The Greatest US Championship Reigns in WWE History
Next June will mark two decades since WWE reactivated the United States Championship, a prestigious prize that has ties to 1975 NWA with Hall of Famer Harley Race being crowned the inaugural champ.
The title went on to have a rich history in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) with the likes of Ric Flair, Sting and Goldberg holding it before being retired in 2001 when the company went under. It was eventually reactivated in 2003 as a midcard title on SmackDown.
The star-spangled piece of gold has had its fair share of highs and lows in the last 20 years. It's been booked like a coveted championship at times and treated like a prop at others depending on whether Vince McMahon cared enough to make it a priority on the main roster.
With wrestling historian Triple H now at the helm, it's safe to assume he's going to do everything imaginable to make the title feel as important as possible again. That much has been apparent with the way it's been spotlighted lately.
In light of the title's recent resurgence, let's look back at the greatest United States Championship reigns in WWE history listed in chronological order.
Chris Benoit (2006-2007)
Although the United States Championship was brought back under the WWE umbrella in 2003, no titleholder had too memorable of a reign until Chris Benoit recaptured it for the fifth time in 2006.
He knocked off the undefeated Mr. Kennedy on SmackDown to kick off a seven-month stint with the belt. In that time, he had a pair of enjoyable outings against Chavo Guerrero at Survivor Series and Armageddon, and he went on to work a whole series of matches with MVP where the gold was up for grabs.
As a former World Heavyweight champion, Benoit brought a ton of credibility to the belt and made each title match mean more as a result. That included helping elevate and establish MVP when he ultimately dropped the strap to him at Judgment Day in 2007.
MVP benefited big time from beating Benoit for the United States Championship, and WWE was wise to capitalize off his huge victory by having him hold the gold for the next 11 months.
He had the occasional defense against Rey Mysterio and Kane, but his first U.S. title reign is best known for his feud with Matt Hardy in the latter half of 2007. The two took part in many entertaining contests that included arm wrestling and playing basketball before joining forces to become tag team champions that fall.
Even after Hardy went down with an injury, MVP continued to wear the star-spangled prize proudly and was a staple on SmackDown throughout 2008. It was only fitting that Hardy was the one to eventually dethrone him and end his record-setting reign at that year's Backlash.
Truthfully, his booking wasn't the best, but his character work was so strong that it's easy to forget he lost a majority of his matches by count-out and disqualification during that year-long period.
Shelton Benjamin (2008-2009)
Shelton Benjamin's success as intercontinental champion early on in his career helped him make a name for himself as a singles star, but he had his most impressive reign in WWE years later when he won the U.S. title from Matt Hardy at The Great American Bash in 2008.
Now named The Gold Standard, Benjamin dominated the midcard scene on SmackDown in the latter half of the year. His list of fallen opponents included Jeff Hardy, R-Truth and Hurricane Helms and all of them were high-quality matches.
His title defenses weren't as frequent heading into 2009, but he was constantly flirting with the WWE Championship picture and mixing it up with the likes of Triple H and The Undertaker. He should have remained a fixture toward the top of the card after losing the title to MVP that March, but WWE instead shifted him over to the ECW brand to work with younger talent.
The Miz (2009-2010)
It was apparent following his split from John Morrison in April 2009 that The Miz was on the fast track to superstardom in WWE.
He immediately made an enemy out of John Cena upon his arrival on Raw, and although their short-lived feud didn't turn out in his favor that summer, he was able to translate that momentum into a United States Championship victory that October.
Miz's first reign as U.S. champ was a prime example of what midcard titles in WWE are designed to do: take talent to the next level. From his matches with Morrison and Marty Jannetty to MVP and Kofi Kingston, The A-Lister became a regular on Raw and honed his heel craft more and more by the week.
In February 2010, he and Big Show also beat D-Generation X in a shocking upset for the Unified WWE Tag Team Championship, which they retained at WrestleMania 26 and lost that April at the draft. This was while Miz was still in possession of the U.S. belt.
It's no coincidence that within months of losing it, he won the Money in the Bank ladder match and was WWE champion by year's end.
Dolph Ziggler (2011)
What the United States Championship did for The Miz in 2010 was exactly what the intercontinental title did for Dolph Ziggler on SmackDown that same summer.
Unlike The A-Lister, though, Ziggler's first world title "win" (he essentially had it awarded to him by Vickie Guerrero) in early 2011 was badly booked and he had to work his way back up from the bottom upon being drafted to Raw.
Thankfully, it wasn't long before he won the United States Championship from Kofi Kingston at the Capitol Punishment pay-per-view.
The sole purpose of his six-month reign was to keep Raw's babyfaces at bay, and The Showoff played that role to perfection. In addition to a few one-off defenses here and there, his best work during this period came in his feud with Zack Ryder, who was in hot pursuit of the title in remaining months of 2011.
Ziggler retained the title against Ryder at Vengeance, but fans continued to rally behind The Long Island Iced Z to the point where his popularity was too hot to ignore. That led to WWE switching the belt in an excellent outing at December's Tables, Ladders & Chairs event.
The follow-up with Ryder was poor, but the title loss did clear Ziggler for a bigger and better 2012.
