Dating back to Jan. 1, 1975, the United States title has been a recognized midcard title in the NWA, WCW and WWE. It has groomed many to become world champions, revived plenty of careers and given a plethora of wrestlers their pinnacle moment.
From 1975 to 1988, the U.S. Championship was defended in the NWA. This is where it significantly gained prestige, being the legitimate No. 2 championship. Whoever held the title was—or was becoming—a worthy contender for the world title.
When NWA became WCW, it was still an important championship, acquired by many names who not only became world champions but forever cemented themselves in the main event picture.
WWE purchased WCW in 2001. Although the title defenses lasted only eight months before it was unified with the Intercontinental Championship, it resurfaced in 2003 when then-GM Stephanie McMahon decided to make the title the midcard championship for SmackDown. Since then, it has had its high and lows but has helped many careers along the way.
Altogether, the U.S. title has been held by a total of 78 Superstars. In that bunch, there are 10 that stand out as the very best. Key components are length and quantity of title runs, as well as meaningfulness of the title during the wrestler's reign as champion.
Here are the best of the best.
Chris Benoit - Although his name is tainted in the world of professional wrestling, his achievements will always remain. Benoit accomplished so much during his career, and one of those achievements is being tied for the record of most US title reigns in history. His combined five reigns from 1999 to 2007 lasted a total of nearly one year, with his last one being his most successful.
Barry Windham - Defeating Nikita Koloff in 1988 after turning heel and joining the Four Horseman, Barry Windham exhibited a dominant U.S. title run lasting over nine months. During his run, he feuded with and defeated legendary names such as Sting and Dusty Rhodes.
Sgt. Slaughter - Sgt. Slaughter really made a name for himself wrestling for the National Wrestling Alliance in the early 1980s. During this time, he was most known for feuding with Wahoo McDaniel. The two swapped the U.S. title a couple of times, but Slaughter's reigns were a bit more successful, totaling 305 days.
Magnum T.A. - During the mid-1980s, Magnum T.A. was involved in some of the best rivalries with Tully Blanchard and Nikita Koloff for the U.S. title. He was undoubtedly being groomed for the NWA World title, as he was one of the most popular babyfaces of the company. Sadly, he was involved in a car accident, which abruptly ended his career.
Roddy Piper - Roddy Piper is one of the most charismatic wrestlers of all time. Throughout his entire career, he excelled as both a babyface and a heel. During the early 1980s, Piper was involved in an intense feud with Greg Valentine, mainly for the U.S. Championship. Sixteen years after his last reign, Piper defeated Bret Hart to capture his third title.
Coming on the WWE scene as "SmackDown's Hottest Free Agent," Montel Vontavious Porter—better known as MVP—immediately made his presence known by commencing a feud with Kane shortly after his debut. MVP was on the winning side of multiple matches vs. Kane but lost an Inferno match at Armageddon.
When MVP returned from his hiatus, he then began a feud with Chris Benoit over the U.S. title. After losing matches at both WrestleMania 23 and Backlash, he successfully defeated Benoit at Judgment Day in a 2-out-of-3 Falls match, becoming the U.S. Champion.
To this day, MVP holds the record for being the longest-reigning U.S. champion in WWE history, initially holding it for 343 days.
MVP had all the tools to become a legitimate main eventer. However, with a subpar babyface run (which could have worked) and a cheesy tag team with Mark Henry, the WWE just didn't give him the full opportunity to be a star after he was red hot in the first year-and-a-half of his WWE tenure.
After being part of a very successful tag team with Brian Pillman, known as the Hollywood Blonds, Austin broke away from the team and decided to join Colonel Robert Parker and his stable. This ended up being a beneficial decision due to his success as a singles wrestler.
At Starrcade 1993, Austin challenged U.S. champ Dustin Rhodes to a 2-out-of-3 Falls match for the title. In a very rare occurrence, he defeated Rhodes in two straight falls and won the championship.
Austin dominated the midcard scene in WCW during his title reign throughout 1994, holding the title for eight months. This title win was indeed a defining moment in his career, as he proved that he had all the components to be a main-event star.
He would not experience the main event in WCW, but he later went on to become one of the greatest superstars in WWE history.
Ricky Steamboat proved himself to be one of the greatest wrestlers to ever set foot in the ring. Throughout his illustrious career, he has won multiple titles and is on the list of some of the greatest matches in wrestling history.
Although he very deservedly won the NWA World Heavyweight title in 1989, Steamboat has widely been known for his amazing work in the midcard. During the late 1970s, he was engaged in an intense feud with Ric Flair, the two stars trading the U.S. title along the way.
During the last year of his career, Steamboat decided to give his desire to win gold one last shot, vying for Steve Austin's U.S. title. In 1994, after a hard-fought battle at Clash of the Champions, Steamboat defeated Austin to win his fourth United States Championship.
