Traditionally in the business of professional wrestling, one has to spend a long time paying their dues to succeed. Wrestlers have rarely been given top spots in a promotion without having to go through a jobber stage for a few years, undergo various gimmick changes and simply waiting their turn before they get their big break. Names like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Edge and Booker T had to wait years before they were given their first run with a world title.
In the WWE, if you didn't look like you were sculpted out of granite or couldn't hold the crowd in the palm of your hand on a promo, it was very unlikely you were going to get a World Title, no matter how good you were in the ring.
As the years progressed, title reigns got shorter and shorter, meaning more guys were able to hold the gold. The WWE was in a rush to make new stars following the Golden Generation, so plenty of guys since have won a world title in the company in little time.
In this list, we will be calculating the days between a wrestler's debut with a company, up until their first world title win. Both the WWE Championship and the defunct World Heavyweight Championship will be included on this list.
15 Randy Orton - 843 Days
Randy Orton seemed like he lacked a direction when he made his WWE debut a couple of months after WrestleMania X8. He didn't really begin finding his groove until Triple H formed Evolution early in 2003, a group comprising of the top star Triple H, the wily veteran in Ric Flair, the enforcer in Batista, and the blue chipper in Randy Orton. The group was a modern day Four Horsemen and Orton thrived as the protege of the group. He soon began running with his "Legend Killer" gimmick, which really got him noticed among the WWE fans.
Orton was the no.2 heel on RAW right behind Triple H and after his victory over Mick Foley at Backlash 2004, he was red hot.
The WWE decided to make him the youngest World Champion in WWE history, as he defeated Chris Benoit for the World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam 2004. Unfortunately, Orton was still quite immature at this stage of his career and dropped the title to Triple H just a month after his victory.
14 Stone Cold Steve Austin - 811 Days
Can you imagine that Vince McMahon wasn't all that interested in Steve Austin back in 1995? It took some convincing by Austin's buddies Jim Ross and Kevin Nash to give Austin a shot. Austin made his debut with the company on January 8, 1996 but he was saddled with one of the blandest gimmicks imaginable, named The Ringmaster and was accompanied by Ted DiBiase. Austin was named the Million Dollar Champion by DiBiase and was pretty much in midcard limbo for the first half of 1996.
At King of the Ring 1996, Austin broke out with his signature Austin 3:16 promo and from there, it was only a matter of time before he became WWE Champion. The WWE still managed to build to it slowly, as Austin spent much of the next 18 months feuding with Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Brian Pillman and Shawn Michaels. Just two years after his WWE debut, Austin won his second Royal Rumble in 1998. He then headlined WrestleMania against Shawn Michaels and won his first title at WrestleMania XIV. It was the start of the Austin era that would take the business to new heights.
13 The Rock - 728 Days
The Rock won his first WWE Championship at the same event that he made his WWE debut, at the Survivor Series. The Rock debuted at the 1996 event and won the elimination tag match for his team as the sole survivor. He was dubbed "the blue chipper" Rocky Maivia but would flounder in the midcard, as he was horribly cast as a vanilla babyface. By mid 1997, Maivia had fizzled out and crowds had turned on him. They were tired of this bland character being shoved down their throats, so The Rock decided to turn heel and run with the fact that the crowd had turned on him.
He joined the Nation of Domination and his career began to take off, as he soon grew to outshine all other members of the stable. By mid-1998 he was a top star in the company and after a long reign with the Intercontinental Championship, it was only a matter of time before he would win the big one. After a brief face turn, The Rock won the 1998 Deadly Games tournament to win the vacant WWE Championship, aligning with Vince McMahon in the process.
It was quite the two years for Dwayne Johnson.
12 Diesel - 538 Days
Diesel came into the WWE after having gone through some horrendous gimmicks in WCW, including Oz and Vinnie Vegas. He got his start in WWE as Shawn Michaels' bodyguard, rarely saying anything and just standing at ringside looking imposing. While HBK was undoubtedly the better performer, when you're 7 feet tall in an era looking for its next top star, you're bound to get a quick break. Vince McMahon was enthralled with Diesel and had him turn face in late 1994, breaking away from Shawn Michaels.
After Bob Backlund had ended Bret Hart's title reign at the 1994 Survivor Series, a title match was booked in Madison Square Garden three days later. Diesel would defeat Backlund in eight seconds to win the WWE Championship. His run was a flop financially for the company, but he would hold the title for nearly a full year, before dropping it back to Bret at Survivor Series '95.
