From the days of Bruno Sammartino holding the title for year after year to it being an utter shock for CM Punk to hold the title for slightly over a single year, there’s no doubting the ever changing picture of the WWE. Today we’re going to dig through the history books and pick out some things that will be a surprise to most modern wrestling fans as the previous booking of WWE Champions is so wildly different to how it is today. While these days reigns are valued over anything else and the title gets hot potatoed back and forth between a select few, there were days when seeing a title change really could be a once in a lifetime moment.
When a wrestling company has been around for as long as the WWE has, you’re bound to get some interesting tidbits about their top title. With a huge wealth of information to draw from, you can find some amazing things digging into the past. From the infancy of the WWE to where we are today a lot has changed in the landscape of the WWE Universe. Going from a small time wrestling promotion that was one of many secluded to their own little areas to the global behemoth that the company has become today, there are undeniable patterns and trends that the history of the top title encapsulates perfectly.
20. First Champion – Buddy Rogers
There have been a select few WWE Superstars who are able to call themselves World Champion, but there’s only one who can say they were the first. The Original Nature Boy Buddy Rogers was the inaugural champion, defeating Antonio Rocca in the finals of a tournament that WWE swears happened, but there’s no proof whatsoever that the bout actually took place.
Rogers was a solid choice to carry the first torch as one of the most hated wrestlers of his time, but he was also one of the most influential wrestlers of all time. Before Buddy came along, and you could argue that for a while after as well, professional wrestling was much more sport than entertainment with the emphasis being placed heavily on a more amateur wrestling style that would bore modern fans to tears. Rogers came along and added a much needed boost of personality and flair to spice up the organization with the ripples of his attitude still being felt today.
19. Longest Single Reign – Bruno Sammartino
This is a record many of us may know, but it doesn’t make it any less incredible. Obviously the early days of wrestling were vastly different to the current environment, but there’s still something to be said for a title reign that lasts roughly eight years. That’s right, Bruno Sammartino, the second champion in company history, held the belt from May 17th, 1963 all the way until he was finally dethroned by transitional champion Ivan Koloff on January 18th, 1971.
Granted back in those days it was impossible to see the champion every week as there wasn’t infinite hours of programming on national television every week and his appearances were truly treated as a special attraction. Even still, it’s incredible to think just how long of a period that is to stay on top of the mountain. While we all moan and complain about Cena being a main eventer for so long, at least he didn’t keep a stranglehold on the title the whole time!
18. Shortest Single Reign – Andre The Giant
For this entry, we’re not going to be counting any Money In The Bank cash ins as we’ll cover that in a little bit. Historically, the shortest title reign goes to Andre The Giant who lost the championship after a minute and 48 seconds of holding the championship. Pertaining the modern day, we also have two other title runs worth mentioning.
First up we have Triple H, who back in October of 2007 found himself in the thick of the WWE Title hunt. After the title was vacated following an injury to John Cena, Mr. McMahon awarded the championship to Randy Orton at No Mercy just for him to drop it to Triple H roughly thirty minutes later. As you’ll notice, however, Orton isn’t on this list because that wasn’t the end of the night for either wrestler with Orton taking the belt back at the end of the night.
Then there’s the ultimate underdog Rey Mysterio who took part in a tournament to determine a new champion after CM Punk “left” the company following his win over John Cena at Money In The Bank in 2011. Mysterio defeated The Miz in the finals of the tournament to win his first WWE Championship, only to foolishly accept a challenge from John Cena later in the night for the title he just won, promptly dropping it back to WWE’s resident Superman.
17. MITB Cash Ins – Nine
Ever since the Money In The Bank concept was introduced back at WrestleMania 22, with Edge being the first to pull down the illustrious briefcase, whomever was WWE champion always had to keep one eye on his opponent and one watching his back. It added a very exciting twist in what can be a plotting and predictable main event scene with the chance of a title change every single night.
All in all there have been nine attempted cash ins on the WWE Championship with all of them being successful. Obviously, the most recent example is Dean Ambrose cashing in on Seth Rollins, but the other champions crowned thanks to the briefcase were Sheamus (Survivor Series 2015), Seth Rollins (WrestleMania 31), Randy Orton (SummerSlam 2013), John Cena (Raw 2012), Alberto Del Rio (SummerSlam 2011), The Miz (Raw 2010), Rob Van Dam (ECW One Night Stand 2006), and Edge (New Years Resolution 2005).
