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The WWE Championship has an illustrious 48 year history dating back to 1963 when Buddy Rogers was crowned the first ever WWF World Heavyweight Champion. In the years since, the title has been won by 42 different men, some whose title reigns defined an era, and others whose time as Champion will be quickly forgotten. Current WWE Champion CM Punk has been champion for nearly 400 days. Punk’s title reign is the longest and without a doubt the most successful in the modern era of the WWE. RESPECT is what Punk demands and RESPECT is what he deserves. Thus begs the question, where does Punk rank among other greats to hold either the WWE or the WWF World Heavyweight Championship?
Here’s my countdown of the top ten greatest WWE Champions of all-time.
#10. Randy Orton has won the WWE Championship 6 times his career including beating Chris Benoit at 2004’s Summerslam to become the youngest World Champion in WWE history. Orton has proven to be at his best as heel and a 2009 feud with HHH is still one of best of the PG era.
#9. Chris Jericho will go down a one of the true greats of the business. Jericho has tallied many accomplishments over his career, including becoming the WWE’s first Undisputed Champion by beating The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin both in one night. But it is Jericho’s talents behind the mic that has put him over with the fans whether he be face or heel.
#8. Macho Man Randy Savage has a legacy as a two-time WWE Champion that will never be forgotten. Savage, along with Hulk Hogan, carried the torch throughout the 1980’s. A 14 man tournament at Wrestlemania IV was site of the iconic celebration of Miss Elizabeth being lifted above Macho Man’s shoulder as they celebrated his first WWE Championship. Savage’s second title was short-lived, but was just as enjoyable.
#7. Shawn Michaels is known as one of the greatest in-ring performers of all-time. At times HBK’s accomplishments have been over shadowed by his real life feud with Bret Hart. He first won the WWF title in dramatic circumstances at WrestleMania XII by superkicking Bret Hart in overtime of their 60 minute Iron Man match. Their feud became personal when Michaels won this third WWE Championship by defeating Hart other wise known as the “Montreal Screw Job”. The turn of events, in return lead to the “Attitude Era” in the WWE. Michaels played a major part of the “Attitude Era “as member of DX. All of HBK’s contributions landed him a spot in WWE’s Hall of Fame class of 2010.
#6. Bret “the Hitman” Hart built his reputation on his ability to have a good match with anyone he stepped in the ring with. Hart got the likes of Diesel and Stone Cold Steve Austin over as legitimate title contenders. WWF’s popularity in Europe was in large part due to “the Hitman”. Hart’s WWF career ended in ignominious circumstances with the “Montreal Screwjob”, Hart played an important part in bringing the company out of the dark and into a period that would make history.
#5. Triple H a.k.a. “The GAME”, was an eight-time WWE Champion for good reason. He had many memorable matches with Austin, Rock and Jericho and became the face of the company in that period with the impending retirement of Stone Cold. Triple H has proved in his career that he has the rare talent of being a convincing champion whether as a face or a heel. His immense popularity and legendary status made it easy for him to make his way to the top.
#4. CM Punk represents everything blue-collar stands for: having to earn his keep. Although Punk’s title reign hasn’t earned him the title “Greatest Ever”, YET…he’s more than earned him the title Best in the World. Punk has since returned to the company and it is inevitable that he will continue to create controversy and memorable moments on WWE TV and is on his way to becoming one of the greatest WWE Champions in history.
#3. John Cena has been the perfect front man for a PG-based product and the sight of Cena confronting the odds time and again is good for business. A ten-time WWE Champion, Cena in many eyes is on his way to surpass Ric Flair’s record of 17 reigns as World Champion before his career is over. Like him or not, you’re still cheering for him in some way.
#2. Hulk Hogan had everyone eating their vitamins and saying their prayers. Hogan’s American Hero like persona was the first to bring credibility to the WWE Championship through his many main event bouts. Most notably, his Wrestlemania III bout with Andre The Giant. Hogan would go on to win the Undisputed WWE Championship in his last run with the company, but couldn’t compare to earlier title reigns.
#1. Stone Cold Steve Austin was the perfect face of the “Attitude Era” and his feud with Mr McMahon made for some of the most compelling television ever broadcast by the WWF. “The Rattlesnake” represented the working-class man rebelling against the establishment and his popularity as a beer-swilling, foul-mouthed anti-hero rocketed him sky-high. Stone Cold would upset the odds time and again as he became a 6 time WWF Champion during one of wrestling’s hottest periods.
Who’s in your top 10? I’d love to hear your opinions!