The WWE Championship is the most prestigious prize for any pro-wrestler within the trade. The title has been active since the Sixties, with over a dozen WWE Hall of Famers holding the gold. The blood and sweat place in by the wrestlers to earn the WWE Championship have added to its worth through the years. The title has been defended by the top WWE champions across RAW and SmackDown, two entirely different wrestling entities.
The storylines associated with the WWE Championship are the main-event plot for the bulk of the WWE shows up to now and whoever controls the belt, got catapulted to the top of the list. However as the saying goes in WWE, the title doesn’t create the person, the person makes the title.
Today our WWE mega-fan guest author will take a glance at a number of those top-tier WWE Superstars who have won the championship and are tend to be known as the best of the best. The most obvious #1 superstar is Dwayne Johnson, AKA “The Rock”, and many people know John Cena also from movies. We will leave those guys off the list and focus on some of the lesser-known greats who haven’t made it full-time in Hollywood.
#5 AJ Styles
“SmackDown is the house that AJ Styles built”
This statement wasn’t wrong as AJ Styles actually made everyone tune into the weekly shows of the Blue Brand after he had defeated Dean Ambrose for the WWE Championship in September 2016. The Phenomenal One’s initial run as the WWE Champion lasted nearly five months and it culminated with him losing the title to John Cena at Royal Rumble. Apart from putting classic performances against the likes of Dean Ambrose and John Cena, AJ Styles also defended the title against James Ellsworth.
His title reign brought fresh air to SmackDown after the Brand split in 2016 and helped it regain prominence while RAW was led by the amazing duo of Chris Jericho and the contemporary WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens.
Almost a year later, AJ Styles defeated Jinder Mahal to capture the WWE Championship for the second time and this time, his reign exceeded 371 days. On his second run as the title-holder, he ran through Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Dolph Ziggler and other top-tier stars of WWE’s Blue Brand. Overall, it can be stated that these two lengthy reigns as the WWE Champion not only established AJ Styles as one of WWE’s premier athletes but also resulted in SmackDown Live becoming the house that The Phenomenal One built.
#4 Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle is one of the most real athletes to ever step inside the squared circle. An Olympic Gold Medalist in amateur wrestling, Angle made his transition to pro-wrestling and debuted for WWE and its premier brand, RAW, in the fall of 1999. Within one year of his debut, Kurt Angle won the Intercontinental and European Championship and eventually defeated The Rock to grab the WWE Title.
Since then, Angle won the gold on four different occasions and during his reigns, squared off against the likes of Stone Cold, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Big Show, Triple H, among others. His most notable title feud was with The Beast Incarnate on SmackDown that saw both them face off at WrestleMania and numerous times on the Blue Brand, including the famous Iron Man match between them.
Kurt Angle will be remembered as a WWE Champion who possessed the potential to entertain you, make you laugh, cheer for him or turn against him and most importantly amaze you with his incredible in-ring prowess.
#3 Daniel Bryan
Owing to his stature, Daniel Bryan was never someone who you would imagine to have a significant run in the main events in WWE. However, it seemed that he cast some spell on the WWE Universe as there was a time in this decade when they would accept no one to be one of the top WWE Champions other than Daniel Bryan. It made the Chairman, Vince McMahon, reconstruct multiple storylines to make sure the fans got what they wanted.
And the result? We got one of the best underdog storylines leading to WrestleMania 30. Ahead of the grandest stage of sports entertainment, Bryan held the WWE Championship for multiple occasions but only for a brief amount of time. At WrestleMania 30, Daniel Bryan defeated Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista on the same night to become the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion and in the process, delivered one of the most wholesome moments in WWE history.
Unfortunate injuries resulted in him vacating the title in a short span of time, ultimately leading to his retirement from the sport. After two years, Daniel Bryan would come out of retirement in February 2018 and by the end of the year, he was once again the WWE Champion. This time, he was a completely different person, who cared about the well-being of the planet more than anything else. His new attitude wasn’t appreciated by the fans for obvious reason but the gimmick change was critically acclaimed. Through his multiple WWE Championship reigns, Daniel Bryan showed the WWE Universe why a person should never give up. Apart from the moral lessons, the sudden in his persona proves that Daniel Bryan is not afraid of experiments despite enjoying a widely-popular gimmick already.
#2 Randy Orton
“The Viper” Randy Orton has been a nine-time top WWE Champion since his debut in the promotion in 2002. Accredited as the youngest person to hold the World Heavyweight Championship, Orton got a grab of the coveted WWE Championship for the first time in 2007 when he was awarded the belt by Vince McMahon.
Unlike the majority of the stars on the list, Randy Orton was the focal point of RAW during his reigns as the WWE Champion. As the top guy of the promotion, The Viper faced threats from the likes of Triple H, Edge, John Cena, Batista, Sheamus, The Miz, and Daniel Bryan. Not only the monthly events, but Orton also battled for the WWE Championship in the main event of WrestleMania on multiple occasions.
Each of his title reigns had him bring out his vicious and brutal side to decimate his opponent. For instance, no WWE fan can forget the intensity of his rivalry with Triple H ahead of WrestleMania 25 and how he dragged Stephanie and Vince McMahon into it. His feud with John Cena for the gold in 2009 will be remembered by the WWE Universe as a saga that defined the WWE Championship. Also to add to that, there was his run as a member of The Authority to oppress Daniel Bryan. His role as the WWE Champion was pivotal in establishing Bryan as the top babyface of the promotion in 2013-14.
Lastly, let’s not forget the WWE Championship is what is today as Randy Orton defeated John Cena to unify the belt with the World Heavyweight Championship at TLC 2013.
#1 CM Punk
Whenever there is a mention of the WWE Championship in the modern era, the first name that comes to the mind of the pro-wrestling fans has to be CM Punk. As the leader of Nexus, Punk made his presence felt on RAW in the fall of 2010. Next year, he would challenge John Cena for the title heading into the Money in the Bank pay-per-view. The meteoric rise of CM Punk to the top of the RAW roster was something to follow. The way he evolved himself to be the ‘Cult of Personality’ awed the WWE fans. His first reign came to an end shorty but later in the year, he defeated Alberto Del Rio to retain the WWE Championship at Survivor Series.
This time, his reign lasted for 434 days, making it the longest WWE Championship run in the modern era. During this period, CM Punk would defend against Chris Jericho, John Cena, Big Show, Daniel Bryan, Ryback, and The Rock. Apart from his rivalries, CM Punk’s WWE Championship run on RAW also gained prominence with the changes in his attitude. Halfway through the reign, Punk adopted a villainous persona and aligned himself with Paul Heyman. The duo also had an alliance with SHIELD.
CM punks ascend to the top and the consequent 434 days as the WWE Champion was a required change that the WWE Universe wanted following the feud and reigns of The Miz and John Cena. Not just the interesting feuds and matchups, CM Punk’s WWE Championship period is also glorified as a title run that paved the way for shorter and leaner guys to hold the coveted title.