16. Most Total Reigns – John Cena
In what should be a surprise to roughly zero people reading this, John Cena has the most reigns spent on top the mountain in WWE history. With 12 total WWE Championships wins on his resume, it’s hard to argue where Cena stands in the history books. Looking throughout the lineage of the title however shows that his absurd amount of reigns is more a product of the times than anything else. If you look at the top five superstars with the most WWE Championship title reigns, you can notice a bit of a pattern, Triple H is in second with nine, Randy Orton and The Rock are tied at eight, rounding out with Austin and Hogan tied at six. Outside of Hogan (who picked up his sixth reign in 2002 for some reason), all of those Superstars are rather recent competitors.
With the fans seeing more and more of the WWE year after year, it has become harder to resist the temptation of hot shotting the title back and forth in an effort to keep eyes on the screen. The WWE has planted the idea that any show can see a title change leading to the hugely inflated numbers we get today where someone like Roman Reigns already has more title reigns to his name than Randy Savage or Bruno Sammartino.
15. Most Total Days As Champion – Bruno Sammartino
Again this one is far from a shock considering that one of Sammartino’s reigns was long enough to put him atop this list (at 2,803 days), as he finished with an incredible total of 4,040 days spent as the WWE Champion. Much like the previous entry, this is more an issue with the difference between eras over anything else.
Not to take anything away from Bruno, but these days a wrestler like him would be lucky to even sniff the championship, let alone hold it for roughly 11 years. However, back in the golden age, fans were much more interested in guys who looked like they were legitimately going toe to toe in real competition, not giving much thought to anything outside of that. That’s how you get title reigns like Sammartino’s, or Bob Backlund spending 2,138 days as champion, or Pedro Morales’ single reign that lasted over 1,000 days. It was a different time to be sure; a time where once you got to the top you were going to stay there for a long, long time.
14. Least Total Days As Champion – Rey Mysterio & Andre The Giant
As we discussed earlier, Andre the Giant had a terrible reign lasting less than two minutes. Poor Rey Mysterio suffered a similar twist, despite his jaw dropping offense in the ring and overall innovative style he was never given a proper crack at the top thanks to his size. As the smallest WWE Champion in history, Mysterio was given his lone title reign more as a thank you than as a chance to be the face of the company.
That much was obvious as soon as John Cena came up to the newly crowned champion asking for a match later on the same episode of Raw. Someone had to win the title after CM Punk “left” the company so it was given to Rey as a lifetime achievement award of sorts, a trophy for him to hang on his mantle and something he can brag about for life. To treat someone with the career that Rey Mysterio had like a joke, giving him just a single WWE Championship reign that lasted for about an hour, shows just how little faith those in charge had in him.
13. Canadian Champions – Four
Considering the lengthy history of the top title in the WWE, it’s rather surprising that only four men from the great white north have made it to the top of the ladder. It all started with the third champion in the company’s history when Ivan Koloff finally broke Bruno Sammartino’s iron grip on the title in 1971, only to drop the title to Pedro Morales less than a month later.
Next up was Stan Stasiak who took the title back for his country from Morales after a roughly three year reign, just to drop it back to Sammartino nine days later.
The Canadians had a long drought until their next Superstar claimed the gold with that honor falling to Bret Hart, who found much more success with the belt than his previous countrymen. The fourth and final (so far) Canadian to hold the top title was Edge who cashed in against John Cena following a brutal Elimination Chamber match to secure the strap. Before heading to the comment section to yell at me, please note that Chris Jericho was born in New York, and he grew up in “Winnipeg, you idiot!”
12. International Champions – Eight
The Canadians only make up half of the total international champions that have come through the WWE doors, as four stars from four different countries have also held wrestling’s highest honor at one point or another.
First off we have the most legendary WWE Champion of all time, the Italian Bruno Sammartino, who holds the record for longest single reign as well as most total days spent as champion. After Bruno came the only Iranian WWE Champion in history, The Iron Sheik, who proved to be nothing but a stopgap to get the title onto The Immortal Hulk Hogan.
For the next 30 years or so, the belt was exclusively property of North America, with nothing but Americans and two Canadian champions until The Celtic Warrior, Sheamus, snagged the title from John Cena. Lastly, we have The Mexican Aristocrat, Alberto Del Rio, who cashed in his Money In The Bank contract to capture the gold. Much like the Canadian entry, there’s one name that may jump out at you, who might belong on this list, but Yokozuna was actually born in California.
