While there are countless wrestling titles around the world, I'd venture to say that most would consider the WWE Championship (now known as the WWE World Championship) to be the biggest of all the world championship titles, wouldn't you? Yes, there are other titles such as The Big Gold Belt, the original NWA Championship, perhaps the AWA World Heavyweight Championship, the AJPW Triple Crown and the prestigious IWGP Heavyweight Championship that could be considered just as big, but your average wrestling fan would likely tell you that the WWF/E Championship is the biggest title in the world of wrestling and with the monopoly that WWE is essentially trying to create, it likely will remain that way for quite some time.
Most wrestlers would say that it's their lifelong dream to one day get to WWE and win the WWE Heavyweight Championship...unless you're on RAW of course. And with all due respect to the Universal Championship, it just doesn't quite have the pedigree just yet to be mentioned in the same category as the aforementioned ones. So just to make things clear as far as this particular list is concerned, the WWE Championship that currently resides on SmackDown Live is the title I'm focusing in on today.
Buddy Rogers was first awarded this title in 1963 after the Capitol Wrestling Corporation left the NWA following a title match dispute between Rogers and Lou Thesz. Saying that the title was only supposed to change hands in a 2-of-3 falls match, the CWC seceded and became known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation and put their title on Rogers after saying he won a fictional tournament in Rio de Janeiro. The WWWF would become the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) in 1979 and changed to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in 2002.
While every wrestler may dream, there are many legends that never won this title, including the likes of Roddy Piper, Rick Rude, Scott Hall, Curt Hennig and Jake "The Snake" Roberts. And then there are the legends that did and held it for a long period of time, such as the likes of Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan, Bob Backlund and John Cena, all of whom had lengthy title reigns that we'll certainly get into. But then there are those reigns that are a little bit embarrassing and we'll certainly dive into those as well.
So let's get into it. Here are the 10 longest and the 10 shortest WWE Championship reigns.
20 Longest: Diesel - 358 Days
Kevin Nash had to endure some awful gimmicks during his first stint in WCW. Oz. The Master Blaster. Vinnie Vegas. Yes, those were seriously things that he had to go through and just couldn't make that jump to being considered a top guy. But when he came to the WWE as Diesel in 1993 to be Shawn Michaels' bodyguard, he made an immediate impact. He was big and strong and had the kind of look that Vince McMahon absolutely loves. In what could now be considered pretty ironic, he defeated Scott Hall to win his first title, the Intercontinental Championship, and became a double champ when he and HBK won the tag titles from The Headshrinkers.
But there were bigger things in store for Diesel. Three days after Survivor Series on November 26, 1994, Nash defeated newly-crowned WWF Champion Bob Backlund at a house show in New York City in an eight-second squash to win his first and only WWE title. But he would certainly make the most of his only reign, holding the title until November 19, 1995 at Survivor Series, where he lost the belt to Bret Hart in a "No Disqualification" Match.
19 Shortest: The Rock, Batista - 2 Days
If we're going strictly by TV numbers, The Rock held the WWE title for a week back in January of 1999. During his legendary rivalry with Mick Foley, Rock won the title at the Royal Rumble that year in an absolutely brutal "I Quit" match that saw Mankind take numerous chair shots to the head while handcuffed. However, Foley would recover quickly and take back the belt in the Empty Arena match that took place during halftime of Super Bowl XXXIII on January 31. But the match was actually taped on January 26, technically making The Rock's reign only two days long.
As far as Batista is concerned, he just had a case of bad luck. After defeating Randy Orton for the WWE Championship in a cage match at Extreme Rules on June 7, 2009, "The Animal" was forced to vacate the title just two days later after it was learned that he had suffered a torn left bicep. He would regain the title upon his return in a match we'll get to a little later.
18 Longest: Hulk Hogan - 364 Days
This is the first of quite a few times that you'll see Hulk Hogan's name mentioned...and that's actually on both sides. Hogan held this title on six different occasions, compiling a total of 2,185 days, good for second all-time but for now, let's focus in on The Hulkster's second-longest run with the WWE Championship.
