Roman Reigns and the Best Heel WWE Championship Reigns Since 2000
The rise of Roman Reigns as the universal champion on SmackDown has renewed interest in heel titleholders and their effectiveness as the centerpiece of WWE's booking plans.
The Tribal Chief is the latest Superstar to find considerable success at the top of the card, becoming the best thing about the industry while doing so, but he is far from the only performer to capture the attention of the audience in that role.
Over the last two decades, a handful of Hall of Fame-worthy Superstars have gone on to accomplish great things as villains.
Who are they and where do they rank on a countdown of the best heels to reign over WWE in the last 20 years?
7. King Booker
SmackDown in 2006 was in dire need of a lead heel, a character around whom entire shows could be built and an opponent for top star Batista.
It got it in the form of Booker T, who won the King of the Ring tournament in May and proceeded to develop a "King Booker" character that would become the centerpiece of the blue brand in the second half of the year.
Booker became an over-the-top heel; a bad guy who embraced the "royalty" gimmick and became one of the most entertaining characters of the decade. Whether he was demanding opponents kiss his ring or relying on William Regal and Finlay to do his dirty work, he became the villain fans loved to hate, all while reigning over the brand as its world heavyweight champion.
Batista eventually did dethrone him, but not before the future Hall of Famer got the extraordinary main event run a Superstar of his talent and stature deserved.
There were other more serious baddies at the time, but Booker stood out by accepting the silliness of it all and becoming a bright spot in an otherwise experimental year for the company.
6. Randy Orton
It would seem as though picking one reign from Randy Orton's 14 would be a difficult task but when it comes to singling out his greatest heel tenure, look no further than the run with the WWE Championship that started in October of 2007.
First, he capitalized on Vince McMahon's vendetta against son-in-law Triple H, defeating The Game in the Hall of Famer's third match of the night at the No Mercy PPV to capture the WWE title. From there, he ruled over the Raw brand, a ruthless conqueror.
He brutalized the likes of Chris Jericho, Shawn Michaels and Jeff Hardy while drawing the ire and scorn of the WWE Universe.
For the first time in his career, though, he was the champion so many expected him to be.
The reign would last roughly eight months before he dropped the gold back to Triple H at the Backlash pay-per-view, thus bringing an end to The Viper's lengthiest (and best) title reign.
John Bradshaw Layfield was, arguably, the best heel of the 2000s.
A loudmouth Texan who moved to New York City and became a stock market maven, he took WWE by storm in 2004, quickly defeating Eddie Guerrero to win the WWE Championship and embarking on a run that would see him dominate the SmackDown brand from July through WrestleMania 21 the following year.
Along the way, he pushed the boundaries of good taste with his sometimes bizarre antics and opinions, all while becoming a heel around whom the company could build the blue brand. He was the new blood the company needed and embraced the challenge, exceeding expectations beyond what anyone could have imagined.
He eventually dropped the WWE title to John Cena at WrestleMania 21 but not before establishing a legacy for himself that silenced all doubters and proved he could make the jump from midcard tag team specialist to the top dog in all of WWE.
4. Roman Reigns
When Roman Reigns returned at SummerSlam last year and immediately underwent a heel turn, no one knew exactly what to expect. Here was a guy WWE had spent five years building into its top babyface and suddenly he was a villain.
The unexpected gave way to excellence, though, as Reigns embraced the role of The Tribal Chief, a self-absorbed heel who believed WWE and all of its success was attributed to him. Better yet, he attributed all of his heinous actions as what is right for his family's legacy.
Since capturing the Universal Championship from The Fiend last August at Payback, Reigns has developed into the best thing in professional wrestling. He is equal-parts engaging and captivating. As the brooding and physically dominating bad guy, he has become the centerpiece of SmackDown and the unquestioned main event of WWE.
There are three Superstars ahead of him on this list but if Reigns can keep the momentum he has built for himself alongside Paul Heyman and Jey Uso, he will find himself at the top of it as one of the great heels in pro wrestling history.
3. CM Punk
CM Punk's run as WWE champion is the longest of the last decade at 434 days, and while The Straight Edge Superstar began his reign as a babyface, his heel turn in the summer 2012 earned him a spot in the top three of this countdown.
Bitter, vindictive, angry, and hellbent on establishing his place among the greats, Punk lashed out against the fans, the establishment and the top babyfaces in the company.
He made life a living hell for John Cena, Ryback, Daniel Bryan and Kane. No Superstar was left untouched as Punk even unloaded on The Rock, claiming the Hollywood star's arms were "too short to box with God," in a great promo.
The best part about Punk's character? He cheated to retain his title when necessary, but he was equally as able to outwrestle and defeat any opponent with whom he shared the ring.
His run eventually came to an end at the hands of The Great One as WWE moved forward with an ill-fated rematch between Rock and Cena at WrestleMania 29, but there was no denying that Punk was the hottest star in the company, thanks in large part to the heat he built for himself during his time as heel champion.
Edge exploded onto the scene as a genuine main event heel in 2006 with his successful cash-in of the Money in the Bank briefcase on John Cena at New Year's Revolution.
It was a monumental moment that sold the idea of the guaranteed title opportunity at any time, while simultaneously serving as the push he needed to be accepted in the role of a marquee star.
That reign only lasted a few weeks as he dropped the title back to Cena at the Royal Rumble, but the next time he cashed in the briefcase, there would be no denying that the Toronto native was the lead heel in WWE.
Edge defeated Mr. Kennedy to capture the briefcase for a second time in 2007 and cashed it in almost immediately, beating an injured Undertaker to seize the World Heavyweight Championship.
Injury would ultimately cost Edge a lengthier reign, but he did not need one then.
That brief reign in 2007 announced to the WWE Universe that Vince McMahon and the power players in the company had finally accepted The Rated-R Superstar as a top name it could build around.
Edge was sleazy, manipulative, cunning, smart, dastardly and violent, all traits that helped make him one of the more popular bad guys in company history.
1. Triple H
There are many who will point to Triple H's reign of terror in 2003 as one of the greatest runs any heel champion has had, but The Game's best stint began on January 3, 2000 when the McMahon-Helmsley Era took hold of WWE.
With Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley and the reunited D-Generation X by his side, Triple H defeated Big Show to win his third WWE Championship and begin a reign of dominance over WWE that would finally cement him as a main event star in the company.
During his four-month run with the title, The Cerebral Assassin would earn credibility that could not be manufactured by way of his pair of brutal pay-per-view showdowns with Mick Foley. He would become the first heel to leave the WrestleMania main event with the WWE Championship after Mr. McMahon betrayed The Rock and joined his evil daughter and son-in-law.
Triple H became the central figure in a main event scene packed with some of the greatest Superstars of all time. Whether he was working with his new family and cohorts to screw over Foley, Rock, Big Show, Chris Jericho or even referee Earl Hebner, he was the bad guy during WWE's most successful period.
That 2003 run was so polarizing that people often forget just how good he was three years earlier, when his in-ring work was second to none and his heel persona was the best it would ever be.