When it comes to WWE World Heavyweight Champions, Vince McMahon has always wanted his champion to be giant.
However, over the years, McMahon has had to put his beliefs to the curb and watch a smaller champion take the title. If it was up to McMahon, a small champion would never win the title and the fact that wrestlers like Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero were able to win the title proves how respected and athletic they were in their prime.
Small champions have been a hot topic within the WWE in the past two years with the emergence of Daniel Bryan. McMahon and The Authority have wanted a monster champion and they had the plan of having Batista return to the WWE, win the 2014 Royal Rumble and continue onwards to WrestleMania to win the championship. However, thanks to the fans, this logic changed and Bryan was able to make his WrestleMania request and become yet another small champion to defy the odds and win the belt.
The 2015 Royal Rumble displayed the same sort of backlash after the WWE has decided to push Roman Reigns to the top of the totem pole, instead of allowing the smaller wrestler, Bryan once more, a WrestleMania shot. As a result, fans have began to revolt and it is clear that they would rather have a superstar they believe in instead of a powerful monster that Vince McMahon has tried to push on them.
With that being said, here are some of the best champions that have been able to stand tall in heart, and have defied all odds to win the championship.
In terms of “Golden Era” wrestlers, it didn’t get much better than Buddy Rogers. Rogers was the original “Nature Boy,” before Ric Flair, and won numerous championships during the 1960s’ and 1970s’. During his time, Rogers may have been one of the bigger wrestlers, but in the grand scheme of things, Rogers is one of the smaller WWE champions of all-time. He was the first wrestler to ever hold the NWA and WWE championship and is an innovator that many modern wrestlers have cited as an inspiration.
Hardy was one of the most extreme wrestlers to ever step foot in the squared circle. Loved by fans everywhere for his death defying acrobatics, Hardy was an exciting performer with an interesting character. His popularity became so large that he was eventually able to defeat Triple H and Edge for the title at Armageddon in 2008. He's had a variety of substance abuse problems over the years and is no longer with the company, but will remain in the minds of fans for his perseverance and high-flying style.
No wrestler that has made more news in the past year than CM Punk and the man isn’t even wrestling anymore. Standing at only 6’2”, Punk was relatively small compared to most wrestlers, only weighing 218 pounds. However, size didn’t matter for “The Best in the World,” as Punk held the championship for 434 days (the longest reign since the '80s) and was one of the best heat seekers in wrestling history.
There may not have been a better superstar in the history of professional wrestling than Ric Flair. He was every particular thing that someone wanted in a pro wrestler: the looks, the hair, and the promos.The Memphis native is probably best known for his 16-time world championships, with championships across the WWE, NWA, and WCW, and he won all of these titles at the small size of 6’1”.
“Mr. Wrestlemania” is another historic wrestler that wasn’t particularly that tall. Standing at only 6’1” amd 225 pounds, Michaels was still considered tiny when he would face wrestlers such as The Undertaker, Big Show and even his best friend Triple H. However, despite his diminutive size, the San Antonio native had amazing wrestling ability and a charisma that was second to none. He's won Heavyweight gold on four different occasions (three-time WWE Championship winner and one-time World Heavyweight Championship winner).
In the history of professional wrestling, the Iron Sheik is truly one of the craziest wrestlers we've ever seen. He’s the kind of guy to say exactly what he's thinking while on social media, but inside the ring, there weren’t many better heels. Playing the gimmick of an Anti-American, his feuds with Hulk Hogan had some classic matches. Built as a stocky and stout man, Sheik never was able to rely on his size to help him in matches, but instead relied on his heel strategies and in-ring expertise.
Angle came into the WWE scene during the height of its programming and was one of the biggest heels of all time. Fans would always shout “You Suck” when he came into the ring and although he was an actual American Olympic Gold medalist, it didn't stop him from being an exceptional heat seeker. Angle had impressive strength that guided him to the top of the WWE ranks, although he wasn't the tallest superstar. Although there have been countless rumors that Angle will once again return to the WWE, it seems as if he will stay with TNA.
This high-flying specialist is a fan-favorite and is still relevant with the WWE. Compiling a variety of championships throughout different wrestling promotions in his career, Van Dam has gotten over with the fans because of his incredible athleticism. Although he only won the WWE Championship one time, his championship win was epic. Defeating John Cena is rare for any superstar, but Van Dam was able to overcome all odds by beating Cena for his only WWE Championship win.
The most decorated Canadian wrestler of all-time, Hart's incredible ability is sometimes overshadowed by the “Montreal Screw job” incident of 1997. Born into a wrestling family, Hart won his first WWE Championship in 1992 and become one of the most popular wrestlers in the world. Although the Montreal Screw job put an end to his wrestling career with the WWE, he is still one of the greatest technical wrestlers to step foot in a WWE ring, with five WWE Championship wins.
Another Canadian wrestler who became a WWE icon is Chris Jericho. “Y2J” was a huge star for the WWE, who is widely known as the first ever Undisputed WWE Championship in history. He won the WWE Championship once, but also won the World Heavyweight Championship on three different occasions. At this point, the days of Jericho being a regular contributor on WWE programming are likely done, but he's more than capable of coming back for a few months at a time and being one of the few part-timers the WWE Universe will get behind.
Bruno Sammartino had the longest title reign in WWE history, holding the belt for nearly 12 years in total. Although he was known as “The Italian Strongman,” he wasn’t that tall, only standing at 5’10”. Sammartino made up his height with his wide frame and his 265 pounds of pure muscle, as he became an instant sensation with the boom of professional wrestling. As one of the first well-known stars in professional wrestling, Sammartino began to make headlines when he lifted 600-pound wrestler Haystacks Calhoun, who no other wrestler had ever lifted.
Pedro Morales is one of the most successful Latino professional wrestlers to ever live. Beginning his career in the early 1960's, Morales instantly became a top draw. After becoming popular on the West Coast, his real popularity began when he moved to the East Coast to join Vince McMahon Sr. and the “World Wide Wrestling Federation.” In what fans consider the “match of the century,” Morales faced off against Bruno Sammartino in 1972 at Shea Stadium in front of 20,000 people. Although they fought to a draw, Morales held his WWWF title for nearly three years before being defeated by Stan “The Man” Stasiak.
The Yes! Movement changed Daniel Bryan’s career and propelled him to one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all-time. At only 5’8”, Bryan was always denied by the WWE and it seemed like he would never get his chance. However, at WrestleMania 30, after the fans voiced their opinion and forced Bryan into the main event, Bryan shocked the world by defeating Batista and Randy Orton for his first WWE Championship. Bryan may be in an awkward spot right now in terms of booking, but he is still one of the most beloved wrestlers of this generation.
The wrestling world stopped on November 13th, 2005 when Eddie Guerrero suddenly passed away in a Minnesota hotel room. Even though he was one of the smallest WWE champions ever, Guerrero had one of the biggest hearts. Although Guerrero lied, cheated and stole his way to the top of the WWE ranks, this is exactly why the fans loved him. His sudden death forced us to recognize his greatness even quicker than we would have, as we inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame a year after his death.
The smallest wrestler to ever hold the WWE World Heavyweight Championship belt was none other than the great Rey Mysterio. Standing strong at only 5’6”, “Mr. 619” proved everybody wrong when he won finally won his first championship. It was at WrestleMania 22 where he defeated Randy Orton and Kurt Angle to finally become World Heavyweight Champion. Known for his acrobatic skills and pure athleticism, his most impressive accolade may be the fact that he won the 2006 Royal Rumble, lasting over 62 minutes in the ring.