11 Bob Backlund - 436 Days
No, we're not talking about Bob Backlund's short title reign in 1994. We're talking about the babyface Bob Backlund that made his WWE debut in 1977 and in 1978, he would win the championship from Superstar Billy Graham. After Bruno Sammartino's pair of extremely long title reigns (eight and four years) nobody thought another wrestler would come anywhere close to either of those reigns, but Backlund surpassed Bruno's second reign, holding the title for 2,135 days. The title reign has an asterisk as Antonio Inoki defeated Backlund for the title in 1979, but the title reign is not recognized by WWE.
Backlund would hold onto the title throughout the early 80s. When Hulk Hogan made his return to the WWE in 1983, Vince McMahon wanted Hogan to be the torchearer for his company. Rather than drop the title to Hogan, Backlund dropped it to ultra heel Iron Sheik, who in turn lost it to Hogan a few weeks later.
10 The Undertaker - 379 Days
From the moment The Undertaker made his chilling entrance at Survivor Series 1990, you had a feeling he was going to be in the WWE for a long time. While his gimmick is completely ridiculous when you look back at it, it was perfect for Mark Calaway. Vince figured out what WCW couldn't; what to do with a man that "doesn't smile".
'Taker debuted at one Survivor Series and had a dominant 1991 in WWE. When Survivor Series came around that year, he was booked in a WWE Championship match against Hulk Hogan. By this point, fans were starting to get tired of Hogan's same old stuff as champion, so The Undertaker actually got some cheers that night. With some help from Ric Flair, 'Taker defeated Hogan to win his first title, just over a year after his debut.
Unfortunately, this was all just to transition into Flair winning the title at the Royal Rumble. Just a few days later at Tuesday in Texas, 'Taker dropped the title back to Hogan in a screwy finish that caused the title to be declared vacant. 'Taker wouldn't hold the title again until 1997.
9 Alberto Del Rio - 359 Days
Alberto Del Rio was pushed almost immediately after debuting on the SmackDown brand in 2010. He won the 40-man WWE Royal Rumble to kick off 2011, merely months after his WWE debut. It seemed WWE was set to give Del Rio the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXVII, but after learning Edge was going to retire due to spinal stenosis, the WWE had Edge go over and retire as champion. Following this, they elected to provide a feel-good moment with Christian winning the title in a ladder match the following month.
Eventually they would run with Del Rio though, as they had him win Money in the Bank, then cash in on CM Punk to close out SummerSlam 2011. It took Del Rio less than a year to claim the richest prize in WWE. Del Rio would drop the title to John Cena only three weeks later, which made you question why Del Rio was given the title at the expense of a red hot CM Punk.
8 Kurt Angle - 343 Days
Even though several guys on this list won the title more quickly than Kurt Angle, nobody has ever had a rookie year in the WWE quite like the Olympic Hero. By the time he won the company's richest prize 11 months after his '99 Survivor Series debut, he was already a Grand Slam Champion, having held the Intercontinental and European championships, as well as the 2000 King of the Ring.
At No Mercy 2000, Kurt Angle was booked in a WWE Championship match against The Rock. Amazingly, Kurt Angle was able to defeat The Rock and his first reign actually included some big wins, including victories over The Undertaker and Triple H. He even won a six-man Hell in a Cell match at Armageddon 2000.
Fortunately, this was a quick rise to the top the WWE got right. Angle would prove in the years to come that he was in fact worthy of a quick rise to the top, becoming one of the very best wrestlers of all time.
7 Big Show - 273 Days
When The Big Show signed with WWE in early 1999, he was still a young man at 27 years old. Hence, Vince McMahon felt comfortable in making a long-term investment in the world's largest athlete, signing him to a 10-year contract. Unfortunately, Big Show had growing pains in WWE and got a mediocre face run through much of 1999. When Stone Cold Steve Austin had to take time off due to neck problems, the WWE ran the angle of Stone Cold getting run over at the 1999 Survivor Series. With Austin out of the main event triple threat match for Triple H's title, Big Show was inserted into the match as Austin's replacement.
In a shocking turn of events, Big Show was booked to win the match, and hence won his first WWE Championship, despite his run in WWE having been extremely disappointing up until that time. He wouldn't hold the title for long. After a terrible feud with the Big Bossman, he would drop the title back to Triple H just over a month later.
6 Kane - 266 Days
Yes, Glenn Jacobs had been in the WWE a while as Isaac Yankem and Fake Diesel, but he was taken off WWE television in 1997 while McMahon and the rest of creative thought of a way to reintroduce Jacobs. After years of terrible gimmicks, Jacobs finally landed a goldmine. He was brought back as The Undertaker's half brother, who was thought to have perished when the two were kids.
