Ranking Triple H, Cm Punk and the 10 Best Heel WWE Champions Since 2000

Erik BeastonJuly 9, 2022

Ranking Triple H, Cm Punk and the 10 Best Heel WWE Champions Since 2000

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    Since the turn of the century, WWE has produced its fair share of quality heel champions. Some held the company's namesake title, others the world heavyweight or universal gold. Regardless, they have etched out Hall of Fame resumes while infuriating fans and frustrating top babyfaces.

    Some were spoiled, third-generation competitors who used nepotism to their advantage. Others surrounded themselves with associates to ensure they rarely lost high-stake contests. Still, others were just damn good professional wrestlers who pissed audiences off by beating their favorites.

    Whatever the case, those champions asserted themselves and established their legacies as both top villains and quality titleholders.

    With all three of the aforementioned titles taken into consideration, here are the 10 WWE Superstars who rank as the greatest heel world champions since 2000.

10. King Booker

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    Booker T enjoyed the most successful year of his WWE career in 2006 when he won the King of the Ring tournament and adopted the King Booker persona that catapulted him to the top of the SmackDown brand.

    As world heavyweight champion, and flanked by the likes of Finlay and William Regal, he ruled over the blue brand with a combination of humor and ruthlessness, making life a living hell for top babyfaces like Rey Mysterio, Batista and Bobby Lashley.

    It was his wife, newly inducted WWE Hall of Famer Queen Sharmell, who really accentuated the act and infuriated fans by insisting they "all hail King Booker!" as he entered the arena.

    The theatricality, the over-the-top nature of the character and the performers' commitment to it made the king one of the more successful gimmicks in recent WWE history and provided Booker the run that he had both earned and long deserved.

9. Kurt Angle

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    You may be asking yourself how Kurt Angle only managed to slot in at No. 9 on this list, but the answer is really quite simple: He was so damn good at the whole professional wrestling thing that, even as a heel, he was tough to hate.

    Angle won his first WWE Championship in October 2000, defeating The Rock to cap off one of the most incredible rookie years of all time. It was during his run as champion that he discovered the ever-important intensity and aggression that he would need to really enjoy a consistent run atop the company.

    That does not mean he did not have a little bit of help, most memorably from his brother, Eric, who saved his title reign against The Undertaker at the following month's Survivor Series pay-per-view.

    Flash forward two years and Angle would regain the top prize in the company while competing as a dastardly bad guy. The run, beginning in December 2002 and continuing through the start of the new year and into WrestleMania XIX, saw him set up as the last obstacle for Brock Lesnar in his quest to regain the gold.

    As the leader of Team Angle, the future Hall of Famer made life a living hell for The Beast and put roadblock after roadblock in his path before finally succumbing to the freakish athlete in the main event of the year's biggest show.

    A world-class wrestler, one of the best technicians to ever lace a pair of boots, and an equally humorous nerd, it is the respect he commanded and the entertainment value he provided, that may have made him such a quality bad guy, but also beloved by the audience at the same time.

8. Daniel Bryan

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    Who would have thought that fiercely defending the planet would make for such a great heel persona?

    Daniel Bryan, apparently.

    The bearded wonder embraced the "Planet's Champion" moniker in 2018 and immediately proceeded to cut some of the best promos of his career, berating fans for their lack of respect and care for Mother Earth.

    Ramping up the aggression in his ring work helped reflect the more ruthless side of this version of Bryan, something AJ Styles and Kofi Kingston experienced far too well.

    Though the character was short-lived, it earned rave reviews from fans who appreciated the conviction with which Bryan spoke and the commitment to the character itself. It was readily apparent that he believed what he said, and it made for some of the best work of any villain in WWE over the last five or so years.

    It was also responsible for the magical KofiMania run that Kingston went on leading into WrestleMania 35, so it gets props for that as well.

7. Brock Lesnar

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    As The Next Big Thing, Brock Lesnar was an unstoppable force who tore through everyone from Jeff Hardy to Hulk Hogan before defeating The Rock to win his first world title at SummerSlam 2002. The young, seemingly invincible performer would go on to smash The Undertaker inside Hell in a Cell, bloodying him en route to a defining victory before suddenly and inexplicably turning babyface the very next night.

