Almost ever year in the history of the WWE, we see the championship change hands as the idea of the multi-year title holder is a thing of the past. Despite that, there are many reigns that changed the industry and direction of the company's history. Without certain wrestlers and certain championship reigns, who knows where certain Superstars would have gone.
John Cena, The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker, Stone Cold Steve Austin and countless WWE legends had their careers change for the best when they captured the most glamorous championship belt in sports entertainment. Then again, we've seen many wrestlers win championships only to go nowhere huge (Still waiting on Alberto Del Rio to show why he's a big deal, and CM Punk is long gone).
There is always a starting point for a major Superstar's career, how the path was paved, and how success was built after that. And for these wrestlers, not winning a championship at a certain time could have held them back from reaching an all-time high in popularity. That's the nature of the business.
And who can forget Ric Flair? His legacy was left behind as a 16-time World Champion, if you slice that in half, or even a quarter, his iconic status wouldn't be in the place where it is today. Luckily for him, he won the major championships at the right time throughout his career.
With that, we will present to you the 15 most important WWE Championship reigns you need to know about, given their historic values.
15 CM Punk's Long Run
Despite his strange departure from the WWE as he's launched himself into the UFC, it's hard to overlook the impressive reign CM Punk had as WWE Champion, which lasted at 434 days, the longest of the modern era.
His reign started when he won the title at the 2011 edition of Survivor Series, defeating Alberto Del Rio. Along the way, he defeated the likes of Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, and John Cena.
At Royal Rumble 2013, The Rock would defeat Punk to win the title. It was a great ride while it lasted for Punk.
14 Brock Lesnar's First Reign
Ladies and gentlemen, Paul Heyman would like to introduce you to the youngest WWE Champion in history: BROCK LESNAR!!!!! The Conqueror and man in charge of Suplex City kickstarted his WWE career off with a bang and here's how it began.
Lesnar's recent legacy has been cemented by defeating The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX to end The Streak. In 2002, Lesnar faced The Rock and that's how his legacy started.
At SummerSlam, Lesnar defeated The Rock to become the youngest WWE Champion (at age 25), though Randy Orton would change that a couple of years later, and it instantly launched him into superstardom.
13 Sgt. Slaughter Conquers
Sgt. Slaughter was definitely one of the most controversial wrestlers ever, portraying an anti-American wrestler at a time when tension in the Middle East was high during the '90s, but he became a major name when he won his first WWE Championship.
He got his chance when he faced The Ultimate Warrior at the 1991 Royal Rumble. Thanks to Randy Savage's interference, Slaughter captured his first major title in the WWE and this kickstarted an intense storyline with Hulk Hogan.
This particular WWE Championship brought about the most hostility in wrestling history. So much so that the WrestleMania VII venue was changed out of safety concerns.
12 Hulkamaniacs Get Wild For Hogan, Brother
Oh yes, how can you write a list like this without mentioning the man who turned professional wrestling from a popular sport into a global powerhouse?
On January 23rd, 1984, The Hulkster won his very first WWE Championship after defeating The Iron Sheik at the world's most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. It really doesn't get more fitting than that. This was the time when the Hulkamania movement really took off, and the WWE was change forever, thanks to Hogan's first major title reign.
11 John Cena: The Time Is Now
John Cena was a great mid-card wrestler. Everyone remembers his debut when he stood up to the guy who "Sucks," Kurt Angle. Cena was put into a memorable feud with Brock Lesnar, but basically remained as a United States Champion without much indication he was ready for the big one.
Then, he became the number one contender for John "Bradshaw" Layfield's WWE Championship, and everyone was sick of the loud-mouthed millionaire Cowboy winning in every single way possible.
Cena would face JBL at WrestleMania 21, where his AA (FU at the time) finisher helped him capture the title, finally putting an end to the JBL's reign. What else needs to be said? Cena became the face of the WWE since, and when all is said and done, he could end up as the best ever.
10 Diesel Gets Running
Call him whatever: Kevin Nash, Big Sexy, or Diesel. The man who had the longest WWE Championship reign of the 1990s, feuding with Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker along the way.
He also defeated Sycho Sid and Mabel along the way, keeping his WWE Championship until he lost to Bret Hard at Survivor Series 1995. His reign lasted just under a year, at 358 days. What can we make of this? The '90s were a packed decade for wrestling and allowing Nash to hold the title for so long demonstrated his worth to the business.
9 Bruno Sammartino's Legend Begins
Bruno Sammartino greatly deserves credit as a true pioneer of professional wrestling, making a name for the industry well before Hulk Hogan came along. This is why: He held the WWE World Championship for a combined 4,040 days, more than 11 years.
His first championship reign lasted for 2,803 days, the longest reign in WWE's history, and there's certainly no way someone is going to break that record. What else is there to say about this title run? Where would the industry be without a historic run like this? Sammartino helped make wrestling matter, thanks to this dominant title reign.
