The WWE Championship is arguably the most prestigious title in the wrestling world, as it has been held by some of the greatest stars of all time. The legendary lineage includes Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, Roman Reigns, Bret Hart, and many more. In more recent years, names like John Cena, Roman Reigns, and Brock Lesnar have reigned as the WWE Champion.
Let’s take a look at the greatest WWE Champions of all time. This list considers both the WWE Championship and Universal title, as well as single reigns and overall impact as the champion.
Hulk Hogan – Six-Time Champion
In many ways, Hulk Hogan remains synonymous with the WWE Championship, as he held the title six times. His first title reign especially stands apart, as it spanned a remarkable 1,474 days and stretched across the mid-1980s. “Hulkamania” was running wild, as Hogan was unquestionably the face of WWE and wrestling itself at a time when wrestling was just starting to enter the mainstream in a big way. There’s no doubt WWE and the WWE Championship wouldn’t be where they are today if not for Hogan.
Hogan’s title reigns were filled with some controversy as well, whether it was beating Yokozuna in an impromptu match after the powerhouse dethroned Bret Hart at WrestleMania IX or no-selling The Undertaker’s Tombstone when they clashed at Survivor Series 1991. Regardless, Hogan’s championship wins remain some of the most memorable moments in WWE history, and one can’t talk about the WWE Championship without bringing up “The Hulkster.”
John Cena – 13-Time Champion
Like Hogan, John Cena was the face of WWE for years, and he carried the company from the Ruthless Aggression era into the PG Era and beyond. Cena will undoubtedly go down in history with his 16 title reigns, the longest of which stretched 380 days. The 13-time WWE Champion holds the record, as Ric Flair and other champions boosted their count with World Heavyweight Championship wins. Randy Orton is in second place with 10 WWE Championship reigns, so it’s likely that Cena’s place will go unmatched for quite some time.
Cena’s victories also delivered some special moments; his first title win at WrestleMania 21 marked a changing of the guard, as it was clear that WWE was crowning him as their top star. Other highlights include Cena’s rematch with The Rock at WrestleMania 29 and both his bitter feuds with Orton and Edge. For many fans, Cena was the WWE Champion of a generation, and his impact on the history of the WWE Championship will never be forgotten.
Bruno Sammartino – Longest Reign: 2,803 Days
Bruno Sammartino might just be the greatest WWE Champion of all time, as he held the WWWF World Championship for an astounding 2,803 days in his second reign. Sammartino was the second WWWF World Champion of all time, and he held the title for the better part of an entire decade. That impressive reign will likely never be topped, and his second title run, which also lasted over 1,000 days, was quite impressive as well.
Sammartino’s first title reign and the way it ended are the stuff of legend; the Madison Square Garden crowd was stunned into silence when he lost the gold to Ivan Koloff in 1971. “The Living Legend” helped put WWE on the map, and his historic title run will be almost impossible to top.
Randy Savage – Two-Time Champion
“Macho Man” Randy Savage became one of WWE’s top stars at a time when Hulk Hogan was still “the guy,” and his road to winning the WWE Championship is part of one of the greatest storylines in WWE history. The implosion of the Mega Powers gets all the glory, but Savage’s victory over Ted DiBiase, which kicked off his first world title reign, was a special moment in its own right. “Macho Man” then held the title for over a year, and it featured a slow-burn feud with Hogan that led to the classic match between the two at WrestleMania V. Savage also showed what champions are made of with that match, as he competed with an infected elbow.
A few years later, Savage regained the title by defeating Ric Flair at WrestleMania VIII, and this victory culminated in another heated storyline that involved “The Nature Boy” claiming that he and Miss Elizabeth had previously been in a relationship. It’s fair to say Savage’s title feuds were compelling programming, and they delivered some of the best storytelling in WWE history.
CM Punk – Longest Reign: 434 days
“The Summer of Punk” and CM Punk‘s win over John Cena at WWE Money in the Bank 2011 remain an iconic run, but it didn’t lead to the longest title reign of CM Punk’s career. Instead, his special 434-day reign began at WWE Survivor Series 2011. He then held the WWE Championship for well over a year. His run began with victories over Del Rio, The Miz, and Dolph Ziggler, but it picked up steam with his heated feud with Chris Jericho, which led to a bout between the two at WrestleMania 28.
Punk’s reign also included a dream rivalry with Daniel Bryan, as it pit two of the top stars from Ring of Honor’s early years against each other on WWE programming and delivered some great matches. Of course, it also featured Punk’s heel turn on The Rock, the debut of The Shield, and two pay-per-view matches between Punk and Rock. Though Punk’s WWE run ended when he infamously walked out on the company, his lengthy title reign remains a distinct highlight that offered plenty of unforgettable moments.
Bob Backlund – Longest Reign: 2,135 Days
Like Sammartino, Bob Backlund certainly deserves a place on this list, as his 2,135-day title reign bridged the gap from the end of the 1970s into the early 1980s. He faced a number of noteworthy names during his first title run, including the legendary Superstar Billy Graham, Cowboy” Bob Orton, and Jimmy Snuka. Backlund’s reign also included a special WWWF vs. NWA match where he clashed with Harley Race, something that feels practically unthinkable in today’s WWE. Likewise, Backlund also faced the AWA’s Nickbockwinkel, the NWA’s Ric Flair, and he faced Antonio Inoki twice as well.
Backlund’s second title reign wasn’t nearly as long, but it holds a place in WWE history, as he lost the gold to Diesel in eight seconds at a house show in Madison Square Garden in 1994.
Pedro Morales – Longest Reign: 1,027 days
Pedro Morales is a member of an elite group, as he is one of the few stars who have had a WWE Championship ring that spanned over 1,000 days. Morales won the gold by defeating Ivan Koloff in 1971, and he held the championship until Stan Stasiak dethroned him in 1973. Throughout his reign, Morales faced stars like Freddie Blassie, Ernie Ladd, and George Steele. He also had a classic match with Bruno Sammartino; their clash at the Showdown at Shea was widely viewed as one of the best matches of the century.
Brock Lesnar- Seven-Time Champion
Brock Lesnar, a seven-time champion, has had a remarkable career, as he captured his first world title when he was 25. Just 126 days after his debut, he beat The Rock at WWE SummerSlam 2002 to win the WWE Undisputed Championship. In doing so, Lesnar cemented his status as one of WWE’s top stars, and he was one of the faces of the company as it transitioned out of the Attitude Era.
Over the years, Lesnar captured the title several more times; since 2019 alone, he has added three reigns to his resume. His second WWE run is even more impressive when one factors in the Universal Championship, as he held the title for 504 days.
Roman Reigns – Over 1,000 Days as the Undisputed Universal Champion
Of course, Roman Reigns is currently on the mountaintop, as he reigns supreme as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion. He captured the Universal Championship at WWE Payback 2020 and later beat Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 38 to win the WWE Championship. Reigns has held both titles since then, and he has been so dominant that WWE created another world title just to give other top-level talents the chance to hold the gold.
Say what you will about Reigns’ part-time status, but his character work throughout this run has been unmatched, and he has helped get The Bloodline over as one of the top stables in recent history. Plus, he has defeated an eye-opening lineup of stars, including John Cena, Edge, Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, Cody Rhodes, and many more.