The WWE Championship is the most coveted after prize in the industry, with the lineage of the championship is a list of some of the biggest and greatest names in history. Being able to say that you have held the title is a true honor – although some would argue that it is less so in the past decade. Throughout history, some big legends have never had the opportunity. Rowdy Roddy Piper, Jerry Lawler, Ted DiBiase, Sting, Rick Rude and Razor Ramon are just some of the (current and future) Hall of Famers who have never won WWE’s “big one”.
Lengthy reigns are rightly celebrated, and we recently put together a list doing as much. Bruno Sammartino’s two legendary reigns at the top are still talked about to this day, and CM Punk had a huge fanfare for having the longest reign in the last 25 years. But there are some other superstars who have had WWE Championship reigns they would rather forget.
Transitional champions, injuries or storylines have all resulted in the opposite end of the spectrum. Sometimes WWE just seem to regret their decision and want to rectify it immediately. Here we celebrate what the men in this list may not – the shortest ever runs as champion.
The start and end dates are the ones acknowledged by the company themselves, so some pre-taped shows are acknowledged by the date they aired and some mother reigns are not acknowledged as having happened (Antonio Inoki, for example).
25. Sycho Sid: 34 days
In what was very much a hot potato situation of the WWE title, Sycho Sid had dropped the title to Shawn Michaels at the 1997 Royal Rumble after a two month reign. Michaels it appeared, would headline WrestleMania to drop the title to Bret Hart. However, Michaels would vacate the title, which we’ll get to later on. Hart then won the title in a “Final Four” match at In Your House, only to drop it to Sid the next night on Raw, thanks to interference from Stone Cold.
Sid would end up facing The Undertaker at WrestleMania 13. Taker would defeat Sid, winning his first title in six years and truly beginning a solid run at the top of the company where he belonged.
24. CM Punk, Randy Orton: 28 days
The next few entries are tied, so we’ll separate them by eras. This entry addresses the current era, with Punk’s 28-day reign in the summer of 2011 matching Orton’s 28-day reign two summers later.
Punk of course won the title from John Cena at Money in the Bank 2011, one of the greatest matches of the era. After an eight-day absence from WWE television, Punk returned, with Cena having won a new title, to give the WWE two champions. A match was set up for SummerSlam between Punk and Cena to decide an undisputed champion. Shortly after Punk’s win, Kevin Nash Jacknifed Punk, allowing Alberto Del Rio to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase on Punk.
Orton’s reign in 2013 began by cashing in his MITB contract with the help of Triple H after Daniel Bryan had defeated John Cena. We all remember the ending to that SummerSlam and how it led to Bryan’s epic rise to the top. However, there was a hiccup there, as Orton faced Bryan in a rematch at Night of Champions and lost the title after referee Scott Armstrong fast-counted Orton down. Due to the controversial finish the title was vacated the next night on Raw.
23. Hollywood Hogan, Big Show: 28 days
Due to Hogan’s momentum built from WrestleMania X-8, the WWE decided to put the title on Hogan at the expense of Triple H, who’d just won the undisputed championship himself. At Backlash 2002, Hogan, decked out in the red and yellow, pinned The Game with some shocking assistance from The Undertaker. It was all due to Undertaker wanting to beat Hogan for the title, which he did four weeks later at Judgment Day.
That same year, Big Show defeated Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship at Survivor Series. Lesnar’s first PPV loss came due to his manager Paul Heyman turning on him, convinced that Show was unstoppable and the force he should get behind if he didn’t want to lose his meal ticket. Lesnar would get his revenge four weeks later at Armageddon, where he helped Kurt Angle knock off the Big Show, ending his reign at 28 days.
22. The Iron Sheik: 28 days
The Iron Sheik defeat the Mr. Bob Backlund! He put him in Camel Clutch and make him humble!
Sheik ended Backlund’s four year title reign, but it was all to transition to another babyface champion, Hulk Hogan. With Hogan having returned to the WWE, Vince McMahon Jr. was set to build his company around Hogan. To do that, Sheik would have to put Hogan over at Madison Square Garden. On January 23rd, 1984, Hulkamania was born. But just remember, Iron Sheik is real champion!
21. Shawn Michaels: 25 days
Weeks after Shawn Michaels won back the WWE title, with plans set in place for him to put over Bret Hart at WrestleMania, HBK said that doctors had informed him his career was over due to a knee injury. We then got the infamous “I lost my smile” promo from Michaels. We don’t know what the real story is, whether HBK was legitimately too hurt to wrestle, or if it was Michaels’s ego refusing to put over his rival Bret. Whatever the case is, that’s a story for another day. The bottom line is, this reign lasted just 25 days, as Michaels vacated the title on a special Thursday edition of Raw.
