he belt because he was always so over with the crowd.

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