Known for his many memorable feuds in the WWE, Ravishing Rick Rude also experienced much success in the WCW. In fact, one would argue that he experienced more success in WCW, seeing how he never won a World Championship in the WWE.
One defining moment of Rude's success in WCW came when he joined the Dangerous Alliance, led by Paul Heyman. Shortly after his affiliation with Heyman, Rude defeated Sting at Clash of the Champions in 1991 to become the United States champion.
Rude decided to leave the DA shortly after but still was very successful as a solo competitor. So successful, in fact, that he held the US title for 378 days—the second-longest title reign in history.
Rude had to forfeit the title due to injury, but he staked his claim as one of the most dominant U.S. champions ever.
As a wrestler in the NWA during the 1980s, "The Russian Nightmare" Nikita Koloff was one of the most dominant wrestlers in the company. Known for his Russian Sickle clothesline finisher, he would nearly decapitate anyone who fell victim to the move.
In the summer of 1986, Koloff engaged in a best-of-seven series with Magnum T.A. to capture the vacated U.S. title. In one of the most notable series in NWA history, Koloff won and became champion.
His reign as U.S. champ lasted nearly a year. During this time, he became one of the most over babyfaces in the company, but he never won the world title despite many close calls against Ric Flair.
Along with Sting, Nikita Koloff is known for being one of the most successful wrestlers never to set foot in the WWE, in spite of being offered a contract on more than one occasion.
During the early 1980s, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine witnessed some of the best success of his wrestling career working for the NWA. During this time, he was involved in some major feuds with Wahoo McDaniel, Roddy Piper and even Ric Flair.
Valentine's U.S. title reigns, combined, lasted over one year, as he was one of the biggest midcard stars during that time period.
And who can forget his Dog Collar match against Roddy Piper from Starrcade 1983? One of the most hardcore matches in wrestling history.
Although he was widely known for the Blackjacks team, along with Blackjack Lanza, Mulligan achieved much success as a singles wrestler in the NWA.
During his run in NWA, he won the U.S. title on three separate (recognized) occasions. During this time, he feuded with the likes of Paul Jones, Bobo Brazil and Ricky Steamboat. His reigns, lasting nearly a year-and-a-half altogether, earned him the achievement of having the third-longest combined reign in title history.
Blackjack Mulligan's career achievements earned him a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame (most notably for his tag team tenure) in 2006.
It all started on New Year's Day, 1975. Harley Race was crowned the very first United States champion. His run as U.S. champ already brought prestige to the title, as he was the NWA World Heavyweight champion just a year-and-a-half before.
His over-six-month reign as champion defined what the mind of a midcard champion should have, as he used this momentum to eventually receive his second world title in the NWA around two years later.
Unanimously known for his legendary career, Harley Race won the NWA title for a total of eight times—a record only surpassed by Ric Flair.
Race will be forever known as the one who put the U.S. title on the map.
Without question, the "Nature Boy" Ric Flair is one of the most recognizable names in the history of pro wrestling. To this day, no one has been a world champion as many times as Flair.
Due to his achievements as a main event star, his accomplishments as a midcard wrestler are often overlooked. As mentioned before, his intense feud with Ricky Stemaboat in the late 1970s really put him on the radar as someone who had a promising future.
In fact, Ric Flair is tied for the record of the most U.S. title reigns ever with five. Interestingly, his fifth one came 16 years after his fourth one, as he defeated Konnan at the infamous Bash at the Beach 1996 to become United States champion.
This alone shows that even with as many world title reigns that Flair acquired between his U.S. title reigns, he still proved that winning the title was not necessarily a huge step down. The WWE should incorporate this same philosophy to bring prestige back to the title.
He is known as the Total Package. Ever since he debuted in the NWA, he was destined to be a star. His alliance with the Four Horsemen shortly after his debut was a good launchpad for his successful career as a singles wrestler.
Despite his achievement as a two-time WCW Heavyweight champion, Lex Luger will always be associated with the United States title. Feuding with the likes of Dusty Rhodes, Nikita Koloff, Ricky Steamboat and Stan Hansen, among others, Luger made the U.S. title nearly just as popular as the World title during his reigns, especially during the early 1990s.
No one has more U.S. title reigns than Luger, and his third reign—lasting 523 days—is the longest in wrestling history. Especially with this era of pro wrestling, this single-reign record seems unbreakable, and it's something that Luger can always hold his head high about.
Sound off with your thoughts below, and stay tuned for the Best Intercontinental Champions list.
Chris Featherstone is a writer for WrestlingInc.com and hosts the Pancakes and Powerslams wrestling show Tues. at 11 p.m. ET. Call in live.