With the exception of a few terrible choices by professional wrestling bookers, to get to the top of the sport and become world champion means a great deal. For every Vince McMahon or David Arquette, there are Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The latter three men took the sport on their backs and are now considered some of the best the sport has ever seen inside a ring. For these men, their legacy in the business was not something that their promotions knew about early on.
There are some wrestlers throughout the course of history that fans, bookers, and fellow wrestlers knew were going to be something special. These wrestlers were given the reigns of the company at an early age. Regardless of which promotion these men became world champions in, their place in history will forever be remembered.
To clarify, the list will only feature a wrestler's first title reign, as in the youngest wrestlers to become world champion, otherwise you'd be seeing re-runs on this list. For example, Big Show would be on this list twice if you included both his WWE and WCW title reigns, but since he won in WCW first, only that one will be on this list.
This list of the youngest wrestling champions of all time includes title runs in World Wrestling Entertainment, World Championship Wrestling, National Wrestling Alliance, and Extreme Championship Wrestling. Some of the names that appear here may be expected, but others, including those at the very top of the list, may come as a surprise.
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15 Pedro Morales – 28 years, 3 months, 17 days
The Puerto Rican native made his name outside of the World Wrestling Federation before making the move to the company in the early 1970s. At this time in the New York territory, Bruno Sammartino was at the top of the world and in the middle of an eight year reign as the champion. This was until one night where he would suffer a defeat at the hands of Ivan Koloff. One of the first title defenses Koloff would make was against Morales who in front of a rowdy crowd at Madison Square Garden became the world champion.
14 Ivan Koloff – 28 years, 4 months, 24 days
Before Morales won his world title before reaching the age of 29, another man turned in an even more impressive victory. Koloff, a native of Moscow, Russia, took on the man who had been at the top of the wrestling business for many years, Bruno Sammartino. Koloff had only been in the promotion for about a year and was already anointed as the man to knock off the legendary Sammartino, something that fans today can compare to Brock Lesnar’s WrestleMania victory against The Undertaker.
13 John Cena – 27 years, 11 months, 11 days
From the night John Cena made his WWE debut in Kurt Angle’s open invitation, most fans knew what to expect. Most fans likely expected to see Cena become a world champion one day, but most never expected him to be the face of the company for more than a decade and become one of the greatest figures the business has ever seen. At WrestleMania XX, he won the United States title from The Big Show and at WrestleMania XXI, he defeated JBL to win his first world championship.
12 Bruno Sammartino – 27 years, 7 months, 11 days
The name Bruce Sammartino is one that will forever live on in the world of professional wrestling. With a world title reign lasting more than seven years and the honor of being the first two-time champion in the history of the then-World Wrestling Federation, Sammartino is one of the very best. Before reaching his 28th birthday, Sammartino became the youngest world champion when he defeated Buddy Rogers. When he finally dropped the title to Ivan Koloff, it didn’t take him long to regain the title and hold on to the strap for three more years.
11 The Undertaker – 26 years, 8 months, 3 days
Few figures in the sport have the same luster as The Undertaker. He may have lost his undefeated streak at WrestleMania against Brock Lesnar in 2014 but he will always remain one of the youngest world champions in wrestling history. One year after debuting in the World Wrestling Federation at Survivor Series, The Undertaker returned to the event and had a chance to win the title from Hulk Hogan. After a little outside interference from Ric Flair, The Undertaker became the youngest WWE Champion in history at that time.
10 The Rock – 26 years, 6 months, 13 days
The Great One. The People’s Champion. World Champion. Those are all names that The Rock can be called. He entered the WWE with a historical legacy but the fans weren’t believers. Many knew he was going to be the future of the business when they first laid eyes on him, but some weren't convinced. The babyfaced son of Rocky Johnson struggled to get going and soon reinvented himself and immediately became a contender for the world title. In 1998, he won his first world title by defeating Mick Foley’s persona, Mankind.
9 Yokozuna – 26 years, 6 months, 2 days
For younger fans, the idea of a man competing inside a WWE ring with a weight surpassing 500 pounds and being effective is non-existent. In the early 1990s, that idea was not only something that fans could imagine as it was something they could see each week with Yokozuna. At the 1993 Royal Rumble, Yokozuna eliminated the Macho Man Randy Savage to earn the right to compete for the world title at WrestleMania against Bret Hart. Yokozuna’s size was too much for The Hitman and at the time became the youngest world champion in the company's history. Unfortunately for Yoko, his reign lasted only a couple of minutes, as Hogan beat him for the belt moments after winning it. He would regain it from Hogan a couple of months later.