In February 1988, in a WrestleMania III rematch with Andre The Giant, which drew a wrestling record 33 million viewers and 15.2 Nielsen rating, Hulk Hogan lost the WWE Championship that he had held for more than four years in controversial fashion (more on that later). Hogan would attempt to reclaim his title at WrestleMania IV in the tournament for the title, but battled Andre to a double DQ, ousting him from the tourney, which would be won later in the night by "Macho Man" Randy Savage with an assist from The Hulkster.
The two would form The Mega Powers and would start one of the best storylines in wrestling history, lasting a year with the formation of the team that inevitably resulted in a Savage heel turn. That led to their epic match at WrestleMania V, a match that Hogan would win on April 2, 1989 to win his second WWE Championship, a reign that would last until April 1, 1990, which of course is when he lost the title to The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI.
17 Shortest: Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Kane, Mankind: 1 Day
Although these are four of the biggest superstars to ever step foot in a wrestling ring, Hulk Hogan, Kane, Mankind and Bret "The Hitman" Hart all have the unfortunate distinction of having held the belt for just one day.
For TV purposes, Hulk Hogan's fourth title reign lasted four days but it really lasted only one. After losing the belt to The Undertaker at Survivor Series in 1991 due to interference from Ric Flair, Hogan regained the title at a "This Tuesday in Texas" special on December 3, only to have it stripped a day later by then-WWE President Jack Tunney the very next night on Superstars of Wrestling, which actually didn't air until December 7. Hogan's fourth reign is obviously his shortest.
Bret Hart also doesn't have fond memories of his fourth run with the WWE title. On February 13, 1997, Shawn Michaels gave his famous "Lost His Smile" speech on RAW, vacating the WWE title, which Bret Hart would win at "In Your House 13: Final Four" three days later in a fatal four-way match, only to lose the title the following night to Sycho Sid.
While Kane has won other titles during his career, his first and only run with the WWE title lasted just the one day...and it may have been an accident. Competing against "Stone Cold" Steve Austin at King of the Ring on June 28, 1998, Kane emerged victorious against "The Texas Rattlesnake" in a First Blood Match. With Kane's body essentially being completely covered by his outfit, Austin bled and the match was over. Nobody is quite sure if the plan was for Kane to win, especially seeing as how Austin won the belt back the very next night on RAW.
Mick Foley's third and final reign as WWE Champion was his shortest...not that his other reigns were that long to begin with. His first lasted 26 days and his second lasted 20 days. He won his third title on August 22, 1999 at SummerSlam in a triple threat match with Austin and Triple H in what could be called a major upset, only to lose the belt the very next night on RAW to Triple H.
16 Longest: Randy Savage - 371 Days
After nearly four years of holding the title, it was time for someone else not named Hulk Hogan to lead the World Wrestling Federation. And following a great run with the Intercontinental Championship and arguably the greatest match in WrestleMania history (obviously the match against Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III), "Macho Man" Randy Savage had nearly matched Hogan in popularity with the fans and the choice was made to take the belt off of Hogan and put it on Savage in historic fashion.
At WrestleMania IV, a 14-man tournament was held to decide who would hold the title vacated after the Hogan/Andre match at The Main Event and Savage ran through the tourney by defeating "The Natural" Butch Reed, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine, One Man Gang and knock Ted DiBiase in the finals. And let's be honest here, the celebration with Miss Elizabeth (who wore a different dress for each match...all amazing) following the match was truly a special moment in wrestling history. Won on March 27, 1988, Savage would hold the title for 371 days, losing it to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania V on April 2, 1989.
Savage would win one more WWE Championship, holding it for 149 days after beating Ric Flair at WrestleMania VIII.
15 Shortest: Daniel Bryan - 22 Hours
Unfortunately for Daniel Bryan fans, this is the first of two times we'll see him on the shortest reigns list and we can put him just ahead of Hogan, Hart, Kane and Mankind at 22 hours. After defeating Randy Orton at Night of Champions on September 15, 2013, Bryan was stripped of the title during the opening segment of RAW the very next night (hence the 22 hours) by Triple H, who stated that Bryan's victory at NOC was tainted due to a fast count by referee Scott Armstrong.