    His next run as heel champion, just under a year later, would see him adopt a more confident and egotistical side of himself as he laughed off the idea of Eddie Guerrero defeating him and falsely claimed to be unfazed by the idea of competing against Goldberg.

    Both men would go on to defeat him, Guerrero relieving him of his title.

    Fast forward seven years and Lesnar would return to WWE, The Beast Incarted and an indestructible force for any babyface competitor to run up against. He obliterated John Cena at the 2014 SummerSlam event in the greatest example of a one-sided squash of a future Hall of Famer in WWE history.

    As champion over the next seven years, he defeated Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, Finn Balor and Daniel Bryan while firmly establishing the Hall of Fame credentials everyone expected he would have a decade earlier.

    A part-time performer who comes and goes as he pleases, and whose persona was enhanced by advocate Paul Heyman during their on-screen relationship, Lesnar was a badass, no-nonsense heel who re-enforced the idea that a heel could be the centerpiece of the company and that he could be so without relying on chicanery and cheating at every turn to get there.

6. Randy Orton

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    Whether he was the smug, hand-picked future of WWE or the vile, venomous Viper, Randy Orton set the bar for heel champions upon his rise to the top of the company in 2004.

    Egotistical but with the edge needed to make the leap from potential to promise, he made life a living hell for Superstars such as Triple H, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Batista, Big Show, and Chris Jericho while cementing his legacy as one of the best of his generation.

    A fantastic in-ring worker, he backed up every questionable win with the ability to deliver his trademark RKO from outta nowhere, ensuring no one ever saw him as a cheap champion undeserving of his spot.

    Was he relied on a bit too much by a WWE Creative team that failed to build other main event attractions at the time, benefiting from championship wins that really could have gone to someone else if there was, in fact, anyone else primed for the position?

    Probably, but that should not discount how effective a villain Orton has been over the last two decades, the many babyfaces he has senselessly attacked and the partnerships he has stricken to keep himself in that position when necessary.

    Orton is a great heel and, hopefully, he returns to that role one more time before calling it a career, regardless of whether he ever wins another world title again.

5. Roman Reigns

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    When his reign as the top heel in the company finally commences, Roman Reigns will rank higher on this list.

    The egotistical, self-righteous villain who understands his role as the top star in professional wrestling and the power it allows him, Reigns has become the single best thing about the WWE product since his rise to that position in 2020.

    A heel who touts his family's position in the industry and his role in keeping it there, he has coerced his cousins, Jimmy and Jey Uso, and special counsel Paul Heyman to help him retain his stranglehold on the WWE and Universal Championships.

    This, despite engaging Jey in two Match of the Year candidates and some of the best storytelling in modern WWE history.

    Big-match wins over Brock Lesnar, and convincing victories over Kevin Owens, Finn Balor, Edge and Daniel Bryan have strengthened his run and helped make him the most interesting performer on the roster.

    Even as he is so easily unlikable thanks to an inflated ego that would float on water, his entrance is often met with a thunderous ovation from fans who appreciate the star aura that he carries himself with and the fact that he is just so damn cool.

    Make no mistake about it, though, Reigns is a tried-and-true heel at this point and has finally achieved that undisputed top guy status that WWE officials worked so hard to ensure he attained.

4. The Rated R Superstar, Edge

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    Edge forever set the bar for Money in the Bank cash-ins in January 2006, defeating a bloodied and worn-out John Cena to capture his first WWE Championship and embark on a run as one of the top heels in company history.

    Unabashed in his willingness to stop at nothing to preserve his spot at the top of the company, The Rated R Superstar would rely on Lita early in his main event run to help him retain the WWE Championship. From there, he would turn to SmackDown general manager Vickie Guerrero, engaging her in an on-screen relationship that existed solely so he could benefit professionally from having a woman of such power on his side.

    His trickery did not stop at the company he kept. He would brutally attack and assault top babyfaces like Cena, Jeff Hardy, Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Batista, Rob Van Dam and The Undertaker and capitalize on interference from minions like Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins or Chavo Guerrero and Bam Neely, rarely winning on his own.

    He was a heel's heel, unafraid to take his comeuppance when the time called for it. Then, he would recover and one-up everyone's favorite wrestlers once more to resume his run at the top of the company.

    A great promo, an even better wrestler, he was arguably WWE's most sleazy bad guy of the last 20 years and built a Hall of Fame career for himself once he finally broke through the proverbial glass ceiling and became world champion.