11. Total Number Of Champions – 47
Throughout the history of the WWE, there have been great champions, like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Hulk Hogan, and the list goes on and on and on but when you have a total of 47 men to hold the honor, there’s bound to be some duds.
People like The Big Show, The Miz, Sheamus, and, of course, Vince McMahon probably had no business taking the most prestigious belt in the industry, but when you’ve been around as long as the WWE has, it’s bound to happen. Say what you will about guys like that, but there is one undeniable fact about them too: there are less than 50 people in history that can say they held the WWE Championship and they are one of the select few who can.
10. Longest Time Between Reigns – 8 Years And 8 Months
When you look at all the wrestlers who have ever stepped foot inside the squared circle under the WWE banner, there are none as iconic as Hulk Hogan. The trademark red and yellow gear, the saying of prayers and eating of vitamins, and the millions of Hulkamaniacs running wild were responsible for one of the biggest booms in wrestling history and while he was far from a master technician in the ring, you can’t deny that fans were dying to get their eyes on The Hulkster.
Clearly Vince McMahon holds those days near and dear to his heart, considering the fact that after Hogan dropped the belt and left the company in June of 1993, he was awarded another run with the title in April of 2002. That’s nearly nine years between losing the title and regaining it!
9. Belt Designs – 14
A title that’s been around since 1963 is destined to go through various transformations and the WWE Championship is no exception. Not counting belts with the same designs but different colored straps, there have been a total of 11 different incarnations of the WWE Championship around the waists of the champions. The design that stood the test of time and stayed around the longest was the classic Wingled Eagle design made famous by the likes of Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart, which lasted for roughly 10 years.
Close behind are both the title that was used before Hogan got his hands on it, that was held by the likes of Superstar Billy Graham and Bob Backlund, and John Cena’s gaudy spinner belt that managed to stick around far longer than it had any right to.
8. WrestleMania Without A Title Defense
It seems impossible these days, but there actually has been a WrestleMania to come and go without the top title being put on the line. You have to go all the way back to the very first iteration of the historic event, but it did happen when the reigning WWE Champion, Hulk Hogan of course, found himself teaming up with Mr. T to take on Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff.
While this was likely just a way to get some eyes on the screen by throwing the actor in with the hottest thing in the wrestling world in order to get WrestleMania off the ground, it’s still hard to fathom a time where Vince decided that their top title wasn’t important enough, or wasn’t a big enough draw on it’s own, to get the butts in the seats. Thanks to two particular WrestleManias, that we’ll get to with the next entry, there still has been an average of one defense per Mania.
7. WrestleMania’s With Multiple Defenses
Twice throughout the history of WrestleMania has the belt been on the line on more than one occasion during the event and they happened in back to back years. First at WrestleMania IX, Bret Hart came in as the defending WWE Champion, putting the title on the line against Yokozuna in the night’s main event. After catching some powder in the eye courtesy of Mr. Fuji, the big sumo wrestler got the pin to win the title. While celebrating, who else but Hulk Hogan would make his way down to the ring to check on Bret Hart, only to be challenged to an impromptu title match right then and there by Mr. Fuji, which Hogan would obviously win.
The following year once again saw Yokozuna in two title matches, as that year’s Royal Rumble ended in a draw between Bret Hart and Lex Luger, so both men were granted a one on one shot at the title. After Luger won his match by disqualification, Yoko kept the belt heading into the main event, in a rematch of the previous year, but this time Hart managed to score the win and the title.
6. Vacated Titles – 11
While most of us will remember when Daniel Bryan was forced to vacate the WWE Title due to injury and all of us will remember when Seth Rollins had to do the same, there were actually nine other instances of the title being vacated throughout the history of the WWE. First on the list is Antonio Ioki, who won the belt from Bob Backlund in Japan only to immediately vacate the title as he had no interest in coming to America to defend it. After that is the infamous angle where Ted DiBiase paid off a referee to help Andre The Giant win the belt from Hulk Hogan, only to try and have the belt handed to him by the giant Frenchman, leading to a tournament at WrestleMania IV.
Hogan again caused the title to be vacated after cheating to beat The Undertaker which led to the belt being on the line at the 1992 Royal Rumble, then the injury bug struck the likes of Shawn Michaels, John Cena, and Batista along with the aforementioned Bryan and Rollins. In between those, the title was vacated after Kane and The Undertaker pinned Stone Cold at the same, leading to a tournament for the title.