Bryan and Orton would have a no-contest finish at Battleground a few weeks later and Orton would beat Bryan at Hell In A Cell to take the vacant title, thus setting up what would become "The Yes Movement" that would lead Bryan to WrestleMania XXX to win his third and final WWE Championship. His first reign? We'll get to that in a little while.
14 Longest: John Cena - 380 Days
There just can't be any WWE Championship list without John Cena on it, can there? Don't worry, Cena haters, you'll see him on the other side as well. "The Face Who Runs The Place" has obviously held this championship on multiple occasions, but his third run with the WWE title was his longest...and likely would have been longer than 380 days had he not suffered an unfortunate injury.
Cena had already had long runs with the WWE title. His first run lasted 280 days and his second ran 133 days, but on September 17, 2006, Cena started the first yearlong-plus run with the WWE title in more than 15 years. On that night, Cena would defeat one of his greatest in-ring rivals, Edge, in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match in front of a hostile Toronto crowd and wouldn't vacate the title until October 2, 2007 due to a torn right pectoral tendon. One has to wonder how long Cena would have held onto the title had he not suffered the injury, but it would set off a chain of events that led to a couple of entries on the shortest reign portion of this list.
13 Shortest: Triple H - 2 Hours
Now we're getting into the same night kind of stuff. I just mentioned that John Cena had to vacate the title due a torn right pectoral tendon on October 2, 2007, which would lead us into No Mercy on October 7. After Randy Orton was awarded the title (more on that later), Triple H defeated him for the title in the opening match, then went on to successfully defend it an hour later against Umaga before having to defend it yet again when Randy Orton invoked his rematch clause and defeated "The Game" in a Last Man Standing Match at the end of the night. After being put through a table, Triple H couldn't answer the 10-count and his reign was over after just two hours of being WWE Champion.
12 Longest: CM Punk - 434 Days
The longest-reigning WWE Champion of the last quarter century isn't "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H or John Cena. That's right, that title belongs to none other than CM Punk. Punk made national headlines during the summer of 2011 with his "Pipe Bomb" promo on an episode of Monday Night RAW, which culminated in him "leaving the company" after defeating John Cena at the Money in the Bank PPV to win his first WWE Championship, a championship he would retain at SummerSlam in a title vs title match against Cena, only to lose it when Alberto del Rio cashed in his MITB contract, which is still quite the questionable decision.
Nevertheless, Punk would regain the title on November 20, 2011 at Survivor Series by defeating Alberto del Rio, albeit not in the main event as John Cena and The Rock teamed up to beat The Miz and R-Truth (yeah, remember that?) and would hold the championship for an unbelievable 434 days until finally losing it to The Rock at the Royal Rumble on January 27, 2013. CM Punk never won another WWE title and was gone from the company the next January.
11 Shortest: Rey Mysterio - 1 Hour
Poor Rey Mysterio. I mean, there's been transitional champions before but this one takes the cake. Let me break this down for you. I just mentioned CM Punk's 434-day reign that started when he won the WWE Championship from John Cena at Money in the Bank. After "leaving the company", a tournament was held to crown a new champion, which culminated on the July 25, 2011 episode of Monday Night RAW. Mysterio defeated The Miz to win his first and only WWE Championship, only to have John Cena challenge him later in the night for the belt, a match that Cena would obviously win.
As Cena celebrated his victory, CM Punk returned with the original title and Cena and Punk were both recognized as champs while Mysterio simply played his part and was left out of the title picture moving forward.
10 Longest: Pedro Morales - 1,027 Days
Widely considered to be the biggest wrestling star to ever come out of Puerto Rico, Pedro Morales deserves to have his name mentioned among the greats but is sometimes overlooked in my humble opinion. He's been a member of the WWE Hall of Fame for more than 20 years (the class of 1995) although you rarely hear his name listed among the greats. But rest assured that Pedro Morales is one of the all-time greats and he has a near three-year reign as champion to back it up.
After Ivan Koloff ended the historic reign of Bruno Sammartino, many wondered who would be the next "good guy" to hold the coveted title and just three weeks later, Morales became that man, winning his first and only WWWF Championship on February 8, 1971 in New York. He would hold the belt for the next 1,027 days, during which time he and Sammartino battled to an epic one-hour time-limit draw that many still call the "Match of the Century." Morales' reign would finally come to an end on December 1, 1973 in a loss to Stan Stasiak, who in turn would lose the title only nine days later.