Kane then made one of the best debuts in WWE history, attacking his brother during his Hell in a Cell match with Shawn Michaels at Badd Blood. From there, Kane continued to feud with his brother and despite losing to The Undertaker at WrestleMania and Unforgiven, he still had enough momentum to land a title match with Stone Cold at KOTR 1998. Kane would win in a first blood match, winning the title 266 days after Badd Blood.
Sadly, this was just a ploy of increasing ratings the following night on RAW, as Austin was booked to win the title right back, ending Kane's reign at 24 hours.
5 Goldberg - 174 Days
Goldberg's rise in WCW was about as quick as one could be in wrestling, as he was given a long undefeated streak and won the title about a year after debuting. When the WWE signed Goldberg in 2003, it was on a one-year contract, meaning they would have to make his run count. Sadly, after a promising start by defeating The Rock, Goldberg's WWE run sputtered through the summer. SummerSlam 2003 appeared to be when all would be made right with Goldberg, as he dominated the Elimination Chamber title match, only for Triple H to pull out yet another win.
Goldberg would win the title at Unforgiven the following month, marking just 173 days between his WWE debut and world title win. Unfortunately, Goldberg's title reign proved to be underwhelming and it would only last three months. By March 2004, Goldberg was out of the WWE and as it turned out, retired from the wrestling business.
4 Yokozuna - 173 Days
Yokozuna was brought into the WWE in 1992 and when he first arrived in WWE, he was actually able to move surprisingly well for someone his size. His debut came on the October 31st edition of Superstars and from there, he destroyed everybody in his path.
Just a couple of months after his debut, Yokozuna won the 1993 Royal Rumble, booking himself a ticket to WrestleMania IX to face Bret Hart. Although Yokozuna made history that night by becoming one of the youngest champions in WWE history, the night is mostly remembered for the horrible booking that took place.
Yokozuna scored a cheap win over Hart after Mr. Fuji threw salt in the champion's eyes, allowing Yoko to get the pin. Just minutes later, Hulk Hogan came down to the ring, offering help to Hart. Yokozuna then delivered an impromptu challenge to Hogan, offering to put his title on the line. Thirty-five seconds later, Hogan was champion.
Thankfully Yokozuna would win it back from Hogan a few months later at King of the Ring.
3 Sheamus - 166 Days
I sincerely believe the WWE hot-shotting Sheamus into the WWE Championship so quickly has ultimately hurt him. Sheamus was by no means ready to be the WWE Champion and him winning the title so quickly has turned many fans against him, deserving or not. Nevertheless, Sheamus debuted on June 30 2009 on the ECW brand and from there, it only took him a few months to move to the RAW brand.
In November, he won a battle royal to become the no.1 contender to John Cena's WWE Championship. A tables match was booked for the two at TLC 2009. For once, many in the audience were hoping for Cena to win, as it was unfathomable that a guy would be hot-shotted so quickly into a title win without having established much of a name for himself. That's not to mention, Cena was pretty much unbeatable at this point.
Sure enough, Sheamus scored a fluky win, after pushing Cena off the top rope through a table for the win. Sheamus then became the first Irish-born champion in WWE history.
2 Brock Lesnar - 126 Days
Now here's a man who was in fact ready to be a world champion very quickly. Brock Lesnar made his debut after WrestleMania X8 and was instantly booked as a destroyer, with Paul Heyman by his side. Lesnar proved to be an unstoppable force, quickly dismantling opponents on a weekly basis. By June of that year, WWE even wanted him to defeat Stone Cold, which um, didn't end well.
Lesnar was crowned King of the Ring just three months after his debut, earning the no.1 contender spot to the Undisputed Championship at SummerSlam. The Rock would win the title at Vengeance setting up a showdown of Rock vs. Brock at SummerSlam.
This was truly the beginning of a new era, as The Rock was on his way out to Hollywood and Stone Cold was out of the WWE. Lesnar defeated The Rock, reaching the top of the mountain just five months after his WWE debut.
1 Ric Flair - 113 Days
Now here was a man who in no way had to "pay his dues". Ric Flair was established in the business and had come to the WWE in 1991 having already accomplished nearly everything there was to do in the business. Her was brought in after a fallout with WCW and even brought their title belt to the WWE, declaring himself, "the real World's Champion."
After the WWE Championship was declared vacant in December, it was determined the following month's Royal Rumble match would determine the new champion. Ric Flair entered the match at no.3, making it seem impossible he would outlast all other superstars.
Ric Flair made history, winning the match after lasting nearly 60 minutes. It was to presumably set up a WrestleMania main event with Hulk Hogan, but for one reason or another, the match was scrapped in favor of Flair vs. Randy Savage.
Nevertheless, it took Ric Flair less than four months from his WWE debut to win the company's biggest prize.