The WWE World Championship (more commonly known as the WWE Championship, but the WWE changes its name every other week, so whatever) is one of the most, if not the most, prestigious and important title belts in professional wrestling history, and not even a diamond spinner that looked like it was designed by a blind wizard could change that. It's been held by such incredible performers as Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, and many, many others. It's a belt currently held by AJ Styles, possibly the best in-ring performer on Earth right now (and in an alternate reality, is currently being held by a very confused James Ellsworth). However, despite the pedigree these men have brought to the belt, it's suffered its fair share of less than amazing reigns.
A bad title reign doesn't necessarily mean that the men who held the belt were inherently bad, or shouldn't have been holding it, although some of them were (Hi, Vince McMahon!) and some of them shouldn't have (again, Hi, Vince). It could mean that the company never truly got behind the title holder, hurting their reign with bad booking, or the title holder was simply a place holder for another, brighter star, making their reign so short it barely mattered. Without further ado, this list will look back at some of the best and worst WWE World Champions of the Y2K era (2000-2009), an era of WWE Television that fluctuated fairly often between very good and frighteningly bad.
Honorable mentions go to Chris Jericho and Triple H. Jericho was the first WWE Undisputed Champion, but his reign was weak and his best work was with the World Heavyweight Championship, and Triple H's many reigns came from constant hot potato-ing from the WWE, and his best work was with the World Heavyweight Championship.
15 Best - The Rock
"Wait, what the hell!?" You're saying to yourself, shaking your fist violently at the screen. "Why is The Rock ranked so low!? He's The Rock!" While Mr. Dwayne "The Tooth Fairy" Johnson is one of the most all-time greats, and probably the best mic worker of all time, many of his best WWE World Championship reigns were before the start of the 21st Century. He held the belt four times in 2000 and on, three of those reigns only lasting less 35 days or less, partially because the company was playing hot potato with the belt and partially because he was being used to put over some of the company's rising stars, like Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle. His second reign of the 2000's, fifth overall, lasted 119 days, which he lost to Kurt Angle, then got back 126 days later, then lost it 35 days later at WrestleMania X-Seven to Stone Cold, in one of the best 'Mania matches ever. What a tangled web wrestling weaves.
14 Worst - Edge
There are a few entries on this list that will make people unhappy, and this is the first of them. Edge is, without a doubt, one of the best heels in modern WWE history. He was an insidious villain, the ultimate opportunist, who used a never ending supply of trickery and evil to win matches. Unfortunately, none of his four WWE World Championships reigns were very good, due to the company always treating him like a transitional champion. Three of his reigns lasted only 21 days (Seriously, what kind of voodoo nonsense is that?), which means he essentially won the belt, then coughed it up at the next PPV. His second reign, which lasted 26 days, was an extended version of his first feud with John Cena, after the Rated-R Superstar cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase (A legitimately awesome moment) and he lost the belt in his home country, in a TLC match, the match stipulation he made famous. Luckily, Edge eventually moved over to Smackdown, where he was the Blue Brand's top heel and won the World Heavyweight Championship on multiple occasions, to much better effect.
13 Best - "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
"Are you kidding!?" You yell towards the Heavens, getting ready to stomp a mudhole in your computer. "Stone Cold, too!? The disrespect!" Stone Cold is one of the all-time greats, maybe even the best ever. He remains the biggest badass in wrestling history and his feud with Vince McMahon was the greatest, and most important, feud in wrestling history. But, like The Rock, his best title reigns were before the turn of the century. He held the belt twice in 2001, once for 175 days, after his shocking, yet eventually ill fated, heel turn at Wrestlemania X-Seven. He lost the belt to Kurt Angle, but gained it back only 15 days later. He held the belt for only 62 days after that, making that his last run with the WWE World Championship or any other belt in the promotion.
12 Worst - The Undertaker
On the surface, this one looks pretty bad, because it's damn near blasphemous to speak ill of The Undertaker, unless you're talking about his feud with Giant Gonzales, then have fun. However, The Deadman's on this list because he only won the WWE World Championship once after the turn of the century. His title reign only lasted 63 days before he lost it to The Rock. However, possibly the most damning part of his title reign was who he won it from: then forty-nine year old "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan (Don't worry, we'll get back to him). It was already ludicrous that the clearly over-the-hill Hogan was champion in an era populated by guys like The Rock, Stone Cold, Kurt Angle, and Brock Lesnar, but it didn't help 'Taker at all that he pummeled a broken down old man for the belt. It's difficult to be badass or look strong when that's your opposition. It also didn't help that was in the middle of his Limp Bizkit motorcycle phase.