20. Triple H: 24 days
At SummerSlam 1999 Mankind emerged from the Triple Threat main event as WWE Champion. This didn’t please The Corporation as they had placed their man, Triple H, in the match to take Austin’s title. So the following night on Raw is War, Shane McMahon made himself guest referee to ensure that this time the championship would come back to The Corporation. And so it did.
Bizarrely though, it would be Vince McMahon that would bring Triple H’s reign to an end by winning his only WWE Championship before vacating it the following week. Triple H would waste little time in regaining the belt a mere two weeks later.
There is speculation that Austin refused to drop the championship to Triple H at SummerSlam, hence the transitional reign of Mankind and his addition into the match after his return from knee surgery. Foley himself though points to Austin’s nagging neck injury as the reason for his insertion into the match.
19. Buddy Rogers, Rob Van Dam: 22 days
Another shared distinction, but even stranger is that this was the first WWE Championship reign for all three men. Buddy Rogers reign was even the first ever WWE Championship reign in history, as a part of a dispute with the NWA about the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. After NWA forced his reign to an end, WWE chose to dispute it and crown Rogers with their own belt. Unfortunately Rogers would suffer a heart attack to prematurely end his reign. This would then kickstart Bruno Sammartino’s legendary one.
Rob Van Dam would find his only reign ended for non-wrestling related reasons. Less than three weeks after he beat John Cena at ECW: One Night Stand, he (and Sabu) was arrested for drug possession and suspended for violating the WWE Wellness Policy.
18. Edge (x3), Ivan Koloff, John Cena, Randy Orton, The Rock: 21 days
By far the strangest statistic in this list is that Edge held the WWE Championship for only 21 days on three separate occasions. Like many others in the list, his first reign was one of the three (ditto for Ivan Koloff) between New Years Revolution and the Royal Rumble in 2006. Edge however would repeat the feat twice two years later during a time period of hot potato between himself, Jeff Hardy and Triple H.
To make things even stranger, both Orton and Cena’s 21-day stints as champion would come the following year as the two men traded the title back and forth during their lengthy rivalry. Even The Rock’s brief reign came under similar circumstances back in 2000, as he found himself dethroning and dethroned by none other than Triple H.
17. John Cena, Mankind (x2): 20 days
John Cena would have another brief reign as champion during ‘The Summer of Punk’ when he came up short in the battle to determine the true WWE Champion between himself and CM Punk. Due to both reigns being officially recognized, Cena’s stint was capped at a mere 20.
The real story comes from Mankind. Mick Foley capturing the belt for the first time may have been the tipping point in the Monday Night Wars but it didn’t result in him receiving a lengthy reign. Due to WWE officially recognizing the championship change on the date of airing, January 4, 1999, rather than the recording six days prior, both of Mankind’s lengthier reigns were only 20 days. That means the grand total of Foley’s three reigns is an unfortunate 41 days.
16. Kurt Angle: 15 days
Kurt Angle can consider himself both fortunate and unfortunate for being the right person at the right time. In the wake of the horrific events of 9/11, WWE felt a responsibility to try and provide their audience with an uplifting moment. And who better to fill the role than a real-life American hero, Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle?
In light of that, the WWE built up to the next pay-per-view with a big battle between Angle and champion Stone Cold Steve Austin. At Unforgiven, Angle would emerge victorious in his hometown of Pittsburgh for a big feelgood moment. However, that was the only purpose for Angle’s success, and just over two weeks later the title would return to where WWE had wanted it: around the waist of the Texas Rattlesnake.
15. John Cena: 14 days
A decade after Angle’s brief success, John Cena found himself the subject of a storyline that saw him pick up two brief reigns. Cena’s 20 day reign wasn’t actually his shortest during the ‘Summer of Punk’, he earned that a month later.
After CM Punk had won the battle of WWE champions at SummerSlam, Alberto Del Rio chose to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and steal the championship. Instead of Punk getting to exact revenge at Night of Champions, it was the loser of the SummerSlam battle – John Cena (yeah, that makes sense). Cena would be victorious, but two weeks later Del Rio would take back the belt at Hell in a Cell. Don’t worry, we couldn’t find the logic behind this booking period either.
14. Stan Stasiak: 9 days
There was a time in WWE history where the villains didn’t have lengthy championship reigns. After the abrupt retirement of Buddy Rogers, the next time a heel would be the top draw for the WWE would be the legendary Billy Graham. As such, villains were mostly used in the championship picture as unsuccessful challengers and as a way to transition the title between two popular superstars.