It's mind-boggling to think Cesaro held singles gold only once in his near-decade-long stint on the main roster, but that one reign was an impressive one.
Prior to Cesaro taking the title from Santino Marella at SummerSlam 2012, the United States Championship had been greatly devalued. Zack Ryder's reign was criminally brief, Jack Swagger did nothing of note with it, and Marella was largely an afterthought as champ.
Thus, The Swiss Superman couldn't have captured it quicker. He was WWE's best bet to revitalize the once-prestigious prize.
Sure enough, he portrayed the prototypical "evil foreigner" and defended the belt regularly in the remainder of the year. He had racked up wins over Ryder and Justin Gabriel, and later R-Truth and The Great Khali.
While these weren't high-caliber opponents by any means, each of these defenses earned him credibility with the audience. He went on to beat The Miz twice in early 2013 before losing the title to Kofi Kingston on Raw that April.
Cesaro cemented his status as a workhorse with that dominant eight-month run, but WWE failing to capitalize on it in any way afterward was sorely disappointing.
Sheamus' first run as United States champion was extremely uneventful at a measly 47 days, but he had the chance to redeem himself with a much stronger run in 2014 by holding it for six months.
He was responsible for ending Dean Ambrose's year-long reign, and in doing so, he made the title infinitely more relevant since The Lunatic Fringe rarely defended it.
From that point forward, he consistently churned out fantastic performances against Cesaro, Alberto Del Rio and The Miz.
As a character, The Celtic Warrior wasn't overly interesting, but the quality of matches he was having spoke for itself. It was less about getting him back to the main event and more about him making the most of the time he had with it.
When he finally lost it in November 2014, it felt like a major happening with Sheamus having been heavily protected up to that point. His shocking loss to Rusev seamlessly set up The Bulgarian Brute for a monster run on the road to WrestleMania 31.
John Cena (2015)
The United States Championship was the first piece of gold John Cena ever held in WWE. Winning it from Big Show at WrestleMania 20 also provided him with his first of many 'Mania moments.
The three reigns he had with it from 2004 to early 2005 were all serviceable, but none of them reached the heights of his incredible 2015 run.
The thought of Cena contending for, let alone winning, a midcard title at that stage of his career was almost unfathomable. He was at such a level that the midcard belts (especially with the way they had been handled) felt beneath him, but that didn't stop him from putting in the maximum amount of effort when it came to trying to make the U.S. title important again.
After unseating Rusev at WrestleMania 31, he wasted no time in establishing the U.S. Open Challenge, which was a weekly fixture on Raw that allowed anyone on the roster to vie for his coveted title. Many members of the roster answered it as well as NXT's Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens.
From WrestleMania to SummerSlam, Cena defended the title an astounding 15 times on television against a wide range of opponents. Even after losing it to Seth Rollins in a high-stakes Winner Takes All matchup at SummerSlam, he regained it a mere month later.
What Cena did with the star-spangled belt in such a short span of time was unmatched. He made it more must-see and relevant than it had been at any other point since WWE reinstated it in 2003, arguably earning the title of the company's best U.S. champ ever.
Bobby Lashley (2020-2021)
Following Cena's time with the title, there was a stretch of several years where the United States Championship went back to being a pointless prop.
Main event-caliber competitors such as AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho and Roman Reigns held it from 2016 to 2019, but the title was treated more like an accessory than anything worth fighting for.
Bobby Lashley, who first held the belt for a brief period in 2006, was the one who ultimately restored prestige to it. He dethroned Apollo Crews at Payback 2020 and embarked on an absolute tear with the gold in his grasp.
His title defenses were fairly infrequent, but his dominant streak in singles competition was certainly noticeable. During his entire time as champ from August 2020 through February 2021, he didn't suffer a single pinfall loss, making the belt feel more special as a result.
He didn't fall victim to the lazy booking of past titleholders, which raised the stock of the strap considerably. Despite the lack of fans in attendance in the ThunderDome, he had an excellent reign that prepared him for what was to come with the WWE Championship.
Damian Priest (2021-2022)
There was always a sense of uncertainty when it came to the NXT call-ups on the main roster during the previous Vince McMahon regime.
Sometimes they'd be booked correctly, but more often than not, they'd be watered down and never get a chance to show what they could do before being released.
Despite approaching 40, Damian Priest was a rare exception to the rule. McMahon seemed to take an immediate liking to him, had him go undefeated for many months and eventually had him defeat Sheamus for the United States Championship at SummerSlam.
He took after John Cena by instantly incorporating the weekly U.S. Open Challenges into Raw and making it a recurring highlight. In addition to defending the title on pay-per-view, he ran rampant on Monday nights and came away from each outing more of a well-rounded performer than he was previously.
Dolph Ziggler, Robert Roode, Sheamus, Sami Zayn, Apollo Crews, Jeff Hardy and Drew McIntyre all received title opportunities and each one of them was set back.
WWE's biggest misfire with this run was when Priest teased turning heel, which caused him to lose a lot of fanfare and interest in his title defenses dwindled.
It ended on a less-than-stellar note with Finn Balor beating him for it on a random Raw in March 2022, but a lot of what came before then did an effective job of establishing The Archer of Infamy as an up-and-comer with plenty of promise on Monday nights.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.