11 Best - Randy Orton
Randy Orton or, as he'll probably be known in the history books: erratic, evil John Cena. No one, besides Big Match John, benefited from the WWE's constant hot potato-ing of the WWE World Championship than Randy Orton, who stands as a twelve time champion. Between 2007 and 2009, he held the title five times. His first reign landed less than an hour, but his second reign started later that night and lasted 203 days. His other three reigns lasted 42, 90, and 21 days each. In his best reign, the second one, he was the top heel in the company, a truly reprehensible villain who did whatever he wanted, taking whatever violent, bloodthirsty methods he could to hold onto his gold. He defeated legends like Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, and Jeff Hardy during those 200 plus days. Although he always felt like second best to John Cena, Orton was a great, evil champion people wanted to see lose.
10 Worst - Jeff Hardy
Although Brother Nero has recently taken a backseat to Broken Matt Hardy, Skarsgard, the Dilapidated Boat, and Vanguard 1, Jeff Hardy remains on of the most popular wrestlers on the planet. His name and legacy are tied to the inception of the TLC match, some of the best tag team matches of all time, and some truly death defying stunts (Also, a bunch of weird drug stuff and the Victory Road incident in 2011, but WHATEVER!). However, despite his endearing popularity, that didn't stop Vinny Mac and Co. from giving him a bad, almost pointless title reign. In 2009, Jeff's popularity was at a fever pitch and he was having the best in-ring run of his career. He was rewarded for his decade plus of hard work with a WWE World Championship reign... which only lasted 42 days, sandwiched in between two 21 day Edge title reigns. While he would eventually go on to win the World Heavyweight Championship twice, his sole run with the WWE World Championship was a bust, because the company just did care for the Charismatic Enigma as champion on the flagship show.
9 Best - Eddie Guerrero
Who doesn't love Eddie Guerrero. He was one of the most incredible wrestlers of all time. He was a stellar in-ring craftsman, he had more charisma than he knew what to do with, and even though his gimmick of Lying, Cheating, and Stealing should have made him a heel, it instead made him one of the most endearing, beloved characters in the WWE ever (Except when he was trying to gain custody of Rey Mysterio's kid. That was... odd). The WWE eventually rewarded him for his hard work by giving him a run with the WWE World Championship and he kept up his usual excellent ways with the gold. His match against Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004, where he won the belt, was great and the pop he received upon winning was epic, his match against Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania XX was one of the best 'Mania matches of all time, and even his feud against JBL, who won the belt from him, was good. Tragically, Eddie passed away in 2005, before he was set to win the World Heavyweight Championship on Smackdown. Without a doubt, Eddie would have been amazing with the Big Gold Belt, as well.
8 Worst - Sheamus
This entry is almost definitely cheating, as Sheamus won his first WWE World Championship on December 13, 2009, but it was so weird that it deserves mentioning. When Sheamus won the title from John Cena in a tables match at TLC 2009, it genuinely felt like an accident. Sheamus didn't so much push John Cena off a turnbuckle, through a table, as John Cena kind of just fell and lost. Sheamus himself looked surprised that he won. That may have been part of why his title reign was a failure (Along with the WWE's lovely tendency back then to waste any champion that wasn't John Cena or Randy Orton). Fans never really bought into the Celtic Warrior as a champion and he wasn't very convincing as an ass kicker. Instead of being a monster, he won via trickery and heel nonsense. It didn't help that he was still green in the ring. He held the belt for 70 days before losing it back to Johnny John Cena in an Elimination Chamber.
7 Best - JBL
If you've ever listened to JBL talk, you'll know that he is the longest reigning WWE World Champion in Smackdown history, at 280 days. The self-proclaimed Wrestling God won the belt from Eddie Guerrero at The Great American Bash 2004 in a Texas Bullrope match (Those are always fun to watch!) and he held it until Wrestlemania 21, where he became the glorious, cowboy hat wearing main event stepping stone for John Cena. The Texas millionaire's title reign was one of the finest whiny, arrogant, cheating bastard heel reigns of all time. JBL was all confident and supremely arrogant, even though he cheated constantly. He was a legitimately ass kicker who hid behind dirty tactics because he thought the rules were beneath him. He had a legion of stooges who won titles and worshiped their limousine riding overlord. He basically ruled the Blue Brand. His sole world title reign was a massive success and he played the perfect villain to ascend John Cena to megastar status.
6 Worst - RVD
RVD's WWE World Championship reign is the perfect example of wasted potential, and this time not by the WWE. RVD won the belt at ECW One Night Stand 2006 when he cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase against John Cena, in front of the most passionately anti-Cena crowd ever (Second and third being Money in the Bank 2011 and WrestleMania XXVII). He and Cena beat the hell out of each other and RVD eventually picked up the win after Edge put the champ through a table. At the time of the win, RVD was incredibly over with the fans. They loved his high flying, high octane, kick friendly in-ring style and he loves weed, which people are pretty in to. They warmly welcomed him winning the belt. However, he was soon arrested for felony drug possession and as a result, the WWE forced him to drop the belt 22 days later to Edge. He was released soon after. There's no telling whether a full RVD reign would have been good or bad, but the fact that we barely got to see it all is a huge bust.
