The WWE Championship was first created in 1963 and has been held by dozens of the most legendary wrestlers of all time including the likes of Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, The Undertaker, and Randy Orton. But, which champions were the best? Here are the top 10 best WWE Champions of all time.
10. Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is the only professional wrestler to win a gold medal at the Olympics, winning his in 1996 with a “broken freakin’ neck”. He was also one of the few amateur wrestlers that immediately took to professional wrestling, winning the WWF Championship within 1 year of making his debut. In total he won the championship on 4 occasions, including being a key part of the Smackdown brand during the early 2000s.
9. Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels is often hailed as the greatest wrestler of all time, often trading places with Ric Flair. HBK held the WWF Championship 3 times between 1996 and 1998, winning the championship from Bret Hart in a 60 minute Iron Man Match at WrestleMania 12, and finally losing the championship to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14. While not a Superstar that is decorated in championship wins, his legacy can’t be denied due to his in-ring ability.
8. AJ Styles
AJ Styles became the “face that runs the place” following his debut in 2016, holding the WWE Championship for a total of 511 days between 2016 and 2018. The Phenomenal One spent many years away from WWE, making his name in TNA/Impact Wrestling from 2002-2013. Although we would have liked to see Styles in WWE many years prior, when he did arrive he immediately proved why he will go down as one of the greatest of all time.
7. Triple H
Triple H would be positioned as the third top star in the WWF behind Austin and The Rock in 1999, winning the WWF Championship on four occasions between 1999 and 2002. Since then he has won the WWE Championship a further 5 times, with his last reign being in 2016. These days you can find Triple H behind the scenes as the Executive Vice President of Global Talent Strategy Development and COO for WWE, as well as being the founder of the NXT developmental brand.
6. Bret Hart
Following the steroid scandal in the early 90s, the WWF went in a new direction that they dubbed “The New Generation”, headed up by much smaller competitors. Bret Hart led that era for much of it, holding the WWF Championship on five occasions between 1992 and 1997, first winning it from Ric Flair and finally losing it to Shawn Michaels in 1997 during the infamous “Montreal Screwjob”.
5. John Cena
Hulk Hogan was the face of the company in the 1980s, Stone Cold Steve Austin in the late 90s, followed by John Cena throughout the 2000s and much of the 2010s. During his career so far he has held the WWE Championship a record-setting 13 times, with his first reign in 2005 and his final in 2017. These days Cena is in Hollywood starring in movies such as Fast and the Furious 9, so its unclear as to whether he will return to full-time wrestling, but it will be a long time before his record is broken.
4. Bob Backlund
Bob Backlund is the 3rd longest-reigning WWE Champion of all time, having held the belt for a total of 2,121 days across two reigns. The first reign lasted from February 1978 to November 1979, followed by another reign in December 1979 to December 1983. During that time, Backlund was one of the top babyface wrestlers in the company. After Bruno Sammartino started winding down his career, Bob Backlund helped fill his shoes for a number of years as a top competitor and a key figure of the 1970s.
3. Bruno Sammartino
During his 2 title reigns, Bruno Sammartino has held the WWE Championship for longer than any other wrestler in history, for a total of 4,040 days or approximately 11 years. He first held the championship from 1963 to 1971, and then 1973 to 1977. Although it is worth pointing out that this was during a much different time in wrestling, a Superstar simply couldn’t hold the title for 8 years these days due to the amount of weekly exposure that they have on TV and on PPV. But, it can’t be disputed how important Sammartino was for the then WWWF during the 1960s and 70s, with Bruno holding the record for most appearances at Madison Square Garden with 136.
2. Hulk Hogan
Without Hulk Hogan, professional wrestling as we know it could look a lot different. The rise of Hulkamania put the WWF on the map as a globally known brand and helped usher in the larger than life characters we saw throughout the 80s and 90s. During the 1980s there was no bigger Superstar than Hogan, with every other wrestler in the company wanting to be on the same card as him as it was a guarantee they’d make more money due to attendance being higher than when the Hulkster wasn’t appearing. Hulk Hogan spent approximately 6 years as WWF Champion, first winning the title from the Iron Shiek in January 1984, and keeping hold of it until 1988.
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Following his win against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 14 to win the WWF Championship, Stone Cold Steve Austin took then WWF and the wrestling industry as a whole to new heights with his rivalry against the owner of the company, Mr McMahon. The Attitude Era saw the wrestling industry hit an all-time high in the ratings, with the top 10 highest ratings taking place between May 1999 and July 2000. During the late 90s, we saw wrestling become as mainstream as it ever has been, with it being the topic of conversation at the water cooler every week, and Steve Austin was the face of the company at the time, cementing him as a pop culture icon.