8 Ric Flair: The Nature Boy is Recognized in WWE
Recognized as a 16-time World Champion, the most important and the best one is always the first one. The Nature Boy had to outlast 29 other men at the 1992 Royal Rumble, with the WWE Championship on the line.
Flair eliminated Sid Justice, and The Nature Boy captured his first WWE Championship. Though he had been in the wrestling business for a long time, this became his shining moment, as perhaps the greatest wrestling champion was recognized by the biggest promotion.
7 Shawn Michaels Starts New Era
WWE Champion Bret Hart was scheduled to leave the WWE for WCW by defeating Shawn Michaels at the 1997 Survivor Series event in Montreal, Hart's home country. But Mr. McMahon and Michaels co-conspired, with others, to screw Hart over.
Michaels captured the title in a real-life controversy, with McMahon forcing the ref to ring the bell while The Heartbreak Kid put Hart in the Sharpshooter, even though he did not tap out at all. Why was this significant?
This title reign helped usher in The Attitude Era. McMahon's on-screen character as the cocky, obnoxious rich snob started after this as well. This title reign helped move the company into a direction which would eventually help win the Monday Night War. This may have never happened if HBK didn't win this title.
6 6. The Game Begins
Triple H had a unique path to the WWE: He was known as Terra Ryzing in WCW and then Jean-Paul Levesque, a French aristocrat-type character who spoke broken English, but he never fulfilled his full potential there.
It's funny how things could have been different. Hunter took plenty of heat for helping orchestrate the MSG Curtain Call, which did not sit well with McMahon and co. Two decades later, he's married to the boss man's daughter and the two are going to run the company for years.
So when Triple H defeated Mankind on Raw is War in 1999, he finally grabbed the ball to become a huge name in the industry. Many of us thought he'd be on a short leash, but this was just the beginning of an impressive run for The Game, as this reign would elevate a new star to a new level.
5 The Iron Sheik Begins Hulkamania
The Iron Sheik had one impressive career, but only one, short reign as WWE Champion. Aside from that, his reign is more infamous for making a fellow wrestler's career take off, not The Sheik's himself.
The Iron Sheik won the title from Bob Backlund on December 26th, 1983 at Madison Square Garden. Four weeks later, in the dame building, The Sheik would drop the belt to Hulk Hogan.
This is considered the actual starting point of Hulkamania.
4 The Heartbreak Kid Breaks His Own Heart
Shawn Michaels earned the nickname "The Heartbreak Kid" but it's ironic enough that he broke his own heart and took plenty of the blame for the Monday Night War. Here's a rundown of the history.
HBK won the WWE Championship from Bret Hart, his long-time rival (both on and off screen), at WrestleMania XII. As WWE Champion, that's where he and Triple H did the infamous MSG Curtain Call with Kevin Nash (Diesel) and Scott Hall (Razor Ramon).
When Nash and Hall left fro WCW, the tide began to turn in favour of Ted Turner's company. During this time, Michaels, who was serving as WWE Champion throughout the ratings shift, began to feel responsible for the turn. This weight could have only added Michaels' personal demons.
3 Macho Madness Beats Hulkamania
Hulk Hogan and "Macho Man" Randy Savage were the two biggest names in WWE during the '80s and it's more than difficult to believe we'll be treated to a more legendary rivalry than what these two put on.
As Hulkamania grew in the '80s, nobody thought Hogan would go a lengthy drought without the championship, but that's exactly what happened. Savage defeated Ted DiBiase at WrestleMania IV to capture his long-awaited championship.
He'd lose the title to Hogan at WrestleMania V, with his impressive reign lasting over a year at exactly 371 days. Savage's long run put him on Hogan's level, but we emphasize once again how huge it was for him to hold the title as Hogan's career momentum was soaring to unbelievable heights.
2 The Rock Smells a Title in 1998
There is no clear-cut decision on who the biggest Superstar in WWE history is, but it's pretty hard to argue against The Rock. He helped WWE win the War with WCW, made The Attitude Era a massive hit, and his occasional appearances remain a huge success.
During the mid-90s, Rock became a cultural icon for the company as a massive babyface, similar to that of Hogan in the '80s. So when he won the WWE Championship at the 1998 Survivor Series event, the fans were nothing short of thrilled. But then, the shocking happened.
After winning the title, he flipped over to The Corporation, the villainous faction led by Vince and Shane McMahon. Similar to Hogan joining the nWo in 1996, fans were left devastated by this massive change.
This title reign demonstrated the versatility of The Rock as well as the true attitude of the time.
1 1. The Stone Cold Era Begins
Widely considered the greatest wrestler by many, and even Vince McMahon himself, Stone Cold Steve Austin helped WWE win the Monday Night War with his beer-drinking character, but it took a huge title to get it started.
His first title reign came on the Grandest Stage of Them All: WrestleMania XIV. McMahon relied on him greatly to turn the WWE back into the most dominant wrestling promotion around.
Austin beat Shawn Michaels to capture his first WWE Championship, and then right there started the rise of The Austin Era. If not for WWE jumping on the back of Stone Cold during his first title run, who knows how the Monday Night War could have ended.