The “World title” has become a complex issue for WWE. It used to be simple, just the one WWE title (which they didn’t even call a “World title” after the 1980s) and that was that. Then in 2002 they introduced the secondary World title which was also treated as a huge deal. It’s become bigger with the creation of the Universal title and some might argue the NXT belt deserves to be called a World title too. Thus, trying to figure out the lineages of these belts is complex. It also is harder to figure things out in terms of the best “World” title wins.
Some wins are better than others for guys. Daniel Bryan’s World title victory cashing in MITB wasn’t that notable compared to his later WWE title victory. Even Edge’s first MITB cash-in for the WWE title wasn’t as great as some of his other wins. However, some title wins are amazing for how epic they are and how they manage to become classic moments. Here are 10 of the best first world title wins in WWE history to show how the first time can be the best.
10 The Rock
This may be the best thing Vince Russo has ever done in wrestling. IN late 1998, the Rock was taking off huge with fans and getting massive cheers. At the 1998 Survivor Series, the Rock and Mick Foley faced each other in the finals of a tournament for the vacant WWE title with Mankind seemingly on Vince McMahon’s side.
When The Rock had Foley in the Sharpshooter, Vince demanded the bell be run and ref Shane agreed. Fans realized that this was all a sham as Rock was on the McMahons’ side all along. It was a great way to elevate him to the top in a fantastic turn.
9 Brock Lesnar
Today, fans complain about Brock Lesnar on top in WWE all the time. But in 2002, the man was a true beast and the crowds couldn’t get enough of him. Having crushed all in his path, Lesnar finally got his shot against the Rock at SummerSlam.
It was a great battle with the crowd on Lesnar’s side as Rock was “going Hollywood.” They played off each other wonderfully until Lesnar pinned Rock clean following an F5. It elevated Lesnar to the star he is now by going over one of WWE’s biggest names for his first title.
8 Kofi Kingston
After years as a dependable worker, it appeared Kofi Kingston had settled in as part of the New Day. But as 2019 began, Kofi was set against Daniel Bryan at Elimination Chamber and the fans went wild on how he actually seemed set to win the belt.
This led to a long story arc of Kofi and the New Day overcoming obstacles to get Kofi into a title match at Mania XXXV. The bout was terrific with Kofi finally managing to pin Bryan to win the WWE title. It was one of the best moments WWE has offered in a long time as this veteran worker finally reached the top.
7 Shawn Michaels
It’s still debated whether Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart should have done more falls in their WrestleMania XII Iron Man match. After all, going 60 minutes without any pins ruins the concept.
Still, it was a terrific battle with both giving their all to show that, despite personal issues, the two respected each other immensely. It ended in a special “overtime” with Shawn superkicking Bret to win his first WWE title. It was sold as an amazing and emotional moment and still the best of all of Shawn’s WWE title wins.
6 Ric Flair
Even though Flair had entered WWE as “the real World’s Champion,” Hogan was still in charge. Due to complex reasons, the WWE title was held up and it was announced that the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble would be champ. Flair came out at number 3 and put on the performance of his career.
He fought every other guy in the match, not backing down and taking a hellacious amount of punishment. It ended with him dumping out Sid to win the belt and even Flair haters had to give monster props for his achievement. His “with a tear in my eye” victory promo showed how much Flair loved this moment.
5 Randy Savage
After years of Hulk Hogan as champion, WWE needed a change in 1988. With the title held up over controversy, Wrestlemania IV was dominated by a tournament for the belt. Randy Savage had been taking off as a new face and with Hogan taken out by DQ, he rolled through the first three rounds.
The final had him and Ted DiBiase going at it with interference from Hogan. However, it was still something when Savage won the title, finally getting his due as a fantastic star. His reign would be terrific and making Savage more of an icon.
4 Bret Hart
On October 12, 1992, Bret Hart was preparing to face Ric Flair in what was supposed to be a standard taping in Saskatoon. Bret had figured the plan was for him to put up a good match and then Flair cheats to win. Before the match, Vince stunned Bret by saying he was going to win the title.
Given the short prep time, Flair and Bret put on a great match, notable for Bret breaking his finger during it and popping it right back in. When Bret had Flair in the Sharpshooter, fans expected some sort of escape. To their shock, Flair submitted to give Bret the title. He had many victories afterward but that first championship out of nowhere remains the best for the Hitman.
3 Steve Austin
Ever since his debut, Steve Austin had been primed to be a huge star. WCW couldn’t quite make it work and Austin’s early time in WWE was rough as well. But he persevered when “Austin 3:16” took off and then making himself into a tough fighter.
Even a broken neck couldn’t stop him as Austin was finally primed to take off in 1998. His Wrestlemania XIV win over Shawn Michaels is amazing given Michaels had a bad back but still gave Austin the rub in the victory. Austin finally rose to the top of the heap and would push WWE to major new heights to make this a great victory.
2 Mick Foley
It wasn’t just an emotional title change but one of the most important in the history of the business. Mick Foley had been winning over fans majorly as a great worker who could take unholy damage in Hell in the Cell. In late 1998, having been cheated out of the WWE title by the Rock, Foley faced him in a no-DQ match on RAW.
Thanks to a huge assist from Steve Austin, Foley was able to pin Rock for the title. It was a major moment as WCW had foolishly given away the results which led to a huge ratings shift and Foley becoming an icon.
1 Hulk Hogan
It’s the title change that began a new era in wrestling. The Iron Sheik had shocked everyone by ending Bob Backlund’s six-year WWE title reign just a month before. Hulk Hogan had jumped from the AWA and soon pushed against the Sheik. On January 23, 1984, Hogan beat the Sheik in under six minutes for the WWE title.
It may not have been a technical masterpiece but the Madison Square Garden crowd went wild to see Hogan with the belt. It was the moment that would lead WWE to new heights of glory and turned Hogan into a legend.