For this reason, it's often forgotten that Rodney Anoa'i was actually younger than his cousin The Rock, who many thought was the youngest champ in history when he won it back in 1998.
8 Brock Lesnar – 25 years, 1 month, 13 days
Yokozuna’s reign as the youngest WWE champion in history would last for some time. It wasn’t until 'The Next Big Thing' Brock Lesnar entered the promotion did that record get snapped. Lesnar came into the promotion with a lot of hype and quickly lived up to every ounce of that hype. He had great matches throughout his first run in the promotion and it all culminated with a victory against The Rock at the 2002 SummerSlam when he became the Undisputed Champion.
7 Tommy Rich – 24 years, 9 months, 1 day
To the current wrestling fan, the name Tommy Rich may not mean anything. For those in their early 30s, you may remember him as a member of the Full Blooded Italians in Extreme Championship Wrestling. Long before his run in ECW, he became one of the youngest world champions of all time while competing in the National Wrestling Alliance. In a match against Harley Race at a house show in Georgia, Rich won the title and while there is some disconnect over why this title switch happened, it will forever make Rich one of the youngest world champions ever.
6 Randy Orton – 24 years, 4 months, 14 days
The Viper Randy Orton is one of the best professional wrestlers in the business today and was on his way to greatness as soon as he entered the promotion. When he got his chance to join one of the best factions in history, Evolution, with Ric Flair, Triple H, and Batista, it only furthered the belief that he was a future champion. It didn’t take long for Orton to reach the top of the mountain and at SummerSlam 2004, he knocked off Chris Benoit to win the World Heavyweight title at the age of 24.
5 The Giant – 23 years, 8 months, 21 days
Long before Paul Wight was the Big Show, he was The Giant. He was the biggest figure in the promotion and made the ultimate splash in his debut match. While he was pretty young for a WWE Champion in 1999 (27), that wasn't his first world title reign. Competing against the Hall of Fame world champion Hulk Hogan in the first match he ever competed in at Halloween Havoc in 1995, The Giant became one of the youngest world champions of all time. Some athletes might struggle to live up to that immediate hype, but not this superstar.
4 Kerry Von Erich – 23 years, 3 months, 3 days
Part of the famed Von Erich family, Kerry was arguably the best athlete of the bunch. At that time, bookers could flip a coin and pick any member of the family to push to the top of the promotion and while many feel that his brother David was on his way to a world title before passing away, it was Kerry that got the gold. Competing in his backyard at the old Texas Stadium in 1984, Von Erich defeated Ric Flair to win the NWA world title.
3 Chris Candido – 22 years, 7 months, 28 days
The youngest NWA world champion of all time is Chris Candido. Candido garnered a reputation for being a tremendous worker during his time in ECW and until the day he passed away, he was still one of the most respected figures in the company's history. Before competing in front of the passionate ECW fans, Candido was competing in the NWA and before reaching his 23rd birthday, he claimed the vacant world title in 1994 after Shane Douglas threw the title down and proclaimed himself the first ECW world champion.
2 Mikey Whipwreck – 22 years, 4 months, 24 days
The youngest professional wrestling world champion of all time came from Extreme Championship Wrestling. There were numerous talented wrestlers that wore the world title in that promotion including Sandman, Raven, Sabu, Taz, Mike Awesome, and Tommy Dreamer. None of them claimed the honor of being the youngest world champion of all time as that honor is bestowed on the one and only, Mikey Whipwreck. The stage was set at the ECW Arena with Sandman defending the title against Whipwreck in a Ladder Match. It was there that Whipwreck pulled off the greatest upset in the history of ECW.
1 Lou Thesz - 21 years, 8 months, 5 days
What did you accomplish in your life at 21 years old? Well, the legendary Lou Thesz was winning his first world title in the NWA. On December 29, 1937, Thesz defeated Everett Marshall for the NWA World Heavyweight Title. His reign would only last six weeks, but it would be the first of many for Thesz, whom many believe was wrestling's first true superstar and left the biggest impact on the business. Getting the world title at 21 was the start of a long, decorated career.
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