WWE and World Heavyweight Champions: The 15 Best in the Ring for Great Matches
WWE is on the edge of a renaissance of sorts. The champions leading the company are not a big draw, but rather, the best wrestlers in the business.
Sure, CM Punk has proven that he can make money, but we all know John Cena is the big name for WWE. Even grander, Daniel Bryan is the man with the title over on SmackDown ahead of basically every babyface and heel you expect to hold that title.
In WWE, typically the biggest stars hold the titles. That usually refers to the star that sells the most PPVs, tickets and merchandise because, as we all know, this is a business at the end of the day. However, sometimes the wrestler of the group can find his way to the top of the pack.
This can come about in many different ways. It could be a measure of finally rewarding that star for years of work, perhaps a way of giving the fans some real entertainment at the highest level, or that star could actually become a top draw.
Punk was one of those stars who became a top draw. Bryan is one of those stars that is more there as a present to the fans while possibly being groomed for a higher position in the company down the road.
Many stars through the years have been champions. Most of the great wrestlers eventually get that shot, though, not all of them. Curt Hennig, Ricky Steamboat and Roddy Piper can attest to that.
But who were the greatest 15 wrestlers to ever compete as a World Heavyweight Champion? Who truly made that title an exciting belt to watch being defended every time?
The following is the list of the 15 stars I saw as the greatest stars in creating great World Championship matches on a regular basis, which means not many duds and many great or phenomenal bouts. Many stars will be excluded due to lack of defenses or not quite being up to the same level.
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Christian: I wanted to put him in the top 15, but honestly, his reigns have two total defenses. While his defenses were amazing contests with Randy Orton, the total sum of his time as champion does not make his number of great matches outweigh any of these others.
Daniel Bryan: It would be premature to put him on this list because he might not get many chances defending the title, but if he does, expect magic.
The Rock: He was always a good performer with good in-ring work, but his overall title defenses are not quite there.
Jeff Hardy: The Charismatic Enigma used to be one of those guys everyone wanted to see finally get recognized for his talent. Well, it happened. He had fairly lackluster reigns, but he will always be a top-level performer.
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Championship reigns: three-time World Heavyweight Champion, two-time WWE Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. John Cena (Summerslam 2011), vs. Jeff Hardy (SmackDown 8/28/09)
CM Punk is a great rising star who we should all know is a phenomenal WWE wrestler.
His best matches are actually his title wins, but he could make great matches as champion as well. His time is on the horizon, though.
With big matches including WrestleMania coming, Punk could soon be a serious competitor for the title of greatest champion of all time in terms of wrestling ability.
Image Courtesy of: fanpop.com
Championship reigns: three-time World Heavyweight Champion, six-time WWE Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Shawn Michaels (Survivor Series 2007), vs. Christian (Over the Limit 2011)
I know we are all supposed to hate Randy Orton for becoming Cena 2.0 as far as taking all the titles and pulling out miracle comeback finishes, but the truth is that Orton could pull out great matches whether he was champion or not.
Orton is the best in-ring psychologist in WWE today. Sure, there are better fliers, technical masters and possibly storytellers, but no one is better with psychology than Orton.
His time as champion was long and prosperous, giving him many great matches.
Just go back and look up some of his matches and you will see he could and still can bring it in the ring better than most stars today.
Stone Cold Steve Austin
Image Courtesy of: down-for-the-count.webs.com
Championship reigns: six-time WWF Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Kurt Angle (Summerslam 2001), vs. Chris Benoit (SmackDown 5/31/01)
Stone Cold was one of the greatest stars of all time in WWE.
At the same time, he might be one of the most underrated wrestlers of all time.
Stone Cold could really go in the ring.
He would of course suffer a serious injury to his neck, hampering his ability for most of his career, but even that didn't truly stop Stone Cold from being a great worker.
He was a rugged brawler with some technical toughness, and his in-ring contributions as champion are nothing to be laughed at.
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Championship reigns: one-time WWE Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Kurt Angle (WrestleMania XX), vs. JBL (Judgement Day 2004)
Eddie Guerrero was an amazing performer.
Sadly, he died too early, and we never got to see what he could truly do if given the ball.
Guerrero was given the championship once, and he made the most of it, especially on the grandest stage of them all as he performed with the great Kurt Angle.
Guerrero would not get many chances to defend the title, but his ability and heart shined through.
Image Courtesty of: pwa.wrestlingx.net
Championship reigns: one-time World Heavyweight Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Randy Orton (Summerslam 2004), vs. Triple H (Vengeance 2004)
Uh-oh, I said the name.
I said it again.
Now that that's over with...
This man was the epitome of what it means for a wrestler to be a champion.
Benoit was never a great talker or very marketable, but he could wrestle better than anyone sometimes.
His only run as champion is one of the better World Championship runs you will ever see.
He got the best out of every opponent until finally putting over a young Orton in a great contest.
Not many could ever match Benoit in the ring.
Image Courtesy of: thehomeworld.net
Championship reigns: two-time WWF Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania V), vs. Shawn Michaels (4/19/92)
Randy Savage was the ultimate performer in a time where Hulkamania was fully entrenched in everyone's mind.
