Unlike anything else in sports (or sports entertainment), the world of professional wrestling really makes you pay your dues before you get to the top. In football, basketball, baseball, etc., a rookie can win a championship in his or her first season, and even some individual awards. In pro wrestling, you usually job out to some bigger names for a while after spending years in development until you finally get your chance.
Because of this, a lot of the wrestlers in WWE history that have won gold had to wait until they were deep into their 20’s, with some not getting the nod until they were in their 30’s. Even Seth Rollins, who was considered by many to be one of the youngest champions, still had to wait until he was nearly 27 to win a Tag Team Championship and he was 28 years old when he won the WWE Championship. So who was younger than that?
This list can be a little confusing since there are lot of different rules you can play by. For this list, however, we are only using champions that won their championships while they were members of WWE, or wrestled for the two promotions (WCW and ECW) that would quickly be absorbed by WWE. With that confusion out of the way, here are the 15 youngest wrestlers to win gold.
15. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar had one of the most impressive first years in the WWE, shooting his way to the top at a very young age. Lesnar got his shot at the WWE Championship in June of 2002 after winning the King of the Ring Tournament and was put into a feud with The Rock. Lesnar would go on to win the match just five months after making his TV debut for WWE at 25 years, one month and 13 days old. Lesnar is still also the youngest WWE Championship holder of all-time, a mark that isn’t likely to be broken anytime soon.
11 The Giant
These days, he’s referred to as The Big Show and his age of 43 years old prompts fans to chant “Please retire” during his matches, but that wasn’t always the case. Back when he was in WCW, he was known as The Giant and signed with the promotion in 1995. In his first match, The Giant took on Hulk Hogan at Halloween Havoc, winning via disqualification with the stipulation that a Hogan DQ would turn the title over. At the time, The Giant was 23 years, eight months and 21 days old and was stripped of the title a week later.
10 Randy Orton
Randy Orton already had a pipeline to the WWE since he was a third generation wrestler, and he was certainly billed as the future upon his arrival. Most every wrestling fan knows that Orton was the youngest holder of the World Heavyweight Championship, but he had another reign with WWE before that. While he was a member of Evolution, Orton won his first title, the Intercontinental Championship, by defeating Rob Van Dam at Armageddon on December 14th, 2003. Orton was 23 years, eight months and 12 days old at the time, and held the belt for seven months.
9 Curt Hawkins
Curt Hawkins had to spend a couple of years working in the developmental level for WWE, but started at a very young age. Hawkins made his debut on the ECW brand with Zack Ryder (more on him soon) and then debuted on SmackDown! in 2007. In 2008, Hawkins and Ryder turned heel as Edge’s followers and got a title shot at the Great American Bash in July 2008. The duo defeated John Morrison and The Miz in a fatal four-way, and Hawkins was only 23 years and three months old at the time.
8 Zack Ryder
The other half of the tag team duo that won that night was Zack Ryder, who was even younger than Hawkins by just a hair. Ryder was 23 years, two months and six days old when they won the titles in the match that also included Jesse and Festus and Finlay and Hornswoggle. Unlike Hawkins, Ryder is still in the WWE now at 30 years old and has been spending most of his time lately on NXT. Ryder’s career has taken a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of us are hoping it’s back on the upswing.
7 Mikey Whipwreck
Oddly enough, Mikey Whipwreck is actually the guy that trained both Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder when they were in the independent ranks. Whipwreck started with ECW in the early 1990’s as part of the ring crew that would work for free before Paul Heyman asked him to compete in the ring. Whipwreck was trained by some of the wrestlers, and won his first title on May 15th, 1994, clinching the World Television Championship. Whipwreck defeated Pitbull #1 and was 21 years, 10 months and 21 days old at the time.
9. Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy and his brother Matt formed an independent organization together before getting noticed by the WWE. After getting signed in 1998, the team was jobbing to other tag teams for a while before they finally worked their way up the ladder. On July 5th, the Hardy Boyz got their first taste of the gold when they defeated the Acolytes on Monday Night Raw. Matt Hardy was just too old to make it onto the list, but Jeff was just 21 years, 10 months and four days old, and the team dropped the title the next month but would win it back several times.
The most recent wrestler on our list to win a title is Paige, who started with the WWE developmental system in 2011. After dominating the NXT division and becoming the Women’s Champion there, Paige made her debut the night after Wrestlemania in 2014. In just her first match, Paige was put up against A.J. Lee for the Divas Championship and scored the surprise win at 21 years, seven months and 21 days old. Paige would hold on to the title for more than four months before losing it to A.J. on Monday Night Raw.
7. Rey Mysterio
In the early 1990’s, Rey Mysterio started out with AAA Wrestling and then the ECW for a short amount of time before being signed with WCW. Mysterio’s first match was for the Cruiserweight Championship at The Great American Bash in 1996 against Dean Malenko, but Mysterio would lose the match. The next month, Mysterio would get another title shot on Monday Nitro, and defeated Milenko at 21 years, six months and 27 days old, then he held on to the title for three months.
5 1-2-3 Kid
Sean Waltman made a big splash with WWE when he scored an upset win over Razor Ramon on an episode of Monday Night Raw and was given the nickname of the 1-2-3 Kid. In less than a year, The Kid was paired with Marty Jannetty and they were thrust into a Tag Team Championship match on Raw against Jacques and Pierre, The Quebecers. The Kid and Jannetty won the titles, but lost it before the Royal Rumble at a house show, but The Kid was one of the youngest champions at 21 years, five months and 28 days old.
4 Essa Rios
Essa Rios is one of those names that fans of the Attitude Era hear and say to themselves “Oh yeah, I forgot about him.” Rios made his debut at just 18 years old in 1997, and the WWE had a lot of hopes for him. On an episode of Sunday Night Heat in February 2000, Gillberg (yes, Gillberg) was the Light Heavyweight Champion and issued an open challenge. Essa Rios responded and won the title in under 60 seconds, making his mark at just 21 years and two months old.
You can never really tell how old Hornswoggle is just by looking at him, but he was incredibly young when he won his first title. In 2007 at the Great American Bash, Hornswoggle was involved in a Cruiserweight Championship match against Shannon moore, Funaki, Jamie Noble, Jimmy Wang Yang and champion Chavo Guerrero. Hornswoggle pinned Noble to secure the win at 21 years, one month and 23 days old. Hornswoggle was the youngest winner of the title, and also the last as the belt was retired shortly after.
2 David Flair
He looked a lot like his father, but unfortunately he couldn’t quite garner the same professional wrestling success. Flair made his WCW debut in January 1999 at Souled Out alongside his father against Curt Hennig and Barry Windham. The match wasn’t for the title, but Flair would become the youngest United States Champion in history when his father handed him the vacant belt while acting as WCW President. At the time, Flair was 20 years, three months and 29 days old.
2. Kenny Dykstra
The end of the Attitude Era saw the introduction of a lot of strange new characters, and among them was The Spirit Squad, a male cheerleading group. Kenny Dykstra was one of the Spirit Squad members, who debuted at 19 years old. Dykstra was teaming up with Mikey (Mike Mondo) when they took on Kane and The Big Show for the Tag Team Championship. Dykstra and Mikey would win in an upset, and Dykstra was just 18 days removed from his 20th birthday to be crowned as second youngest champion ever.
1 Rene Dupree
The youngest person to ever hold a WWE belt is Rene Dupree, who was one half of the tag team La Resistance with Sylvain Grenier. At the Bad Blood pay per view in June 2003, La Resistance faced Kane and Rob Van Dam for the Tag Team Championship. The French team (comprised of Canadians) would win, making Dupree the only teenager to ever hold a belt at 19 years and six months old. These days, Dupree is a hard man to find with his last matches coming with Wrestle-1 in Japan.