Analyzing Brock Lesnar and WWE's History of Young Champions

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Analyzing Brock Lesnar and WWE's History of Young Champions
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SummerSlam 2002: Brock Lesnar versus The Rock

When a 37-year-old Brock Lesnar won the WWE World Heavyweight Title from John Cena in a one-sided affair at SummerSlam, it capped a triumphant return-to-form for Brock Lesnar. As a young phenom, Lesnar won his first WWE Championship at the tender age of 25. After spending many years away from WWE competition, Brock's latest run is further proof that he truly was the "next big thing."

Brock is in the elite group of wrestlers to win a WWE/WWF world title under the age of 30.

 

The Young Champions List

The leader of the pack is a tough 27-year-old named Bruno Sammartino. He took the world title from Buddy Rogers in 1963 and held it for close to eight years. Transitional champion Ivan Koloff was only 28 years old when he won the belt for three weeks in 1971. Both Pedro Morales and Bob Backlund had exceptionally long reigns with the heavyweight title, which began when the men were 28 years old.

In the mid-1990s prior to the "Attitude Era," there were two young WWF champions. 

The Undertaker was not even 27 years old when he won the heavyweight championship from 38-year-old Hulk Hogan at Survivor Series 1991. This lead to a rematch a few days later at WWF's experimental This Tuesday in Texas pay-per-view.

Few fans realized that intimidating superstar Yokozuna was only 26 years old when won the title for a few moments at WrestleMania IX. Yokozuna went on to have a formal 280-day reign starting at King of the Ring 1993. 

The Rock won the WWF Championship six times before he reached the age of thirty. At his first victory, winning the Deadly Games Tournament at Survivor Series 1998, The Rock was only 26 years old. (Rock wasn't technically the youngest champion ever as Yokozuna was a few days younger when he held the title at WrestleMania IX. However, WWF didn't want to publicize that their enormous sumo wrestling fiend was actually a pretty young kid.) When The Rock beat Kurt Angle at No Way Out in February 2001, he was only 28 years old.

Former WCW World Champion "The Giant" made his WWF debut at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre pay-per-view on February 14, 1999 by tearing through the ring's canvas. A few months later at Survivor Series 1999, the rechristened "Big Show" won the WWF Championship in a Triple Threat match with The Rock and champion Triple H. Big Show was just 27 years old at the time.

Brock Lesnar arrived on WWF on March 18, 2002. He wasted no time, as he became the World Champion in less than six months. At SummerSlam that Augustthe 25-year-old former NCAA wrestling champion defeated The Rock. In 2003, Brock would win the belt twice more.

Lesnar's legacy is pretty amazing. He was a three-time WWF Champion before he even reached his 27th birthday!

In August 2004 at SummerSlam, Randy Orton won the World Heavyweight Championship at the stunning age of 24. He set a record that still stands today. Orton would also go on to win the WWE Championship in 2007 at No Mercy when he was 27 years old. Orton also won the belt three more times in 2009 when he was 29 years old.

John Cena has been the perennial face of the WWE for the past decade. An important step in John Cena's rise to the top was winning the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 21 and ending John "Bradshaw" Layfield's epic 280-day reign.

At the time, Cena was just weeks away from turning 28 years old. Cena also won the top title two more times before he turned 30 at Royal Rumble 2006 and Unforgiven 2006.

In 2008, CM Punk made history when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on Edge to win the World Heavyweight Championship on the June 30 episode of Monday Night Raw. Punk was 29 years old at the time.

Two years later, on a SmackDown that aired on April 2, a 28-year-old Jack Swagger cashed in his Money in the Bank contract to defeat Chris Jericho and become the World Heavyweight Championship.

 

Why So Few?

There's several reasons that it's rare for a a wrestler under the age of 30 to win a world title.

First of all, there's a "natural progression" to wrestlers climbing the ranks. Typically, they win lower stature belts along the way. As you'll see in the table below, the average age of someone holding the World Championship is already in their early-to-mid 30s.