3. John Bradshaw Layfield

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    The single most unlikely heel champion on this entire countdown is John Bradshaw Layfield.

    At the beginning of 2004, he was an aging babyface tag team specialist alongside Ron Simmons; a competitor whose shot at singles glory seemingly passed him by in 2002 when he suffered an injury that put a halt to the company's attempt to introduce the WWE Universe to a modern version of Stan Hansen.

    Fast forward a few months and the sudden departure of Brock Lesnar forced the company's hand, leading to the artist formerly known as the beer-swilling badass Bradshaw being repackaged as a New York millionaire and wrestling...GAWD...John Bradshaw Layfield.

    An all-time-great rivalry with Eddie Guerrero was absolutely essential to the success of the character and the acceptance of it as the top heel on the SmackDown brand. Make no mistake, there was definitely a time of adjustment as WWE worked to convince its fans that this perennial tag team midcarder was suddenly a main event, world title-worthy competitor.

    Upon his controversial victory over Guerrero for the WWE Championship in July 2004, JBL competed against a who's-who gauntlet of Hall of Fame competitors, successfully defending by hook or crook against The Undertaker, Booker T, Big Show and Kurt Angle before running up against a young, thriving John Cena, who dethroned him after nearly a year on top at WrestleMania 21.

    A heel fans paid money to see get beat up and lose his title, he was less Hansen, more Honky Tonk Man in terms of inciting jeers. Best of all, JBL absolutely relished the opportunity to piss off every paying customer while solidifying his status as a Hall of Fame-worthy performer.

2. CM Punk

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    CM Punk's worth as a heel came in the often-condescending manner in which he spoke to the WWE Universe. Uber-confident in his abilities and unrelenting in his willingness to tell you about them, he spoke with a conviction and believability that had the audience believing he really was the jerk he portrayed on television.

    Maybe he was. Maybe that is why it was so easy for fans to accept him in that role.

    Punk's heel turn began in the summer of 2012 after weeks of frustration and perceived disrespect boiled over. From there, he aligned himself with Paul Heyman and proceeded to cheat, manipulate and coerce his way to win after win, amassing a historic reign as WWE champion that concluded in January of 2013, more than a year after it started, at the hands of The Rock.

    That run was hardly his first as a villain, though.

    The summer of 2009 brought with it Punk's first heel turn in WWE as he attacked the personal demons of Jeff Hardy and made life miserable for him, showing flashes of the self-righteous Straight Edge Society character he would perfect later on.

    Whether a natural extension of himself or a drug-free prophet, Punk was exceptional as a villain, and no matter how successful he has been as a babyface over the course of his career, the Chicago native is damn-near untouchable as a heel and even more so when he can focus his work on the world title.

1. Triple H

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    Triple H may have enjoyed a reign of terror over WWE's Raw brand from September 2002 through spring 2005, but it is nearly impossible to deny that he was the top heel in the company during that period and a competitor around whom management knew it could build shows, stories and entire factions around.

    How unlikable is a guy who was literally handed the World Heavyweight Championship without having to do anything to earn it? The only thing worse? A guy who holds on to said championship by cheating every fan-favorite babyface out of victory, usually by relying on best friend and mentor Ric Flair to get involved.

    If not the Nature Boy, then Randy Orton and Batista, who he recruited for the formation of Evolution.

    Constantly surrounding himself with partners in an attempt to strengthen his own standing atop the WWE mountain, The Game earned the disdain of fans by cheating Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Shawn Michaels, Kane, Kevin Nash, Shelton Benjamin, Tajiri, William Regal, Eugene and Chris Jericho out of opportunities to hold the World Heavyweight Championship.

    He did the same thing two years earlier as the central figure of the McMahon-Helmsley Regime, utilizing his association with the McMahon family and his partnership with D-Generation X to ensure he retained the WWE Championship and remained in the main event picture.

    Nepotism would once again play into a WWE title reign in 2016 when, as the COO of WWE, he would enter the Royal Rumble match and win the championship, costing Roman Reigns his title.

    A master manipulator whose success was often accredited either to on-screen relationships or off-screen politics, The Cerebral Assassin reigned over WWE as the most detestable villain in front of and behind the camera, earning him the No. 1 ranking ahead of performers whose quality of work may have been better but did not strike the same chord as his.


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