This was the case for Stan Stasiak, who would end Pedro Morales’s 1,000-plus day reign. Stasiak’s big achievement would be completely lost in the shuffle though, as he simply was a pause between that lengthy reign and Bruno Sammartino’s even longer (but not even personal best) 1,200-plus day run at the top.
13. The Undertaker: 6 days
Despite the longevity and legendary status of The Deadman, he has had very little success in the WWE Championship picture. It didn’t take the man from Death Valley very long to hit the top after arriving, winning the title one year after his debut. This actually made The Undertaker the youngest WWE Champion ever at the time.
The man he defeated to take the gold, Hulk Hogan, would ensure Taker’s reign got another distinction – one of the shortest of all time. Due to the controversial ending of Undertaker’s win, WWE President Jack Tunney demanded a rematch six days later at a special PPV event named This Tuesday in Texas. This was an unsual scenario as well, as Survivor Series had taken place the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, and the next PPV was the following Tuesday.
12. Mr. McMahon: 4 days
He may be the boss, but even Vince McMahon’s reign was slightly shortened by his reign beginning on a pre-taped show. Vince McMahon returned from his contracted exile to dethrone Triple H’s reign on an episode of SmackDown thanks to interference from his long-time rival, Stone Cold.
Due to McMahon still not being allowed on WWE television, he vacated the championship. Austin would reinstate McMahon in return for a championship opportunity, but Vince had already given up the belt at this point with a four day reign.
11. Bob Backlund: 3 days
Backlund may be the owner of the second longest WWE Championship of all time at well over 2,000 days but his only other reign, 16 years later, was only three days. At this point in Backlund’s career, he had shed the clean cut gimmick of years prior and was now a crazed faded veteran who was in a feud with the current top clean cut superstar, Bret Hart.
Backlund’s timing was fortunate, as his issues with Bret aligned with his troubles with brother Owen. Backlund profited as Owen orchestrated a way for their parents to throw the towel in on Bret’s behalf during an I Quit match and give the title to Backlund. WWE clearly had no actual desire to have Backlund actually work as their champion again though, as they unceremoniously had him lose to Diesel on an untelevised house show only three days later.
10. Batista, The Rock: 2 days
During the rivalry between The Corporate Champion, The Rock and outcast Mankind, the two battled in all manners of brutal matches. These wars saw the WWE Championship traded between the two men on numerous occasions. In this case Rock won the championship at the Royal Rumble in 1999 to set up a rematch on Halftime Heat – the Empty Arena match during the Super Bowl halftime show.
Batista was also a victim of circumstance, having captured the WWE Championship at Extreme Rules in 2009 inside a Steel Cage match against Randy Orton. Unfortunately he suffered a torn tricep during the match and had to vacate the title two days later, something that Batista wasn’t exactly a stranger to but this was his first time directly after winning it.
9. Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, Kane, Mankind: 1 day
“I almost don’t even count it. It was my fourth reign. That’s all it was – just a number.” Bret Hart isn’t overly fond of this reign. He won the title at In Your House: Final Four after Shawn Michaels gave it up saying he had “lost his smile”. Bret would then lose it to Sycho Sid on Raw the next night, making Sid versus Undertaker the main event but leaving the door open for Bret to face Stone Cold in one of WrestleMania’s greatest matches of all time.
As Kane’s only reign, he may look back on it more fondly. Some believe he only won the title because the company had painted themselves into a corner with the First Blood match and its stipulations with nearly Kane’s entire body being covered by his mask and wrestling attire. Whether true or not, Stone Cold lost the First Blood match thanks to The Undertaker and the following night won the title back on Raw is War.
Mankind’s transitional reign and the potential politics behind it were covered in entry no. 20, and Hulk Hogan’s began by ending The Undertaker’s no.13 entry but the title was quickly vacated due to endless controversy surrounding the matches between the two.
8. Daniel Bryan: 22 hours
It may be surprising for some to hear, but Daniel Bryan is actually a three-time WWE Champion. The reason why it doesn’t feel that way is because of the brevity. His combined duration is a mere 65 days, mostly made up of his third reign with the belt.
The second time Bryan got his hands on Vince’s ‘brass ring’ came at Night of Champions in 2013, where he had his championship rematch against The Authority’s hand-chosen ‘Face of the WWE’ Randy Orton. Bryan was successful against The Viper but the following night WWE’s COO Triple H stripped him of the title due to what he deemed a fast count from referee Scott Armstrong.
7. Triple H: 2 hours
He may have been responsible for Bryan’s short reign but Triple H is no stranger to seeing glory slip from his grasp. In 2007, the No Mercy pay-per-view event opened without a WWE Champion after John Cena had been forced to vacate the title due to a torn pectoral muscle.