Average Age of WWF/WWE Singles Title Holders
WWF/WWE Singles Title Average Age (when they won the belt) Average number of days title was held Active Timeframe in WWF/WWE
European Title  30.91  51 days Feb. 97 - July 02
Cruiserweight / Light Heavyweight Title  31.32   86 days  Dec. 97 - August 07
Intercontinental Title  31.73   85 days   Sept. 79 - Current
WWE Hardcore Title  32.59   6 days   Nov. 98 - Aug. 02
United States Title  33.01  97 days   July 01 - Current
WWE Championship  33.81  164 days   April 63 - Current  
ECW World Title  35.41  83 days   June 06 - Feb. 10 
World Heavyweight Championship  35.44   73 days   Sept. 02 -Dec. 13

Analysis by Chris Harrington; Title histories from http://www.wwe.com/classics/titlehistory

Secondly, over the last twenty years, according to my analysis, the average age of active male wrestlers in the WWE has been centered around 32 to 33 years old. It has swing as low as 31 (1995) and as old as 34 (2013, 2014). However, the twenty-year WWE average of the active male wrestlers was 32.6 years old.

Average age in the WWF/WWE by year among most active male wrestlers
Year Average Age Examples of New WWF/WWE Wrestlers under 25
1993 32.5 Sean Waltman, Mabel
1994 31.9 Duke Droese
1995 31.1 Chris Candido (Skip)
1996 33.4 The Rock
1997 32.3 Taka Michinoku, Tiger Ali Singh
1998 32.1 Edge, Christian
1999 32.2 Test
2000 31.8
2001 32.0 Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Maven
2002 32.8 Chris Nowinski
2003 32.0 Brian Kendrick, Rene Dupree, Garrison Cade
2004 32.3
2005 31.9 Chris Masters, Mohammad Hassan, The Miz
2006 33.4 Kenny Dykstra, Aaron Stevens (Damien Sandow)
2007 33.5 JTG, Luke Gallows (Festus), Zack Ryder & Curt Hawkins
2008 33.0 David Hart Smith, Manu, Colin Delaney, Hornswoggle
2009 33.4 Cody Rhodes, Drew McIntyre
2010 32.6 Husky Harris
2011 33.1
2012 32.6 Bo Dallas
2013 33.1
2014 YTD 33.3
Overall 32.6

Analysis by Chris Harrington

That's isn't to say there are no competitors younger than 30 or older than 40. On today's current roster, you have rookies like Bo Dallas (24 years old) and veterans like Goldust (45 years old).

Still, there many wrestlers in that 32-33 year old "sweet spot" including Cesaro, Ryback, Jack Swagger, Erick Rowan, Damien Sandow, Fandango, Kofi Kingston, The Miz, Daniel Bryan, Fernando (Epico) and Justin Gabriel.

The average age of a male wrestler first becoming a full-time WWE wrestler on television is about 29.2 years old. Some guys start much younger (Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes, Sean "The Kid" Waltman, Chris Masters, Rene Dupree, Colin Delaney, Zack Ryder), and some guys start much older (Rico Constantino, The Boogeyman).

Often guys who are moving over from another company are much more seasoned (and older) such as Vader (40 in 1996), Diamond Dallas Page (45 in 2001) and Fit Finlay (47 in 2006).

In the next five years, will someone under the age of 24 win the WWE World Heavyweight Champion?

Submit Vote vote to see results

Of course, everyone's career is different. In general, guys who debut young (making it to television before they turn 23) do seem to have some sort of advantage. You'll see guys such as the Hardy Boyz, Randy Orton, Zack Ryder and Justin Credible with much longer WWE careers. It takes a unique talent to be signed full-time at young age.

However, there are always going to be gentlemen who don't last long for whatever reason such as Manu, Zach Gowen, Colin Delaney and Muhammad Hassan.

In today's WWE, there's a strong emphasis on putting everyone through the NXT developmental system. With that in place, it may be awhile before we see an exceptionally young star move on to the main roster and break Randy Orton's record for youngest world champion.

It's certainly not impossible, but it does seem a lot less likely.

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