5 Best - Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar. The Doodlebob to Kurt Angle's Spongebob. No performer in wrestling history has been as physically terrifying as the Beast Incarnate. He oozes ferocity. He looks like he could rip a moose in half with his bare hands. The WWE realized what a special athlete they had and they made him the then youngest WWE World Champion in 2002, crowning him by having him defeat The Rock at Summerslam. His first reign only lasted 84 days, but his second and third reigns lasted over 100 days each and were defined by tremendous feuds with Kurt Angle, Eddie Guerrero, John Cena, and Big Show. Additionally, he helped cement Smackdown as the premiere show for in-ring excellence early on. His sixty minute Iron Man match with Kurt Angle in 2003 remains one of the greatest matches the WWE has ever aired on free television. He was simply a great champion and an amazing spectacle, a magnetic performer people wanted to see destroy everyone in his way.
4 Worst - Big Show
Poor Big Show. The man has given his life to professional wrestling and people just kind of want him to go away. He's never been an outstanding in-ring technician and his character has shifted between heel and face so many times, it's become a running joke in the wrestling world. Plus, WCW used to bill him as Andre the Giant's son, which was... yeah, he's not. All four of his world title runs in the WWE have been panned, but he only had one reign with the WWE World Championship between 2000-2009. However, it was a doozy. A bad, bad doozy. In 2002, the big man went against the white hot Brock Lesnar, then in his first title reign, and it seemed like Big Show was going to be sacrificed to make Lesnar look strong. Nope, Show squashed Mr. Lazer in four minutes and won the belt. It was stupid booking and it was almost pointless, as he only held the belt for 28 days before losing it to Kurt Angle. The company basically devalued one of their strongest competitors to make Big Show a transitional champion nobody wanted. And they wonder why people want him to retire.
3 Best - Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is incredible. Look at all he's done in his wrestling career and you'll see what a singular talent he is. He won an Olympic gold medal, arguably the pinnacle of athletic accomplishment, with a broken frickin' neck, then made a seamless transition into the madcap world of professional wrestling. As a member of Vince McMahon's Carnival of Testosterone and Rage, Angle quickly developed into one of the company's best workers, both in the ring and on the mic. He first won the WWE World Championship in 2000 from The Rock and he held it for 126 days. He would win it three more times, repeatedly proving himself to be one of the best in the world. The title always seemed to matter more in his hands because of his Olympic pedigree and transcendent skills. His feud with arch-nemesis and human mountain Brock Lesnar was one of the best of the decade, and possibly the best in the history of Smackdown. Angle was incredible at everything he did, and continues to do, in wrestling and everyone should hope he makes his way back to the WWE one more time.
2 Worst - Hulk Hogan
Only Vince McMahon would think it was a good idea to give Hulk Hogan the highest prize in the WWE in 2002. It was such a blatant, soulless attempt to cash in on nostalgia from Hogan's past WWE run and the popularity of the NWO. It was mind numbing in its stupidity. To Hogan's credit, he was the face of wrestling for a decade and without him, the WWE wouldn't have become the mega power (Pun more or less intended) it is today. However, he was never a very good ring worker and by 2002, he was a shell of his former self. He simply couldn't keep up with the athletic monsters in the company. However, they still went ahead of gave him the belt, having him defeat Triple H a mere 35 days after he seized the belt from Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania X8. People simply didn't take it seriously, refusing to believe the forty-nine year old legend could be a viable champ in the modern era. He lost the belt 28 days after winning it.
1 Best - John Cena
Come on, you knew this one would be inevitable. You may not like it, but it was obvious. John Cena is the face of the WWE, he's a fifteen time world champion, and (HOT TAKE INCOMING!) he's arguably one of the top ten greatest wrestlers of all time. While he hasn't always been amazing in the ring (He damn sure is now), he's always been solid and capable of great matches. He's one of the best, most charismatic talkers ever. Very few men can tell a story in the ring like Big Match John can. Between 2000-2009, he won the WWE World Championship five times, holding it a combined 863 days, one reign lasting an incredible 380 days. While many people (rightly) disliked the indestructible booking he received or how quickly the company put the belt back on him whenever ratings dipped a little, Cena put the company on his back for years, doing everything in his power to be entertaining. As he slides into a reduced role in the company, it's only fair he gets his props now. We're gonna miss him when he's gone.