Bryan also had the title vacated after beating Randy Orton thanks to The Authority not deeming him worthy, and Vince McMahon took a page out of Inoki’s book and gave up the title a day after winning it.
5. Royal Rumble Champions – 1992 & 2016
Every year there is a lot of intrigue heading into the Royal Rumble and finding out who will be challenging for the championship come WrestleMania, but for two of these Rumbles there was even more at stake than that. Instead of competing for a shot at the title in 1992 and in 2016, the Superstars were competing for the title itself, albeit under two very different circumstances.
In 1992, the title was held vacant, forcing the belt to be up for grabs in the 30 man Rumble, which was eventually captured by The Nature Boy Ric Flair.
While in 2016, Roman Reigns was going strong as the new face of the company, but he had his share of on screen detractors in the McMahon family. After overcoming the odds time after time, Vince finally had enough and forced Roman to put the belt on the line in the Royal Rumble, where he was eliminated by the eventual winner, and new WWE Champion, Triple H.
4. Tournament History – Four Or Five Tournaments
The answer to this is going to vary depending on whom you ask. If they’re employed by the WWE, they’ll tell you there has been five including the tournament that “occurred” in Rio de Janerio to crown the first ever champion, but there’s a lot of speculation that never actually happened. If we just go by what’s been presented to us on WWE TV, then there have been a grand total of four tournaments to determine a new WWE Champion.
The first of which was at WrestleMania IV, in a one night tournament that saw Randy Savage finally take his place on top of the company. Next up was The Deadly Games tournament that took place at Survivor Series in 1998 which was capped off with The Rock’s heel turn, when he joined up with The Corporation and won the title in the process.
Then there was a tournament after CM Punk “left” for the title in 2011 that Rey Mysterio won, and finally back at Survivor Series last year where Roman Reigns finally overcame all the odds to claim the championship for himself. Albeit not for long.
3. Most Title Changes In A Year – 11
The biggest complaint you’ll hear from most fans that lived through The Attitude Era is that there’s a serious lack of main eventers these days. Looking back at the heyday of the era, 1999 to be exact, it’s easy to see where they are coming from, considering the belt changed hands an unreal 11 times throughout the calendar year. All in all there were seven men that laid claim to the championship that year, The Rock, Mankind, Austin, The Undertaker, Triple H, Vince McMahon, and Big Show were all champions at one point.
Mr. McMahon aside, it’s pretty incredible to look back at a time where there were so many guys who were capable of accomplishing this feat and frankly it’s hard to imagine getting back to that point anytime soon.
2. Most Title Changes In A Month – Three
It’s rather uncommon for the title to change hands once a month and for it to happen twice is rather incredible. to have three title changes to happen within the same calendar month is just absurd, yet it has happened twice.
The first occurance was in October of 2007 which we’ll get to in the next entry, but the most recent time this happened was during The Summer of Punk in July 2011. The ball started rolling when John Cena defended the WWE Championship against CM Punk in what was billed as Punk’s last match with the company, where he managed to walk out of his hometown of Chicago, and the WWE, with the top championship in hand. Obviously the WWE couldn’t go without a champion, so a tournament was set up for the following Monday Night Raw with the winner getting the illustrious strap, which is where the previously mentioned Rey Mysterio reign came in.
It all came full circle the same night that Mysterio grabbed the brass ring, as John Cena challenged the newly christened champion to an impromptu title defense which Cena won, coming to a total of three title changes throughout the month.
1. Most Title Changes In A Day – Three
What a wild day in WWE it was back on October 7th, 2007. We touched upon the events in an earlier entry, but let’s dig a little deeper into the time the WWE Championship changed hands three times in a single night. Leading up to that night, the build for the main event between defending champion John Cena and challenger Randy Orton was in full force, with Orton ambushing the champion on the Monday Night Raw six days before the event, leading to a torn pectoral for Cena.
Forced to have surgery and therefore unable to defend his title, Mr. McMahon awarded the championship to Orton at the start of No Mercy in 2007. Triple H was not very happy about this situation and let his frustrations be known to his father in law, setting up a match between The Cerebral Assassin and The Viper for the title on the line. Triple H came out of the bout victorious, clutching his newly won WWE Championship before being informed that his night was far from over. The main event was scheduled to be a last man standing match before Cena’s injury and that’s exactly what the fans were going to get! Orton got a rematch with Hunter in the main event, getting the title for the second time on that night.
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