Savage sat by the wayside in comparison, but he never truly disappeared.
He was a champion and a great one at that.
Nobody during that time was a better champion.
Savage showed everyone that it didn't just need to be about a few flashy moves.
It could be about the whole product, which each of Savage's matches included during his time as champion.
Image Courtesy of: wwe-collections.blogspot.com
Championship reigns: three-time World Heavyweight Champion, four-time WWE Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Mankind (In Your House: Revenge of the Taker), vs. Bret Hart (Summerslam 1997)
Undertaker is and will always remain the greatest big-man wrestler of all time. At 6'10" and 300 pounds, Taker was a monster of a man, though, many people would forget that watching him wrestle.
Taker could fly and move better than guys half his size. He could outperform nearly anyone.
He had so many phenomenal matches and was a long-time champion in the business.
Sadly, he rarely had great championship matches. They were usually good, but they rarely matched his non-title bouts, especially at WrestleMania.
Unless the Streak counts as a title....
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Championship reigns: two-time WWF Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Savage (WrestleMania XIII), vs. Bret Hart (9/1/92)
If we were talking about Flair's whole career as a champion in any company, he would be a top-level star.
He still is with his limited reigns, but his best work in the WWF and later in WWE came without the belt, and his best matches with the belt were when he lost it.
This man was an in-ring genius and a charismatic spectacle, so he will always be remembered for every role he portrayed.
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Championship reigns: one-time World Heavyweight Champion, three-time WWF Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Triple H (Armageddon 2002), vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (WrestleMania XIV)
Shawn Michaels is known for how great he was late in his career during his comeback. Rarely do people harp upon what he did before he almost retired for good.
Michaels led the company as a three-time WWF Champion, and he pulled off some really good matches during that time.
His bouts with Bret Hart are still legendary to this day.
He doesn't have a phenomenal resume, but he sticks out even when looking at just championship reigns.
Image Courtesy of: allwrestlingsuperstars.com
Championship reigns: one-time (Undisputed) WWF Champion, three-time World Heavyweight Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Shawn Michaels (No Mercy 2008), vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (No Way Out 2002)
Chris Jericho will always be one of the most underrated talents in WWE history.
Sure, his return to WWE recently gave him his best run yet, but Jericho still left like a chump villain with very little to do rather than with a bang, as most legends go.
Jericho could just go in the ring, and it showed mostly when he was not champion. In his limited time as champion, Jericho still pulled out great matches, though. In fact, it is hard to pick out a single bad one.
Image Courtesy of: prowrestling.wikia.com
Championship reigns: two-time WWWF Champion (for an amazing 4,040 days)
Notable work as champion: Too many to pick out and many would be missed as they were never taped.
Bruno Sammartino was the greatest champion in this business ever, and he was always one of the greatest wrestlers.
Back in Sammartino's time, there was no prerequisite of mic skills. It was all about in-ring ability and marketability, to an extent. Nobody during that time was better than Sammartino.
He could out-wrestle anyone and outperform anyone.
So did he have great championship matches? The better question is: When didn't he have great championship matches?
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Championship reigns: seven-time World Heavyweight Champion, four-time WWE Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Jeff Hardy (Extreme Rules 2009), vs. Undertaker (WrestleMania XXIV)
Edge was born to be a villainous champion. He was champion quite a few times late in his career for a reason.
This man made the most of that time in the spotlight, as he had many great championship matches as champion.
This is the first pick where I feel the notable work is a bit empty as it is missing key matches.
A lot of them actually.
Image Courtesy of: wrestling-match.com
Championship reigns: five-time World Heavyweight Champion, eight-time WWF/E Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Mick Foley (Royal Rumble 2000), vs. The Rock (Backlash 2000)
Triple H and champion: two words that go together perfectly.
Triple H had all of his greatest matches as World Heavyweight or WWE Champion. That is almost not an exaggeration.
You could list this man's entire career of great matches as matches where he was champion, and you would only miss a few matches at most.
Seriously, Triple H made being champion cool, and he made sure those matches were generally spectacular.
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Championship reigns: five-time WWF Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XII), vs. Owen Hart (Summerslam 1994)
Bret Hart was always a dependable talent.
He lead the WWF for years, almost carrying it on his back.
Hart was not a typical leader for the company, but his technical ability brought him out of the fold.
Hart was one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time, and, with all his time as champion, Hart showed that ability while champion.
He had many great matches as champion, just as he had many as challenger or just as a competitor.
Image Courtesy of: sportsclubaz.blogspot.com
Championship reigns: one-time World Heavyweight Champion, four-time WWF/E Champion
Notable work as champion: vs. Chris Benoit (Royal Rumble 2003), vs. Undertaker (No Way Out 2006)
Kurt Angle may just be the greatest wrestler to ever step into a pro wrestling ring.
This guy could do anything and everything it took to make a match great.
The fact that he got five total World Championship reigns is a testament to his ability, because he rarely was a huge draw or face for the company.
During his time in WWE, Angle wrestled many greats, and many of those matches were during his time as champion.
I don't think anyone has a better championship resume than Angle in terms of great matches as champion, and that is a huge compliment upon Angle's ability.
Thanks for reading!