9 Shortest: Randy Orton - 22 Minutes, 55 Seconds
There's not much more I can describe with this scenario that I haven't already covered but we'll give it a quick shot. After a reign of 380 days as WWE Champion, John Cena was forced to vacate the title due to injury. Five days later on October 7, 2007, Randy Orton is awarded the title by Mr. McMahon at No Mercy. However, it was also decided that Orton would defend that title immediately against Triple H, a match that Orton lost. Throw in the talking and the entrances and such and Orton's first-ever reign as WWE Champion lasted all of 22 minutes and 55 seconds.
As I noted earlier, Orton would regain the title at the end of the night to claim his second WWE title and would go on to hold the belt for 203 days before losing it to....yep, you guessed it....Triple H at Backlash the next year as part of a fatal four-way.
8 Longest: Bruno Sammartino - 1,237 Days
Remember just a minute ago when I told you that Stan Stasiak's run as champ lasted only nine days? Well, Bruno Sammartino is the guy to whom he lost the belt. Winning the title for the second time, a feat that wouldn't be matched until Hulk Hogan defeated "Macho Man" Randy Savage at WrestleMania V, Sammartino's reign this time around lasted 1,237 days. He won the title from Stasiak on December 10, 1973 and wouldn't drop it until April 30, 1977 when injuries got the better of him and he was bested by "Superstar" Billy Graham.
And speaking of injuries, this is how important Bruno Sammartino was to the early days of the company. During this reign, in a match against Stan Hansen, Sammartino actually broke his neck after Hansen botched a move in the ring but as Vince McMahon, Sr. was afraid that ticket sales would plummet, Bruno returned after just two months and defeated Hansen in a rematch that most consider the best match of that year. Bruno would never again hold the WWF title but would go on to headline a number of shows, including a great steel cage match versus Larry Zbyszko at Shea Stadium in 1980.
7 Shortest: Daniel Bryan - 4 Minutes, 7 Seconds
And we're back to Daniel Bryan. Bryan had previously held the Big Gold Belt but this was his first real opportunity to be "the guy" (apologies to Roman Reigns) as he battled John Cena on August 18, 2013 at SummerSlam for the WWE Championship in an epic contest that Bryan would win. As Bryan celebrated, special guest referee Triple H spun Bryan around and gave him the Pedigree in one of the better turns in recent history, allowing Money in the Bank winner Randy Orton to come down and cash in his briefcase on a tired and beaten champion.
Combine this with the reign earlier on this list and Daniel Bryan's first two WWE Championship reigns lasted for a combined total of less than a day. His third and final reign with the title would last for 64 days before the title was vacated due to Bryan's neck injury.
6 Longest: Hulk Hogan - 1,474 Days
While not the longest reign, the 1,474-day reign of Hulk Hogan might go down in history as the most important in the history of WWE. After returning to the WWF after being fired for doing Rocky III two years earlier, Hogan had a new image and immediately won over the fans and even the mainstream media as Hulkamania brought wrestling into the mainstream on January 23, 1984 when he defeated The Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden. Vince McMahon hitched himself to Hogan and the two were off and running.
It was during this reign that McMahon launched WrestleMania, obviously including Hogan in the main event (albeit not in a title defense) partnered with Mr. T to take on Rowdy Roddy Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff, both of whom The Hulkster would feud with over the title during this time period. He would battle King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania II before headlining what is still called by many to be the most important match in the history of wrestling....a showdown with Andre The Giant at WrestleMania III in front of 93,173 people. Hogan would win that battle but would eventually lose the title in a rematch with Andre on February 5, 1988. Without this reign, it's unlikely that WWE is what it is today.
5 Shortest: John Cena - 3 Minutes, 33 Seconds
If Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart can be on the shortest list, I suppose that John Cena can be as well. On February 1, 2010, Cena entered the Elimination Chamber as a challenger to WWE Champion Sheamus, along with Kofi Kingston, Ted Dibiase, Randy Orton and Triple H. Cena would emerge victorious after making Triple H tap out to the STF, securing his sixth WWE title in the process.