Triple H challenged newly gifted champion Randy Orton for the belt in the opening contest of the night, winning with a roll up pin. Orton would waste no time in getting his rematch, as the two men would battle again at the conclusion of the night in a Last Man Standing match. Orton would ensure he ended the night as he began – being crowned WWE Champion. This leaves Hunter with a reign he probably doesn’t even remember among his seven other WWE Championship reigns and hit total of 13 World Championship reigns.
6. Rey Mysterio: 1 hour
Rey Mysterio isn’t as lucky. For the masked sensation, this was his only time holding the company’s top prize and not only was it short, but it was barely even memorable. Mysterio’s crowning moment was lost in the shuffle of a much bigger story.
In July 2011, the WWE was looking to crown a new WWE Champion because the existing one had walked out of the company the night he captured the title. CM Punk had left Money in the Bank in Chicago with the belt, to the dismay of chairman Vince McMahon. McMahon refused to acknowledge Punk as the champion and held a tournament to crown a new one. Rey would defeat Miz in the finals to capture the championship.
He also proved to be a foolish champion, as he agreed to defend against a fresh John Cena later in the night. Cena had not been entered into the tournament because Vince was furious that he was the man to lose the title to a departing superstar, a decision Rey disagreed with. He was made to regret his morality though, as his reign was ended by Cena, who in turn had his celebration cut short by the return of the true champion, CM Punk. And just like that, Rey’s brief stint at the top was forgotten. Could Mysterio have not just granted Cena a match at a later date?
5. Randy Orton: 22 minutes, 55 seconds
No Mercy 2007 may have seen Triple H earn the distinction of the seventh shortest WWE Championship reign in history but The Game wouldn’t have the shortest reign of the night. Instead the man so often responsible for others having short reigns, Randy Orton, would be the one to have the least notable.
Orton has the embarrassment of not even being able to claim a single victory as champion, having being awarded the title by Vince McMahon and Raw General Manager William Regal at the beginning of the event before losing it in his immediate defense against Triple H. As stated earlier, Orton would redeem himself by recapturing the title by the end of the night.
4. Daniel Bryan: 4 minutes, 7 seconds
The American Dragon just can’t catch a break. After overcoming the ultimate modern day challenge of defeating John Cena for the WWE Championship, Bryan fell to what many others have. While still celebrating his historic success he was interrupted by Mr. Money in the Bank, Randy Orton.
With the new champ distracted, guest referee Triple H laid out Bryan with a Pedigree. It became immediately clear that the former stablemates were once again in cahoots as Orton smirked on his way into the ring and the two men made quick work of ensuring that a new champion was crowned.
3. John Cena: 3 minutes, 33 seconds
Even the mighty John Cena himself isn’t a stranger to short reigns, and it seems that the best time to suckerpunch him is immediately following an Elimination Chamber match. In almost a mirror image to the first ever Money in the Bank cash-in at New Years Revolution back in 2006, John Cena was successful in the chamber itself but was immediately faced with the interruption of Vince McMahon.
Unlike 2006, John Cena was not champion going into the match nor was the interruption for Money in the Bank. This time McMahon sent out Batista, stating that Cena’s only way to make it to WrestleMania as champion was to get through The Animal. Cena instantly fell to Batista and registered the third briefest time with the belt.
2. Yokozuna: 2 minutes, 6 seconds
John Cena may have seen his chance to walk into WrestleMania as champion slip away, but Yokozuna was on the unfortunate end of one of the worst WrestleMania endings of all time – supposedly thanks to backstage politics. Being the first ever Royal Rumble winner to challenge for the title at the big event, the big Samoan made the most of his opportunity and captured the title.
It had taken Yokozuna less than half a year after his debut to take the top prize but thanks to the cocksure attitude of his manager Mr. Fuji, his meteoric rise would be followed by an even more momentous fall. Fuji immediately put the title on the line against Hulk Hogan, who would quickly emerge as the new champion.
1. André The Giant: 1 minute, 48 seconds
While Yokozuna can point fault at Mr. Fuji’s error of judgement, André has no one to blame but himself. Sure, he was a part of Ted DiBiase’s master plan to buy the WWE Championship, but a knowledge of the rules of the belt would’ve saved his blushes.
After champion Hogan had turned down DiBiase’s massive offer to buy the title, the Million Dollar Man paid off The Giant to take the title for him. As if that wasn’t enough, he also bought a referee by using Earl Hebner to sub in for his twin brother Dave. It all paid off, with Hebner counting a victory despite Hogan kicking out at one.
What didn’t pay off was André giving the title immediately over to DiBiase. WWE President Jack Tunney pointed out that only the forfeiting of the title was recognized by the company but not DiBiase being chosen by André as his successor, leaving it vacated.
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