Yet moments after his victory, Mr. McMahon came from the back to announce that his new ally, Batista, would immediately get a shot at the title (not even a Money in the Bank situation) and "The Animal" ousted Cena from the top spot in what could only be called a squash after a spear and a Batista Bomb. Naturally, however, Cena would fight back and win the title for a seventh time by defeating Batista five weeks later at WrestleMania XXVI.
4 Longest: Bob Backlund - 2,135 Days
This is where things get a little tricky with the longest list. Now, many people would have gone ahead and had Bob Backlund on this list twice as opposed to once. Let me break this down. On February 20, 1978, Backlund defeated "Superstar" Billy Graham to win his first championship. On November 30, 1979, Backlund was defeated at a show in Japan by Antonio Inoki. In a rematch a week later, Backlund and Inoki battled to a no-contest finish following the interference of Tiger Jeet Singh, at which point Inoki vacated the title.
Back in the States on December 17, 1979, Backlund was victorious over Bobby Duncum in a Texas Death Match to claim the title and he would not lose it until he was beaten by The Iron Sheik on December 26, 1983. But instead of a 648-day reign and a 1,470-day reign, WWE chooses not to recognize that Inoki ever held the championship and includes the days that Inoki had the belt and the time that it was vacated as part of one continuous 2,135-day run by Bob Backlund. Did you get all of that?
3 Shortest: Yokozuna - 2 Minutes, 6 Seconds
In what many consider to be one of the worst booking decisions in company history, Yokozuna makes our shortest list at number two. At WrestleMania IX on April 4, 1993, Yokozuna ended the 174-day reign of Bret "The Hitman" Hart after Mr. Fuji threw his famous salt into the eyes of the champion, allowing his man to pick up the victory and win his first WWE title. That didn't sit well with the four-time former champion, Hulk Hogan, who came out to the ring to dispute the finish and help his "friend."
Mr. Fuji then got on the microphone and said that Yokozuna would challenge Hogan right then and there for the title and after getting the okay from Hart, Hogan jumped into the ring for an impromptu match that saw The Hulkster drop the big leg and get the 1-2-3, making him a five-time WWE Champion and putting Yokozuna in the record books with the second-shortest title reign in history.
2 Longest: Bruno Sammartino - 2,803 Days
Alas, we have come to the longest reign in the championship's storied history and it was only the second-ever reign in that history. And of course, this remarkable 2,803-day trek belongs to the great Bruno Sammartino. Easily the most popular wrestler of his day, Bruno defeated Buddy Rogers in just 48 seconds in controversial fashion as Rogers claims that he had a heart attack a week prior to this match while Sammartino and others on that May 17, 1963 card say that Rogers was just fine and was just angry that he had to drop the title.
Sammartino would go on to feud with the likes of Gorilla Monsoon, Ernie Ladd, George "The Animal" Steele and the great Killer Kowalski as part of his reign, a reign that would last seven years, eight months and one day. In total, Bruno Sammartino's two championship runs lasted 4,040 days...that's more than 11 years with the strap. To put that into perspective, the man with the second-longest time with the belt, Hulk Hogan, held the title for 2,185 days...meaning Hogan would need to hold the belt for five more years to catch Bruno. Anybody see that one happening?
1 Shortest: Andre The Giant - 1 Minute, 48 Seconds
At long (and I guess short) last, we've come to the shortest WWE Championship reign in history and once again, Hulk Hogan is involved. On February 5, 1988 as part of "The Main Event", Hogan engaged in a WrestleMania III rematch with Andre The Giant, who had never once held the title. In an extremely controversial finish that put the world on notice that there were twin Hebner brothers, Andre picked up the win even though it was quite obvious that Hogan's shoulder was off the mat. But that didn't matter. Andre was the winner and the new WWE Champion.
Just one minute and 48 seconds later, Andre forfeited the title to "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, who had been trying to buy the title from Hogan for quite some time. However, WWE President Jack Tunney refused to recognize the exchange and the title was vacated, which led to the Randy Savage win at WrestleMania IV and left the literal biggest star in company history as the man with the shortest title reign.